Bernardo Tanucci, portrait of the most powerful man in the Kingdom of Naples

by Federico Quagliuolo

The most powerful man in the whole Naples Kingdom he was not Neapolitan. His name was Bernardo Tanucci and he was originally from Stia, in the province of Arezzo: he was responsible for all Neapolitan politics for a whole century.

A man of enormous size, with an austere look and a severe air: he was a extraordinary jurist it's a politic with extraordinary intelligence: he was in fact the person who completely revolutionized the juridical structure of the Kingdom of Naples, getting him out of the quagmire of bureaucracy, corruption and noble plots of Viceroyalty.
He never forgot his Tuscan origins: he wanted to be buried in the church of the Florentines, which was barbarously destroyed after World War II.

Young, controversial and reformist

In a very small town in Arezzo, Stay, was born in 1698 a lively and curious boy in the home of a wealthy family who, a few years later, did moved to Pisa. Bernardo Tanucci graduated in law at nearly thirty, which was a strange thing for the time, and immediately gave proof of his own intelligence managing to create a gigantic controversy over feudal laws which, with the Enlightenment, they were finally trying to overcome. He was a young and passionate scholar and, due to his "battles", made up of legal principles and philosophies, he was able to throw himself into furious controversy with anyone who defended the establishment: he hated the "old"And who defended them, he fought for justice and was capable of accuse a university professor of plagiarism, showing that "his texts were translations of other authors". A very serious fact which did not bode well for the career of a young academic that he really was intolerant in the austere environment of "old academics“.

The noise which raised the rebellious young intellectual in the cultural environments of the time to make it immediately noticed by Grand Duke Gastone de 'Medici, who introduced him to the very young Charles of Bourbon who, before becoming king of Naples, was duke of Parma for a few years.
It was for this reason that, when Carlo left for Southern Italy, he asked the Pisa scholar to follow him to the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples.
Bernardo Tanucci had twenty years more compared to Charles of Bourbon: in 1734 he had almost 36 years old, while King Charles was barely twenty, but between the two there was one perfect understanding. The political intent was the same: create a new state, reforming it according to i new enlightenment principles that characterized the eighteenth century. A fascinating project which began in a Naples paradoxically gangrenous from 400 years of political abandonment.

Carlo di Borbone inaugurazione reggia di Caserta
Charles of Bourbon and his wife attending the ceremony of laying the first stone of the Royal Palace of Caserta

The most powerful man in Naples who reformed the Kingdom

There career of Bernardo Tanucci flew, under the protection of his friend and King Charles: first Councilor of State, then Minister of Posts, then Minister of Justice, then of Foreign Affairs, finally Secretary of State. All in just 10 years. And, when Carlo left, he also became Regent of the Kingdom, since his son Ferdinand IV had just 9 years when he became king of Naples.

Tanucci had a clear political project: eliminate feudal privileges and reform the entire apparatus of justice. He also named one commission to have new civil and criminal codes drawn up in Naples, but the project was never completed, while the maritime code saw the light. He was a man from infinite culture and, in addition to his passion for the study of law, he continued to cultivate an interest in law even as an adult philosophy and the mathematics, without neglecting the literature.

He spent all his energy to fight "there bad baronial beast of the Kingdom that only fears me“, “feudal tyranny" And "the softness of the Neapolitan populations": the ambitious project of Charles of Bourbon and Tanucci was achieved by fighting the infinite ecclesiastical privileges (it was for example the Jesuit order expelled from the Kingdom and and all ecclesiastical assets were transferred to the peasants: a revolutionary project!), were monasteries and convents suppressed, for the first time the religious were forced to pay taxes and the Church could no longer acquire new properties without the consent of the State: for the first time, thanks to Bernardo Tanucci, a King regained control of a city that has been stateless for 300 years.

Carlo di Borbone abdicazione
The abdication of Charles of Bourbon in favor of Ferdinand IV. Tanucci is the person who reads the deed. Painting by Antonio Joli

An "old" loyal to Spain

If there is one thing that characterized the good Tanucci it was there absolute fidelity, which could almost be called love, towards Charles of Bourbon. Also when the king left Naples and left for Spain, Tanucci was constantly sending him letters to inform him about the state of the Kingdom and about interesting facts that happened in the city, as in the case of the “Santa Pazza” Isabella Mellone. And this was precisely the reason that led the first disagreements with Ferdinand IV which, by now become an adult, was beginning to pawing to manage the Kingdom without the influence of his father and Tanucci.

Likewise, i Bourbon ministers they were now intolerant towards the over seventy year old Tanucci who continued, with dignity and superfine eloquence, to want impose his reasons on modern political discussions. a kind of "ok boomer"In eighteenth-century sauce.
The powerful secretary of state was in fact treated by the new generations of politicians as a character unable to understand the new European political scenarios, but what he had no intention of retiring.
Likewise, after the departure of King Charles, all of Tanucci's political projects were fought and hindered by the Neapolitan nobles and the Church, all of them terrified from the perspective of lose their age-old privileges. And in the letters of the Tuscan politician sent to King Charles we read the sadness of confrontation between the "royal power", which wanted to improve the conditions of the Kingdom of Naples, and "the court and the religious", who they fought every innovation.

The end of Tanucci

He thought about it there wife of Ferdinand IV, Maria Carolina of Austria, who, once she entered the Council of State, managed to politically isolate Bernardo Tanucci: it got the support of the nobles, the Church and the landowners, who hated the reforming politician. It was in fact decided to entrust the Kingdom of Naples to Austria, his homeland, against all wishes of the Tuscan Secretary, who remembered well the disasters of the Austrian domination. But King Charles was now dead and there Spain of Charles IV did not provide any support to Tanucci.

The British also came to the field: it was appointed Sir Herald Acton as Secretary of State in 1776, retiring the old Bernard, who retired to private life in his villa in San Giorgio a Cremano.

A ironic end for a man who, as a boy, did everything to fight the conservative elders and, paradoxically, he was treated by his peers as a troublesome retiree. But even Antonello Venditti, 200 years later, told of the sixty-eight who later became bank managers.

Bernardo Tanucci
Bernardo Tanucci at the time of the regency of Naples

Where is Bernardo Tanucci?

It is not known. After his death at the age of 92, he was buried in the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, which was located. One was also posted tombstone who well told the esteem he enjoyed:

Although he had ruled this kingdom for more than forty years, he never imposed any tribute

Tombstone of Bernardo Tanucci

The Florentine church disappeared in the 1950s, time after World War II. It was located in the current Via Ferdinando del Carretto, behind Via Toledo, and it was declared "at risk of collapse". In fact, it was later discovered that the church had not been touched in the least by the bombing. But it was too late: in 1950 it was demolished to make room to the expansion of Palazzo Fernandez, a residential building. The church was rebuilt, with modern style, in 1957 al Vomero.

The bodies of Bernardo Tanucci ed Artemisia Gentileschi they were irretrievably lost. There memory of the Tuscan statesman however, she was not completely raped: her name survived even the Post-unitary "censorship" and, even today, there is a road dedicated to him behind theHotel of the Poor, another ambitious but unfortunate work. Just like his politics.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Aurelio Cernigliaro, Bernardo Tanucci
Girolamo Imbruglia, Bernardo Tanucci, Biographical Dictionary of Italians
Benedetto Croce, History of the Kingdom of Naples, Laterza, Bari, 1966
Sergio Zazzera, Once upon a time in Vomero, 1999
Silvio De Majo, Neapolitan Biographies, Belle Epoque Editions, Naples, 2018

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