Monday, October 17, 2011
Monarch Profile: King Francesco II of the Two-Sicilies
One of his first acts was to appoint as prime minister the moderate Carlo Filangieri, a loyal man but one who supported the granting of a constitution and that the best way to gain security was to accept the offered alliance from the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. However, Francis II resisted both suggestions and was most concerned with the rumors of rebellion running through the country. A critical moment came very quickly, on June 7, when the Swiss Guard mutinied, demanding a number of concessions from their new employer. The King tried to assuage them with promises of redress while at the same time calling up troops under General Alessandro Nunziante who then marched in, surrounded the Swiss and massacred them. What was viewed as a deadly threat against the absolute authority of the monarch had been bloodily ended, however, in doing so, the King had cut down the body that was the elite corps of his armed forces which would leave him vulnerable in the future to enemies who wanted a great deal more than higher pay and better working conditions.
With pious bravery, King Francis II prayed, trusting in God to deliver his realm from danger. The Papal States were absorbed along with the central Italian duchies by Piedmont-Sardinia and, with many feeling a shift in the wind, revolutionary plots became common in the Two-Sicilies which even the King’s secret operatives were powerless to stamp out. Many were executed but many also escaped or hid themselves until the professional revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi arrived, with Piedmontese (and covert British) support, to invade Sicily. In May of 1860 Garibaldi and his thousand red shirts conquered Sicily with relative ease and, ignoring advice to the contrary, quickly planned to move to the peninsula. King Francis II, alarmed that the situation had become so critical, announced he was granting a constitution but, by that time, it was too little, too late and as Garibaldi and his forces invaded the government and the army began to fall apart with many officials and army officers deserting to the enemy. The King tried to arrange a peace or even a truce but it was to no avail and as Garibaldi approached he and the Queen fled Naples for the coastal fortress city of Gaeta.
A monarch without a country, King Francis II and Queen Maria Sophia went to Rome where they were sheltered by Pope Pius IX and established a court-in-exile. At the outset many nations still recognized Francis II as the lawful King of the Two-Sicilies and the Pope was very gracious toward the gallant fallen monarch, perfectly aware of the fact that, to a degree at least, his misfortunes were the result of his refusal to take part in the partition of the Papal states. However, his time in Rome was not happy nor did it last for very long. The other nations of Europe may have sympathized with Francis II but many also viewed him as the author of his own problems and none were willing to provide actual assistance. As the Kingdom of Italy was consolidated even diplomatic recognition began to fall away. The Queen also began having an affair with a member of the Papal military corps, unknown to the King, and finally had to be spirited away when she became pregnant by the man. When the last foreign troops were withdrawn from the Italian peninsula Rome was occupied and made the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy. The Pope shut himself up in the Vatican and refused to come out while Francis II had to look for a new place of exile. France, Austria and Bavaria were all temporary homes.
Views of the last King of the Two Sicilies vary greatly as partisans on both sides of the unification issue exaggerate their conflicting accusations. The image that Francis II was an authoritarian tyrant who terrorized his poor, suffering people is positively false. He had not a bad bone in his body and indeed was a very charitable and compassionate man. What is true is that he seemed better suited to a seminary than the throne of a country in crisis. Nor was he a flawless and pristine saint, he made plenty of mistakes, many of which were recognized at the time. The fact that Italy became a unitary state rather than a confederation of local royal states can be, in part, laid at his door as he refused to support such an idea even if it would have made him the first King of Italy. However, as disastrous as this proved to be, setting himself against the irresistible tide of history, his reasons for refusing were noble; he would not violate the territory of the Papal States for any reason whatsoever.