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Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies
In his early years he was credited with Liberal ideas and he was fairly popular, his free and easy manners having endeared him to the lazzaroni. On succeeding his father in 1830, he published an edict in which he promised to give his most anxious attention to the impartial administration of justice, to reform the finances, and to use every effort to heal the wounds which had afflicted the kingdom for so many years; but these promises seem to have been meant only to lull discontent to sleep, for although he did something for the economic development of the kingdom, the existing burden of taxation was only slightly lightened, corruption continued to flourish in all departments of the administration, and an absolutism was finally established harsher than that of all his predecessors, and supported by even more extensive and arbitrary arrests. Ferdinand was naturally shrewd, but badly educated, grossly superstitious and possessed of inordinate self-esteem. Though he kept the machinery of his kingdom fairly efficient, and was a patriot to the extent of brooking no foreign interference, he made little account of the wishes or welfare of his subjects.
After his marriage to an Austrian princess in 1837, the bonds of despotism were more closely tightened, and the increasing discontent of his subjects was manifested by various abortive attempts at insurrection; in 1837 there was a rising in Sicily in consequence of the outbreak of cholera, and in 1843 La Giovine Italia tried to organize a general rising, which, however, only manifested itself in a series of isolated outbreaks. The expedition of the Bandiera Brothers in 1844, although it had no practical result, aroused great ill-feeling owing to the cruel sentences passed on the rebels.
In January 1848 another rising in Sicily was the signal for revolutions all over Italy and Europe; it was followed by a movement in Naples, and the king granted a constitution which he swore to observe. A dispute, however, arose as to the nature of the oath which should be taken by the members of the chamber of deputies, and as neither the king nor the deputies would yield, serious disturbances broke out in the streets of Naples on May 15; so the king, making these an excuse for withdrawing his promise, dissolved the national parliament on March 13, 1849.
He retired to Gaeta to confer with various deposed despots, and when the news of the Austrian victory at Novara (March 1849) reached him, he determined to return to a reactionary policy. Sicily, whence the Royalists had been expelled, was subjugated by General Filangieri, and the chief cities were bombarded, an expedient which won for Ferdinand the epithet of King Bomba.
During the last years of his reign espionage and arbitrary arrests prevented all serious manifestations of discontent among his subjects. In 1851 the political prisoners of Naples were calculated by Mr Gladstone in his letters to Lord Aberdeen (1851) to number 15,000 (probably the real figure was nearer 40,000), and so great was the scandal created by the prevailing reign of terror, and the abominable treatment to which the prisoners were subjected, that in 1856 France and England made diplomatic representations to induce the king to mitigate his rigour and proclaim a general amnesty, but without success.
An attempt was made by a soldier to assassinate Ferdinand in 1856. He died on May 22, 1856, just after the declaration of war by France and Piedmont against Austria, which was to result in the collapse of his kingdom and his dynasty. He was bigoted, cruel, mean, treacherous, though not without a certain bonhomie; the only excuse that can be made for him is that with his heredity and education a different result could scarcely be expected.
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| King of the Two Sicilies|
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