Monday, October 17, 2011

Monarch Profile: King Francesco II of the Two-Sicilies

The man who would be the last King of the Two-Sicilies represents a quandary that comes up for monarchists from time to time. King Francis II was a man of strong faith, deep convictions and firm principles. He also presided over the destruction and collapse of his kingdom, partly because of those very attributes which make him so admirable. This problem has arisen more than once in the history of fallen monarchies; is it better to stand firm and uncompromising, going down in honorable defeat or is it best to adapt, change and compromise in order to survive? The question will probably never be settled to the satisfaction of all. The future last monarch was born Francesco d’Assisi Maria Leopoldo on January 16, 1836 the only son of King Ferdinand II by his first wife Queen Maria Christina of Savoy (the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont-Sardinia) who died only a few days after Francis was born.

As his mother died so young, Francis was most influenced by his father and his stepmother Maria Theresa of Austria. His father had been rather moderate but grew increasingly authoritarian in reaction to rebellion. His stepmother, perhaps, was an even greater influence. The two were very close, she considering Francis her son and he considering her his mother. She was a rather reclusive figure and, from start to finish, a staunch conservative who always adamantly defended the absolute monarchy. Francis grew up as an intensely religious and intensely reactionary character (both good things). However, the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies was not the impoverished backwater many would later try to portray it as. The majority of people lived quite modest lives to be sure but Naples was a booming and modern city. The Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies was home to the first railway in the Italian peninsula, there were great institutions of learning and even telegraph communication between Naples and the city of Palermo on Sicily.

Francis had no real problem with technical innovations but he was never in doubt that his royal duty would be to maintain the absolute power of the monarchy and the privileged place of the Catholic Church. On February 3, 1859 Francis married Duchess Maria Sophia in Bavaria in Bari. The marriage would not be without problems. Francis was very shy and could seem stand-offish and it would be many years for the marriage was consummated due to a medical problem on the part of the King. There were also extremely pressing problems for Francis to deal with as he became King Francis II of the Two-Sicilies only a few months after his wedding on May 22, 1859. He inherited a kingdom under threat from rebels within who wanted limited, constitutional government and without by professional revolutionaries and the expanding Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia which offered what the discontented educated elites most wanted.

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.

By this time, Piedmont-Sardinia had consolidated Savoy rule over the area north of Rome (what would soon be the Kingdom of Italy) and another offer of alliance was put forward to Naples. They would divide the Papal States between them, with the northern half of the Italian peninsula being ruled from Turin and the southern half from Naples, each supporting the other. Especially in light of what had already happened, Filangieri urged the King to accept the offer. He, and others, viewed the Papal States as doomed and reasoned that it was better to have Piedmont-Sardinia as a friend rather than an enemy. If they embraced Turin, the Piedmontese could not strike them and if a serious rebellion broke out Turin would be legally obliged to aid in defending the Two-Sicilies. In political terms it made perfect sense but King Francis II could not abide the thought of in any way participating in the partition of the Papal States and robbing the Pope of his political power. The Papal theocracy had ruled central Italy for a thousand years and Francis II viewed any action taken against the Papal States as sacrilegious. Filangieri also advocated giving the people a constitution, something else the King would not countenance. Again, the offer of alliance was refused and Filangieri, sensing the coming disaster, resigned when his advice on the alliance and the constitution was not taken.

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.

It was there that King Francis II became a legend. His demeanor was no longer seen as shy and aloof but calm and courageous, cool under fire as he moved among his soldiers defending the walls. The French navy defended them by sea and Gaeta proved a tough nut to crack. However, the French finally withdrew their ships and Piedmont-Sardinia dropped all pretenses and formally joined the conflict, defeating the Neapolitan army (or what was left of it) and moving in to besiege Gaeta as well. It was a bitter pill for King Francis. Victor Emmanuel II (soon to be the first King of Italy) was his blood relative after all. However, the Piedmontese felt no compunctions about their involvement. As they saw it, multiple times they had extended the hand of friendship to the Two-Sicilies only to have it slapped away. Refusing to be their friend, King Francis would have to be their enemy. This he did with a quiet heroism that made his relative handful of troops defending Gaeta all but worship him. Like his stepmother he had always been somewhat withdrawn and never the populist sort of monarch but at this final crisis he showed, at least those in the besieged city, what his true colors were and they adored and admired him for it. He looked after the welfare of the people in the city and shared the danger with his soldiers defending the parapets. However, it was a hopeless struggle and eventually he was obliged to surrender to the forces of Victor Emmanuel II.

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.

The Queen, after having her baby and giving the child away confessed her affair to her husband. King Francis, perhaps not surprisingly, forgave the woman and finally took it upon himself to endure the operation that would correct the problem that kept him from performing his marital duties. It was a success and finally the two were able to live together fully as man and wife and soon a daughter was born to the exiled King and Queen in 1869. They were both overjoyed but this soon turned to despair when the baby girl, named Maria Cristina Pia, died only a few months later. It seemed that nothing had been spared the last King of the Two-Sicilies. The Queen became increasingly depressed and, for the most part, the King had only his still firm Catholic faith to give him comfort. He never ceased praying that God would effect a miracle and somehow turn his tragedy into a triumph but it was not to be, not in this life anyway. On December 27, 1894 at the age of only 54 King Francis II of the Two Sicilies died in Austria-Hungary.

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.

What is less clear was his failure to personally take immediate action against the invasion of Garibaldi. Maintaining an absolute monarchy in the wild country of southern Italy where rebels were numerous required a great deal of armed force. The Two Sicilies actually had the largest standing army on the Italian peninsula and Garibaldi, though famous as a revolutionary soldier, did not really have all that great of a record of success behind him. Additionally, he had only about a thousand volunteers, most of them northern Italians (some not Italians at all but like-minded foreigners) unfamiliar and unaccustomed to conditions in Sicily and who often had more zeal than military experience or ability. We know from his performance at Gaeta that King Francis II could be an inspirational military leader and it seems hard to deny that if he had immediately mobilized his army and led them himself against Garibaldi his much larger army could have easily destroyed the red shirted revolutionaries. This may not have saved his kingdom in the long run, but it is at least possible that it would have made Turin think twice about messing with Naples and left the Two Sicilies alone and contented themselves with the rest of Italy.

Francis may have thought that his last minute agreement to enact a constitution would save his throne but, if so, this was a naïve hope. Frankly, by that time, no one was buying it anymore. In the face of revolution two of his predecessors, Ferdinand I and Ferdinand II, had both granted constitutions but both later revoked them once they again had the upper hand militarily. Francis had refused a constitution and when he finally agreed to have one, no one really believed the offer was sincere. The people had learned that they could use force to get what they wanted and they had learned not to trust their monarchs. Shooting all of the Swiss Guards was probably a mistake as well, although we can understand the mentality behind such a move, it was probably short-sighted and robbed the King of the backbone of his military strength. So, the man made mistakes. However, it must also be remembered that he was only 25 when he lost his throne and his behavior at the end was so gallant and heroic that even his enemies had to admire him. In death he left behind a legacy as a brave monarch and a pious son the Church of Rome and it was always that which was most important to him anyway. The propagandists of the victors made a great deal of sport of him after his defeat, which was not only wrong but unworthy. Regardless of the political opinions one might have, Francesco II, last King of the Two Sicilies, should not be ridiculed but revered.


  1. Why on Earth is it the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies? There was only one Sicily, right? In Hungarian we call it the Napoletani-Sicilian Kingdom or Kingdom of Naples-Sicily.

  2. It had previously been the Kingdom of Naples but that included the much older Kingdom of Sicily and then, at some point they named it the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This was because the area of Naples (the south of Italy) was then referred to as 'peninsular Sicily' alongside the island of Sicily so you had the "Kingdom of the Two Sicilies".

  3. The kingdom was basically a personal union, rather than a fully unified nation-state, but in its own era, the people of Sicily and Naples referred to their realm as Il Regno delle Due Sicilie, literally The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, so the title is absolutely correct.

    It dated back to when the medieval Kingdom of Sicily was divided in two, the Kingdom of Naples (ruled by the original Sicilian dynasty), and the new Kingdom of Sicily (which was still claimed by the kings of Naples).

    The two crowns were reunited in the 18th century, and the monarch began using the title of King of the Two Sicilies, but the two realms of Naples and Sicily remained effectively separate.

  4. I doubt they would have called it that, they would have called it the Regnu dî Dui Sicili as they didn't speak Italian! lol

    Sorry, I couldn't resist because I almost wrote that the first time myself.

  5. This is true, however my family is from Palermo, and my father and grandparents spoke/speak Italian, not Sicilian. The former would have also been somewhat more common on the mainland.


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