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Francis II of the Two Sicilies

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King Francis II of the Two Sicilies (January 16, 1836December 27, 1894) was the son and heir of Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies and Maria Cristina of Savoy.

Francis II was the last of the Bourbon kings of Naples. His education had been much neglected and he proved a man of weak character, greatly influenced by his stepmother Maria Theresa of Austria, by the priests, and by the Camarilla, or reactionary court set. He ascended the throne on the death of his father (May 22, 1859). As prime minister he at once appointed Carlo Filangieri, who, realizing the importance of the Franco-Piedmontese victories in Lombardy, advised Francis to accept the alliance with Piedmont proposed by Cavour. On the June 7 a part of the Swiss Guard mutinied, and while the king mollified them by promising to redress their grievances, General Nunziante collected other troops, who surrounded the mutineers and shot them down. The incident resulted in the disbanding of the whole Swiss Guard, the strongest bulwark of the dynasty.

Cavour again proposed an alliance to divide the papal states between Piedmont and Naples, the province of Rome excepted, but Francis rejected an idea which to him savoured of sacrilege. Filangieri strongly advocated a Constitution as the only measure which might save the dynasty, and on the king’s refusal he resigned.

Meanwhile the revolutionary parties were conspiring for the overthrow of the Bourbons in Calabria and Sicily, and Garibaldi was preparing for a raid in the south. A conspiracy in Sicily was discovered and the plotters punished with brutal severity, but Rosalino Pilo and Francesco Crispi had organized the movement, and when Garibaldi landed, at Marsala (May 1860) he conquered the island with astonishing ease.

These events at last frightened Francis into granting a constitution, but its promulgation was followed by disorders in Naples and the resignation of ministers, and Liborio Romano became head of the government. The disintegration of the army and navy proceeded apace, and Cavour sent a Piedmontese squadron carrying troops on board to watch events. Garibaldi, who had crossed the straits of Messina, was advancing northwards and was everywhere received by the people as a liberator. Francis, after long hesitations and even an appeal to Garibaldi himself, left Naples on September 6 with his wife Maria Sophia, the court, the diplomatic corps (the French and English ministers excepted), and went by sea to Gaeta, where a large part of the army was concentrated. The next day Garibaldi entered Naples, was enthusiastically welcomed, and formed a provisional government.

King Victor Emmanuel had decided on the invasion of the papal states, and after occupying Romagna and the Marche entered the Neapolitan kingdom. Garibaldi’s troops defeated the Neapolitan royalists on the Volturno (October 1 and 2), while the Piedmontese captured Capua. Only Gaeta, Messina, and Civitella del Tronto still held out, and the siege of the former by the Piedmontese began on November 6, 1860. Both Francis and Maria Sophia behaved with great coolness and courage, and even when the French fleet, whose presence had hitherto prevented an attack by sea, was withdrawn, they still resisted; it was not until the February 12, 1861 that the fortress capitulated.

Thus the kingdom of Naples was incorporated in that of Italy, and the royal pair from then on led a wandering life in Austria, France and Bavaria. Francis died at Arco in the Tyrol. His widow survived him.

Francis II was weak-minded, stupid and vacillating, but, although his short reign was stained with some cruel massacres and persecutions, he was less of a tyrant than his father. The courage and dignity he displayed during his reverses inspired pity and respect.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.