Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies

Next: Francis I of the Two Sicilies

King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies (January 12, 1751 - January 4, 1825) (reigned 1816 - 1825), also known as King Ferdinand IV of Naples (reigned 1759- ) and as King Ferdinand III of Sicily, was the third son of King Carlo VII of Naples and Sicily (afterwards Charles III of Spain).

Table of contents
1 Childhood
2 Reign
3 French occupation
4 Third coalition
5 Children
6 Bibliography


Ferdinand was born in Naples. When his father ascended the Spanish throne in 1759, Ferdinand, in accordance with the treaties forbidding the union of the two crowns, succeeded him as king of Naples, under a regency presided over by the Tuscan Bernardo Tanucci. The latter, an able, ambitious man, wishing to keep the government as much as possible in his own hands, purposely neglected the young king's education, and encouraged him in his love of pleasure, his idleness and his excessive devotion to outdoor sports. Ferdinand grew up athletic, but ignorant, ill-bred, addicted to the lowest amusements; he delighted in the company of the lazzaroni (the most degraded class of the Neapolitan people), whose dialect and habits he affected, and he even sold fish in the market, haggling over the price.


Ferdinand's minority ended in 1767, and his first act was the expulsion of the Jesuits. The following year he married Maria Carolina, daughter of the empress Maria Theresa of Austria. By the marriage contract the queen was to have a voice in the council of state after the birth of her first son, and she was not slow to avail herself of this means of political influence. Beautiful, clever and proud, like her mother, but cruel and treacherous, her ambition was to raise the kingdom of Naples to the position of a great power; she soon came to exercise complete sway over her stupid and idle husband, and was the real ruler of the kingdom.

Tanucci, who attempted to thwart her, was dismissed in 1777, and the Englishman Sir John Acton, who in 1779 was appointed director of marine, succeeded in so completely winning the favour of Maria Carolina, by supporting her in her scheme to free Naples from Spanish influence and securing a rapprochement with Austria and England, that he became practically and afterwards actually prime minister. Although not a mere grasping adventurer, he was largely responsible for reducing the internal administration of the country to a system of espionage, corruption and cruelty.

On the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 the Neapolitan court was not hostile to the movement, and the queen even sympathised with the revolutionary ideas of the day. But when the French monarchy was abolished and the royal pair beheaded, Ferdinand and Maria Carolina were seized with a feeling of fear and horror and joined the first coalition against France in 1793.

French occupation

Although peace was made with France in 1796, the demands of the French Directory, whose troops occupied Rome, alarmed the king once more, and at his wife's instigation he took advantage of Napoleon's absence in Egypt and of Nelson's victories to go to war. He marched with his army against the French and entered Rome (November 29), but on the defeat of some of his columns he hurried back to Naples, and on the approach of the French, fled on board Nelson's ship the Vanguard to Sicily, leaving his capital in a state of anarchy.

The French entered the city in spite of the fierce resistance of the lazzaroni, who were devoted to the king, and with the aid of the nobles and bourgeois established the Parthenopaean Republic (January 1799). When a few weeks later the French troops were recalled to the north of Italy, Ferdinand sent an expedition composed of Calabrians, brigands and gaol-birds, under Cardinal Ruffo, a man of real ability, great devotion to the king, and by no means so bad as he has been painted, to reconquer the mainland kingdom. Ruffo was completely successful, and reached Naples in May 1800. His army and the lazzaroni committed nameless atrocities, which he honestly tried to prevent, and the Parthenopaean Republic collapsed.

The king, and above all the queen, were particularly anxious that no mercy should be shown to the rebels, and Maria Carolina made use of Lady Hamilton, Nelson's mistress, to induce the latter to carry out her own spiteful vengeance. Maria Carolina's only excuse is that as a sister of Marie Antoinette the very name of "Republican" or "Jacobin" filled her with loathing.

Third coalition

The king returned to Naples soon afterwards, and ordered wholesale arrests and executions of supposed Liberals, which continued until the French successes forced him to agree to a treaty which included amnesty for members of the French party. When war broke out between France and Austria in 1805, Ferdinand signed a treaty of neutrality with the former, but a few days later he allied himself with Austria and allowed an Anglo-Russian force to land at Naples (see Third Coalition).

The French victory at the Battle of Austerlitz on December 2 enabled Napoleon to despatch an army to southern Italy. Ferdinand with his usual precipitation fled to Palermo (January 23, 1806), followed soon after by his wife and son, and on February 14, 1806 the French again entered Naples. Napoleon declared that the Bourbon dynasty had forfeited the crown, and proclaimed his brother Joseph king of Naples and Sicily. But Ferdinand continued to reign over the latter kingdom under British protection. Parliamentary institutions of a feudal type had long existed in the island, and Lord William Bentinck, the British minister, insisted on a reform of the constitution on English and French lines. The king indeed practically abdicated his power, appointing his son Francis regent, and the queen, at Bentinck's instance, was exiled to Austria, where she died in 1814.

After the fall of Napoleon, Joachim Murat, who had succeeded Joseph Bonaparte as king of Naples in 1808, was dethroned (1815), and Ferdinand returned to Naples. By a secret treaty he had bound himself not to advance further in a constitutional direction than Austria should at any time approve; but, though on the whole he acted in accordance with Metternich's policy of preserving the status quo, and maintained with but slight change Murat's laws and administrative system, he took advantage of the situation to abolish the Sicilian constitution, in violation of his oath, and to proclaim the union of the two states into the kingdom of the Two Sicilies (December 12, 1816).

Ferdinand was now completely subservient to Austria, an Austrian, Count Nugent, being even made commander-in-chief of the army; and for four years he reigned as a despot, every tentative effort at the expression of liberal opinion being ruthlessly suppressed. The result was an alarming spread of the influence and activity of the secret society of the Carbonari, which in time affected a large part of the army. In July 1820 a military revolt broke out under General Guglielmo Pepe, and Ferdinand was terrorised into subscribing a constitution on the model of the impracticable Spanish constitution of 1812. On the other hand, a revolt in Sicily, in favour of the recovery of its independence, was suppressed by Neapolitan troops.

The success of the military revolution at Naples seriously alarmed the powers of the Holy Alliance, who feared that it might spread to other Italian states and so lead to that general European conflagration which it was their main preoccupation to avoid. After long diplomatic negotiations, it was decided to hold a congress at Troppau (October 1820). The main results of this congress were the issue of the famous Troppau Protocol, signed by Austria, Prussia and Russia only, and an invitation to King Ferdinand to attend the adjourned congress at Laibach (1821), an invitation of which Great Britain approved "as implying negotiation". At Laibach Ferdinand played so sorry a part as to provoke the contempt of those whose policy it was to re-establish him in absolute power. He had twice sworn, with gratuitous solemnity, to maintain the new constitution; but he was hardly out of Naples before he repudiated his oaths and, in letters addressed to all the sovereigns of Europe, declared his acts to have been null and void. An attitude so indecent threatened to defeat the very objects of the reactionary powers, and Friedrich von Gentz congratulated the congress that these sorry protests would be buried in the archives, offering at the same time to write for the king a dignified letter in which he should express his reluctance at having to violate his oaths in the face of irresistible force! But, under these circumstances, Metternich had no difficulty in persuading the king to allow an Austrian army to march into Naples "to restore order".

The campaign that followed did little credit either to the Austrians or the Neapolitans. The latter, commanded by General Pepe, who made no attempt to defend the difficult defiles of the Abruzzi, were defeated, after a half-hearted struggle at Rieti (March 7, 1821), and the Austrians entered Naples. The parliament was now dismissed, and Ferdinand inaugurated an era of savage persecution, supported by spies and informers, against the Liberals and Carbonari, the Austrian commandant in vain protesting against the savagery which his presence alone rendered possible.

Ferdinand died on January 4, 1825. Few sovereigns have left behind so odious a memory. His whole career is one long record of perjury, vengeance and meanness, unredeemed by a single generous act. His wife proved a worthy helpmeet and actively co-operated in his tyranny.


Ferdinand's children include:


The standard authority on Ferdinand's reign is Pietro Colletta's Storia del Reame di Napoli (2nd ed., Florence, 1848), which, although heavily written and not free from party passion, is reliable and accurate; L. Conforti, Napoli ... , (Naples, 1886); G. Pepe, Memorie (Paris, 1847), a most valuable book; C. Auriol, La France, l'Angleterre, et Naples (Paris, 1906); for the Sicilian period and the British occupation, G. Bianco, La Sicilia durante l'occupazione Inglese (Palermo, 1902), which contains many new documents of importance; Freiherr A. von Helfert has attempted the impossible task of whitewashing Queen Maria Carolina in his Königin Karolina von Neapol und Sicilien (Vienna, 1878), and Maria Karolina von Oesterreich (Vienna, 1884); he has also written a useful life of Fabrizio Ruffo (Italian edition, Florence, 1885); for the Sicilian revolution of 1820 see G. Bianco's La Rivoluzione in Sicilia del 1820 (Florence, 1905), and M. Arnali's Carteggio (Turin, 1896).

Initial text from a
1911 encyclopedia. Please update as needed.