Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel, the Portoghesina

She, dubbed the “portoghesina” for its origins, was literate and poet. Welcomed the royal court of the Bourbons she gave up all benefits to follow her Jacobin vocation. She was a leading figure of the Neapolitan Republic; She was the first woman director of an Italian newspaper, “Il Monitore Napoletano”.

-Forsan Et haec olim meminisse iuvabit- “Maybe one day it will be useful to remember all this”. This was the phrase Eleonora uttered, quoting Virgilio, going to the gallows in the Piazza Mercato, along with her unfortunate companions, to be executed by hanging.

Being noble she asked the judge Vincenzo Speciale to be beheaded during the trial, but the “privilege” of decapitation was not acknowledged because, the judge said, his Portuguese nobility was not recognized. This was the last affront that her former close friend Maria Carolina did her to take revenge of his Jacobinism.

220px-Campo_Marzio_-_memoria_di_Eleonora_da_Fonseca_a_Ripetta_1110321 2008 Lalupa
Roma – via di Ripetta- casa natale di Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel – 2008 – Lalupa CC BY SA 3.0

Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel was born in Rome, in via di Ripetta 22, on January 13, 1752; his father was Clemente de Fonseca Pimentel, of a noble family who had distant roots in Spain but in the mid-seventeenth century had settled in Portugal; his mother was Catherine Lopez de Leon, also a member of the Portuguese nobility.

His parents had moved to Rome in 1750 with the whole family: his mother’s sister, Michela Lopez widow of brother of Clemente, with her sons and the abbot Antonio Lopez uncle of the mother. In 1760 there was a rupture of diplomatic relations between the pope and Portugal as a result of the confiscation of all church property in Portugal in favour of the state. The Portuguese ambassador in Rome, fearing heavy reprisals, advised all Portuguese residents in Rome to leave the Papal States. Eleonora, 8 years old, and all his family settled in Naples.

Eleonora studied with her uncle abbot, deepening the study of literature, Latin, greek and natural sciences; She was particularly inclined to poetry and the study of foreign languages. In the family home he attended Gaetano Filangieri and Domenico Cirillo learning from these liberal ideas who then accompanied her for life. Still young, she had correspondence with the major literary figures of the time, including Pietro Metastasio to whom she sent her first literary creations, receiving congratulations and encouragement to continue.

She published a book of poems “Il Tempio della Gloria” and a translation from the Latin of a study by Nicola Caravita, with her comments, contesting the alleged feudal rights of the pope over the kingdom of Naples; also she published a booklet with poems dedicated to the marriage of Ferdinand IV and Maria Carolina; in these early works she was using the pseudonym Epolnifenora Olcesamante which was an anagram of her name. She also had correspondence with Voltaire from whom he bought a copy of his Encyclopedie.

She was received at court for her literary merit where she had the task of librarian of the queen with an economic benefit; she began his friendship with the Queen Maria Carolina on this occasion. In 1775 Eleanor wrote the poem “The Birth of Orpheus” when the real firstborn borned and she dedicated it to the baby Carlo Francesco.

In this time she wrote the “Trionfo della virtù”, drama in which Fonseca celebrated the Portuguese Prime Minister Pombal who was revolutionizing the structure of the Portuguese state with his liberal views, addressing King Joseph I to an liberal government, in where the king had the rule of distributor of justice and of state representative and the government had the task before reforming the state structure and then to govern.

After being orphaned of her mother at the age of 19 years, in 1778 she married an Bourbon army officer, Pasquale Tria de Solis, belonging to the small Neapolitan nobility. From this marriage she was born a son, Francesco, who died after seven months. Eleonora had two pregnancies that failed because of the violence of the husband against her. Indeed Pasquale Tria was a coarse person, uncultured, jealous of literary successes and relationships that Eleonora had with the most famous intellectuals of the time. This unhappy marriage ended in 1784 with the separation of the two.

After separation Eleonora deepened her scientific and economic studies, momentarily forgetting the poetry, she had relationships with Alberto Fortis, famous naturalist of Padua. She wrote the sonnet “poetic Compositions for the laws given to the new population of Santo Leucio by Ferdinand IV, King of the Sicilies” on the occasion of the creation of the S. Leucio colony and the enactment of the statute that regulated its life, to celebrate the enthusiasm this statute had generated in liberal Neapolitans that looked so much to the enlightened monarchy principles which they advocated.

Since 1793 the relationship between Fonseca and Maria Carolina began to fail. Queen changed his attitude towards the Neapolitan Jacobins, who at first had protected and at least partially shared liberal ideas, following the revolutionary events that were taking place in France where his sister, Queen Marie Antoinette, had been guillotined. The queen also counted Eleonora among Jacobins as the same had attended a reception that the Admiral Latouche had given on his ship inviting the leaders Jacobins in Naples; He had come to Naples with the French fleet threatening the kingdom of Naples because of the unfriendly attitude had by Ferdinand IV against revolutionary France.

Eleonora became a suspect for the Bourbon police, in 1797 she was suspended annuity which still enjoyed for services rendered as a librarian of the queen. In 1798 she underwent a search in her house where copies of the Encyclopedie, that was forbidden in the kingdom, were found. On October 5, 1798, she was imprisoned in harsh prisons of the Vicaria as suspicious Jacobin, despite the Portuguese ambassador’s intervention. In January of 1799 the French army invaded the Kingdom; the Neapolitan real escaped in Palermo; Francesco Pignatelli, vicar of the king in Naples, signed the armistice with the French general Championnet.
A crowd of “lazzari” invaded Vicaria to free the common prisoners that were detained in that prison; Eleonora Fonseca could leave the prison in the confusion and she joined the revolutionary groups who were trying to win over Castel Sant ‘Elmo to facilitate the entry into the city of the French troops, opposed by “lazzari” Neapolitan pro-royalists.

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Castel Sant’Elmo – Lalupa 2007 CC BY 3.0

A group of women, including Eleonora, was able to enter the fort with a stratagem and to open the doors to the revolutionaries who took over the castle. From the top of the stands that offer city Republicans bombarded the troops of lazzari allowing the French army to enter the city.

Fonseca became a mainstay of the revolutionary goverment of “Neapolitan Republic” since she was entrusted as director of a newspaper that spread among the people of the libertarian principles of the republic. castl sant’elmoEleanor, that to adapt to the egalitarian principles of the Revolution took away the “de” nobility of her name, founded the newspaper “Monitore Napoletano”.

The “Monitore” was published from February 2 to 8 June and were given to the prints 32 bi-weekly numbers. The newspaper was the voice with which the citizens were informed of the measures that the new government adopted, while it was not an official organ of the republic. The Fonseca did not renounce her criticisms, especially against the French troops who were the guarantors of the republic but that often were the subject of severe reprimands through the columns of “Monitore” with their incorrect behavior towards the population.

Now the interlude of freedom of Naples was declining, the French army of General Championnet was called in northern Italy for the defense of the Cisalpine Republic, which suffered under the military attacks of the Habsburg restoration. Naples was left alone to defend themselves against the troops of the “Santa Fede” of the Cardinal Ruffo, commissioned by the king to restore his power by all means. On June 13 Naples was invaded by “Sanfedisti” who committed the most despicable crimes, in order to bend the resistance of the revolutionaries.

The revolutionary patriots shut themselves for defence in the Neapolitan forts: Castel Nuovo, Castel dell’Ovo, Castel Sant’Elmo. Eleonora was in this fortress, which was the last to surrender. Cardinal Ruffo proposed an “honorable surrender” in which it assured to the besieged the chance to leave the country in the wake of the French troops, the Republicans agreed to surrender to these conditions.

The king refused to recognize the agreement signed by Cardinal Ruffo and by foreign military commanders in the city. The Republicans were imprisoned on a ship at anchor in the bay of Naples, pending the decision on the possible of prisoners to go abroad. At first it seemed that Pimentel was destined to exile, then, suddenly, the “portoghesina”, with some his companions, was sent down from the ship sailing for France, and was imprisoned in the fortress of “Carmine”. Maybe revenge Maria Carolina, relentless persecutor of the Jacobins after the execution of her sister Marie Antoinette.

On August 20, 1799 Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel, Giuliano Colonna, Vincenzo Lupo, Gennaro Serra along with other revolutionaries were executed in the “Piazza Mercato”. It was prescribed that the bodies were to be exposed to the gallows for 24 hours, but a summer storm forced that they were removed immediately. They were all buried in the Church of Santa Maria di Constantinopoli which was in the monastery of Sant’Eligio, a few steps from the Piazza Mercato.

Also a brother of Fonseca, Giuseppe, was sentenced to death for the events Republicans, he was to be executed on October 20, 1799, but at the last moment he was granted the royal grace and saved his life.

In the early nineteenth century the complex of Sant’Eligio was renovated and the church of S. Maria of Constantinopoli was demolished. In these cases the bodies buried in the church were transferred to Poggioreale cemetery, in the site of the respective brotherhoods, but was not found any trace of a transfer of remains from the convent of Sant’Eligio; therefore it is not known the location of the burial of the mortal remains of Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel.

A nephew of Eleonora around 1850 took over a family chapel in the so-called “quadrato” in the cemetery of Poggioreale marked by the name of the Fonseca family, which still exists today. In this chapel they were rounded up the remains of all deceased family members who in his time had moved from Portugal to Naples. It is reasonable to assume that even the remains of Eleonora have been transferred, but Benedetto Croce, who had a personal acquaintance with a senior member of the Fonseca family, he could identify the burial site.

Bibliography:
Benedetto Croce, Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel, Roma, Tipografia Nazionale, 1887
Maria Antonietta Macchiocchi, Cara Eleonora, Milano, Rizzoli, 1993
Enzo Striano, Il resto di niente. Storia di Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel e della rivoluzione Napoletana, Milano Rizzoli, 2004
it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleonora_Pimentel_Fonseca
treccani.it/enciclopedia/fonseca-pimentel-eleonora-de_(Dizionario_Biografico)
Antonella Orefice, La Penna e La Spada, Napoli, Arte Tipografica Editrice, 2009