Liborio Romano and the betrayal that united Italy

by Federico Quagliuolo

Swindler, traitor, double agent, quick-change, Camorra: Liborio Romano was one of the more controversial characters of the Unification of Italy, the Neapolitan who gave power to the Camorra, one of the least known and most interesting personalities in the entire history of Unity.

Garibaldi accompagnato da Liborio Romano in città
Garibaldi accompanied by Liborio Romano in the city

A brilliant jurist

A few years before Garibaldi's arrival, Liborio Romano was very young Professor of Civil and Commercial Law ofUniversity of Naples and precisely in the university environment he met the Carboneria, a secret sect born in Naples, and all its characters, including Giuseppe Pisanelli, the father of the first Italian Civil Code.  After the revolutionary uprisings of 1848, however, Romano's life turned into an escape from the guards of Ferdinand II, with a Death penalty for conspiring against the state.

Then, with a surprise move by the desperate King Francis, just the enemy of the Bourbons, Don Liborio, was named police chief. He, the opponent, the man who, for forty years, fled from the King's police, found himself at command it. Liborio Romano was indeed cunning: he had understood that by now Naples was about to become province of a new kingdom and, while pretending to remain loyal to the Bourbons, he exploited his position of power for secretly sending letters to Cavour in which he revealed all the Bourbon state secrets and prepared the ground for the arrival of Garibaldi in the capital. 

Liborio Romano
A photo of Liborio Romano as an elder

L'Unità, a matter of lawyers

Cavour then proposed an idea: why not take advantage of the power of Liborio Romano to enlist all underworld and the discontented, organizing an armed revolt in Naples? The Count wanted in every way to avoid Garibaldi from conquering the capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, in fear of losing control of the situation. And so, disappointed by the failed coup attempt by Pisanelli, he turned to the other Neapolitan jurist and at the same time spoke with Raffaele Conforti. In short, Unity was a matter of lawyers.

Romano found the proposal interesting, but tried to save his city from a battle that would destroy it.

He then proposed to King Francis II of go away to Gaeta before Garibaldi's arrival, in order to avoid a battle in Naples, which Cavour had secretly anticipated. Then finally free and left alone in town, summoned an obscure personage into his ministry: Tore 'and Criscienzo, the feared boss of the camorraAnd here the problem arose.

The agreement with the Camorra

Don Liborio, taking advantage of his power as chief of police, he had in fact sent a letter asking for the release from prison by Salvatore De Crescenzo, to propose him a deal: in exchange for freedom: to create a army of Camorra which would keep the people quiet to ensure a quiet entrance to Garibaldi, without an armed conflict that would have damaged Naples.

Thus the Camorra, the "badly“, The same characters who, until recently, were considered enemies of the law, but who secretly found themselves several times acting as neighborhood police, suddenly found themselves with one red cockade on the jacket, some clandestine weapons and the name of "City Guard“: The power of this dirty army it was not written in any law or regulation and resulted in violence, beatings and repression of any activity that the bloodthirsty did not like Don Totore De Crescenzo. 

The last part of the perfect plan of the Count of Cavour: after having convinced another Neapolitan, Raffaele Conforti, to promote a popular vote to legitimize the annexation of Southern Italy, precisely the Camorra accompanied the voters to do "the right choice" during the Plebiscite: Naples became the only capital of Europe to be downgraded to a province.

A portrait of Liborio Romano at the time of the Plebiscite

How to remove Liborio Romano?

It was the 1861 and, in the office of the quivering Piedmontese prime minister, a Neapolitan lawyer, Raffaele Conforti, who said the sentence: "I hand Italy over to its king“.

Now they just had to eliminate all the awkward characters they could stain the heroic story of Unity. And among these "harmful" individuals, there was Garibaldi himself, who by now enjoyed almost unlimited popularity, but was really inconvenient for the Piedmontese government.

L'lawyer Comfort it was a pawn easily eliminated: Cavour wrote in a letter kept in Rome: "appoint him magistrate and never talk about him again“; Liborio Romano it was instead dangerous: friend of the Camorra and linked to Tore 'and Criscienzo. He was the man who welcomed Garibaldi to the city: he was hugely popular in the newly conquered Southern lands. The new Italian government could not show itself to be a friend of such a person, but it could not even eliminate him: how to get rid of it?

Idea: bring it to parliament. The fame of "friend of criminals"Would not have given no credibility to Romano's political activity: once again Cavour had seen it right.

The parliament of young Italy was indeed an explosion of enthusiasm, confidence and dreams: Liborio Romano had by now seventy years and, having arrived in Turin, he set off in one euphoric crowd of jackets and accents of every region of Italy made of intellectual elders who saw theirs realized ancient battles mixed with very young names of the future, which would become i ministers of the Great War. Turin seemed at that time the center of the world and Vittorio Emanuele was the father of the future.

Once the parliament meeting began, the enthusiasm of many politicians turned into worry.

Fatal illusion, inexcusable and all the more serious error

- Liborio Romano, Political Memories

Liborio Romano riceve Garibaldi
Liborio Romano welcomes Garibaldi to Portici

The repression of banditry

Only two years after the first meeting of parliament, in fact, Romano himself witnessed the approval of the Pica lawfor the purge of the Camorra and brigands in the infected provinces“: His protests were useless, because it was evident that that law would be used for eliminate even uncomfortable characters. This was not the Unit designed by Romano.

A was established military court it's the same Salvatore De Crescenzo he was taken to prison, where he was welcomed by criminals like a king: all the criminals subjected themselves to the power of the Camorra and, in a few days, Don Totore became the master of the penitentiary, with the prison police who, helpless, he limited himself to observing the activities of one of the most famous criminals in history.

Cavour gave a gold medal to Liborio Romano after the Unification

And Liborio Romano?

After realizing that he was the unaware pawn of a pervert political gamefurious, he published a document in which he pointed names and surnames of all the characters that you were illegally enriched during the period of the dictatorship of Naples. Then he retired disappointed in the family home a Patù, to let yourself be consoled by the enchanting sea of the province of Lecce.

And he died alone, full of doubts and with a tormented soul, in 1867.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Liborio Romano, Political Memories, Giuffrè, Turin, 1992
Francesco Barbagallo, History of the Camorra, Laterza, Bari, 2010
John Dickie, Honored Society, Laterza, Bari, 2012
Isaia Sales, La Camorra, Le Camorre, Naples, 1998
Marc Monnier, La Camorra, Naples, 1862



A curiosity: what does Liborio Romano have to do with the three of clubs in Neapolitan cards?
We told it in this story:

The Camorra in the exercise of public functions of order and security was not a novelty at all: it also made extensive use of it Ferdinand II, using it as a real "secret police".

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