The Bourbons of Naples:
Prelude to the Italy-to-USA Avventura

James C. Mancuso December, 1999

Several months prior to writing this essay , I sent out a post to the electronically-supported special interest group dedicated to Italian-American history and issues. In that posting I referred to the, "ridiculous, terrorizing, semi-idiot Bourbon monarchs who fronted the power-holders of southern Italy and Sicily (with the help of the British and the Austrians!!!)" I had made this characterization of the Bourbon monarchs of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily as I sought help in prompting Italian-Americans to delve into the history of the Italy-to-USA Avventura.

It is no surprise that after having made this strong statement some of the participants in the network took issue with my characterization of the Bourbon monarchs..

Before launching into an evaluation of my characterization I want to make it clear that I am including all the monarchical family that held the throne of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily from 1734 to 1860. The Bourbons were removed from power by events following the sweep through Sicily and Southern Italy, by Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Red Shirts.

The Bourbon line was established, in 1734, by the king who was known while he was king of Southern Italy and Sicily as Charles VII (1716-1788). He was the son of the then-king of Spain, Philip V and his second wife, Elizabeth Farnese. After considerable maneuvering, his mother had arranged for him to become Duke of Tuscany, when he was fifteen years old. In 1734 he led a force that extricated Southern Italy and Sicily from Austrian rule. Charles VII remained on the throne of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily until 1759, when he departed the peninsula to take the throne of Spain, as Charles III.

Had the descendants of Charles VII shown something of the best sides of his personal style, one might have difficulty characterizing the Bourbons as "ridiculous, terrorizing, and semi-idiot." He did attempt to reduce the power of the clergy and the barons. He opposed the establishment of the inquisition. He instituted a grand building program, which resulted in the monumental Regia at Caserta, and The San Carlo Opera House. He promoted the excavation of Pompeii and Herculaneum. He also initiated other important and significant public works - e. g., piers in seaport towns. The improvement in ports complemented his conclusion of commercial treaties with other countries and other means of stimulating trade.

Despite these positive aspects of his reign, however, he set out other examples that his heirs seemed to find more attractive. His efforts to curb the barons were rather half-hearted. He found that they could be kept content if he provided them the opportunity to participate in a lavish court life, and he provided them with programs that kept them happy. He established hunting as the most significant right of the monarch. His building program included luxurious palaces in locations that allowed him to indulge in this consuming pastime. He introduced the infamous lottery into his kingdom, which he then, to his credit, attempted to curtail. He attempted to curtail the fraternal societies, sensing that they were the source of anti-monarch activity. He invited Jews to Naples, promising them opportunities, and then seven years later he agreed to banish them from the kingdom. His most ridiculous act was to leave his son, Ferdinand, as his heir when he went to Madrid to become King Carlos III of Spain, after the death of his half-brother, Ferdinand VI, who had succeeded their father, Philip V.

One of my critics pointed out that the Bourbon period left behind some of South Italy's most noted monuments, including San Carlo Opera House.

I responded, "How much of our (Italian-Americans) ancestor's sweat is in [those] pleasure palaces, and what did they profit from San Carlo Opera House (which I love.)? . . . . Consider the pleasure palace at Caserta (The Regia). Yes, it is stunning, and it draws tens of thousands of tourists to the area, which is good for the economy of present day Caserta. But, what was the single most important variable in creating the great avventura? Malaria!! Could Charles have twisted a few of the nobles' arms to get them to collaborate to drain the swamps on the alluvial plains of southern Italy? If he could get them to spend all that money on the pleasure palaces and on San Carlo, could there have been some effort to raise money to drain the swamps. The British had drained the eastern part of their island. The Dutch made a whole country out of the sea by drainage engineering. . . . Did the nobles of Southern Italy and Sicily never hear of the necessity of eliminating swamps?"

My points would be especially significant to anyone who has visited the Regia at Caserta and has seen the immense hydraulic engineering project that was undertaken to bring a torrent of water to landscape the area behind the palace. Surely, hydraulic engineers were available to Charles VII.

I can immediately point out, however, that one need not dig deeply to find characterizations of the Bourbon kings that closely match my characterization of those monarchs. A quick search of the 1998 deluxe edition of Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia uncovers the following entry for the second of the Bourbon monarchs.

"Ferdinand I (1751-1825), king of the Two Sicilies (Ferdinand IV of Naples); succeeded 1759; son of Charles III of Spain; stupid, cruel, cowardly; twice dethroned as king of Naples; restored by the Congress of Vienna," 

One participant posted a message which said, in part, "I recognize that 'ridiculous, terrorizing, semi-idiotic' is the popular understanding of the late regime. Yet, perhaps a closer look at the Bourbons may reveal that they may not have been so stupid. I once read a book titled Fine d'un Regno. ... it is a departure from the usual trivializing portrait painted of the regime and a closer, not entirely unsympathetic, look."

Perhaps this writer could dismiss the characterization of Ferdinand I that is given in the Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia as another instance of trivialization in the writing of history.

But, can one regard the work of Harold Acton (1956. 1961) as trivial? I responded to the writer who wrote that I might profit from reading a more sympathetic account of the reign of the Bourbons as follows: "I have studied (among others) the most apologitic work written on the Bourbons - the two volumes written by Harold Acton. [Acton regarded himself as heir to the various Actons -- British subjects -- who served the Bourbons.] I cannot understand how anyone could read this work and not conclude that the Bourbons were "ridiculous, terrorizing, and semi-idiotic."

I find it difficult to reach another conclusion after reading Acton's work. Despite Acton's sympathy for the Bourbons, which is repeatedly expressed in his writing about these monarchs, he quotes a less sympathetic observer who wrote, after having associated with King Ferdinand (known as Ferdinand IV during the first part of his reign and as Ferdinand I after southern Italy and Sicily were designated as The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.) "Though people have imagined him as a weak monarch, I beg leave to differ in opinion, since he has the boldness to prolong his childhood and to be happy, in spite of years and conviction. Give him a boar to stab and a pigeon to shoot at, a battledore or an angling rod and he is better contented than Solomon in all his glory, and will never discover, like that sapient sovereign, that all is vanity and vexation of spirit" (quoted in Acton, 1957, pp. 234-5).

Acton also reports that Ferdinand I was quite consumed with the idea that Jacobins could be identified by the length of their hair, the length of their whiskers, and the ways in which they dressed. He took it as his royal duty to write ordinances prescribing proper personal habits. One writer reported that it was "his occupation at the opera being to observe those whiskers which trespassed upon [his] edicts, to have those owners instantly seized, shaved and sometimes imprisoned. One night he had a Portuguese officer taken out of the pit to be shaved, who broke from his guards, joined a knot of brother officers who happened to be at the opera, and having informed them on the cause of his apprehension, they all rose towards his majesty, pointed to their whiskers, burst into laughter, and sat down again. He has in the same manner fulminated against poor women's wigs. The penalty is three months' imprisonment" (quoted in Acton, 1957, pp. 423- 4).

Certainly, to use these examples of the actions of Ferdinand IV (I) to characterize him as ridiculous, terrorizing, and semi-idiotic. does appear to make too much of trivia. Consider, however, some of the incidents that reflects higher level policy-making. After the notorious Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo had succeeded in rousing the Southern Italians to overthrow the hapless Parthenopean Republic, Ruffo agreed that the leaders of the Republic would be allowed to leave Italy. The termagent wife of Ferdinand VI (I) had other ideas. Characteristically, the queen, Maria Carolina, took the initiative to send the wishes of herself and the king to Admiral Horatio Nelson through Emma Hamilton, the wife of William Hamilton. This arrangement was quite expedient, since Emma Hamilton, the wife of the British ambassador, William Hamilton, conveniently shared Nelson's bed. Nelson had already annulled the armistice that Ruffo had arranged. Maria Carolina wrote "we must make an example of the leading representatives, and the others will be deported... finally, there must be an exact, prompt, just severity. The same should apply to the women that distinguished themselves during the revolution and that without pity" (quoted in Acton, p. 397). Nelson moved with alacrity to carry out the king's wishes. When Ruffo protested to Nelson, the king wrote to Nelson to arrest Ruffo, if necessary. Perhaps the execution of Admiral Francesco Caracciolo can be cited as the most infamous act of revenge that followed the abrogation of Ruffo's treaty. Caraccioli had attempted to escape after hearing of the invalidation of the Ruffo's treaty. The Admiral, who had participated in evacuating the royal family from Naples at the beginning of the revolution, was captured and, at the orders of the queen, was dragged onto Nelson's flagship, at 9:00 AM on the morning of his capture. At 10:00 AM Nelson ordered a court martial. By 12:00 PM Caracciolo was found guilty, and was sentenced to be hung at the fore-yard of the ship that he once commanded at 5:00 and was to remain hanging until sunset, at which time the rope would be cut and his body dropped into the sea.

Nelson's action created an outcry in his home country, which regarded the act as a blot on the honor of The Royal Navy. Acton, in his typical effort to excuse such actions, claims that at the bottom of this whole affair one would find "the revolution-haunted queen and the gorgeous wanton who had become an ambassadress.... The voluptuousness of Emma filled him with a blind intoxication, so that he (Nelson) became 'generally convinced of the deity' s approval'" (Acton, 1957, p. 401). According to Acton, then, even the heroic Horatio Nelson abrogated the responsibility of his office on account of his pursuit of sexual pleasures!!

In one of the most sycophantish passages in his 1957 work, Acton first recites a litany of counter-criticisms of those who had criticized the actions of the courts that tried the captured rebels, Acton concluded his account of the final outcomes of the abrogation of Ruffo's treaty. It had been easy to round up the leaders of the Parthenopean Republic. They were on ships which had been designated to take them to France, as Ruffo had agreed. "Of 8,000 political prisoners, 105 were condemned to death, six of these were reprieved, 222 were condemned to life imprisonment, 322 to shorter terms, 288 to deportation, and 67 to exile, from which many returned: a total of 1004. The others were set at liberty" (p. 409). Such was the leniency of the Bourbons after having abrogated the terms of surrender that had been set by the person, Cardinal Ruffo, who led the reclamation of their kingdom!!!

One would think that after having been turned out of Naples on two more occassions following this effort to terrorize rebels, that Ferdinand would have recognized the folly of such tactics. Not so. In 1819 he left his country to escape the possibility that the leaders of the newly installed constitutional government would take him prisoner. The Austrian armies arranged for his return. Acton (1957), in his typical sycophantish fashion, reported that "The dear old King -- seventy was then considered old -- was in no particular hurry to return to his capital until it had been cleansed of constitutional dross" (p. 688). "The dear old King" continued in his "endearing" ways!! He appointed as his minister of police The Prince of Canosa, Antonio Capece Minutolo. When the Prince asked the king whether he could apply punishment in an unrestricted manner, the king replied simply, "punish." The prince was convinced that the most effective way to forestall future acts contrary to the well being of "the dear old king," was to deliver to the potential rebel a humiliating punishment. He reinstituted the practice of flogging through the streets. A description of this form of punishment is best read late in the morning after one has fully digested his/her breakfast. Anyone interested in reading an account of how this punishment was executed may read the description in the work of Clara Clement (1894, p. 185).

After the old king's reinstallation by the Austrians, the people of The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies suffered through five years of the king's vengence. He was replaced by his son, Francis I (1777-1830), who did little to counteract the characterization that the Bourbon's were "ridiculous, terrorizing, and semi-idiot." Francis, like his father, needed to deal with one after another effort to revise the government of the kingdom. Like his father, he was also proud of having no intellectual inclination. One of the more interesting aspects of his reign involved the tutor of his children, Monsignor Olivieri. Olivieri tried on several occasions to bring the king to his senses by writing long critiques of the behavior of the king and of his sons. Olivieri protested that he had done his best to a educate the four princes, but that the king frustrated his efforts, ... "You only think of making hunters and farmers of them" (quoted in Acton, 1961 p. 25).

In the spring of 1828, Francis I had the opportunity to demonstrate that he could emulate his father's propensity to terrrorize his subjects. A group of rebels attempted to start a general revolt by taking a small fort in Palinuro, a lovely seacoast town in the southermost part of the Province of Salerno. Francis sent 8,000 troops under Marshall Francesco Saverio Del Carretto, who carried full powers of action. Del Carretto took up a policy of threatening to raze completely any town or commune that did not turn over any suspected rebels. The town of Bosco was reduced to rubble before the King ordered him to desist from that policy.

Del Carretto, however, was not deprived of other means of inspiring terror. Nineteen of 27 captured rebels who had been sentenced to death were executed, and their severed heads were displayed in iron cages in the piazze of their home towns. (Anyone who visits the most picturesque town of Palinuro -- a town celebrated for its scenic beauty and as Aeneas' first Italian landing place [according to Vergil] -- should attempt to recreate the scene encountered by villagers who entered Piazza Vergilio in that sultry summer of 1828. Try to imagine those rotting heads, suspended in iron cages; suspended there to remind everyone of the ways in which the Bourbon monarchs would protect their privileges.)

Francis I did not have a great opportunity to establish his credentials as a "ridiculous, terrorizing, and semi-idiot" Bourbon. His father, Ferdinand I, had lived too long! Francis, a person of ill health, died after five years on the throne. He was succeeded by his son, Ferdinand II (1810-1859). Ferdinand II, who assumed the throne in 1830, had 29 years to affirm the validity of his being characterized as "ridiculous, terrorizing, and semi-idiot."

One of the electronic network's participants wrote to say, " . . . it is a fact that to discredit the Bourbons has been (and still is) a way to discredit the whole southern Italian population, a way to erase their history and identity; just, as the story goes, that the south was simply awaiting to be 'liberated' by the 'friendly' armies of 'the northern brothers.'"

This might be an argument that could hold for current denigration of the Bourbon monarchs, but, once again, consider material regarding Ferdinand II that is provided by Acton (1961), the ever-excusing sycophant. He cites a communique from William Temple, the British minister to Naples during Ferdinand II's reign. "The education of the King was unfortunately entirely neglected as to almost all the branches of knowledge which could be useful to him as a Sovereign, and the only principles which the late Monsignor Olivieri, his tutor, appears to have endeavored to instill in his mind in addition to blind reverence for the cermonies and ordinances of the Roman Catholic religirel;igionon, were a distruct of all persons who might surround him, and a narrow economy which has almost degenerated into avarice" (p. 108). In fairness to the person who called into question my characterization, it should be pointed out that there is reason to believe that Temple's evaluation was tainted by (1) Great Britain having coveted Sicily, and (2) the general British disdain of "papism."

Ferdinand II's regime was clouded by one after another attempt to install constitutional government, which he did his best to subvert by military and other means. In 1848, the kingdom, like so many other kingdoms of Europe, was beset by demands for democratic policies. It is believed that the reactions of his army to the uprising in Palermo, in 1848, earned him the nickname, "La Bomba." Another of Ferdinand's reactions to his finally having been forced to grant a constitution allows one to surmise the utility of Ferdinand's overt demonstration of "blind reverence for the cermonies and ordinances of the Roman Catholic religion." He constantly played on the sympathies of the people who would respond vigorously to threats that their gods and their monarchs were to be reviled and removed by the republicans. Acton (1961) "touchingly" reports a "touching" scene that followed the granting of a constitution, in January, 1848. "When the king drove into the heart of the old capital he was surrounded by a very different crowd -- by petty merchants, hucksters, stall-keepers, market-gardeners, fishermen, sailors, and those who were roughly lumped together as lazzaroni rabble when they displayed their loyalty to the throne and their loathing of innovation. They had heard that the king had been forced to change the ancient laws, and they feared that his life was in danger. . . . 'Death to the Constitution! Long live the king! Down with the enemies of god! Never fear, your majesty, leave the traitors to us.' . . . To show that they meant it they tore up a mass of tricouloured ribbons in front of him. Deeply touched by the contrast between their language and that of the eduacted classes on the Toledo, he attempted to calm them with voice and gesture. 'Friends,' he said, ' 'I only want the welfare of my people. Everything will be settled, you will see. Patience, let's trust in god!' Their protestations of affection became so obstreperoous that he spurred his horse towards the palace. . . . [On his return to the palace] the king appeared to be placid. He had heard the true vox populi, and he felt that his people were with him." (p. 204-5).

In this manner, Ferdinand II was comforted in moments of great governmental crises. He could hear the voice of the masses -- not uneducated, but totally propagandized by his lackies, the religous functionaries (who were generously fed by the toil of the very people to whom they dispensed the propaganda), and his ever-present police and their spies.

Acton does not spare the reader opportunity to observe Ferdinand II's behavior in trivial situations. In 1852, while he was on a tour of inspection of the kingdom, he arrived unexpectedly early in Catanzaro. Furious over finding the city deserted, instead of crowded with his subjects to sing his glories, he arrived at the intendent's house, where he espied a young man wearing a beard. Like his grandfather, he took beards to be a symbol of republicanist sympathies. He demanded to know the identity of the bearded one, and then ordered him to go and have the offensive hair removed. He then demoted the intendent, the local commandant, and the captain of the police.

Despite the necessity of adhering to some semblence of historical accuracy, Acton (1961) continually produced text that attempts to show that Ferdinand had served his people well, and that his bad reputation was the result of forces that he could not control. "Since 1848 the police had become a government within a government. The chiefs were fanatical royalists with more cunning than culture" (p. 520). Superb propagandists somehow managed to persuade the inhabitants of the kingdom that Ferdinand II just didn't deserve to exercise a divine right of kingship. "A vast conspiracy spread through Italy in 1844. In Calabria, Giuseppe] Mazzini's followers endeavoured to organize guerillas on a grand scale" (p. 158) . "Thanks to d'Ayala's tuition the Nunziatella [the military college] was soon crammed with rebesls such as Pisacane, etc. Colonel Nocerino, the commandant in charge, complained to the king that d'Ayala was perverting the minds of his pupils, and the king told Filangeri to get rid of him" (p. 158). Acton apparently assumed that intelligent people could not have arrived at the conclusion that the Bourbons were "ridiculous, terrorizing, and semi-idiot" without "outside forces" having influenced such persons.

One of the participants in the Italian-American history network seems to reflect the use of a similar assumption. Alluding to the ways in which Lord Gladstone's writings had aroused highly negative views of the Bourbons, the writer noted, "Let us remember the infamous letter of Lord Gladstone was based on fake information, and England, at those times, was executing thousands of peoples in Ireland and India." This kind of attack on William E. Gladstone is not absent in Acton's (1961) work. Acton forthrightly says that Gladstone's eyesight was "beclouded," and that he was "forgetful of the horrors at home so vividly described by Dickens and Mayhew, or haply unaware of their existence" (p. 296). The result of Gladstone's beclouded eyesight was his Letters to Lord Aberdeen, thanks to which "the description of Ferdinand II's govemment as the 'negation of god' has become proverbial" (p. 295). Among other events that "beclouded" Gladstone's eyesight was his attendence at a trial of 42 persons accused of having played a part in the rebellious activities of the anti-monarchist secret societies. The trial, which lasted from June, 1850, to January, 1851, was a legalistic shambles. Some of the accused recanted their confessions, or claimed that he confessions were extracted under duress. The proceedings were frequently disrupted by the unruly behavior of the defendents. Three of the defendents were condemned to death, but Ferdinand II gave them a reprieve. Three of the leading defendents were condemned to 24 years in irons. Gladstone had been appalled at the charges made against persons he regarded as the most virtuous and intelligent men of their community. Considering that his judgment of these men might have garnered ratification from a broad segment of European thinkers, one would need to exercise some caution before claiming that he inaccurately assessed the regime of Ferdinand II.

The last of the Bourbons of The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Francis II (1836-1894), acquired his opportunity to earn his reputation in May, 1859. He had little time to leave a clear mark. Garibaldi brought an end to the Bourbon monarchy in 1860 . Like his forebears, Francis II was willing to believe that a diety had granted him his scepter, and that "the ruin of this poor country is the pernicious contact and influence of foreigners" (quoted in Acton, 1961, p. 412). He did have enough time to demonstrate that he could be characterized as semi-idiot. Despite Acton's (1971) efforts to exercise the utmost generosity, he needed to write, "He was a Neapolitan version of the moody Dane, sunk in the silence of his moody reflections. A hero would have led his army against Garibaldi. Francis relied on prayer . . " (p. 447).

In this piece, I have drawn my examples of the ridiculous, terrorizing, semi-idiotic attributes of the Bourbons mainly from H. Acton's two volume work. I have done so, because Acton consistently shows his sympathies for this line of monarchs. I could have drawn examples from other, less sympathtic, works that I have studied. I have not studied the three books recommended by the network participants who protested my characterizatrion (Campoletti on Ferdinand !V, Jaeger on Francis II, and 'Fine d'un Regno' )

I know that most of the material I have studied is material that has been written by Britishers, and that those writings might well represent justifications of the British policy of supporting Garibaldi. I know that each age writes its own history. In one of my posts to one of my critics, I said something like, "'Every age rewrites its own history.' Perhaps I should have said that every person reads his own history in terms of his/her existing personal construction system. A churched person will read about the Bourbons in one way. A descendent of the ancient Sersale family, a family that once enjoyed the status of nobility and now enjoys the income from a grand five-star hotel that occupies the family's converted summer palazzo, will read history in another way. The descendents of one of the peasants who worked on the Sersale fiefs no doubt will read the history of the Bourbons in another way."

Nevertheless, I have not found any literature that would dissuade me from characterizing the Bourbons of Naples as other than ridiculous, terrorizing and semi-idiotic. How else might one characterize their constant efforts to use terror to support their position, their inability to profit from one after another experience that should have provided them with enlightenment, their refusal to expose themselves to the kind of intellectual stimulation that might have helped them to develop the kinds of political constructions that would have given them insights into efficient means of organizing government, and their failure to prompt the development of the people under their rule?

One of my critics wrote, "I do agree that no matter how hard anyone looks there will be no erasing the injustices committed, especially by the standards of our society . . " I responded to this intimation that the injutices would be considered injustices by our standards by saying, ". . . of course I am judging them by today's standards, but not solely by today's standards. Consider that the thousands of republican-oriented rebels who died trying to get rid of them must have been judging them by the standards of their day. I have no trouble agreeing with those rebels."

Another of my critics responded, "Regarding the several 'rebels' somebody still today 'admires' so acritically, we must say they often were opportunists (whose funds came from the north), who did not think a second about selling their country to a foreign army (as Garibaldi and the Piedmontese were) to get an economic advantage. . . . You are using today's standards, for sure, but even if that would not be the case, you should simply look around at other states and kingdoms of those times to realize that your views are one-way."

Well, "acritical" and "one-way" -- that should put me in my place!! Not quite!! Where, but from the outside, do rebels get their financial support? And, did the rebels of the Parthenopean Republic, when they welcomed the help of the French armies sell their country to a foreign army solely for economic advantage. Were the rebels who tried to install a constitution in 1820 -- without the help of a foreign army -- seeking economic gain?? And remember, those rebels -- like many rebels before them -- were overwhelmed by militarily powerful monarchies that came to the rescue of the Bourbons. Yes, the southern republicans finally threw in with the Piedmontese. What other recourse did they have, when all of their efforts to weaken the monarchy were resolved by British, Austrian, and Russian arms?

Further, why would my characterization of the Bourbons be altered by comparing them to other European monarchies. I have no trouble characterizing the Romanovs as "ridiculous, terrorizing, and semi-idiot."

Two critics asked me to alter my evaluation on the basis of comparing the government of southern Italy and Sicily under the Bourbons to the government of that part of the world under the reconstituted state Italian state -- that is, to the state that emerged after the unification of peninsula, in 1870.

Again, I can't understand why such a comparison should alter my evaluation of the Bourbons. The new government did little to alleviate the terrible conditions of Southern Italy. We know that the inhabitants of that troubled land found the ultimate solution in massive migration. We know that the new Italian government used repressive tactics to control those who remained. The new Italian government should never be excused from their responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of uneducated men from the south who were sent to Ethiopia (to satisfy the colonialist aspirations of the new kingdom) and to the killing fields on the Austrian border, during WWII. We know that when The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was incorporated into the new Italian state, that state acquired a treasury that amounted to many times the value of the treasuries of all the other governments that were incorporated into the new monarchy of Italy, but used very little of that money to ameliorate the conditions of the people whose toil and privation had built that treasury. We know that the government of the unified Italy, at first, paid little attention to the flood of emigrants who exited the South and Sicily. Of course, the government of Rome did pay attention to the emigrants when it was realiized that those immigrants could provide a ready foreign market for Italy's products and that they would send a steady stream of cash back to their families. The repression of the Sicilian Fasci, in the 1890s, though not as bloody, proved equally effective in comparison to the repression of any revolutionary activity against the Bourbons. (Disenfranchisement and long-term imprisonment on penal islands replaced capital punishment, but to his credit, General Mara, who led the repression of the Fasci in Sicily, did not hang the heads of the Fasci leaders in the piazze of their home towns.) Above all, the Roman government. like the Bourbons, continued to be ineffective in diminishing the power of the barons.

And, whatever criticism one might make of the Rome government of the newly-formed Italian state, that government, at least, allowed the contadini to make their way out of the country as a part of their effort to escape la miseria. Under the Bourbons, passports simply were not issued to the contadini. To have opened the gates to emigration would have created shortages of labor and military recruits!!!

One critic of my evaluation of the Bourbons said, "I always wonder how come, after 140 years since the fall of the independent southern Italian State, there still is so much misinformation and partiality about it."

One would begin to reply to this statement by first noting that one person's "misinformation" is another person's "legitimate perspective." What, in written history, is other than "perspective?" In the first place, those of us who are not professional historians put together our perspective by reading secondary works -- the works of historians who have assembled their perspective from primary sources. Thus, we form secondary perspectives, and any of us can be charged with accepting "misinformation." And, it is redundant to point out that everyone reads that history from perspectives that he/she has already developed. Certainly, someone who identifies with the nobility will read the history of the Bourbons from a perspective which differs from the perspective brought to that reading by one who identifies with the peasants. A person who has an affinity with the clergy of the dominant religion of the kingdom -- a clergy who owned great portions of the wealth of Southern Italy and Sicily -- might find little to criticize in the behavior of the Bourbons. After all, it was that clergy who benefited from the monarchs whose power derived, in large part, from their ability to claim that their reign had been decreed by the gods of that particular clergy. A modern who entertains the idea of a revival of a State of South Italy and Sicily would find it useful to attempt to "rehabilitate" the reputation of the leaders of the independent state that existed during the reign of the Bourbons.

To answer my critic's concern about the longevity of this "misinformtion," I would point to the human proclivity to tell "complete" stories. We all seek to form stories that clearly indicate cause and effect. For those of us who are the descendents of those who left behind all that sunshine and all that familial love, we seek to tell the many-decade-old story of the causes of the immigration. We want to explain the cause of the emigration. If we read the history of the immigration, we find it easy to see the ineptitude of the Bourbons as the cause of the immigration.

At the same time, a concerted study of the history of Southern Italy and Sicily will bring one into contact with works like that of Benedetto Croce. Croce, who is recognized as an important philosopher of the discipline of history, warns against attempting to simplify the cause/effect relationships in explanations of the course of history. Essentially, he advocates a contextualist position. That is, he advocates a position which forces the explainer of historic movement to seek consistently to follow the strands which interconnect the total context of the historic moment.

While Croce's philosophic position retains its esteem among scholars, other scholars have found wanting his effort to understand the collapse of and the ineptitude of the governments of South Italy and Sicily. Croce attempted to explain the sorrowful aspects of the government of South Italy and Sicily in terms of the lack of "moral principles" among he people of that region.

Yet, as I see it, he was on the right track. I, however, would not speak of "moral principles." I would speak of the inability of the people of the region to apply constructions (cognitive organizations that people use as they attempt to "know" the events and objects that they encounter in their worlds) that would lead to change and useful social organization. For example, consider the social construction "divine right of kings (and nobility)." People, after centuries of total acceptance of a construction that explained social stratification in terms of the will of the deity, immediately could "know" that the deity had ordained their lowly status, just as the deity had ordained that the barons had the right to extract from them their labor and the results of their production. This construction, I would claim, contributed to and added to the fatalism that underlay many of the constructions that the people of the region used to explain innumerable aspects of their lives. "It is the will of the deity!" The deity decreed that the king should occupy the throne! The deity had decreed that some people -- the nobility -- were to hold the superior positions in the society! The deity had ordained that Uncle Giuseppe should suffer from malaria! It is the will of the deity that the earthquakes should collapse the village into a heap of rubble!

Other social constructions were maintained with equal conviction; some supported by the use of the superordinate construction of fatalism. Large, internally loyal families, which also depended on the will of the deity, were judged to be positive. People perpetuated constructions that supported the efficacy of magical rites. Use of violence to uphold family honor was construed as positive.

While Croce might evaluate the holding or rejection of these constructions in terms of good and bad, I would claim that he can do so only if he sets the goals that are to be achieved by accepting or rejecting these constructions. For example, if one wishes to promote human effort toward achieving effective social organization in order to attain hygienic conditions, then fatalism might be judged as bad. Fatalism induces lassitude. If one believes that events evolve on the basis of the will of the deity, then there would be little reason to formulate plans to achieve effective social organization.

To evaluate the Bourbons, then, one would need to consider the many strands that wove through the social organization of their kingdom; and the construction systems of all the people -- people of all classes -- would represent a salient strand in that context.

Considering all this, can one say that the Bourbons were ridiculous, terrorizing, and semi-idiot. They after all would need to be regarded as prisoners of their own constructions about the nature of social organizations.

They cannot be excused, however, from their responsibility to free themselves from their conceptual prison. Their disdain of intellectuals cannot be excused. They were literally sitting on the work of one of the greatest minds to appear in Europe -- Giambattista Vico. Vico, had first published his masterwork, La scienza nuova, in 1725. He published revisions of the work in 1730 and 1744 (See Fisch & Bergin, 1968, and Mali, 1992). Vico's master work was available to all the Bourbon kings, including Charles VII who established the Bourbon line in 1734. Vico's original and provocative thinking provided the intellectual foundation for all the modern social sciences. He established the then-revolutionary principle that every society evolved its own customs and ways of understanding their social world. He maintained that one could study this evolution by studying the language of mythology, which reflected what we would call the social constructions of the people who used that mythology. The Bourbons also had the opportunity to attempt to understand the vital humansist movement, a perspective that countered fatalism. Humanism had been well established in European and Italian thought for two hundred years before the Bourbons took the throne of South Italy and Sicily.

But, even if they had been willing to explore alternative ways to construe social organization, could they have effectively altered the constructions used by the people of their kingdom? Could they have brought about an evolution of constructions that would have created the possibilities of achieving social organizations that would have allowed for effective planning and execution of practices that would have led to goals that would have been regarded as beneficial? Were there institutions that could have been used to prompt the alteration of the people's constructions?

Considering all of this, I still judge the Bourbon monarchs to be ridiculous, terrorizing, and semi-idiotic. They had choices. There was no dearth of social commentary. As monarchs they had the responsiblity to explore choices. Surely they should have read Machiavelli Thousands of their subjects were "ameliorators" rather than fatalists. They could have read Vico, rather than having spent their time in terrorizing the animals on their hunting lodges. They could have considered the ways in which they might have worked to change the constructions that people used as they attempted to understand their lives.

To return to the matter of the longevity of the interest in the Bourbon rule. I point to another recent show of interest in the Bourbon monarchs. Nicotra (1999) reports:

"In Naples, Ferdinand III of the Bourbon royal family, celebrated his wedding anniversay with his wife, Princess Chantal, in the Royal Palace at Caserta. The mayor welcomed them by saying, 'Your majesties, here you are at home.' Lamberto Dini, Italy's Minister of Foreigh Affairs, was one of the guests, and he rose to his feet when the band played the royal Bourbon anthem. 'I did it for the sake of good manners. It was a justified action,' he claimed."

". . . Meanwhile the descendents of the House of Savoy. . . are still forbidden to set foot on Italilan soil. Many who do not support the monarcy hold that this law is contrary to common sense. It would be interesting to know what Americans of Italian descent think about it."

I will speak for one American of Italian descent who still retains some interest in how descendants of the lines of the Savoy and Bourbons are treated in Italy and elsewhere!!! I don't much care if the descendents of the house of Savoy are allowed to visit Italy. I enjoy visiting Italy, and I think that that enjoyment should be widely shared. I do experience some disappointment that so-called royalty can be held in awe, despite all the efforts to change our social constructions so that merit comes before ancestry as we dispense status. I do find it abominable that descendants of the house of Bourbon would be given special access to the Regia at Caserta! I find it ridiculous that someone would use the title Ferdinand III to refer to one of those descendants. Do people still believe that something special (deity endorsed???) is passed on to someone who happens to be a descendant of people who were regarded as divinely chosen and supported? No one has suggested to me that I and my wife could celebrate our wedding anniversary at the Regia in Caserta! I think that all the southern Italians should be offended by this attention to this man and his wife (whoever he is) while my wife and I had to visit the Regia as ordinary tourists!!! After all, my ancestors put a great deal of their sweat into paying taxes, levies, etc., to finance the building of the pleasure palace that once housed the "ridiculous, terrorizing, semi-idiot Bourbons."


Acton, H. [1956]. The Bourbon of Naples: 1734 - 1825. London: Metheun

Acton, H. [1961] The Last Bourbons of Naples: 1825 - 1861. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Bergin, T. G. and Fisch, M. H. (1968) The new science of Giambattista Vico. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Clement, C. E., 1894, Naples: The City of Parthenope. Boston: Dana Estes.

Croce, Benedetto [1965/1925]. History of the Kingdom of Naples. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Mali, J. (1992). The rehabilitation of myth: Vico's 'New Science.' Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.).

Nicotra, F. (1999). Time for a Liesurely Evaluation. Italy Italy, 17, p. 5.

This essay was developed as a part of the effort of The Albany (NY) Area Lodge of The Sons of Italy to make available material that will develop an appreciation and understanding of The Italy-to-USA Avventura. Nevertheless, the writers of this essay and other text found on this world wide web site claim sole responsibility for the content of their productions.


       Anyone interested in obtaining a printed copy of this essay may change the print size by going to the view menu, and then instructing the program to print the text. It would be advisable to set the printer to print in black ink.  

. The author, Jim Mancuso died on June 10th, 2005. We maintain this site in memory of all the things that he did for us.

       Go to Top of this page

       Return to List of Italian-Americana Information topics.