10 May 2021

Carlo Filangieri - military general

Brilliant soldier who served several masters

Carlo Filangeri was known as a brilliant military strategist
Carlo Filangeri was known as a
brilliant military strategist
The military general Carlo Filangieri, who fought for both the Napoleonic and Bourbon leaders of Naples in the 19th century and is best known for his suppression of the Sicilian uprising of 1848, was born on this day in 1784 in Cava de’ Tirreni in Campania.

Filangieri was a key strategist for Joachim Murat, the flamboyant cavalry leader Napoleon had made King of Naples, achieving a major victory at personal cost in Murat’s ultimately failed campaign against Austria in 1815.

When Murat was defeated and the Bourbon monarch Ferdinand IV was reinstated as King of Naples, Filangieri was retained, going on to serve his successor, Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, under whose orders he put down the revolution of 1848.

Filangieri was from a noble family in Naples, the son of Gaetano Filangieri, a celebrated philosopher and jurist who had the title of Prince of Satriano, a town in Calabria, which Carlo would inherit.  His family were staying at the Villa Eva in Cava de’ Tirreni at the time of his birth, because it was felt his father’s poor health would benefit from living away from Naples.

From an early age he was keen to follow a military career and, after making the acquaintance in Milan of the commander of the French army in Italy, who was an admirer of his father’s work, he was introduced to Napoleon Bonaparte and given a place at military school in France. On graduating, he became a lieutenant and fought in the War of the Third Coalition, part of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1805, serving with distinction under General Louis-Nicolas Davout in the French victory against the Austrian and Russian Empires at the Battle of Austerlitz.

The sumptuous palace on the Naples waterfront that became Filangieri's home
The Palazzo Ravaschieri di Satriano a Napoli, the palace,
 on the Naples waterfront that became Filangieri's home
The following year he returned to Italy, where he served under Jean-Andre Massena's command during his campaign against Bourbon Naples, and he would later become an adjutant to Murat when the latter became King of Naples. He lived in some style at the Palazzo Ravaschieri di Satriano a Napoli, on the then-prestigious Riviera di Chiaia, the long waterfront boulevard that stretches west from the Castel dell'Ovo.

On Murat’s behalf, Filangieri pulled off a brilliant victory over the Austrians at the Battle of the Panaro near Modena in northern Italy, although he was severely wounded in the process.  

The campaign ended in defeat for Murat and Naples returned to Bourbon control, initially under the leadership of Ferdinand IV of Naples, who assumed the title of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies when the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily merged in 1816.  Filangieri was retained in his rank but after siding with the Italian patriot and constitutionalist General Guglielmo Pepe in the uprisings of 1820 was dismissed from service.

He retired to his estates in Calabria but was persuaded to return by Ferdinand II in 1831. When more uprisings broke out in 1848, he advised the monarch to grant the constitution. However, this was put on hold again when Sicily seceded from Naples he was charged with regaining control of the island.

An 1830 painting shows Joachim Murat helping the wounded Filangieri at the Battle of the Panaro
An 1830 painting shows Joachim Murat helping
the wounded Filangieri at the Battle of the Panaro
After severe fighting and sustained bombardment, he captured Messina, the city at the northeast tip of the island, closest to the mainland, after which he advanced south, laying siege to Catania. By May 1849, at a cost of considerable bloodshed, he had subdued the whole of Sicily, though not without much bloodshed.

He remained in Sicily until 1855. On the death of Ferdinand II in 1859, the new monarch Francis II appointed Filangieri as minister of war and president of the council. However, he soon resigned after Francis rejected another proposal to grant a popular constitution and to ally Naples with France and Piedmont against Austria. 

The following year, Francis at last promulgated the constitution, but by then Giuseppe Garibaldi’s forces were in Sicily and Naples was a cauldron of rebellion. Filangieri refused to fight against Garibaldi and was ordered to leave Naples. 

He initially went to Marseilles, moved for a time to Florence and eventually settled at his villa in San Giorgio a Cremano, in the foothills of Vesuvius, where he died in October 1867 at the age of 81.

The Borgo Scacciaventi is part of Cava's main street
The Borgo Scacciaventi is
part of Cava's main street
Travel tip:

Cava de’ Tirreni, where Filangieri was born, is a fascinating historical town just a few kilometres inland from Vietri sul Mare, the seaside resort at the southern end of the famed Amalfi Coast, occupying the valley between the cities of Salerno and Nocera Inferiore.  It takes its name from its first inhabitants, the Tyrrhenians, who were descended from the Etruscans. The focal point of the town is the long, porticoed Corso Umberto, which runs from one end of the centre to the other, eventually turning into the narrow, winding Borgo Scacciaventi, which was Cava’s 15th century shopping centre. With its nearby Benedictine Abbey, the Abbazia della Santissima TrinitĂ , Cava de' Tirreni has been an important destination for travellers since the 17th century and was popular with poets and Grand Tourists in the 19th century.

The Villa Vannucchi, with its impressive gardens, is one of the Ville Vesuviane in San Giorgio a Cremano
The Villa Vannucchi, with its impressive gardens, is
one of the Ville Vesuviane in San Giorgio a Cremano

Travel tip:

Now a densely populated suburb of the Naples metropolis, San Giorgio a Cremano was a much different place in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was one of the five traditional towns that travellers would pass through as they made their way south along the Bay of Naples, along with Portici, Ercolano, Torre del Greco and Torre Annunziata. All five towns were then popular summer resorts and many wealthy and aristocratic families chose them for their holiday homes. The sumptuous summer residences they built became known as the Ville Vesuviane (Vesuvian Villas), a great number of which are still preserved in San Giorgio.

Also on this day:

1548: The birth of Doge of Venice Antonio Priuli

1922: The birth of journalist Antonio Ghirelli

1949: The birth of fashion designer Miuccia Prada


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