This month in history: King Ferdinand and Napoleon

Napoleon as King of Italy,  by Andrea Appiani

Napoleon as King of Italy, by Andrea Appiani

Napoleon certainly made his way around Europe, and he didn’t pass up the Kingdom of Naples. The Napoleonic Wars began in 1789. Ferdinand’s wife, Maria Carolina, was a sister of Marie Antoinette, and Ferdinand himself was a first cousin of the French king, Louis the umpteenth. When the French monarchs were executed in 1793, Ferdinand joined the First Coalition, and alliance of European monarchies opposed to Napoleon and revolutionary France.  

Despite the efforts of the alliance, by 1798 the French were in control of the northern part of the Italian peninsula, including Venice and parts of the Balkan coast of the Adriatic. 

King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, III of Sicily, and IV of Naples--as you wish.

King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, III of Sicily, and IV of Naples–as you wish.

I am not a student of the Napoleonic era, and I’ll probably continue to find the chain of events confusing unless I really devote some time to it. Ferdinand, the King of Naples, is confusing enough on his own. His full Italian name is Ferdinando Antonio Pasquale Giovanni Nepomuceno Serafino Gennaro Benedetto. He is called Ferdinand IV as king of Naples, but Ferdinand III as King of Sicily, which he ruled at the same time. And after the defeat of Napoleon in 1816, he was known as Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies (the island and the mainland, which had been called the Kingdom of Sicily in earlier times).

With the French troops occupying Rome, in late 1798 Ferdinand took an army north to oppose them. He was far outmatched, and his Roman foray is summed up in the saying, “He came, he saw, he fled.”  He went back to Naples, and shortly departed for Sicily (of which he was also king).

Out of the anarchy that followed his departure, on January 23, 1799 the Parthenopaean Republic was proclaimed. Supported by the nobles and the wealthy middle classes, the Republic was strongly opposed by the peasantry, who fought valiantly for their king.

Within a few weeks, the French military was recalled to northern Italy, and Ferdinand immediately began planning to retake his mainland kingdom. An army led by Cardinal Ruffo was formed in Calabria and marched north, reaching Naples on June 13. After eleven days of fighting, a tentative capitulation was being considered, when Admiral Nelson’s fleet arrived in support of the king. By the end of June the Republicans were routed, mostly arrested, and on July 8, King Ferdinand resumed his throne in Naples.

The Parthenopaean Republic’s demise was not the end of Napoleon. But that’s a story for next month’s history post.

THIS LINK will take you to a fantastic interactive map on the Napoleonic Wars.


Where Francesco’s life began: Palinudo

Bianchi-Palinudo (960x1280)In family history, every answer, every discovery, prompts a new question or search.

My great-grandfather, Francesco Aruri, was born in Serra di Piro, and “frazione” or hamlet near Bianchi, Calabria, in 1846. Here is a summary of the recorded information about his birth:  The birth of Francesco Arcuri was filed on 1 August 1846 in Bianchi by his father, Pasquale Arcuri, age 47, a peasant farmer residing in Bianchi. His infant son was born at home in the Serra di Piro District, on this day to his wife, Maria Innocenza Perri, age 35, and was given the name Francesco. Francesco Arcuri was baptized on 1 August by the parish priest of the Church of San Giacomo, in Bianchi.

The Serra di Piro district near Bianchi.

The Serra di Piro district near Bianchi.

I found the Serra di Piro area on Google maps. It is just north of Bianchi a mile or two, and very close to Palinudo, where Pasquale Arcuri was born. The records say: The marriage of Pasquale Arcuri and Maria Innocenza Perri was filed on 31 August 1830, in Bianchi. The groom was 26 years old, a peasant farmer born and residing in Palinudo. He was the son of Giacomo Arcuri, a peasant farmer residing in Palinudo, and Saveria Mancuso, residing here. The bride was 28 years old, born and residing in Bianchi in the Serra di Piro District. She was the daughter of the late Francesco Perri, a peasant farmer, and the living Concetta Cosco. The couple was wed on 3 October in the parish of San Giacomo, in Bianchi.

San Giacomo church, where Francesco Arcuri was baptized, and where his parents were married.

San Giacomo church, where Francesco Arcuri was baptized, and where his parents were married.

So Francesco’s father, and both his grandfathers, were peasant farmers in little hamlets in the foothills of the Sila. What does “peasant farmer” suggest? I headed to Palinudo with that question in mind–would we find a group of huts along a dirt track? Scattered houses among hillside vegetable terraces? Both of Francesco’s grandmothers were cotton spinners. What kind of textile industry supported their work? Who paid them? How far away were the weavers who used their cotton, and what did they make from it? Was the cotton also grown nearby?

A simple home in Palinudo.

A simple home in Palinudo.

Of course, more than 150 years has passed since those descriptions were written in Bianchi’s town records. And whatever Palinudo was in the 1840’s, it is now a small but thriving ‘suburb’ of the town of Bianchi. In the half-hour or so we spent there, I saw a Mercedes, a BMW, even a Jag. The roads were paved (not fancy, but paved). There is a small, but rather desolate, church in the hamlet. I wonder if it was desolate even in 1846–is that why Francesco was baptized in Bianchi? What were the options and factors that went into the decision about where to baptize a child?

One of Palinudo's nicer homes.

One of Palinudo’s nicer homes.

All too soon after Francesco’s birth, this death was recorded: The death of Pasquale Arcuri was filed on 2 October 1846, in Bianchi by Emiliano Arcuri, brother of the deceased, age 22, a peasant farmer, and Carmine Mancuso, brother-in-law of the deceased, age 28, a peasant farmer, resident of the Serra di Piro District of Bianchi. Pasquale Arcuri, a peasant farmer, died at home in the Fiume Corace District on 1 October, at the age of 40. He was born in the Palinudo District, the son of Giacomo Arcuri, a peasant farmer, and Saveria Mancuso, both deceased, and was a resident of Serra di Piro. Pasquale was married to Maria Innocenza Perri.

At two months old, Francesco was left fatherless, and all his grandparents were already deceased. What did an widowed mother of an infant do to support herself? Various other family members are named. Maria Innocenza Perri had a brother who was living when their mother died in 1831. Was he still alive? Did her late husband’s family help her? Did she remarry?

The Sila foothills around Bianchi.

The Sila foothills around Bianchi.

Some of these questions can be answered with more research, but I’m sure many of my questions will never be answered. I recently read an article by Ian Mortimer, an academic historian who also writes historical fiction under the name of James Forrester. In describing some of the different challenges between writing history, and writing fiction, he observed: “You suddenly find that your evidence-orientated knowledge of the period is just not enough; it does not equip you to describe in detail how a man or woman passes one whole day, let alone a number of different men and women across the period of several weeks.”

Even the most detailed historical study won’t likely help me fully understand the lives of these ancestors. I may have to resort to fiction to make their stories come alive.

The Royal Palace at Caserta

In the 1750s King Charles VII of Naples determined to build a royal palace that would outdo Versailles in beauty and grandeur. He chose the architect, Luigi Vanvitelli to make that goal a reality. The result is a 1200-room marvel of a palace, in fact the largest royal palace in the world, by volume. Each of the four inner courtyards is nearly an acre in size.

A waterfall along the long watercourse behind the palace.

A waterfall along the long watercourse behind the palace.

I had read reviews of visitors who complained that the interior which is available to tour was just empty rooms deteriorating in the heat. That was not my experience. Period furniture and artworks were in most of the rooms on our tour–though no interior photography was permitted. The tour covers a small fraction of the palace. Some areas are used for offices of government agencies. I believe most of the palace is unoccupied.

The exterior is perhaps even more of an attraction than the palace itself. A dramatic waterway forms the centerline for a series of parks and gardens.

For the rest, my photos will speak for me.

One of the four massive courtyards inside the royal palace.

One of the four massive courtyards inside the royal palace.

This spectacular staircase leads to the "piano nobile", the floor containing the royal apartments. In the film 'Angels and Demons' this staircase was used for a scene set at the Vatican.

This spectacular staircase leads to the “piano nobile”, the floor containing the royal apartments. In the film ‘Angels and Demons’ this staircase was used for a scene set at the Vatican.

A little more stairway detail.

A little more stairway detail.

One of the ponds along the watercourse in the palace's "back yard."

One of the ponds along the watercourse in the palace’s “back yard.”


Artistic detail is everywhere!

Artistic detail is everywhere!

Luigi Vanvitelli's statue stands in a park named for him, in the town of Caserta, a few blocks from the palace he designed.

Luigi Vanvitelli’s statue stands in a park named for him, in the town of Caserta, a few blocks from the palace he designed.


The abbey built by “my” pope!

I spent several years researching Pope Celestine V, and wrote a novel in which he was a significant character. Don’t bother looking at Amazon–it remains unpublished.

Touring the abbey, September 2004

Touring the abbey, September 2004

One of the most exciting days during my research in Italy was visiting the Abbey of the Holy Spirit, which was founded by Pope Celestine in the late 1200s. At the time of our visit, nine years ago, the abbey was in the middle of an extensive renovation, and was closed to the public. However, with the help of an Italian friend, I was given a tour guided by the architect who had worked on the restoration from its beginning.

At that time, we picked our way through construction debris and materials, plastic draping, and electrical cords. The paintings on the walls were just emerging as a blanket of grime was removed.

But most meaningful to me was a visit to the crypt–probably the oldest section of the abbey, because much of the existing construction was done after a devastating earthquake in the early 1700s. Long strings of construction lights left shadowy corners in the crypt, and dust from the restoration work covered the floor. The architect pointed out a fresco picturing the future pope, Peter of Morrone, with a group of monks.

I noticed a large panel of concrete in the floor with an iron ring set into it. When I asked what it was, the architect and my friend placed an iron bar through the ring and lifted the panel to one side. We peered in, but the poor lighting revealed nothing. Then my husband aimed his camera down the hole, and the flash went off.

The ossuary of the Abbey of the Holy Spirit

The ossuary of the Abbey of the Holy Spirit

The resulting photo is my favorite of our travels, an image that awes me to this day. We were looking into the ossuary, the place where monks’ bones were laid to rest. Amidst the dust, the human bones are visible, bones of men who served God hundreds of years ago. The monastery was closed more than 200 years ago, so the remains we saw were from the 18th century and earlier.

Today, the restoration is done, and the results are beautiful! Here is a video tour, narrated in English, of the Abbey and a couple of other nearby sites.

Have you visited a monastery? Is there a particular one whose history intrigues you? Tell us about it in the comments!

Nugenzie: A genealogical mystery solved!

Symbol of the town of Bianchi, my great-grandfather's birthplace.

Symbol of the town of Bianchi, my great-grandfather’s birthplace.

When my sister and I began looking into our roots years ago, we were given information by various family members. Someone–perhaps it was our grandmother or one of her brothers–gave us the name of our great great grandparents: Pasquale Arcuri and his wife, “Nugenzie”.

I had not yet studied the Italian language or visited Italy, but Nugenzie seemed a strange and unlikely name for an Italian great-great-grandmother. However nothing more came to light on that branch of the family, and we turned our attention to other roots and branches.

Recently, because I’ll be in Calabria this year, I hired Roots in the Boot to research my Italian ancestors. In the course of that research, the names of these same great-great grandparents were found: Pasquale Arcuri and Maria Innocenza Perri.


You know how pronunciation and spelling become scrambled between languages? I’m betting that ‘Innocenza’ morphed as the double “N” caused the “I” to be all but dropped, and that “C”–pronounced like “Ch” because it is followed by an ‘e’–also sounded to someone’s ear like a soft “G”, so that’s what was written down. However when my sister and I read it, we thought it was a hard “G” and couldn’t make any sense of Nugenzie. Innocenza.

I wish I had a photograph of her. Her son was born in 1846, and she died before he married in 1900.

Now I have hired Roots in the Boot to follow up with more research on the Arcuri family line, and perhaps I’ll discover distant cousins still in Italy who can tell me more about Maria Innocenza Perri. There are several Perri names listed in the current Italian White Pages in Bianchi, where her son was born.

Stay tuned!

Readers, have you found mixed up Italian names in your family research?

Thinking of hiring some Italian family research?

Here’s a video from ItalyMondo, showing some of what is involved with a family history search in Italy. I’m hoping for some similar experiences in Calabria this summer–If only my Italian were as good as the man in this video!!

What family research adventures have YOU enjoyed in Italy? What about research on Italian roots, conducted outside of Italy?

Book Review: The Irish and English in Italy’s Risorgimento by Mary Jane Cryan

cryan bookIn 2011, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy–the Risorgimento–author Mary Jane Cryan  produced a book about the Irish and English who participated in the process.

Yes, this is one of those niche interest books–and perhaps a very small niche. Only 200 copies of the book were produced, and they can be ordered from the author. But the book is ideal for uncovering the fine detail desired by, for example, a historical novelist or writer of narrative history.

Perhaps you, like me, were unaware that any Irish or English participated in the unification effort in Italy. The Irish mostly joined forces behind the Roman Catholic church and the pope, whose control of central Italy was threatened, though a few supported Garibaldi. For the English, who for more than a decade had hosted a number of well-known Italian exiles, Garibaldi was a hero.

Cryan describes the experiences of both groups, as documented in personal and official correspondence, news reports and editorials, and other contemporary sources. In addition to key players, Cryan includes the experiences of a wide variety of people who participated in various ways–soldiers, journalists, wives, fund-raisers. The views of these participants, mostly outsiders but actively involved, add color and interest to the book.

Did I say color? There are great color illustrations too!

Cryan’s sources include material brought to light in recent years, and the book has end-notes, appendices, and bibliography.

Mary Jane Cryan

Mary Jane Cryan

Mary Jane Cryan has lived in Italy since 1965. From “About the Author”, Cryan “has been an international educator, journalist, and guidebook writer. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her contributions to historical research and cultural promotion…” Study of the Risorgimento is not new to her; it was the subject of her own doctoral thesis in 1985.

The book is for sale through Cryan’s website, Elegant Etruria, which includes articles on travel, history, and antiquing. She also offers services in travel consultancy and excursions.

Italian shoes: Legacy of my ancestors

Designer shoes from Taormina.

Designer shoes from Taormina.

I hired Roots in the Boot to research my family roots in Scigliano (Calabria), and learned that I come from a long line of shoemakers!! Every Gualtieri ancestor of my great-grandmother, Josephine, was a shoemaker–back as far as Pasquale Gualtieri, born about 1725.

Could my great-great grandfather's shoe shop have looked like this one, from Wikimedia Commons?

Could my great-great grandfather’s shoe shop have looked like this Sicilian one? Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I would love to see a pair of their shoes, and I wonder what their shoemaking shop looked like. As I roam around Scigliano later this summer, I will be looking for shoe shops, and hope my Italian cousins there can tell me more about our shoe-making ancestors.

Several of the women in the family were cotton or silk spinners. I imagine this as “cottage” employment rather than work outside the home, but honestly, I don’t know. The villages that make up Scigliano are fairly small, but I don’t know much in detail about their history. Could there have been a weaving business there, turning their silk into luxurious velvets and brocades?

Could it be that at some point they combined their efforts, and made shoes like these?

Woman's silk brocade shoes, 1770s, probably Italian. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Woman’s silk brocade shoes, 1770s, probably Italian. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Do you know the occupation of your Italian ancestors?

The long lost (or hidden) Jewish community of Calabria

Today I learned about Rabbi Barbara, and her work in reconnecting Calabrian Jews with their Jewish heritage. I found her website very interesting, and especially this information on the B’nei Anousim movement in Calabria, dedicated to Jews who were forced to repudiate their faith–or be exiled–during the Inquisition. How naive I have been, never considering that this happened in southern Italy, just as it did in other places where the practice was better known to me.