Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies

Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies (aka Ferdinand III of Sicily; Ferdinand IV of Naples): (b. Jan. 12, 1751, at Naples; d. Jan. 4, 1825, at Naples). King of the Two Sicilies. Upon the accession of his father, Charles III, to the throne of Spain, Ferdinand succeeded to the throne of Naples (Oct. 5, 1759). In 1767, he expelled the Jesuits from his kingdom. On Apr. 7, 1768, he married (by proxy) Maria Caroline, the strong-willed daughter of the Austrian empress Maria Theresa. On May 12 or 22, 1768, the ceremony was repeated in person. It was not long before the Austrian queen and her ambitious minister, the Englishman John Acton, held the true power in Naples. Native-born ministers like Tanucci were striped of nearly all their power and influence and summarily dismissed as the court took on a strong pro-Austrian and pro-English policy. In 1794, Naples even went so far as to join the coalition against France. This was to soon have a decidedly adverse result for Ferdinand.

In 1796, Ferdinand was forced to agree to make peace with France. This agreement, however, lasted only until Napoleon embarked on his expedition to Egypt. Ferdinand’s betrayal resulted only in bringing about a French invasion of his kingdom. In late 1798 / early 1799, French forces advanced into Neapolitan territory forcing Ferdinand, his family, and supporters to board English warships and flee to Palermo. The mainland portion of the Regno was lost to the Bourbons and a new French-supported liberal government, known as the Parthenopean Republic, was established at Naples.

This experiment in Republican government proved too unstable to last and collapsed before a pro-Bourbon peasant uprising led by Cardinal Ruffo. Ferdinand returned to Naples and exacted a terrible revenge on those who had supported the Republic. The liberal, intellectual caste suffered a terrible persecution, its members suffering execution, imprisonment, confiscation, and exile. By 1801, Ferdinand was again forced to agree to major concessions to the French in order to preserve his throne. This cooperation, however, proved unacceptable to the Queen. In 1805, when war broke out between France and her native Austria, Maria Caroline violated the treaty. She and Ferdinand relied on the support of British and Russian troops and to a quick Austrian victory. This last, however, proved a fallacy when the French triumphed at the battle of Austerlitz.

The subsequent peace made between France and Austria left Naples and exposed and helpless target. A new French army was dispatched by Napoleon, forcing Ferdinand and Maria Carolina into a second exile at Palermo. The mainland portion of the Regno came under a period of French rule, first under Joseph Bonaparte and then Joachim Murat. Ferdinand was able to retain his power in Sicily but he was little more than a figurehead. The real power in Sicily was in the hands of the British ambassador, Lord William Bentinck. British sensitivities had little time for the absolutism of Queen Maria Caroline and, in 1811, sent her into permanent exile back to her homeland. Even Ferdinand himself was forced to sign over most of his power to his son Francis, who became regent.

In 1815, Murat fell from power, and Ferdinand returned again to Naples. In 1817, he united the separate crowns of Naples and Sicily formally creating the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The earlier concessions he had agreed to for Sicily in 1812 were soon repressed. Despite an uprising by the Carbonari in 1820, Ferdinand spent the final years of his reign again restored to the level of an absolute monarch thanks to the intercession of reactionary outside support especially by the Austrians.