10 November 2019

Charles Ferdinand - Prince of the Two Sicilies

The heir presumptive whose marriage earned him exile


Charles Ferdinand with his wife, the Irishwoman Penelope Smyth
Charles Ferdinand with his wife, the
Irishwoman Penelope Smyth
Charles Ferdinand, the Bourbon Prince of the Two Sicilies and Prince of Capua and heir presumptive to the crown of King Ferdinand II, was born on this day in 1811 in Palermo.

Prince Charles, the second son of King Francis I of the Two Sicilies and Maria Isabella of Spain, gave up his claim to the throne when he married a commoner, after his brother, King Ferdinand II, issued a decree upholding their father’s insistence that blood-royal members of the kingdom did not marry beneath their status.

In 1835, at which time Ferdinand II had not fathered any children and Charles therefore held the status of heir presumptive, Charles met and fell in love with a beautiful Irish woman, Penelope Smyth, who was visiting Naples.

Penelope Smyth was the daughter of Grice Smyth of Ballynatray, County Waterford, and sister of Sir John Rowland Smyth. Ferdinand II forbade their union, in accordance with his father’s wishes, but the lovers would not be parted.

On January 12, 1836 the couple eloped. Two months later, Ferdinand II issued the decree that forbade their marriage but three weeks after that Charles and Penelope reached Gretna Green, the town just over the border between England and Scotland, a few miles north of Carlisle, where under Scottish law young lovers needed no parental consent to be married, merely to declare their wish to be joined in matrimony in front of witnesses.

Charles's father, Francis I of the Two Sicilies, set the family's roles of marriage
Charles's father, Francis I of the Two Sicilies,
set the family's roles of marriage
Charles sought approval from the Archbishop of Canterbury for a further ceremony at St George's, Hanover Square, in the hope that this would give the marriage legitimacy. However, the Master of the Faculties, Dr John Nicholl, refused to grant the licence on the grounds that the royal succession might be affected by the non-recognition of the marriage in Naples.

Ferdinand II never forgave Charles, who was forced to live for the rest of his life in exile. All his estates were confiscated except the county of Mascali in Sicily, which he had inherited from his father. Mascali provided him with only a small income and his life in London, though without major extravagance, still caused him to run up debts.

His pleas with his brother to be allowed to return to Naples fell on deaf ears, as did requests from the United Kingdom government of Lord Palmerston that the exile be lifted.  Charles eventually moved to Turin, but was pursued constantly by creditors and could not remain in the same place long.

For someone who had been made a vice-admiral at 19 and was a candidate at around that time to be made king of Greece or Belgium, it had been a spectacular fall from grace.

When Ferdinand II died in 1859, the new King Francis II, his nephew, ordered the restoration of Charles's estates. However, before Charles could see any of the funds promised him, the Bourbons were overthrown by Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Piedmontese army.

The king of the new united Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, offered him an allowance. But Charles turned it down, fearing that it would affect his legal claims. He died in Turin in 1862, aged 50.

The town of Mascali was largely destroyed by the eruption of Sicily's volcanic Mount Etna in 1928
The town of Mascali was largely destroyed by the eruption
of Sicily's volcanic Mount Etna in 1928
Travel tip:

The town of Mascali, which can be found on the eastern coastline of the island of Sicily, midway between Messina and Catania, sits in the shadow of Mount Etna. It has suffered as a consequence, needing to be almost completely rebuilt after the volcano erupted in November 1928 and destroyed a significant part of the historic town. Mascali was rebuilt a few years later with an urban checkerboard layout influenced by towns in Sicily dating between the 16th and 18th centuries.  The town’s cathedral, dedicated to the patron saint San Leonardo, was consecrated in 1935.

The extraordinary Byzantine mosaics that decorate the interior of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo
The extraordinary Byzantine mosaics that decorate
the interior of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo
Travel tip:

The Palermo of today, the capital of Sicily, is an attractive tourist destination, a vibrant city with a wealth of history, culture, art, music and food. It has many outstanding restaurants as well as fine examples of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches, palaces and buildings.  Top attractions include the extraordinary Cappella Palatina, featuring Byzantine mosaics decorated with gold leaf and precious stones, and the Teatro Massimo, the largest opera house in Italy and the third biggest in Europe after the OpĂ©ra National de Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna.

Also on this day:

1816: The arrival of the English poet Lord Byron in Venice

1869: The birth of Gaetano Bresci, the assassin who killed King Umberto I

1928: The birth of film music composer Ennio Morricone

1990: The birth of world champion gymnast Vanessa Ferrari


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