Charles Sebastian of Bourbon was born in Madrid January 20, 1716, he was the son of King Philip V of Spain and Elizabeth Farnese. Philip married Elizabeth in second marriage after the death of his first wife Maria Luisa of Savoy, by whom he had four sons, two of whom had died at an early age. Charles was the eldest of the children born from the marriage of his father with the Farnese, he was followed by six other siblings.
Philip V of Bourbon was the grandson of the Sun King Louis XIV and he had ascended the throne of Spain by virtue of the fact that the grandmother, the wife of Louis XIV, was the half-sister of the last king of Spain of the Habsburg dynasty. Elisabeth Farnese was the last Duchess of Parma, the Farnese dynasty died out with her, she was intelligent and ambitious, she influenced profoundly the foreign policy of Spain with links that his powerful family had with almost all the ruling dynasties in Europe.
Elizabeth considered minimize the possibility that her eldest son Charles became king of Spain, as he was preceded in the line of succession from the two half-brothers Louis and Ferdinand; she did everything possible for his accommodation on a European throne from an early age of the child . Since the Farnese family who ruled the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza was dying, she destined the little duchy to the son, also she wished for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to her son, where reigned the last Medici, Gian Gastone, inept and unable to procreate. Elizabeth, as the last descendant of the Farnese family, was able to obtain in 1731 the investiture of her son Charles as Duke of Parma and Piacenza with family agreements among the Farnese, the Bourbons and the Habsburgs, despite the opposition of the pope Clement XII; Moreover Charles was appointed Grand Prince of Tuscany, to be precise crown prince to the throne of Florence, as a descendant of the Medici for his mother’s side.
In 1734 Charles, as commandant of the Spanish army, participated in the War of Polish Succession wishing to conquer the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, who were under the power of the Austrian Habsburgs. In a few months he succeeded and was crowned king of Naples in Bitonto and, completing the conquest of Sicily, he was crowned King of Sicily island and Sicily mainland (as the kingdom of Naples was called) in the cathedral of Palermo, against the will of the Pope, but taking advantage of the ancient privilege granted to the Norman kings of Sicily on the appointment of bishops. He founded the lineage of the Bourbon of Naples.
In 1738 the appointment was confirmed by the Pope following the agreements entered into with the Habsburgs in whom Charles of Bourbon renounced his rights to the Duchy of Parma and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in favor of Austria, he was recognized in return as the king of Naples to Sicily and of the “Stato dei Presidi”, which consisted of some localities of Tuscany, Spanish fortresses locations: Orbetello, Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole, Talamone, Ansedonia and Porto Longone (Porto Azzurro) on the island of Elba. He called himself Charles without ordinal number in the proclamation document, since it was difficult to identify the numbering of the kingdom of Naples: VI, VII or VIII depending on interpretation; the indication III was referred to the only kingdom of Sicily. He still retained the hereditary titles of Duke of Parma and Piacenza and Grand Prince of Tuscany.
He successfully transferred to Naples the entire collection of paintings and statues of the Farnese family, which acquired as a last heir of the family, in 1788 Ferdinand IV completed the transfer with the Roman section of the collection, housed in the Palazzo Farnese (now Embassy of France). Today the collection is exhibited in the Museum of Capodimonte, while the book section of the collection is kept in the National Library to the Royal Palace of Naples.
Part of family agreements, between the Bourbons and the Habsburgs to confirm the throne of Naples to Charles, was agreement to the marriage that Elizabeth Farnese drew up with King Augustus III of Poland, in which Charles was appointed to marry Maria Amalia of Saxony daughter Augustus and great-granddaughter of Emperor Charles VI. In 1738 the marriage was celebrated in Dresden, with a special papal dispensation for the age of the bride, between the fourteen Maria Amalia of Saxony and the twenty-four Charles of Bourbon, who was represented by brother of the bride by proxy. The procession of the bride, after crossing Europe, arrived at the border between the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples on June 19th 1738. The bride and the groom met themselves for the first time in Portella location near the border of the state.
Thirteen children were born from the marriage of Charles and Maria Amalia: Maria Giuseppina, Maria Luisa, Philip, the victim of a serious mental illness, Carlo Antonio, Ferdinand, Gabriel, Antonio Pasquale were the children who survived to adulthood. Carlo Antonio was king of Spain when his father died and Ferdinand was king of Naples and Sicily when the parent will be called to the throne of Spain.
The arrival of Charles of Bourbon in Naples lit the hopes of Neapolitan and Italian Enlightenment and liberals, so much so that even some hoped for the unity of Italy under the patronage of Charles. This is the message of Alberto Radicati di Passerano, philosopher and free thinker who was exiled from Turin in the Netherlands for its pushed “materialism”:
“… Sir, though I do not have the good fortune to be your subject, since Italy has not the good fortune to be ruled by a single monarch, however I consider myself your subject, in the hope that Your Majesty will one day be the only possessor and quiet of Italy; … “(Translated from French).
Indeed Charles can be considered the first king with a thinking “enlightened” policy conjugated with the absolutism of his government.
During the early years Elizabeth, mother of Charles, influenced the affairs of the kingdom of Naples from Madrid through two of her plenipotentiaries: the Marquis of Montealegre, who had the post of Secretary of State and the count of Santisteban who was guardian of the king and prime minister. In 1738 Santisteban was recalled to Spain as a result of stress of Charles to his mother, since he does not tolerate the heavy interference in the Crown’s activities by the Count who was replaced by Montealegre, more moderate ruler.
In 1740 yet another war of succession broke out between Spain, France and Prussia against Austria, Great Britain and the Kingdom of Sardinia for not respecting the “Pragmatic Sanction”. Charles was urged by his father, the King of Spain, to intervene at his side, but he wanted to remain neutral; he had to send an armed expedition of 10.000 soldiers, commanded by the Duke of Castropignano, to the front in Central Italy. England did not consider longer valid neutrality of Naples in retaliation to this intervention and in 1742 it sent a mighty fleet in the Gulf of the city threatening to bombard Naples if Charles had not given orders to withdraw his troops. To avoid trouble Carlo submitted to ultimatum and withdrew from the war.
At the end of the war, Austria did not keep account of the proclaimed neutrality of Charles and established that Naples would be returned to the Habsburgs and Sicily to Savoy in the subsequent Treaty of Worms. Charles had no choice and he faced the situation militarily to defend his kingdom. In 1744 Charles in command of his army clashed with the Austrian troops commanded by the Prince of Lobkowitz. On August 11, the Neapolitan army defeated the Austrian troops at the Battle of Velletri. Kingdom of Naples, Sicily and the “Stato dei Presidi” were recognized definitely to Charles of Bourbon in the treaty of Aachen; his brother Philip, who had actively participated in the fighting, was recognized as Duke of Parma and Piacenza, and Duke of Guastalla. Charles and Maria Amalia removed Montealegre for his wavering behavior between interventionism and neutrality and he returned to Spain. Giovanni Sforza Fogliani of Aragon was appointed prime minister, freeing the kingdom from the links that bound to Spain, then he was substituted by Bernardo Tanucci who remained in charge even during the early years of the reign of Charles’s son, Ferdinand IV.
There were three main reforms which Charles III implemented during his reign: the tax reform, the “Carolino” Code, the establishment of the Royal Chamber of Santa Chiara. The tax reform passed through the institution of Land Registry “onciario” so named because the evaluation were made in ounces; the creation of Land Registry of real estate that was intended to ease taxes on foodstuffs and on merchandise and to transfer a part of the tax on assets; the objective failed reducing the tax burden of the poorer population, because it was made a corrupt application of the land register. The code “Carolino” unified the various codes that were followed in the centuries, still in force in the kingdom: Norman, Angevin, Spanish, Roman and Lombard, all dominated by the ecclesiastical legislation which ruled clerics and laity. Only in 1789 the “Carolino” Code was completed by Michele Pasquale Cirillo and Giuseppe di Gennaro. In 1735 was established the Real Camera of St. Clare who was an administrative and judicial court, also it served as the Council of State.
In 1746 the archbishop of Naples Giuseppe Spinelli introduced the Inquisition in the kingdom, going against the agreement signed in 1740 between Pope Benedict XIV and Charles in which was recognized the supremacy of civilian institutions; there was a popular uprising that convinced the king to intervene. He entered in the “Carmine” church with his sword drawn and he swore to the people that would have eliminated the Inquisition; so he did, also eliminating the archbishop who was declared persona non grata in the kingdom.
Charles provided the state with the construction of a coastal protection network with forts and towers to thwart the Tunisian and Algerian pirate raids, they had even tried to kidnap the king, for ransom, one day in which he was returning from a hunting trip on the island of Procida; also he assembled a powerful military fleet, which was destined to become the strongest fleet in Italy.
In 1740 Charles made an edict calling upon the Jews to settle in the city to develop trade and finance, activities in which Jews were particularly versed. But an anti-Semitic campaign was waged by the Catholic clergy that drove the people to violently reject the Jewish presence. The king was forced, seven years after they are invited with all honors, to drive out the Jews from the kingdom.
The Bourbon promoted the construction of numerous and impressive public buildings, calling great architects to achieve them. In 1737 Charles inaugurated the theater of San Carlo built by Medrano and Carasale architects. The theater was located next to the Royal Palace where an internal passageway was created with the royal box of the theater where the royal court went to attend the shows. The royal palace of Portici was built, which became the second residence of the royal family, also royal palace of Capodimonte was built, that after a few years became the seat of the Farnese art collection. Charles began the construction of a royal palace in Caserta with a large park, giving charge to the architect Luigi Vanvitelli to exceed in beauty the palace of Versailles.
The Poor Hospice was built by Ferdinando Fuga to create a refuge for the poor of Naples. It was projected as the largest building in Europe with a frontage along 600 meters, but it was built with a “only” 350 meters frontage, a square, called Piazza del Reclusorio now Piazza Carlo III, was created in front to palace. In 1765 the architect Luigi Vanvitelli completed the construction of the Foro Carolino, which concerned the arrangement of the “largo Mercatello”, now Piazza Dante, with a semicircular building between Port’Alba and St. Michael’s Church. Charles III promoted the research and excavation of the ancient cities buried by ash following the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 BD: Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia, led by Roque de Alcubierre.
In 1758 the Spanish king Ferdinand IV, suffering from a serious illness and being childless, abdicated in favor of half-brother Charles to retire to private life. The Treaty of Aachen of 1748 and the Treaty of Aranjuez of 1752 established that, if Charles of Bourbon had been appointed king of Spain, the kingdom of Naples and Sicily had to go to his brother Philip, Duke of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla , the duchies, vacated by Philip, were to be divided between the Habsburgs (Parma and Guastalla) and Savoy (Piacenza). Carlo had refused to accept the two treaties, which he had not signed, leaving valid the Treaty of Vienna of 1738, where it was determined that he reigned in Naples with hereditary right. Therefore, on October 6, 1859 Charles abdicated in favor of his third son, 8 years old, who became King Ferdinand IV of Naples, Sicily and the Stato dei Presidi. The eldest son Philip suffered from severe mental disorders, and the second son Carlo Antonio was intended as heir of the throne of Spain.
Charles of Bourbon left for Madrid with the whole family, not Philip who stayed in Naples where he was treated and guarded inside the royal palace, and Ferdinand that was left under the tutelage of the Prime Minister Bernardo Tanucci, who continued to rule for many years in the name of the boy king but following his father’s directives.
The reign of Charles was marked in Naples by openness towards novelty of the Age of Enlightenment, with the final overcoming of feudal society in the kingdom; however, he was champion of absolute monarchy, where all the new and old institutions were of royal appointment and under the direct control of the crown. The social conditions found in Spain did not allow him to replicate effectively the Neapolitan model, in which had aroused a general appreciation in liberal circles of the kingdom.
(Photo at the top: Monumento di Carlo III a Messina di Saro Zagari, 1859, foto Eduardo 2915, CC BY-SA 4.0)