The Parthenopaean Republic formed a brief interlude in the history of the Kingdom of Naples, the result of activities of France in the aftermath of Jacobinism to "export revolution ".
Origins of the Republic
On the outbreak of the French Revolution King Ferdinand IV of Naples and Queen Maria Carolina did not at first actively oppose reform; but after the fall of the French monarchy they became violently opposed to it, and in 1793 joined the first coalition against France, instituting severe persecutions against all who were remotely suspected of French sympathies. Republicanism, however, gained ground, especially among the aristocracy.
In 1796 peace with France was concluded, but in 1798, during Napoleon’s absence in Egypt and after Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile, Maria Carolina induced Ferdinand to go to war with France once more. Nelson himself arrived in Naples in September 1798, where he was enthusiastically received. The king, after a somewhat farcical occupation of Rome, which had been evacuated by the French, hurried back to Naples as soon as the French attacked his troops, and although the lazzaroni (the lowest class of the people) were devoted to the Bourbon dynasty and ready to defend it, he fled with his court to Palermo in a panic on board Nelson’s ships.
The wildest confusion prevailed, and the lazzaroni massacred numbers of persons suspected of republican sympathies, while the nobility and the educated classes, finding themselves abandoned by their king, began to contemplate a republic under French auspices to avoid anarchy. In January 1799 the French under Championnet reached Naples, but the lazzaroni, ill-armed and ill-disciplined as they were, resisted the enemy with desperate courage, and only on 20 January 1799 did the invaders occupy the city.
On 23 January 1799 the Parthenopaean Republic was proclaimed. (The name Parthenope refers to an ancient Greek colony on the site of the future city of Naples.) The Republicans were men of culture and high character, but doctrinaire and unpractical, and they knew very little of the lower classes of their own country. The government soon found itself in financial difficulties, owing to Championnet’s demands for money; it failed to organise the army, and met with little success in its attempts to "democratise" the provinces.
Meanwhile the court at Palermo sent Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, a wealthy and influential prelate, to Calabria to organize a counter-revolution. He succeeded beyond expectation, and with his "Christian army of the Holy Faith" (Esercito Cristiano della Santa Fede), consisting of brigands, convicts, peasants and some soldiers, marched through the kingdom plundering, burning and massacring. An English squadron approached Naples and occupied the island of Procida, but after a few engagements with the Republican fleet commanded by Francesco Caracciolo, an ex-oflicer in the Bourbon navy, it was recalled to Palermo, as the Franco-Spanish fleet was expected.
Ruffo, joined by the Russian and Turkish ships under command of Admiral Ushakov, now marched on the capital, whence the French, except for a small force under Méjean, withdrew. The scattered Republican detachments were defeated, only Naples and Pescara holding out.
On 13 June 1799 Ruffo and his hordes reached Naples, and after a desperate battle at the Ponte della Maddalena, entered the city. For weeks the Calabresi and lazzaroni continued to pillage and massacre, and Ruffo was unable, even if willing, to restrain them. But the Royalists were not masters of the city, for the French in Castel Sant’ Elmo and the Republicans in Castelnuovo and Castel dell’ Uovo still held out and bombarded the streets, while the Franco-Spanish fleet might arrive at any moment. Consequently Ruffo was desperately anxious to come to terms with the Republicans for the evacuation of the castles, in spite of the queen’s orders to make no terms with the rebels. After some negotiation the parties concluded an armistice was concluded and agreed on capitulation, whereby the castles were to be evacuated, the hostages liberated and the garrisons free to remain in Naples unmolested or to sail for Toulon.
While the vessels were being prepared for the voyage to Toulon all the hostages in the castles were liberated save four; but on 24 June 1799 Nelson arrived with his fleet, and on hearing of the capitulation he refused to recognise it except in so far as it concerned the French.
Ruffo indignantly declared that once the treaty was signed, not only by himself but by the Russian and Turkish commandants and by the British captain Foote, it must be respected, and on Nelson’s refusal he said that he would not help him to capture the castles. On 26 June 1799 Nelson changed his attitude and authorised Sir William Hamilton, the British minister, to inform the cardinal that he (Nelson) would do nothing to break the armistice; while Captains Bell and Troubridge wrote that they had Nelson’s authority to state that the latter would not oppose the embarcation of the Republicans. Although these expressions were equivocal, the Republicans were satisfied and embarked on the vessels prepared for them. But on 28 June Nelson received despatches from the court (in reply to his own), in consequence of which he had the vessels brought under the guns of his ships, and many of the Republicans were arrested. Caracciolo, who had been caught whilst attempting to escape from Naples, was tried by a court-martial of Royalist officers under Nelson’s auspices on board the admiral’s flagship, condemned to death and hanged at the yard arm.
On 8 July 1799, King Ferdinand arrived from Palermo, and the state trials, conducted in the most arbitrary fashion, resulted in wholesale butchery; hundreds of persons were executed, including some of the best men in the country, such as the philosopher Mario Pagano, the scientist Cirillo, Manthonè, the minister of war under the republic, Massa, the defender of Castel dell’ Uovo, and Ettore Caraffa, the defender of Pescara, who had been captured by treachery, while thousands of others were immured in horrible dungeons or exiled.
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.