Thursday, July 30, 2015
Monarch Profile: King Ferdinand I of the Two-Sicilies
Due to this, King Ferdinand IV was more adept at sports and other pleasurable pursuits than he was at administration by the time he reached his majority in 1767. As an absolute monarch, Ferdinand IV could rule as he wished but he still kept Tanucci on his council. His first action as King of Naples and Sicily was to expel the Jesuits from his domain, an act which undoubtedly pleased Tanucci greatly. His second priority was to find a suitable wife to ensure that the Bourbon reign would continue. The choice ultimately fell on Archduchess Maria Carolina, the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary (making her, of course the sister of Emperor Joseph II and Queen Marie Antoinette). More like her brother than her mother, Queen Maria Carolina was also receptive to the new ideas of the “Enlightenment” and favored what would become known in monarchial history as “enlightened despotism”. She was like her mother in that she was strong-willed and assertive. In 1768 she and King Ferdinand were married as part of an Austro-Spanish alliance and by the terms of the treaty the Queen was given a place on the governing council where she made her wishes known. This caused a clash with Tanucci, who was used to being in charge, but the Queen emerged triumphant over the old courtier.
All of this caused a great deal of bad feelings amongst the Spanish Royal Family. The Queen had appointed an Englishman to power at around the same time King Charles III was going to war against Britain alongside France and the fledgling United States. Ties with Austria and Britain increased to the extent that one could easily wonder which country really held power over Naples. For the average Neapolitan, however, none of this might have mattered. They were used to doing things their own way and would ‘keep calm and carry on’ no matter which foreign dynasty happened to be ruling them at the moment. However, the experiments with the philosophy of the “Enlightenment” undermined traditional reverence for the monarchy. In some countries, this had no immediate effect so long as the country was well governed. Unfortunately, under King Ferdinand IV, Naples was not being well-governed. The Queen’s English favorite had actually done considerable harm to the administration of the country. So it was that a perfect storm was brewing in Naples when word came of the outbreak of the French Revolution, culminating in the horrific regicide of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.
Once ensconced in Palermo, King Ferdinand showed his fangs and began massacring any suspected republican he could get his hands on. However, back in Naples, the middle and upper classes that had supported him had been left to the bloodthirsty mob and so quickly called on the French for help. The result was the occupation of southern Italy by French forces and the establishment of the ridiculous contrivance known as the Parthenopaean Republic. In response to this outrage, and in an illustration of how far he had back-peddled from his “Enlightenment” days, King Ferdinand turned to one of the most dashing and fascinating characters of Italian history, the rich, religious, royalist reactionary Ruffo, that is His Eminence Fabrizio Cardinal Ruffo. I must admit here to my partiality as Cardinal Ruffo and his exploits have always been a favorite of mine. The Italian cleric landed in Calabria and raised a counterrevolutionary force of irregulars he dubbed the ‘Army of the Holy Faith’ (they were commonly known as the Sanfedisti). With artillery from Britain and some additional support from Russia, Cardinal Ruffo went after the revolutionaries Old Testament style and his cohorts of religious royalists soon had the whole of southern Italy in an uproar and eventually forced the French to agree to an armistice and wash their hands of the region. It was a glorious and unexpectedly successful operation that was also a colorful adventure, with pious as well as gruesome elements to it.
During this time, the Bourbon King and Queen had been having problems of their own in Sicily. The British had given them a subsidy and a garrison to guard them and naturally expected no small amount of influence to coincide with this protection. They tried to steer the country in the direction of a Burkean constitutional monarchy, to encourage popular support for the establishment by having people invested in it rather than for fear of being shot. King Ferdinand was more of the “better dead than red” persuasion and ultimately this resulted in the Queen being exiled and the King forced to issue a classical liberal constitution and make his son regent. However, once Napoleon was defeated and the British had pulled out, King Ferdinand reversed all of that, went back to absolute monarchy, enlisted the help of Austria in regaining his throne in Naples and had Murat shot when he made a bid to restore himself.