La presa di Castel Sant'Elmo, 1799


The principles of the French Revolution, which began with the storming of the Bastille in 1789, spread throughout Europe as a germ, everywhere arose the so-called twin republics. The birth of these republics were facilitated by the military campaign made from revolutionary France to free European countries by the powers of the various royal houses that oppressed fundamental freedom of peoples.

The French revolutionary army, commanded by Napoleon, invaded Piedmont and Lombardy in Italy and then would invade Vienna but arrived the signature of the Treaty of Campoformio, with which Austria saved what could be saved, even acquiring the ancient republic of Venice . Following the Italian campaign of Napoleon, the Ligurian Republic, the Cisalpine Republic and finally the Roman Republic in 1798 were born.

A first preview of what would happen within a few years in Naples it was in 1792 when the French fleet commanded by Admiral Latouche stood at anchor, facing the harbor of Naples. Latouche asked King Ferdinand IV for satisfaction about a concerted diplomatic action with the Turkish government hostile to France. Ferdinand, to avoid big trouble, asked excuse to Latouche, who renounced a military action being met, leaving with his ships.

Unfortunately the French, just outside the bay, met a storm that forced the admiral to return in Naples. The French, blocked in Naples, promoted an association Jacobin called “Society of Friends of Liberty and Equality”, it was the first germ that also introduced in Naples the founding values ​​of the French Revolution in the most enlightened minds of the kingdom.

The “Society of Friends of Liberty and Equality” gave life to germinate two secret associations, the first called ROMO “Republic or Death” and another called LOMO “Freedom or Death”; the followers of these associations conspired the killing of the king and the proclamation of the republic. They were uncovered by the Bourbon authorities and 56 of them were imprisoned, they were sentenced to various punishments; three of them, Vincenzo Gabiani, Vincenzo Vitaliani and Emanuele De Deo were sentenced to hang, which was performed on October 17, 1794.

Queen Maria Carolina, after the decapitation of his sister Marie Antoinette in Paris by part of the French revolutionaries, in his capacity as a member of the Crown Council, and urging her husband Ferdinand, began a harsh repression of all manifestations of Jacobinism present in the state, putting an end to the tolerance that had characterized until then the Bourbon policy.

In 1798, at the end of October, Ferdinand IV declared war against the Roman Republic, he went with an army of 80,000 soldiers to Rome to restore the temporal power of the Pope, he entered Rome declaring the occupation of the Eternal City with the irony of the Romans. The French, guardians of the Roman Republic, faced the Bourbon army in the battle of Civita Castellana with their troops commanded by General Championnet, winning and forcing a hasty retreat Neapolitans with their King Ferdinand.

The French did not stop, they continued the march towards the south to establish revolutionary order even in the kingdom of Naples. The royal family, at night and taking with him the treasure of the crown and that of the Banco di Napoli, moved to 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 .

Francesco Pignatelli, appointed by the king as his vicar general in Naples, gave orders to set fire to the fleet to keep it from falling into French hands. On 11 January 1799 Pignatelli signed an armistice with General Championnet. At this point the revolt broke out against the French occupiers of “lazzari” preventing the entry city of the French army.

Neapolitans Republicans managed to conquer Castel Sant’Elmo situated on the edge of the Vomero hill, that overlooks the city of Naples. The revolutionary pro-French bombed the hordes of “lazzari” dispersing them from that position; in this way the French managed to overcome the resistance entering the city. The Pignatelli, saw that situation was going badly, left Naples and fled to Palermo.

While the battle was still going on between the hordes of “lazzari” and French army of  Championnet, the tree of Liberty, an elm, was planted within the walls of Castel Sant’Elmo; it was the first of a long series of liberty trees planted in the city and in all the provinces which adhered to the republic. Today the only tree of liberty that after 217 years still survives is the elm of Montepavone (Catanzaro).
On January 23 was proclaimed the “Neapolitan Republic”, the government was formed by President Carlo Lauberg and six departments in the form of committees: Central, Legislative, Military, Interior, Police and Finance, to board of directors of which were: Mario Pagano, Domenico Cirillo, Pasquale Baffi, Cesare Paribelli, Melchiorre Delphic; Ignazio Ciaja succeeded the first provisional president Lauberg .

Eleonora Pimentel de Fonseca founded the official newspaper of the Republic “Il  Monitore Napolitano”. Eleonora, poet and literate, was of noble Portuguese descent; her father had moved to Rome in 1750, then because of the contrasts between the pope and Portugal came to Naples with his family; enrolled in the Golden Book of the Neapolitan nobility with real patent, she had been received at the court for a long time as bosom friend of the queen. She was then supplanted in the ambiguous favors of Maria Carolina from the adventurer Emma Lyon, wife of the English ambassador Lord Hamilton and mistress of Admiral Horatio Nelson.

The best middle classes of the kingdom were involved in the adventure of the Republic, some members of the clergy and the nobility were involved, deep divisions were produced in many titled families between the young leaders, who embraced the creed of freedom, and the elderly who remained faithful to royalist principles. Lacked the more humble part of the population lacked; they could not understand the libertarian verb except through a cultural mediation that, in that social class, was done by the clergy from the pulpit of churches.

The revolutionary government issued a new constitution drafted by the jurist Mario Pagano along the lines of the French one, with the only Neapolitan novelty creating a “Ephorate”, a sort of constitutional court, which should have examined whether the new regulations were in line with the spirit and letter of the republican constitution. It was also enacted the law that abolished the “fidei” and “primogeniture” promoted by Giuseppe Albanese. It also was promulgated the law on “subversion of feudalism”, aimed at overcoming the feudal system still largely in place. All these laws, including the constitution, had no time to carry out their effectiveness because of the short duration of the republic.

Meanwhile the king, being in Sicily, had charged the Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo of organizing the repression. Ruffo, a native of Calabria, went to that region, and his preaching with the preaching of his priests managed to convince the most humble of the peasant population to join the Army of the Holy Faith (Santa Fede) to recapture the rebel provinces and bring them under the power of kings and the church. In this army found a prominent place brigands as Fra Diavolo and Mannone.

The “sanfedista” Army of Cardinal Ruffo marched to Naples, bringing the various rebellious provinces under the power of the crown at the cost of barbaric brutality that even  Ruffo, who was the organizer and the commander of the Army, remained “embittered”.

The English fleet, commanded by Nelson, tried to dock in Naples, but collided with the Republican fleet, formed so-together arming some merchant vessels, commanded by Admiral of the Republic Francesco Caracciolo, former officer of the Bourbon fleet. The confrontation nearly turned into a defeat for Nelson, who only saved because of the adverse weather conditions which occurred during the battle.

The French army stationed in Naples was recalled in Lombardy where the Cisalpine republic suffered the attack of the Austro-Hungarian troops. Vienna was trying to restore Austria’s supremacy over the Lombardo-Veneto taking advantage of the absence of Napoleon, stuck in Egypt following the defeat of Aboukir suffered his fleet by the English fleet.

On June 13, the Neapolitan revolutionaries, left alone by the French, could not resist the army “sanfedista” arrived in Naples, which joined the humble classes of the city. The representatives of the republic were able to defend themselves only locking themselves inside the city fortresses: Castel Dell’Ovo, Castel Nuovo and Castel Sant’Elmo. The city was subjected to the bloody savagery and atrocious brutality perpetrated by the “Sanfedisti” of Cardinal Ruffo.

Castel Sant ‘Elmo was the last refuge of revolutionaries besieged by the forces of the “Santa Fede”. The cardinal offered the revolutionaries an “honorable capitulation” with which it was allowed to them to be able to leave the kingdom in the wake of the French troops or, remaining in Naples, the assurance of not being pursued by justice. These conditions were accepted and were signed by the Cardinal Ruffo and by the commanders of foreign military contingents in Naples: Russian, Turkish and English.

The King and the Queen, came to know of the agreement “honorable capitulation” elapsed between Ruffo and the revolutionaries, deposed Cardinal refusing to acknowledge the terms of the agreement. Ferdinand and Marie Antoinette, taken from vengeful frenzy,  imprisoned all the revolutionaries, about 8,000 people, who were subjected to trial in the courts of the kingdom.

The courts sentenced 124 revolutionaries to death, 222 to life imprisonment, 322 to other penalties, 28 were deported and only 67 exiles.

In the following months they were carried out the death sentences of all more important members of the republic, including: Cirillo, Baffi, Pacifico, Pagano, Gennaro Serra di Cassano, Eleonora Pimentel Fonseca who was hanged despite that, being noble, she had to be shot. Francesco Caracciolo was judged by a tribunal appointed by his enemies Nelson and hanged to the mast of the English flagship.

The incomprehensible sentence of death, that moved throughout the kingdom but not the king that he would not pardon, was that of the poor Luisa Sanfelice, not punished for her revolutionary activities, in which she was involved without his knowledge because of his lover that was active Republican, but because her husband Andrea Sanfelice, member of a noble family, wanted to take revenge of the various unfaithfulness that his wife had inflicted him.

The father of Gennaro Serra to show his contempt for the king who had executed his son despite his requests for grace, bolted the door of his palace in Via Monte di Dio who was in front of the Royal Palace; The door was reopened only in 1960 on the occasion of the so-called “Dance of the Kings” gave during the sailing Olympics to be held in Naples which was attended by many members of the ruling houses.

The Neapolitan real with this betrayal ruined the positive legacy of Charles III, father of Ferdinand, for the good things he had done in Naples, breaking ties with the intelligentsia of the kingdom, becoming without honor for not respecting the signed agreements. This was the moment of caesura from which the Italian patriots in planning the unification of Italy found acceptable a monarchy with the Savoy but not with the Bourbons.

(Picture at the top: Battle at the Castle of Sant’Elmo)