September 16, 2016

The Warrior Prelate: Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo

Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo
b. Sept. 16, 1744—d. Dec. 13, 1827
By Giovanni di Napoli
Today we remember and honor the great counter-revolutionary hero Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, the warrior prelate who liberated the Kingdom of Naples from Franco-Jacobin tyranny. 
When Napoleon’s Grande Armée invaded the Kingdom of Naples in December 1798 and installed the Jacobin satellite state (Repubblica Partenopea), Ruffo followed the Bourbon Royal Family to Palermo, Sicily. Named vicar-general on January 25th, 1799, the grey-haired Cardinal crossed the Strait of Messina to his native Calabria with just seven companions to recapture the Kingdom. 
On February 8th they landed at Punta del Mezzo in Reggio, Calabria. Armed with only a banner emblazoned with the royal coat-of-arms and a cross, Ruffo began to raise an army. Issuing an encyclical letter commanding the clergy and magistrates to preach the crusade, men from all walks of life readily rallied to defend their faith and traditions, and to restore their legitimate rulers, King Ferdinand IV and Queen Maria Carolina. In less than a month 17,000 Calabrese, including many soldiers from the disbanded Bourbon army, joined the burgeoning ranks of his Army of the Holy Faith (Sanfedisti).
After recovering the whole of Calabria, Ruffo marched on Naples. Propped up with bayonets, the widely unpopular Parthenopean Republic fell like a house of cards when the French fled north. Ruffo guaranteed the Jacobin ringleaders safe passage to France if they surrendered, but his clemency was overruled by the Royal Family. To his chagrin, the revolutionaries were put on trial and sentenced to death.
Considering the hardships and privations the Jacobin treachery brought with it, one should not be surprised that chaos ensued and old scores were being settled after the withdrawal of the French invaders. Collaborators were punished and the atrocities and brutality of the Franco-Jacobin regime was met in kind, however the retaliation was nowhere near the horrific scale of the "enlightened" Republic.
As many as sixty thousand civilians were killed in the French conquest. Ten thousand Neapolitans died in bloody street fights defending their King and city. Entire towns were razed and the wholesale rape and slaughter of the populace ensued. Faithful Andria was sacked and burned, with as many as four thousand citizens slaughtered. Steadfast in their loyalty, Trani, Ceglie and Carbonara shared Andria’s unfortunate fate. 
Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo leading the Sanfedisti, protected by St. Anthony
Let's not forget the Republican atrocity at Altamura. Before taking Naples Ruffo approached the hilltop town in Apulia. Looking to avoid unnecessary bloodshed he sent one of his officers to parley with the Republicans, offering the town good terms if they surrendered. He then positioned all his forces on one side of the town, mercifully leaving the enemy a way to escape. Predictably, the next day when Ruffo entered Altamura he found it abandoned. Unpredictably, however, his missing envoy was discovered buried alive in a sealed vault. Apparently before fleeing, the Jacobin "civilizers" chained and shot 48 royalist prisoners, including the messenger, and dumped them in a tomb. Left for dead, only three survived the ordeal.
“It is incontestable that Ruffo’s Calabrians were vindictive,” wrote Acton:
Their pugnacity made up for their lack of discipline. But in the course of his campaign it was the cruelties and excesses of the ‘gentle patriots’ that provoked reprisals, a fact overlooked by hostile historians. After this outrage the republicans could hardly expect to be left off lightly.(1)
So when hostile historians claim the Bourbon restoration was a “reign of terror” because a mere 99 traitors were executed for their crimes, they are being more than a little ingenuous. Knowing what we do now, we lament that a few more traitorous skulls weren’t cracked.
On June 13, 1799, the Feast Day of St. Anthony of Padua, Ruffo and the Coalition allies (Britain, Russia, etc.) liberated Naples and restored the Bourbons to the throne. Losing favor with the Royal Family for showing too much leniency towards the Republicans, the warrior prelate resigned his command to the Prince of Cassero.
When Napoleon retook the Kingdom in 1806, Ruffo surprisingly chose to remain in Naples. For the next decade he lived quietly and unmolested by the French. With Napoleon’s downfall and the subsequent restoration of the Bourbons, the Cardinal was once again received with favor by King Ferdinand. He served as a minister until the death of Pope Pius VII, Servant of God, on August 20, 1823. Leaving for Rome, Ruffo participated in the conclave that elected Pope Leo XII. At the end of 1823 he returned to Naples and resumed his position as the King's trusted advisor and confidant.
Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo died on December 13, 1827 in Naples. He is interred in his family’s chapel inside the Basilica San Domenico Maggiore. His Eminence lives on in our hearts, his heroic deeds and indomitable spirit even now provide inspiration in our troubled times. Forza e onore!
(1) The Bourbons of Naples (1734-1825) by Harold Acton, Methuen and Co. LTD, 1957, p.377