Maria Carolina, a “German” in Naples

She became Queen of Naples to 16 years of age marrying Ferdinando IV of Bourbon, she took the power into her own hands and wanted to govern in place of her husband. She became the bloodiest persecutor of the Jacobins after the French Revolution and the beheading of her sister Marie Antoinette.

On the night of 23 January 1806, as she fled from Naples reaching Palermo with the royal family, the court, and all the riches of the kingdom, including the treasure of the Banco di Napoli on the ship “Archimede”, Maria Carolina had the feeling that she would not have returned in that city anymore, theater of her ambitions. She was to want the escape in Palermo, when the French army of General Andrea Massena was still far from Naples. n of France, which took place at the hands of the revolutionaries in Paris in 1793, She lived in fear of meeting the same fate of her sister Marie Antoniette, beheaded by the revolutionaries in Paris in 1793; “Jacobins” so she apostrophised the French revolutionaries and the sympathizers of the revolution.

The Grand Duchess of Austria Maria Carolina of Hapsburg-Lorraine, called Charlotte in family, was born in Vienna in the castle of Schönbrunn on August 13, 1752, the daughter of Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa of Austria, 13th child of the royal couple. She spent his childhood in a close relationship with her younger sister Marie Antoinette; to 15 years of age, because of unseemly behaviors, she was separated from Marie Antoinette. When Maria Giuseppina, his older sister, promised bride of Ferdinando IV of Bourbon king of Naples, died to have contracted smallpox, Maria Carolina was destined to replace it as the bride of Ferdinando. On 7 April 1768, only 16 years old, married Ferdinando by proxy in Vienna who, while already being King of Naples, had only a year older than her.

On May 12, he landed in the kingdom of Naples in Terracina, accompanied by her brother, Grand Duke of Tuscany and his wife Maria Luisa. A Portella met her husband for the first time. Maria Carolina was disappointed, Ferdinando spoke only in dialect and was not very educated, Carolina found him “very ugly”, also he showed no interest in the government of the kingdom. The feeling of disappointment was shared by Ferdinando which Carolina was not sympathetic.

Prime Minister Bernardo Tanucci, who had been commissioned the government of Kingdom by Charles III, father of Ferdinando, did not like Maria Carolina that decided to take the power into his own hands from the first day. In fact, King Ferdinando, nicknamed by the people “re lazzarole” “rascal king”, preferred hunting, playing cards and courting women of the pleople to government commitments. He attended incognito the taverns of Saint Lucia, the fishermen neighborhood adjacent to the palace. It was needed to Maria Carolina generate a male heir to gain power, She would become a member of the Privy Council only after this event, as envisaged in the marriage contract.

In 1775 she gave birth sees the light of the heir to the throne Carlo Tito died a few years later, after the birth of two daughters; in 1777 Francis was born. Maria Carolina became part of the Privy Council following the event. Her first actions were made tfor chasing away Bernardo Tanucci. He ruled by listening to the advice of father of Ferdinando, Charles III, who had left the throne to his third son to take up the post of King of Spain. The policy pursued by Carolina aimed instead to get rid of the protection of Spain, to replace it with an alliance with Austria. Queen replaced Tanucci with G. Beccadelli, Prince of Sambuca, as head of the government, in fact she was the source of all government measures.

Among 1780 and 1793 Carolina ruled with the utmost openness, promoting the requests of liberty of Neapolitan intellectuals. The literate Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel was her librarian and her bosom friend; Eleonora was the poet of civil liberties, one of the first Jacobin in Naples. Carolina promoted the arts; the painter Philippe Hackert was commissioned to paint the vaults of Carditello royal palace, used as a hunting lodge by King Ferdinando; also liberal as Domenico Cirillo and Gaetano Filangieri were protected by Maria Carolina. She promoted the colony of S. Leucio with its statute, which was an example of social liberalism before its time.

Maria Carolina appointed her lover Acton for prime minister, after she Carolina went to Vienna, to forge stronger bonds with Austria, with the help of her mother Maria Teresa, wife of the emperor. She combined the weddings of his two daughters in Vienna: Maria Teresa with the future emperor of Austria and Maria Amalia with the heir to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

The Queen had no moral restraint, she had many love affairs between the noble and the less noble of his court, also because of lack of interest in his person of her husband, with whom she still had eighteen children, of whom only seven reached adulthood. It is told in “Confessions of Maria Carolina in the point of death”, reported by Giovanni La Cecilia, that the Queen, for a bet made with the Marquesa de Saint Marco, went several times in disguise, along with the marquesa, in a pleasure house located in San Camillo street, where the two ladies secretly spied the activities of the guests. Some gossips of the time told that the two noblewomen come out from the house with handsome profits.

Always in the “Confessions” Maria Carolina says “The young priest F. chaplain of real palace church I liked him exceedingly, I did secretly introduced him into the toilet …. I heard footsteps, and immediately changing attitude, shouting outrage, offense, such as Potiphar bride; the king was arriving, he found the poor priest almost insane, believing perfidy my behaviour, …. the bodyguards put him in chains, dragged him into an underground of Castel Nuovo … “. We must add that there are serious doubts about the authenticity of the “Confessions”, but while the first episode seems also confirmed by other sources, the latter, although likely, has not confirmed.

The French Revolution and the sentencing to death of his favorite sister behaved a profound change in Maria Carolina: she was transformed into the most ruthless persecutor of the Jacobins or sympathizers of the revolution, from the promoter of liberal ideas. She expelled Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel from the job of librarian, suspecting her as Jacobin. She oriented politics of the kingdom of Naples to England against the French. In order to achieve this she used her usual methods. She maked a unusual friendship with Emma Hamilton, the wife of the British ambassador to Naples. Emma became in turm the mistress of Horatio Nelson, British admiral who often stood in the harbor in front of Castel Nuovo with his fleet. The queen and Ferdinando entered the great friendship with Nelson through Emma.

In 1798, at end of October, the Queen did everything possible because Naples declares war on the Roman Republic; Ferdinando IV set off with an army of 80,000 soldiers to Rome to restore the temporal power of the Pope, he entered Rome declaring occupant of the Eternal City arausing the irony of the Romans. The French, guardians of the Roman Republic, faced the Bourbon army with their troops commanded by General Championnet, forcing a hasty retreat. Then they went to Naples to form even in southern Italy a revolutionary republic.

The royal family fled during the night in Palermo on board the British ship Vanguard commanded by Horatio Nelson, escorted by Sannite vessel, commanded by Francesco Caracciolo, carrying the rest of the royal court. The real and the court were guests at the Palazzo dei Normanni. Ferdinando, fomented by the queen, commissioned the Cardinal Ruffo, of Calabrian origin, to form an army for reconquest of the kingdom; Cardinal Ruffo landed in Calabria and convinced the most humble strata of the population with his preaching to join the Army of the “Santa Fede”.

The Army “sanfedista marched to Naples, bringing the various rebellious provinces under the power of the crown at the expense of barbarous cruelties. Cardinal Ruffo arrived in Naples that French troops had left for Lombardy, quickly defeated the Republicans and set fire and swold to the city; Republicans sought refuge in the city fortresses. Cardinal offered to the besieged an “honorable surrender” with which it was allowed to them to be able to leave the kingdom with the French troops that they accepted. Maria Carolina was not agreed with this “honorable surrender” and she convinced Horatio Nelson, who was in the harbor in the British fleet, with the complicity of Emma Hamilton to disregard the agreement granted by Cardinal Ruffo.

The real did imprison over 8,000 Republicans whit the help of Nelson. 124 revolutionaries, representatives of the best Neapolitan intelligentsia, were sentenced to death, 544 were sentenced to life imprisonment and to various prison terms, 67 exiled. Among those sentenced to death there were: Cirillo, Baffi, Pacifico, Pagano, Gennaro Serra di Cassano, Eleonora Pimentel Fonseca who, for personal vengeance of Maria Carolina, was hanged despite she was entitled to the shooting being noble.

Admiral Francesco Caracciolo, who had embraced the republican cause, was hanged the foremast of Minerva ship for order of Nelson, encouraged to do so by his mistress Emma Hamilton suggesting Maria Carolina. The body of Caracciolo was thrown into the sea, but it resurfaced several times in the following days in front of Nelson and his sailors, one day even it refuraced while the King and Queen guest on Nelson’s ship. Evidently the body, poorly ballasted, had been set in the harbor side with shallow waters, so the head of the corpse emerged at low tide. Terrified by the appearance of the poor Caracciolo, Maria Carolina spoke with the court chaplain, who ordered the immediate burial of the corpse of Caracciolo in the church of Santa Maria della Catena in St. Lucia.

Palazzo dei Normanni di palermo sede del più antico parlamento europeo
Palazzo dei Normanni sede del più antico parlamento del mondo – Lasterketak 2015 – CC BY SA 4.0

While relations deteriorated with her daughter Maria Teresa, wife of Emperor Franz I, and with Austria, Maria Carolina combined the wedding of her son Francesco and her daughter Maria Antonia with cousins of the Spanish royal house, this was not facilitated relations with French of Napoleon, also in account of the fact that in Naples there were British and Russian troops, countries who opposed the Napoleonic power. At the beginning of 1806 the French were returning in Naples.

On January 23, 1806 the royal couple with his entire entourage, with the treasures of the crown and the treasures of the Bank of Naples, moved on board of the ship “Archimede” from Naples reaching Palermo and taking accommodation in the Norman Palace. To protect Sicily from the French ambitions Maria Carolina asked the protection of the English troops and the English fleet, to protect Sicily from the French ambitions; in fact the kingdom of Sicily became a British protectorate. So there were two states: the kingdom of Naples, where Napoleon appointed king before his brother Joseph Bonaparte and then from 1808 Gioacchino Murat and the kingdom of Sicily, where Ferdinando ruled with his wife Maria Carolina.

In 1810, the danger of a French invasion of Sicily subsided following the marriage of Napoleon with Marie Louise of Habsburg-Lorraine, daughter of Emperor Francis II of Austria and Maria Teresa, daughter of Maria Carolina, since Napoleon himself was to curb the war spirit of Murat eager to invade even the island to reunify the kingdom under his power.

The British accused the queen of having contacts with Napoleon through his granddaughter Marie Luise and forced Ferdinando to cede power to his son Francis as vicar of the king, also they demanded the removal of the queen of the realm. Ferdinando did not pray too much and he sent Maria Carolina in Vienna. The king found solace in the welcoming arms of Lucia Migliaccio, duchess of Floridia, a Sicilian lady, widow of Benedetto Grifeo Prince of Partanna, who he married morganatically after the death of Maria Carolina.

Maria Carolina, left by sea from Palermo in June 1813, made a long cruise through Zante, Constantinople, Odessa. She went from Odessa to Poland, to come to Vienna in January 1814. Seven months later, on September 8, 1814 died in Hetzendorf Castle in Meidling, near Vienna.

Read: The “Confessions” of Maria Carolina

Bibliography:
Giovanni La Cecilia, Storie segrete dei Borboni di Napoli e Sicilia, Ed. Di Marzo, Palermo 1860
Storia di Napoli, a cura di G. Galasso, Napoli 1972
G. Nuzzo, La monarchia delle Due Sicilie tra «ancien régime» e Rivoluzione, Napoli 1972
it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Carolina_d’Asburgo-Lorena
P. Calà Ulloa, Maria Carolina e la conquista del Regno di Napoli, Napoli, 1968
A. Dumas, I Borboni di Napoli, Napoli, 1969