Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Monarch Profile: King Ferdinand II of the Two-Sicilies
The Prince served for a time as Captain-General of the army before succeeding to the throne as King Ferdinand II on November 8, 1830. At first, the hopes of the liberals soared when he dismissed the conservative ministers of his father, cut government spending, granted an amnesty to political prisoners, allowed exiles to return and even allowed men back in government in Naples who had served under the French-imposed regime of Marshal Murat. He was friendly and had the "common touch" and was fond of passing his cigar butts to beggars on the street as he walked by, something those poor souls would remember with tears in their eyes for the rest of their lives. Even when there was an assassination attempt against him, he did not harshly punish the perpetrators. There was also great public celebrations at his marriage in 1832 to Princess Maria Cristina of Savoy, fourth daughter of King Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont-Sardinia. She was very pious, very religious woman who the people adored and soon came to regard as a living saint. Nor were religious issues ever very far from the mind of King Ferdinand II. He saw himself as occupying a unique position in Europe and wished to be free to lightly tip the balance in any conflict toward those he favored. For that reason he had expelled the Austrians who had been occupying parts of southern Italy since the war with France and he tried to maintain good relations with Great Britain.
In 1836 tragedy struck when the devout Queen Maria Cristina of Savoy died giving birth to her son, the future Francis II, last King of the Two Sicilies. She was only 23-years-old and had never felt very ‘at home’ in the court at Naples. Her shy and modest demeanor was inadvertently annoying to her very strong-willed and outgoing husband. Still, her devotion was respected by all and she was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1872 after a great deal of religious campaigning by her son. The next year King Ferdinand II married Maria Theresa of Austria, a strict and private woman who disliked royal pomp and public ceremony and who could always be counted on to advise her husband toward taking firm measures against any enemies. She certainly did her duty though, giving Ferdinand II nine children during their years together. That same year, for instance, there was a huge popular demonstration in Sicily calling for a constitutional monarchy and King Ferdinand II took swift and firm steps to see them dispersed and also set up a special police force to remain ever alert to potential revolutionary threats.
After all this turmoil, King Ferdinand II decided he had no alternative but to be severe in suppressing all dissent. The jails were filled, many went into exile and, of course, these people did all they could to spread the blackest image possible of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Naturally, the images painted of the kingdom were not entirely true. Because of the riots and rebellions there was repression but the country was not the primitive backwater many portrayed it as. During his reign Ferdinand II had linked Naples and Sicily be telegraph, launched the first Italian steamship and built the first railroad on the Italian peninsula. However, because of his alienation of the British, they helped spread the negative image of the Bourbon monarchy and after tensions increased France and Britain each broke off diplomatic relations with the increasingly beleaguered state in 1856.