1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ferdinand II. of the Two Sicilies
FERDINAND II. (1810–1859), king of the Two Sicilies, son of Francis I, was born at Palermo on the 12th of January 1810. 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. In 1832 he married Cristina, daughter of Victor Emmanuel I., king of Sardinia, and shortly after her death in 1836 he took for a second wife Maria Theresa, daughter of archduke Charles of Austria. After his Austrian alliance 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 the Young Italy Society tried to organize a general rising, which, however, only manifested itself in a series of isolated outbreaks. The expedition of the Bandiera brothers (q.v.) in 1844, although it had no practical result, aroused great ill-feeling owing to the cruel sentences passed on the rebels. In January 1848 a 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 the 15th of May; so the king, making these an excuse for withdrawing his promise, dissolved the national parliament on the 13th of March 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 (q.v.), 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 the 22nd of May 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.
See Correspondence respecting the Affairs of Naples and Sicily, 1848–1849, presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, 4th May 1849; Two Letters to the Earl of Aberdeen, by the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, 1st ed., 1851 (an edition published in 1852 and the subsequent editions contain an Examination of the Official Reply of the Neapolitan Government); N. Nisco, Ferdinando II. il suo regno (Naples, 1884); H. Remsen Whitehouse, The Collapse of the Kingdom of Naples (New York, 1899); R. de Cesare, La Caduta d’ un Regno, vol. i. (Città di Castello, 1900), which contains a great deal of fresh information, but is badly arranged and not always reliable. (L. V.*)