August 14, 2016

Viva 'o Rre! His Royal Majesty King Francis I of the Two Sicilies

The Hereditary Prince Francis as a boy
painted by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun
By Giovanni di Napoli
Francis I was born in Naples on August 14, 1777 to HRM King Ferdinand IV and III (later I) of the Two Sicilies and HRM Queen Maria Carolina of Austria. The following year, with the premature death of his older brother Charles Titus, he became Crown Prince and Duke of Calabria. A filial son, Francis matured into a model military officer and frequently served as his father’s Vicar-General at official functions throughout the Kingdom.
In 1797 Francis married Maria Clementina, Archduchess of Austria, daughter of Emperor Leopold II. Together they had one daughter, Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile, the future Duchess of Berry and an important figure in the Bourbon Restoration in France.
After the untimely death of Maria Clementina in 1801, Francis married his first cousin Maria Isabella of Spain, daughter of King Charles IV of Bourbon. She bore him twelve children, including the future king, HRH Ferdinando II.

In 1798 the French invaded and occupied Naples, installing the short-lived Parthenopean Republic. Retreating to Sicily, the Bourbons set up court in Palermo and set about recovering the mainland portion of their realm. On February 8, 1799 Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo with a small band of counter-revolutionaries landed in Calabria and raised the Army of the Holy Faith, or Sanfedisti. Marching northward, the loyalists liberated Naples and crushed the widely unpopular republic.

With the Neapolitans clamoring for the return of their sovereign, the Hereditary Prince was sent ahead and prepared for his father's triumphant return. Warmly received, Francis was moved by the exuberant display of fealty shown by the populace. People cheered the Prince and his family, waving handkerchiefs and tossing their hats in the air as the royal coach passed by. Canon salvos roared from the ships and forts, while the city's many church bells tolled. Immensely pious, Francis and his retinue visited the Cathedral to honor Naples' beloved patron, San Gennaro.
Peace, unfortunately, was not to last long. War resumed in Europe and Napoleon recaptured the city in 1806, forcing the Royal Family to once again fall back to Sicily with their British allies.
As a result of British diplomatic intrigues, especially by the despotic Lord Bentick, King Ferdinand was forced to appoint Francis the Regency to rule in his stead. The Queen, who obstinately opposed British policy, was exiled to Vienna, where she died of a stroke on September 8, 1814. Pressured by Bentick, the Duke of Calabria granted the island a Constitution modeled after that of Great Britain.
Hereditary Prince Francis and family pay tribute to HRM King Ferdinand I
by Giuseppe Ammarano (1820)
With the fall of Napoleon and the withdrawal of the British, Ferdinand IV returned to the throne of Naples, rescinded the Constitution and united his two kingdoms under one crown (Two Sicilies). Francis remained in Palermo as lord-lieutenant until the Carbonari uprising in Naples in 1820. Recalled to the capital, he was appointed Regent while his father travelled to Laibach (modern day Ljubljana, Slovena) in the Duchy of Carniola to partake in the Holy Alliance. Inconceivably, the revolutionaries actually believed the King was going to plead for their cause.
HRM King Francesco I
painted by Vicente López y Portaña
Placed in an unenviable position, Francis had no choice but to accept the Constitution during his father's absence. With no intensions of abdicating his throne, King Ferdinand secured military aid from Chancellor Clemens von Metternich and returned to Naples at the head of an Austrian column, routing the traitors and restoring absolutism.  
With the death of his Father in 1825, Francis ascended the Throne. Introverted and retiring, he was by most accounts a lenient and affable ruler who occupied himself with "trifling bureaucratic details." During his brief reign (he ruled for just five years), the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was at peace and prosperous. In fact, the Kingdom was the wealthiest, most industrialized and most powerful of the pre-unitary Italian states.
After his ascension, the Bey of Tripoli reneged on an existing treaty and demanded 100,000 ducats from the new king or his pirates would return to Sicilian waters. Refusing to be blackmailed, King Francis sent an envoy to the Bey's capitol to try and persuade him to reconsider. 
Unable to convince him to respect the treaty peacefully, the Neapolitan gunboats opened fire on the Bey's flotilla. Unfortunately, faulty powder and a violent gale forced the squadron to return to Naples unsuccessful. After several attacks by the pirates, hostilities eventually ceased; the frequent capture and destruction of the corsair's ships by the King's navy unnerved the Barbary slavers. 
In 1827 King Francis successfully negotiated the withdrawal of the Austrian army, stationed in the Kingdom since the 1820 revolution. Costing nearly one-fifth of the national revenue to house them, their departure was a huge relief for the treasury.
Antique Francis I medal (private collection) 
Photo courtesy of John Viola
Focused on the economic improvement of the Kingdom, on September 28, 1829 he founded the Royal Order of Francis I, an order of knighthood to reward civil merit for notable achievements in commerce, science, the arts, letters and literature. The order still exist today. 
Francis I died in Naples at the age of 53 on November 8, 1830. His dying words were, "Oh Naples!." He was succeeded by his eldest son, HRM King Ferdinando II. Viva ‘o Rre!


• The History of the Italian Revolution, First Period: The Revolution of the Barricades (1796-1849) by Patrick Keyes O'Clery, Andesite Press, 2015, p. 74-75 [Originally published London: R. Washbourne, 1875]
• The Last Bourbons of Naples (1825-1861) by Harold Acton, Methuen and Co LTD, 1961
• The Bourbons of Naples (1734-1825) by Harold Acton, Methuen and Co LTD, 1957