Ferdinand IV of Bourbon: history of the longest-lived king of Italy

by Federico Quagliuolo

Discover the story of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon it is the essential piece to understand the entire history of Naples from the past to today.

On him everything has been said:king lazzarone" or "king big nose“, “reactionary“, “violent and sadistic“, “the last enlightened king“, “the king of the restoration". Had an extravagant, moody and irascible character, it was often unfaithful because he did not tolerate the very strict wife, while with the others it is said it was particularly cheerful and joker, breaking the strict court labels: he knew a huge repertoire of jokes in Neapolitan which he rattled off on every occasion. Era very high for the time (almost 1.90!) and, despite the frail physique, had a round belly and the famous "big nose".
Net of character curiosities, his reign was one of the longest in the history of the whole world: it is indeed the ninth longest-lived king ever, with his 65 years of power and a life worthy of a movie.

Ferdinando IV di Borbone Ferdinando I
Ferdinand IV of Bourbon at the end of his reign, when he was already Ferdinand I

A king who was to become Pope

To be the son of Charles of Bourbon it was not to be easy not only for the hefty inheritance of a king who had begun to modernize the Kingdom of Naples. When little Ferdinand was born, in reality, he didn't even have to become king. It was in fact the third child of the royal couple and the mother, the austere and refined Maria Amalia of Saxony, he wanted a future for him as a cardinal and, who knows, maybe even as a pope.

The problem is that the first born, Philip, had mental retardation (at the time called imbecility by doctors) and suffered from Seizures. Ferdinand IV's other elder brother, Don Carlo, was initially to become heir to the throne of Naples and Sicily and instead he found himself in Madrid, with the name of Charles IV.

The father's plans were also ruined by the sudden death of Ferdinand VI of Spain, which forced Charles of Bourbon to go home to take the new throne. Consequently, the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily was left in the hands of a very small Ferdinand, just 7 years old, who was assisted by Italy's most influential statesman in those times: Bernardo Tanucci. Ferdinand is said to have done invent a wax stamp with his signature, in such a way that to sign in series the documents that Tanucci handed him, without wasting time.

In fact it was the Tuscan politician who managed Neapolitan politics for at least twenty years also because the young king had the intention of doing anything in life, but certainly he was not really interested in the long and boring councils of state. His favorite pastime was in fact the jokes: it is said that he loved pinching the butt of the court ladies and that he threw live mice in the middle of the dance halls, just to give two examples.

Carlo di Borbone rinuncia al trono
Charles of Bourbon renounces the throne of Naples for Ferdinand IV

Excellencies, firsts and contradictions

Probably few characters describe the Neapolitan contradictions better than Ferdinand IV, with all his extremes: it was reactionary, but his reign was characterized by very numerous innovations; he did not like culture, but he was very fascinated by classical art; enjoyed himself in the hang out with the people, but lived in one pomp such as to heavily indebt the state coffers (so that Tanucci he sent a letter, desperate, asking from Spain an intervention by his father Carlo di Borbone. Even Ferdinand, in reality, called his father desperately for help him not to be treated badly by his wife).

It would take whole pages to list all the innovations made under the rule of Ferdinand IV: from the first military school in Italy, the Nunziatella, at the Real Marina of the Two Sicilies. Promoted the first parliament of Italy, but it is broke up with a twist.

And again, in the industrial field gave impetus to the creation of productive poles that became European models of excellence, such as San Leucio oi construction sites of Castellammare di Stabia. And then in the culture, from first order of the excavations of Pompeii to the creation of the Royal Bourbon Museum, which has now become the MANN. And let's not forget St. Francis of Paola!

He called the best cartographers of the time to draw the most accurate map of Southern Italy before the modern and promoted ones the first realization of the odonomastic plates of the streets: Naples was among the first cities in Italy to register the names of its streets.

Moreover, it was thanks to the gluttony of the king that we have the fork with four prongs and not three, as it was worn at the time. And the tomato, who became the prince of Neapolitan cuisine, depopulated during his reign, as well as the potatoes.

Yet, in a cultural and philosophical climate that seemed to be experiencing a golden age, among men like Filangieri e Genoese, the Kingdom of Naples lived in conditions of terrible economic and social backwardness, especially in the provinces and in Sicily.
In spite of everything, the Neapolitans loved him precisely because of his ways that seemed much more similar to those of a populate than those of a king.

Ferdinando IV di Borbone e Maria Carolina
Ferdinand IV of Bourbon and his wife Maria Carolina

Between Austrians, English and an unhappy marriage

Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, when he looked outside the borders of the Kingdom, was in a real minefield. After the queen succeeded in get rid of the bulky figure of Bernardo Tanucci, which for all the last years of his life he was fiercely hampered by all the Neapolitan nobility who did not want to lose land privileges, the Kingdom of Naples became a vassal of Austria and ally of the English. And there the figure of John Acton, which had very ambiguous relations with the queen.

The problem was precisely the very strong influence of Vienna, which on the other hand was a necessary evil also according to Charles of Bourbon: for avoid an invasion of Naples, in fact, it was Ferdinando's father who established a suitable marriage.

And even there, after a childhood spent without a family and with the duties of a King, Ferdinand was unfortunate and loveless: the first two wives who were betrothed to him died, while the third, Maria Carolina, survived enough to give it too a successor and an alliance with Austria.

Of the possible brides never known, However, the king who was just over 16 was not very sorry: future wives for him were a portrait and a name. And also with Maria Carolina, who then knew, love never broke out. So much so that his are very famous "Escapades" with Lucia Migliaccio, the Duchess of Floridia, who later received the Floridiana on the Vomero and then she was also his second wife.
Meanwhile, Ferdinand delighted in his true favorite pastime, namely hunting. It is said that was such a good shooter to be able to kill too 200 prey in a single beat.

Famiglia di Ferdinando IV di Borbone
The family of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon in a painting given to him by his son Francesco I for his name day

Three times on the throne

Klemens von Metternich, the Austrian diplomat he was the most powerful man in Europe in the early 19th century, could not bear our Ferdinand IV in the least. Of him she said "he fell off his horse three times and I put him back in the saddle three times", while of the Neapolitans he wrote atrocious opinions, comparing them to African tribes without the gift of reason.

Ferdinand probably fully perceived this low esteem, but he also knew that there was no other man who could help him regain the throne for all three times he lost it.

The first, in fact, was in 1799: throughout Europe there was an air of revolutions, while in France the Republic. Also Naples rebelled with French help and Ferdinando was forced to flee to Sicily, but for months he had been trying to desperately repress the Masonic and liberal currents (the first executed was Emanuele De Deo, a 22-year-old boy) that they did to him shake the throne Like never before.

The circumstances however they were very favorable to him: Austrian aid, who did not want to lose a precious territory, the intervention of the British, which they intended to get your hands on the strategically best positioned state in the Mediterranean, and fiery and overwhelming characters like Fra Diavolo and the Cardinal Ruffo, quickly re-established the order of things. And it was a bloodbath for all revolutionaries.

There spark however it had exploded. And France returned to Naples with bad manners, forcing Ferdinando again to flee to Palermo. Again it was saved again, but coming to terms with the British. At the end of the decade of Murat, it all seemed back on its feet with a new name and a new kingdom, guaranteed by the usual Austrians (to which Ferdinando had paid several million ducats to secure their favors). But no.

The last time he saw his throne wobble was during the Carbonari uprisings of 1820, who demanded theestablishment of a parliament: the king was forced to grant it, even at the insistence of the Son.

Then, summoned in secret to Vienna, returned to the head of an army of 50,000 men to reconquer Naples even to the detriment of his son Francis I., become regent and guarantor of the Kingdom in the period of absence of the sovereign. It is thought that probably the emperor of Austria imposed a hard line on him towards parliament and Ferdinand IV was forced to obey without saying a word: the king of Naples he no longer had any say in his own national policy, which just had to to comply with the wishes of Vienna.

Ferdinando IV di Borbone parlamento di Napoli
Ferdinand I of Bourbon enters Naples with the Austrian army to drive out the parliamentarians

The break with Sicily

Ever since the day Charles of Anjou moved the capital from Palermo to Naples, and let's talk about the 1282, the Sicilians began to to hate the continental part of the Kingdom and they pushed their entire history towards the independence of the island.
In the various stays of Ferdinando, during the two exiles from Naples, the court of Palermo always harbored the hope of being able bring the king's sympathies closer and secure further powers or, even, maybe succeed in snatch the title of capital from Naples. It wasn't like that. Indeed, every time Ferdinand managed to return to the shadow of Vesuvius he took no interest in Sicily, creating discontent very strong.

When then, after 1816, he decided to annexing Sicily to the Kingdom of Naples, creating the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, he removed the last formality that made Palermo independent in some way from Naples. It was a real one declaration of war.

The story of Ferdinand IV and Sicily was probably the tombstone on the History of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Ferdinando IV di Borbone e Maria Carolina
Probably one of the most truthful portraits of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon. Maria Carolina, in a letter addressed to her sister, defined him "of a repulsive ugliness“.

A very heavy legacy

Although his very long reign was a continual navigating through foreign interference, Ferdinand IV found himself having to manage the crucial point of the history of Naples. According to many historians and writers, it was precisely his policy a condemn the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In the religious field, however, he led Naples to approach Rome, restoring all the privileges of the Church that his father Carlo had tried to eliminate together with Tanucci.

Son, Francis I., did not do better: he had no intention of being king and he preferred to devote himself to his botany studies. He initially had sympathies with intellectuals who called for a modern parliamentary monarchy but, after his father's "betrayal" in 1821, the whole new intellectual class of Naples was antagonized.
Eventually the grandson Ferdinand II he found himself having to rebuild the pieces of a state already torn apart from within. He succeeded in part, by administering it as a good family man and with a very prudent policy, but by now the fracture between the new liberal class and the Neapolitan monarchy was incurable. And it was the unfortunate who paid for it Francis II.

The most difficult work of Ferdinand II was to succeed in get rid of Austria, which he kept after his grandfather's death a very strong political control over Naples and he had no intention of letting go: the young king managed to to free oneself from foreign pressures, he managed to to restore the state coffers and promoted the image of Naples among the first European capitals with cutting-edge industrial and technological initiatives.
To avoid conflict or to end up re-harnessed under some foreign power, he tried the total isolation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from the complicated European political intrigues.

But the collapse was near. It is the first rebel region it would have been Sicily which, 35 years after the death of Ferdinand I, was the landing place for Garibaldi. As the first domino tile, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies fell right starting from that island that felt betrayed by its king.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Alexandre Dumas, The Bourbons of Naples, Marotta & Marotta, Naples, 2003
Rosario Villari, How Italy was born. The Risorgimento, Repubblica, Rome, 1991
Silvio De Majo, Neapolitan Biographies, Belle Epoque Editions, Naples, 2013
Salvatore Di Giacomo, King Nasone in profile, Imagaenaria Edizioni, Ischia, 2005
Pietro Colletta, History of the Kingdom of Naples from 1734 to 1825
Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, Letters to the Duchess of Floridia, Imagaenaria Edizioni, Ischia, 2005
Antonio Ghirelli, History of Naples, Einaudi, Milan, 2015
Giuseppe Campolieti, The lazzarone king, Mondadori, Milan, 1998
Alfredo d'Ambrosio, History of Naples from its origins to today, Neapolitan Typography, Naples, 1976
Letters of Bernardo Tanucci to Charles III of Bourbon, edited by Rosa Minicucci

Become a supporter!

We have decided to remove advertisements from the website to ensure maximum enjoyment of our stories. However, we need financial support to keep our editorial activities alive: join the supporters of our platform, for you many advantages and preview videos!

Leave a comment

error: NOTICE: You can't copy the content!