In 1848 revolutionary uprisings broke out in Naples for free from the oppression of the Bourbon monarchy and get more freedom; all ended in a bloodbath in the streets and houses of Naples perpetrated the Swiss mercenary troops.
“It is success the ’48, it is happening the ’48” are idioms in Naples reminiscent of 1848 when an incurable wound was inflicted to the most developed part of the people of Naples and the Bourbons to power.
All started in the early days of January 1848 in Palermo. On January 12, Rosolino Pilo and Giuseppe La Masa led a revolt against the Bourbon troops on the island. January 12 was no ordinary day but the birthday of King Ferdinando II who was born in 1810 in Palermo, during the stay in the city of Ferdinando IV and his wife Maria Carolina because of the French occupation of the kingdom of Naples by Joachim Murat.
On the morning of 12 some posters, showed in the streets of Palermo, called the people to start the revolution. A few people showed up to the gathering and they were confronted by the Bourbon troops intervened to disperse them. Giuseppe La Masa and few men managed to overwhelm the regular troops with a bold and successful action , forcing them to retreat. This unexpected victory convinced the people the opportunity to defeat the Bourbons. Then a large crowd gathered suddenly and very quickly ready to armed struggle.
The revolt spread throughout the Sicily. The troops were pursued by rebels that were led by a group of Sicilians who represented the intelligentsia of the island. Ruggero Settimo and Francesco Crispi were present among the rebels. The troops were rejected in the city of Messina. The revolt spread from Sicily throughout the continent of Europe: Florence, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Berlin and Venice. The revolt were not in England, for the attachment of the people to his monarchy, in Russia, in which the accentuated social backwardness did not allow any revolution, and in Sweden, which in 1809 already had given a constitution with King Bernadotte, former General of Napoleon.
On January 27 of 1848 the first riots broke out in Naples; the king, to choke the revolution and restore order, granted to the Neapolitans the constitution that was promulgated on 11 February. It was also granted an amnesty to all political prisoners, so that many of them were able to return from exile. The constitution made provision for the Parliament with members elected by the people.
On 18 March in Milan broke the motions of the five days “cinque gionate di Milano”. In fact the first war of indipendence had started which attended, in addition to the Piedmont, the Tuscan army, troops of the Papal States and the Neapolitan army under the command of the General Guglielmo Pepe, that had come to Naples as a result of the amnesty after 28 years of exile, all united in the Italian league against the Austrians.
The Piedmont, pandering to the Milanese protests, were intended to rid the Northeast of Italy occupation Habsburg uniting under the Savoy flag. King Ferdinando II was mindful of the strong links between the Bourbons of Naples and the Austro-Hungarian empire which twice had intervened to restore their throne in Naples, he took the occasion of the declaration against any war of Pope Pius IX in the consistory of April 29, and recalled his troops who were in Emilia as part of the Italian league.
Not everyone obeyed, a part of the troops commanded by General Pepe, with the arm of artillery and of genius, the so-called “intelligent arms”, refused to return to Naples. Other Neapolitan officers rallied with Guglielmo Pepe: Luigi and Carlo Mezzacapo, Enrico Cosenz, Cesare Rossaroll, Alessandro Poerio and Girolamo Calà Ulloa. They and their loyal troops went to Venice where they helped the Venetians to counteract the siege of the Austrians. Carlo Mezzacapo distinguished himself in the defense of the fort of Marghera and San Secondo, while his brother Luigi was in command of the fort of Brondolo.
After the surrender of Venice both went to Rome, where in the meantime the Roman Republic was born and where they had government positions until the French army did not intervene by returning power to the Pope.
Some bas-reliefs in Calle Larga Ascension, behind Piazza San Marco in Venice, remember the heroes of the Republic of San Marco in 1848: in the first are represented Guglielmo Pepe, Carlo Mezzacapo, Enrico Cosenz, Girolamo Calà Ulloa and Cesare Rossaroll with written “… Neapolitan officers, they offered their life and their blood in Venice …”.
On May 14, 1848, in Naples the deputies elected to the parliament refused the oath on the constitution, asking that it had changed since the same contained a substantial submission to the power of the king. The deputies had gathered in the ancient monastery of San Lorenzo in Monteoliveto, the seat of parliament. In the night between 14 and 15 May barricades were set up in the streets of the city, one at the mouth of Toledo street in front of the Royal Palace.
The king was favorable to grant changes in the parliamentary oath. Since the gatherings of citizens, the barricades that had been built in the night, the radicalism of some parliamentary made to fear disorders, he wanted to avoid at all costs a bloody gunfights between the army troops who were deployed in the city and the citizens who were serving in the National Guard, complete with uniforms and rifles; Then, influenced by some conservative members of the Privy Council and of the government, Ferdinand rectified the oath but essentially echoing the previous version.
On 15 May there was yet another rejection by members of parliament to accept the new oath; the king proposed to begin the work without uttering the oath, on this basis there was agreement to meet in the hall for the start of parliamentary work. Just gathered the assembly there was a disturbing action by two citizens, who falsely announced that the palace was surrounded by the army; the thing was immediately denied by the chief of police who was present in the hall; the work of parliament began.
Meanwhile the atmosphere amongst the rebels became increasingly tense because of the rumors that circulated in the city, falsely referred to ongoing clashes between troops and insurgents. Although the clashes were not wanted by either party, the extremists from both sides were working to muddy the waters.
The barricade,that was built at the Toledo street outlet to Piazza del Plebiscito, had the lead Stefano Mollica the doctor, friend of Antonio Ranieri, who had drafted the Giacomo Leopardi’s death certificate. Two Bourbon official approached the barricade to parley with the insurgents; the weapon of Stefano Mollica set off two shots that hit the two officers mortally. Even Largo Mercatello (Piazza Dante) a military was killed.
At this point the situation worsened; The king, at the invitation of General Alessandro Nunziante, son of General Vito Nunziante who had executed Gioacchino Murat in Pizzo Calabro, ordered the army to attack the barricades to disperse rioters. The troops attacked the rebels throughout the city; there were violent firefights, even there were cannon fire that burned and destroyed several buildings; Also many civilians were killed who were not involved in the fighting. Swiss mercenaries entered the homes where the gunshots came, killing all occupants who were within range.
The death toll was unknown of that accursed day of May 15, 1848 but it was between 500 and 2,000 people, the arrests exceeded 500 units. Luigi Settembrini said that that bloody day was caused by “crazy” and the “wise men” did nothing to prevent it.
In the following days the National Guard was dissolved and martial law was established; the temporarily closed parliament resumed work only on July 2. Many of those involved in the fighting fled abroad. The arrested peoples were imprisoned on a prison ship, but with the intervention of the General Pepe, they mutinied to reach the Papal States.
As well the writer Enrichetta Carafa Capecelatro recounted in her short novel “Una Famiglia Napoletana nell’800” the events of 15 May 1848:
“On May 15 my uncle Ettore and my father, in uniform of the National Guard, came armed with rifles, to take part in the defense of the barricades. But the confusion was already huge, and they found themselves swept up in the turmoil of a fleeing crowd bumping and pressing, among the screams of the wounded, the sound of cannon fire, the smoke, the dust, the panic. They realized that everything was now lost, and managed to get in a strange house, in Toledo street, they continued to fire out of the windows on the soldiers, with the anger of despair. When the defeated patriots had to yield to the number and strength of the troops and the barricades were torn down and the streets became deserted, they found themselves in that house where they knew no one, and, after the fever of the fight, they began to worry about the thought of compromise their involuntary guests. Stripped themselves of their uniforms, they dressed two white blazers as cooks, and so they were able to go out in disguise and unobserved by a door that put in an alley. Their rifles were thrown into the well. When, after a few days, it was the order of disarmament and all the national guards had to deliver their weapons, they found themselves much embarrassed not to be able to deliver their rifles, they could avoid trouble series with difficulty and with the help of their brother Michele that, I do not know how, had put aside two rifles.
On that day of May 15 a young girl thirteen years old, Constanza, of the Vasaturo family, which was related with Capecelatro, was brutally killed in antechamber of her house by the Swiss soldiers who had invaded the vasaturo palace in Santa Brigida street; they took vengeance on a shot rifle who they said it had been pulled from a window. ”
Meanwhile in Sicily, where the government of the insurgents led by Ruggero Settimo, former Bourbon Admiral, ruled, the govern proposed to Ferdinand II to appoint king of the island a member of the royal house, dividing the kingdom of Naples from kingdom of Sicily. Following to the hesitation of Ferdinando II, the proposal to become king of Sicily was advanced to Ferdinando Alberto Amedeo of Savoy, cousin of Carlo Alberto, King of Sardinia. Alberto Amedeo refused the offer, being committed to the army command in the first war of independence of Italy.
Ferdinando II sent to Sicily an army of 14,000 men under the command of Carlo Filangieri to bring it back under his power, with the Neapolitan fleet which had to transport the troops from Reggio to Messina. The city of Messinawas bombed violently until its surrender. On 6 September 1848 Messina was invaded by the army commanded by General Nunziante. On 28 February 1849 the Bourbon army resumed the advance towards Palermo, while the king promised a new statute to the Sicilians.
The 6,000 soldiers of the revolutionary army were defeated by the Bourbon troops. On 14 April, the Sicilian parliament joined the proposals of Ferdinand II granted a general amnesty. The ports of Palermo were opened to the Neapolitan troops. The leaders of the revolution, excluded from the amnesty, were condemned to exile, from where they were able to return only the result of the expedition of the 1000 led by Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860.
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Denis Mack Smith, Storia della Sicilia medioevale e moderna, Laterza, Roma-Bari, 1976
Gleijeses, V., La Storia di Napoli, Società Editrice Napoletana, 1977
Trevelyan, R., Principi sotto il vulcano, BUR, 1997
Ugo Pesci, Il generale Carlo Mezzacapo: e il suo tempo. Da appunti autobiografici e da lettere e documenti inediti. Bologna: Nicola Zanichelli, 1908