8 November 2015

Francis I of the Two Sicilies

Death of the king who failed to impress Lady Blessington 

An 1829 portrait of Francis I of the Two Sicilies by Vicente López Portaña
An 1829 portrait of Francis I of the Two
Sicilies by Vicente López Portaña

Francis I died in Naples on this day in 1830 after having been King of the Two Sicilies for five years.

The Two Sicilies was the largest of all the Italian states before unification, originally formed as a union between the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples.

It lasted until 1860 when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Sardinia, which became Italy in 1861.

The Two Sicilies originated when the Kingdom of Sicily was divided in 1283. The King at the time lost the island of Sicily but kept control of his part of southern Italy, which was also referred to as Sicily. The Two Sicilies had capitals in Palermo and Naples.

After Francis succeeded his father Ferdinand I in 1825 he took little part in government and lived with his mistresses in constant fear of assassination.

He is remembered for getting the Austrian occupation force removed from Naples, where it had been billeted at the expense of the treasury, and for founding the Royal Order of Francis I to reward civil merit.

We are fortunate to have been left with an impression of him by Lady Blessington, an English aristocrat, who lived in Naples between 1823 and 1826 and kept a fascinating diary of her time there.

Living in Vomero, Francis would have enjoyed spectacular views over Naples towards Vesuvius
Living in Vomero, Francis would have enjoyed
spectacular views over Naples towards Vesuvius

In July 1823 she encountered Francis while he was still Prince of Salerno and heir presumptive to the throne.

She writes: “…(his) obesity indicates anything but health; and the stooping posture which he continually maintains, his head drooping over his chest, confirms the impression of helpless embonpoint which his countenance conveys. From this mode of holding his head, his glance has something disagreeable and sinister in it.”

In November 1824 she writes: “The air of Vomero is so salutary, that the Prince of Salerno, heir-apparent to the Neapolitan throne, who is in delicate health, has been induced to try its efficacy in preference to any of the royal palaces in the vicinity of Naples.”

After King Ferdinand died, Lady Blessington wrote about being taken to see him as he lay in state, remembering him as a ‘good-natured man’.

King Francis and the rest of the royal family moved to the palace of Capodimonte near where Lady Blessington was staying.

She writes: “…the route is filled by the carriages of the ministers of state, officers of the palace and courtiers, hurrying to worship the new king and totally oblivious of the departed one.

Castel Sant' Elmo sits high above Naples

“Innumerable are the virtues, hitherto unsuspected, but now attributed to the King (Francis I) and the errors discovered in the late. It would seem that in new sovereigns, like brides, their good qualities are lauded, and their defects overlooked; for during a long residence at Naples, I never heard so many anecdotes in favour of Francesco, as in the last two days.”

Lady Blessington’s doubts about Francis’s health proved to be well founded. He died on 8 November 1830 aged only 53.  

Travel tip:

The Royal Palace of Capodimonte was the summer residence of the Kings of the Two Sicilies. The palace and park in Via Miano now house a museum and art gallery open to the public daily from 8.30 to 19.30 but closed on Wednesdays.

Travel tip:

You can take the funicular railway up the hill to Vomero for fine views over the city and the bay of Naples. It is well worth visiting the 14th century Castel Sant’Elmo for the views you will have from its vantage point.


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