Regional History Part 3   1700 to 1880 A.D.   

                                                                                          Installment 2    
      REGIONAL HISTORY 1759-1799


               BY: TOM FRASCELLA                                                                        May. 2011



With the abdication of Charles in favor of his infant son Ferdinand, southern Italy and Sicily had a new King, Ferdinand IV. Ferdinand was crowned King in the year 1759, age nine years old. His father left him a wealthy and greatly expanded kingdom to be administered by Bernardo Tanucci, a Tuscan, during the time of Ferdinand’s minority.

 Ferdinand was the third son of Charles and was not originally expected to ascend to a royal crown of his own. However, his eldest brother was determined to be mentally limited and the second oldest was then groomed for the Spanish crown. Ferdinand was raised in Naples beyond the direct supervision of his parents who resided in Spain. He is said to have been athletic, fun loving and an avid sportsman. While intelligent, he would demonstrate that he lacked a serious interest in the administration of his Kingdom. His royal training and upbringing largely left to the responsibility Tanucci, is faulted as the cause that he never developed into the responsible administrator his father had been before him.

 Ferdinand reached his majority, in 1767 and married Maria Carolina, Archduchess of Austria the following year. He was popular among the common folk of Naples, enjoying what was considered the more common forms of entertainment of the day and even affecting the common Neapolitan dialect in his speech. He was known in his youth to occasionally take the game or fish that he caught to the Neapolitan market and sell it himself, while giving the proceeds to charity.

 As part of the formal marriage contract Maria, daughter of the Austrian Holy Roman Emperor, was to have a personal voice in the council of State after she presented Ferdinand with the birth of their first son. This represented an unusual willingness to share political power on the part of a Monarch of this era. Queen Maria soon came to exercise great influence over Ferdinand who appeared more than happy to leave the  administration and political decision making of the Kingdom to her. Generally she was much more than an advisor, attaining the status of co regent by weight of her direct access and unprecedented influence.

 By 1777 she had succeeded in convincing Ferdinand to dismiss his Prime Minister who had been placed in power by the Spanish crown.  This was prelude to Queen Maria beginning a course of action to separate southern Italy from the dominance of the Spanish Crown held by her in laws. In 1779 she began an association with the Englishman Sir John Acton who became her confidant and advisor. He would eventually become her chief minister and ultimately Prime Minister. In order to separate further from the control of Spain, she began to slowly ally the southern Italian Kingdom with both Britain and Austria.

 It should be noted that the preceding 100 years or so, are regarded as the “Age of Enlightenment”. This was a period of political, social and philosophic “rethinking” which is often said to have culminated the rise of common rights, the age of reason and the American and French Revolutions.

 At the outbreak of the French Revolution, 1789, the southern Italian Monarchy and indeed most European monarchies were relatively neutral and did not become directly involved in the political conflict. It was only after the French revolutionary council took power, abolished the Monarchy, had the French King and Queen arrested, and subsequently executed that Ferdinand and Maria became alarmed for their own well-being. The French Queen was Maria’s sister, and her death at the hands of the French people was not a lesson that Maria was likely to forget. As a result Ferdinand and Maria were among the first European monarchs to form a coalition against the French Republic in 1793.

 As we know from history Napoleon rose from the rank of artillery officer to General of the Republican army by 1796. As French military power under Napoleon solidified a peace pact was made between the French Revolutionary Directorate and King Ferdinand in 1796. However, Ferdinand and Maria continued to be wary of the Revolutionary fervor sweeping Europe, including Italy. Their concerns were heightened by the presence of French revolutionary troops in Rome.

 Ferdinand’s concern only increased as Napoleon successes mounted and France and Napoleon’s military power expanded.  By 1798 Napoleon had launched his incursion into Egypt and was being actively opposed by England and the English fleet commanded by Lord Nelson. At the urging of his wife and probably the encouragement of Sir John Acton, Ferdinand, taking advantage of Napoleon’s absence in Egypt launched an attack against the French garrison in Rome. Initially successful Ferdinand entered Rome with his troops in November of 1778. However the French counter attacked and Ferdinand panicked and retreated to Naples.

 The French then marched on Naples, and Ferdinand panicked once again. He abandoned the city fleeing aboard Lord Nelson’s flag ship. At the urging of Nelson most of the Farnese collection was safely loaded aboard English warships as well. Ferdinand set sail for Sicily.

 Despite the abandonment of the city by the King it is said that the average Neapolitan citizen, largely loyal to Ferdinand, fought fiercely in defense of their city. However the French were able to enter and capture the city. The French then occupied and looted the Naples. With the support of French troops a coalition of nobles and bourgeois established in Naples what is known as the Parthenopean Republic in January 1799.

 The thinly stretched French troops were however, withdrawn from Naples to engage in northern Italy after only a couple of months. With the city relatively undefended Ferdinand encouraged the raising of a largely peasant army, with some support from Nelson’s fleet, under the command of Cardinal Ruffo to advance on Naples from the countryside. This army which had a strong conservative religious element waged its campaign against the Neapolitan “liberal” Republic primary in the rural quarters around Naples. Ruffo’s forces were known as the Sanfedismo or Holy Faith and were staunchly anti republican.

 By June of 1799 the Republican forces without French support and facing a Sanfedismo force with attached English artillery sued for peace. So after only six months the Parthenopean Republic came to and end. Initially, the terms for peace agreed upon allowed for the leading figures of the Republic to return to their homes without penalty. However, with the arrival of Nelson’s fleet in Naples harbor and with the support of Ferdinand, Nelson ignored the signed letters of capitulation, arrested the leaders of the Republic, and executed them aboard his flagship anchored in the harbor.

 Near the end of 1799 the King returned to his throne in Naples. Following his return to Naples Ferdinand began a purge by arresting those he suspected of liberal or republican sympathies. The violation of the terms of the peace accord, the execution of those who had relied upon the agreements terms, and the hostility created by the subsequent purge did much to undermine the continued stability of Ferdinand’s reign.


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