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Friday, 12 January 2018

Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies

Despotic ruler presided over chaos in southern Italy


Ferdinand IV of Naples as a boy, painted by the German painter Anton Raphel Mengs
Ferdinand IV of Naples as a boy, painted by
the German painter Anton Raphel Mengs
The Bourbon prince who would become the first monarch of a revived Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was born in Naples on this day in 1751.

Ferdinando, third son of King Carlos (Charles) III of Spain, was handed the separate thrones of Naples and Sicily when he was only eight years old after his father’s accession to the Spanish throne required him to abdicate his titles in Spanish-ruled southern Italy.

In a 65-year reign, he would preside over one of the most turbulent periods in the history of a region that was never far from upheaval, which would see Spanish rule repeatedly challenged by France before eventually being handed to Austria.

Too young, obviously, to take charge in his own right when his reign began officially in 1759, he continued to enjoy his privileged upbringing, alternating between the palaces his father had built at Caserta, Portici and Capodimonte.

Government was placed in the hands of Bernardo Tanucci, a Tuscan statesman from Stia, near Arezzo, in whom King Charles had complete trust.  Tanucci, who fully embraced the enlightened ideas that were gaining popularity with the educated classes across Europe, had his own ideas about running the two territories, and did little to prepare the boy for the responsibilities he would eventually inherit as Ferdinand IV of Naples and Ferdinand III of Sicily.

Indeed, Tanucci was more than happy to encourage him to pursue the frivolous activities of youth for as long as he wished while he continued the liberal reforms King Charles had set in motion. Ferdinand reached the age of majority in 1767 but was prepared to allow Tanucci to continue to call the shots.

Bernardo Tanucci, the trusted statesman who governed Naples and Sicily as regent
Bernardo Tanucci, the trusted statesman who
governed Naples and Sicily as regent
It all changed, however, in 1768 when Ferdinand married Archduchess Maria Carolina, daughter of the Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa and sister of the ill-fated French queen Marie Antoinette.

The marriage was part of a treaty between Spain and Austria, by the terms of which Maria Theresa would be given a place on Tanucci’s governing council once she had produced a male heir to her husband’s crowns.

The new Queen considered herself to be enlightened too but did not care for Tanucci and had her own long-term agenda for Austrian rule over the territory.  She had to wait until 1775 to give birth to a son, following two daughters, but by 1777 had found a reason to dismiss Tanucci.

Maria Carolina dominated Ferdinand, but herself was heavily influenced by Sir John Acton, the English former commander of the naval forces of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, whom she hired to reorganise the Neapolitan navy.

Acton, promising to support Maria Carolina’s wish to free Naples from Spanish rule, was soon appointed commander-in-chief of both the army and the navy and eventually prime minister, much to the disapproval of the Spanish monarchy, who were about to go to war against Britain alongside France.

In the meantime, thanks to Ferdinand’s incompetence and Acton’s manoeuvring for power, Naples was so poorly governed it became clear that something similar to the French Revolution, which had famously toppled the French monarchy, could be about to be repeated in Naples.

Ferdinand aged 22 or 23, again painted by Anton Raphael Mengs
Ferdinand aged 22 or 23, again painted by
Anton Raphael Mengs
Not surprisingly, the execution of Marie Antoinette in Paris in 1793 had a profound effect on Maria Carolina. Abandoning all pretence to enlightenment, she persuaded Ferdinand to pledge the Kingdom of Naples to the War of the First Coalition against republican France, while at the same time summarily rounding up anyone in southern Italy suspected of revolutionary intentions.

For the next 23 years, Ferdinand’s forces fought the French in one conflict after another. Obliged the make peace in 1796 when faced with the young commander Napoleon Bonaparte’s march into central Italy, the Bourbon king then enlisted the help of Nelson’s British fleet in the Mediterranean to support a counter march on Rome in 1798.

Driven back rapidly, Ferdinand took flight, leaving Naples in a state of anarchy as he took refuge in Sicily. Bonaparte’s troops soon marched into Naples and in January 1799 established the Parthenopaean Republic.

Ferdinand now turned his attention to rooting out and executing suspected republicans in Palermo, but when Napoleon was forced to send most of his soldiers back to northern Italy, Ferdinand despatched an army led by the ruthless commander Fabrizio Cardinal Ruffo to crush the Parthenopaean Republic and reclaim Naples.

Yet Ferdinand was driven out again six years later when Napoleon’s victories against Austrian and Russian forces in the north allowed him to send another army to Naples, led by his brother Joseph, whom he proclaimed king of Naples and Sicily.

Mengs painted Queen Maria Carolina in 1768, around the time they were married
Mengs painted Queen Maria Carolina in
1768, around the time they were married
In fact, Ferdinand remained ruler of Sicily, with British protection, although protection that came at a price that included granting the island a constitutional government and sending Maria Carolina into exile in Austria, where she died in 1814.

Ferdinand made another triumphant return to Naples in 1815 after Joseph Bonaparte’s successor, Joachim Murat, was defeated by the Austrians and Ferdinand was reinstated as King of Naples and Sicily.

Now completely beholden to the Austrians, he abolished Sicily’s constitutional government and declared himself Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, bringing the two kingdoms together as one, as they had been for a brief period in the 15th century.

But for all Ferdinand’s attempts to eliminate revolutionary elements in Naples and Palermo, the mood for change would not go away, if anything gaining momentum through resentment of the Austrians. After Ferdinand’s death in 1825 the new Kingdom of the Two Sicilies lasted only until 1860, when it was conquered by Giuseppe Garibaldi’s volunteer army to complete Italian Unification.

The facade of the Royal Palace at Portici
The facade of the Royal Palace at Portici
Travel tip:

The vast wealth of King Charles enabled him to build lavish palaces around Naples.  Portici, close to the Roman ruins at Ercolano (Herculaneum), was constructed between 1738 and 1742 as a private residence where he could entertain foreign visitors. Today it has a botanical garden that belongs to the University of Naples Federico II and houses the Accademia Ercolanese museum.  The palace at Capodimonte, in the hills above the city, was originally to be a hunting lodge but turned into a much bigger project when Charles realised the Portici palace would not be big enough to house the Farnese art collection be inherited from his mother, Elisabetta Farnese. Today it is home to the Galleria Nazionale (National Gallery), with paintings by Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Masaccio, Lotto, Bellini, Vasari and many more.  Charles never actually slept in the spectacular Royal Palace at Caserta, modelled on the French royal family’s Palace of Versailles and containing 1,200 rooms, having abdicated before it was completed.

The Piazza Tanucci in the village of Stia
The Piazza Tanucci in the village of Stia
Travel tip:

Stia, the Tuscan village of Bernardo Tanucci’s birth, is the first large community in the path of the Arno, the source of which is in the nearby Monte Falterona. Florence lies some 40km (25 miles) downstream. Situated in the beautiful Casentino valley area around Arezzo, Stia is a charming village in which the unusual triangular main square, which slopes sharply at one end, is named Piazza Tanucci in honour of the statesman. In the square, which has covered arcades of shops and restaurants along each side, can be found the church of Santa Maria della Assunta, which has a 19th century Baroque façade concealing a well-preserved Romanesque interior that possibly dates back to the late 12th century.





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