Francesco Caracciolo


In 1799 Francesco Caracciolo was hanged to the mast of the Minerva ship, following the condemnation of a military court that executed the order of Nelson to issue death sentences, urged by his mistress Emma Hamilton.

Francesco Caracciolo was born in Naples on 18th January 1752, the father was Michele Caracciolo Duke of Brienza, the mother Vittoria Pescara belonged to the family of the Dukes of Calvizzano.

He embarked for the first time at age 14, and a year later, in 1767, he was appointed ensigncy of the frigate. He continued with various embarkations making career in the Neapolitan Navy.

Admiral Acton was commissioned to modernize the Neapolitan fleet and improve the training of officers. In 1779 he sent the youngest of them, including Caracciolo, in England, where they were embarked on the Malborough ship. To return Caracciolo was promoted lieutenant, and a few years later captain of frigate.

In 1795, In command of the ship Tancredi, he took part in the expedition Anglo-Neapolitan which also participated Horatio Nelson in command of HMS Agamemnon, preventing the French fleet to take possession of Corsica.

During the uprisings of 1799 Francesco Caracciolo carried the royal court in Palermo with his ship Sannite, in convoy with the ship of Horatio Nelson who had embarked King Ferdinando IV and his wife Maria Carolina.

Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Duke of Bronte was born in Burnham Thorpe 29th September 1758. He entered the Navy at age 12. After several expeditions, including one to the Arctic sea under Admiral Phipps, was promoted to lieutenant at the age of 19 years.

In 1778, he was promoted captain and took part in various expeditions to the West Indies and Canada. In 1783, after the American Declaration of Independence, he returned home. In 1787, in a further trip to the West Indies, he married a local woman, Francis Nisbet.

In 1793 he took part with his ship Agamemnon siege of Toulon; the same year, during a stop in Naples of his ship, he met Emma Hamilton, wife of the British local ambassador.

In 1795, he, together with the Neapolitan fleet, prevented the French revolutionaries to land in Corsica. Two years later, in an attack on the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, he was seriously wounded and was amputee the right arm.

In 1798, under the command of the British fleet, he chased Napoleon directed to Egypt; the clash with the Napoleonic fleet, known as the Battle of the Nile, came near Aboukir, the French fleet was completely destroyed and Napoleon remained stuck on Egyptian soil.

During its many stops in Naples Horatio became the mistress of Emma Hamilton; he came in friendship with King Ferdinand and his wife Maria Carolina with the help of the same. In 1799, at the outbreak of riots in Naples, he moved the king and the queen to Palermo with his ship.

Emma Lyon (later married Hamilton) was born in Neston 26th April 1765; she became an orphan at two months for the death of her father, a blacksmith, she grew up with her mother Mary Kidd, in extreme poverty.

At age 15 he had a daughter by Sir Henry Featherstonhaugh, who was named Emma Carew and was raised by her grandmother. Emma Lyon moved to London where he worked various borderline jobs, became the lover of various upscale men and posed as “goddess of health” for a Dr. James Graham.

At age 19 he met Charles Greville, nephew of Sir William Hamilton. she  had three unacknowledged children with Charles, the same sent her from his old uncle, ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, to get rid of her and to take the busy his uncle, hoping he do not remarry in order to obtain the inheritance.

Soon the ambassador fell in love with Emma and married her in London in 1791; Meanwhile Lady Emma Hamilton became famous throughout Europe for her own particular form of art called “attitudes” that was a mixture of pose, dance and drama.

Lady Hamilton met Horatio Nelson, known for its numerous sea exploits; Nelson was debilitated physically for many wounds suffered in battle, she hosted him at her villa in Posillipo, and cared for him until complete healing, it seems that her husband was aware of her relationship with Horatio Nelson, and that he tended to agree.

Francesco Caracciolo in 1799 was in Sicily with the royal court; He asked the king for permission to travel to Naples to attend for some family matters; The king granted him permission.

Once in Naples, Caracciolo sided with the new Republic of Naples like many other nobles and published two fervent proclamations in favor thereof. He was appointed chief of Republican Navy, but it lacked a real fleet.

Nevertheless he was able to arm some ships with which he clashed with the Bourbon navy in Procida, managing to free the island, then he clashed in Sorrento with the Bourbon flagship Minerva of Count Thun. He participated from the sea to the defense of the fort of Vigliena and Ponte della Maddalena.

When it became clear that all was lost for the republic, Caracciolo hid in his possessions in Calvizzano. But he was betrayed by some villagers who denounced him. He was captured on 25th June 1799 by bourbon Colonel Scipione La Marra.

On 29th June was celebrated trial Caracciolo on board the British flagship Foudroyant. The military court was presided over by Count Thun. Despite that Nelson had requested the death penalty for the admiral, the court had drafted a ruling that condemned him to life imprisonment.

King Ferdinando and Queen Maria Carolina, who hated the revolutionaries because her sister Marie Antoinette was beheaded on the guillotine during the French Revolution, through the influence that Emma Hamilton had on her lover Nelson, managed to get the death penalty for Caracciolo.

Admiral Nelson forced the Count Thun to modify the judgment already written, in a sentence of death by hanging, not allowing the most honorable execution by firing squad, which would have been entitled to Caracciolo being officer and noble.

At 5 pm on 29th June 1799 the sentence was carried out, and Francesco Caracciolo was hanged on the foremast of the ship Minerva. The body was thrown into the sea.

It is said that in the days following the body of Caracciolo surfaced several times, always under the eyes of Nelson and its sailors. It happened that the body was crossed by ship Nelson also a day that the king and queen were on board. The royals were shocked by this vision, and asked the chaplain what could be done to end this persecution of Caracciolo even in death. The chaplain said simply: “it maybe he wants to be buried like a Christian”.

He was fished and had a worthy funeral, attended by members of his family and many nobles. He was finally buried in the church of Santa Maria della Catena in Santa Lucia.

Horatio Nelson was appointed Duke of Bronte by the King of Naples, for recognition of the services rendered. He returned to England, separated from his wife Francis Nisbet, and went to live with Emma and her husband Sir Hamilton in a strange combination to three that caused a lot of talk among the noble circles of London; in 1801 he had a daughter by Emma, named ​​Horatia. Sir William Hamilton died soon after, in 1803.

Horatio Nelson was appointed by the Admiralty commander in the Mediterranean fleet, where he stopped with a siege to the French fleet in the port of Toulon to prevent a possible landing in England. The last battle of Trafalgar, where his ships were outnumbered he managed to defeat the French. Horatio Nelson was struck by a French rifleman in the battle and died on 21st  October 1805 in Cape Trafalgar.

His body was transported to England, where he had the honors usually reserved for heroes of the homeland, he was buried in the Cathedral of St. Paul in London, in a box built with the wood of the French flagship that he had sunk.

Emma Hamilton, left alone with her daughter in the house that Nelson had bought, squandered all her substance quickly; she was helped Nelson’s brother and friends, but this is not prevented her from going to jail for not honored debts. To escape her creditors moved to France where she died in poverty in 1815.

(Picture at the top: Francesco Caracciolo, Immaculate, 2008)