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.