Neapolitan Revolution

Inspired by political changes in France and Spain, the Neapolitan Revolution forced King Ferdinand I to accept a constitutional government but was quickly suppressed by the Austrian military. Nevertheless, its underlying goal of Italian self-government was realized forty years later with the establishment of an independent Italian state.

Summary of Event

The Neapolitan Revolution of 1820 followed shortly after a similar revolt in Spain and preceded revolutionary disturbances in northern Italy. The year 1820 was a year of crisis for the system of peace and security that had been initiated at the Congress of Vienna Congress of Vienna (1814-1815);and Neapolitan Revolution[Neapolitan Revolution] in 1815 and carried through Italy by Prince Metternich, the Austrian minister of foreign affairs. The causes of the Neapolitan revolt go back to that Congress, at which the victorious allies had restored Ferdinand I to the kingdom of the Two Sicilies Kingdom of the Two Sicilies under the principle of “legitimacy.” Like other Italian rulers, Ferdinand was indebted to Metternich for his restored throne and thereby wedded to the forces of reaction. By a secret treaty, Ferdinand promised to uphold his absolutist convictions, maintain the status quo, and accept changes only with the consent of Austria. Any revolt against Ferdinand’s rule was therefore a revolt against Austria. In order to consolidate his power, Ferdinand Kingdom of the Two Sicilies;Bourbon Dynasty
Bourbon dynasties;Sicilian restored loyal Bourbonists to honored positions in his state, and until 1817, he depended upon the Austrian army to protect this throne. Neapolitan Revolution (1820-1821)
Italy;Neapolitan Revolution (1820-1821)
Ferdinand I
[p]Metternich;and Italy[Italy]
Pepe, Guglielmo
Naples;Neapolitan Revolution
[kw]Neapolitan Revolution (July 2, 1820-Mar., 1821)
[kw]Revolution, Neapolitan (July 2, 1820-Mar., 1821)
Neapolitan Revolution (1820-1821)
Italy;Neapolitan Revolution (1820-1821)
Ferdinand I
[p]Metternich;and Italy[Italy]
Pepe, Guglielmo
Naples;Neapolitan Revolution
[g]Italy;July 2, 1820-Mar., 1821: Neapolitan Revolution[1130]
[g]Mediterranean;July 2, 1820-Mar., 1821: Neapolitan Revolution[1130]
[c]Government and politics;July 2, 1820-Mar., 1821: Neapolitan Revolution[1130]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July 2, 1820-Mar., 1821: Neapolitan Revolution[1130]
Castlereagh, Viscount
[p]Castlereagh, Viscount;and

Since the Bourbon restoration meant the end of French domination and a return to peace, Ferdinand’s return to Naples was initially greeted with enthusiasm. There were, however, elements of dissatisfaction. Two groups, the Muratists and the Carbonari, were immediately alienated but remained representative of the forces of change. The Muratists were originally the loyal followers of Joachim Murat Murat, Joachim , the brother-in-law of Napoleon I Napoleon I
[p]Napoleon I[Napoleon 01];and Italy[Italy] whom Napoleon had made king of Naples. These followers envied the honored positions given to the Bourbonists, whom they considered to be a feudal privileged class without experience or enlightenment. Hoping to be knighted as peers of the realm and honored as an enlightened nobility, the Muratists longed for a constitution Constitutions;Italian
Italy;constitutions similar to the conservative charter that Louis XVIII had allowed the French people to have.

The Carbonari, or “charcoal burners,” were members of a mysterious secret society, an offshoot of freemasonry, which sough to end French rule in Naples. When Ferdinand was restored to power after the Napoleonic Wars, the society split. Some members eagerly accepted Ferdinand, while others pressed for an end to Austrian influence and for social and economic reforms. The Carbonari also wanted a constitution like the Spanish constitution of 1812, which had been drawn up during the revolt against the rule of Joseph Bonaparte Bonaparte, Joseph in Spain, as amended by the revolutionary government of Spain in 1820. The Carbonari, however, wanted their constitution Constitutions;Italian
Italy;constitutions for the kingdom of Naples to be modeled after the liberal French constitution of 1791.

Metternich, the Austrian minister of foreign affairs.

(Library of Congress)

The effectiveness of the Carbonari was limited by their lack of organization, unified doctrines, and concerted plans of action. To the small proprietors, Carbonarism meant parceling out of the large estates; while to peasants who were normally loyal to the monarchy, it meant land ownership. To all members, Carbonarism signified patriotism. Under the illusion that the Muratists were sympathetic to a liberal constitution, the Carbonari clung to the hope that men such as the Muratist soldier Guglielmo Pepe would channel their enthusiasm and put an end to Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies;Bourbon Dynasty
Bourbon dynasties;Sicilian rule. This enthusiasm, which displayed republican tendencies at times, was to become the dynamic of the revolutionary movement.

Between 1815 and 1820, King Ferdinand followed a policy that both alienated and strengthened the dissatisfied factions. When he brought Muratists into his government, they took orders from the Bourbonists. Many Muratist generals, for example, were given commands in the army, which was headed by an Austrian, General Nugent, and a Royal Council of loyal Bourbonists, thereby accentuating the privileges of the Bourbonists.

On the other hand, the Carbonari, victims of an inconsistent policy of persecution, grew in strength as a result of a tax policy initiated by the Italian minister of finance, and many Carbonarist plots and disturbances developed. The Salerno Lodge, the most active, approached Pepe with a plan for revolution under his leadership. He discreetly refused, only to become a major figure after the revolution began.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Revolution of Spanish Revolution of 1820 March, 1820, encouraged revolutionary activity in Naples. The government reacted with further suppression, a policy that was difficult to implement through a Muratist-led army. Ferdinand wanted to warn Austria of the impending revolution but was advised that the situation was not serious. Then on July 2, 1820, a Carbonarist-inspired mutiny successfully captured the city of Nola. Led by the radical priest Minichini Minichini and Lieutenant Morelli Morelli , a follower of Pepe, the mutiny spread throughout the district.

The revolutionary forces enjoyed instant success, thanks to the confusion at Naples, the army loyal to the Muratist leaders, and a militia heavily influenced by the Carbonari. The revolution surprised not only the rest of Europe but also Ferdinand, his court, and, in many ways, the forces of victory—the Carbonari, the Muratists, and the constitutionalists. Because Naples was ostensibly the prosperous capital of a relatively contented kingdom, there was little or no anticipation of the revolution. The Carbonari had attracted cautious vigilance, but they were hardy a powerful force for change. When the Carbonari did manage to stage a major revolt, the monarchy, confused and surprised, was unable to coordinate a counteroffensive. Minichini Minichini and Morelli Morelli , the leaders of the mutiny at Nola, were pleasantly surprised at the ease with which their revolt gained momentum.

The Carbonari never really completed a comprehensive plan for revolution. By the time the news of their uprising had spread throughout the other lodges, their revolt was a success. Unable to foresee the meaning of the revolt at Nola, Pepe hesitated for two days in Naples before assuming command. The Muratist generals, on the other hand, were also apprehensive about the mutiny because they found themselves in command of forces that they seemed to fear rather than respect. Thus both the court and the constitutionalists were caught unaware as events swiftly climaxed with Pepe’s march on Naples, the king’s apparent acceptance of the revolution as a fait accompli, and the formation of a provisional government under the leadership of the Muratist generals, who were ill-prepared for their new political responsibilities.

Pepe himself assumed command of the revolutionary district, marched back to Naples, and sent a deputation to the king. Ferdinand took to his bed, appointed his son vicar-general, and agreed to everything. While the Spanish constitution Constitutions;Spanish
Spain;constitutions of 1812, freedom of the press, and other reforms were being proclaimed, the king sent a letter to Metternich condemning the revolution and appealing for intervention.

After a relatively bloodless week of revolution, the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies;Bourbon Dynasty
Bourbon dynasties;Sicilian regime had passed from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. Three main forces emerged during the following months: the Muratist-dominated ministry, the Carbonarist-dominated parliament, and the king. Since the revolution never reached the intensity of a popular uprising, the majority of the people were generally indifferent. Conscious of the threat of intervention by the allies, the Muratists reported the events to the other courts of Europe not as a revolutionary change but as a sort of governmental reorganization. Although the Carbonari constituted a minority in the new parliament, they were able to appeal to the lower classes as they stressed the revolutionary significance of the constitutional government.

Torn between loyalty to the new government and objections to the Carbonarist left-of-center position, the Muratists were weakened by internal conflicts and factionalism. While the Muratists represented moderation and the Carbonari symbolized radicalism, the king plotted with Metternich for a return to absolute government, capitalizing on Muratist and Carbonarist differences, especially on the need to seek allies through diplomacy and to engage in the practical work of reform. The confusion was compounded by the rise of a revolution within the revolution—the Sicilian revolt for autonomy—and civil war followed. From the beginning, the revolution was threatened by intrigue, radical plotting, civil war, and subsequent inability to form a workable coalition. As the only leader who appeared to transcend narrow factional lines, Pepe refused to assume political leadership. Whichever way the revolution went, Metternich was determined to restore Ferdinand to absolute power.

At the time that revolution had broken out in Naples, the allies had already decided to meet at Troppau in order to take up the issue of revolution in Spain. Metternich’s plan was to work through the Quadruple Alliance. Quadruple Alliance;and Neapolitan Revolution[Neapolitan Revolution] Great Britain, represented by Viscount Castlereagh, Castlereagh, Viscount
[p]Castlereagh, Viscount;and Italy[Italy] the foreign secretary, favored Austrian intervention, but because of the possibility that the general principle of collective intervention to put down revolution might be contrary to future British interests, Great Britain could not support collective action. Castlereagh refused to sign the Troppau Protocol Troppau Protocol (1820) , in which the other allies refused recognition to all governments that were products of revolution. Specific means for intervention were put off until the January 11, 1821, meeting at Laibach, which Ferdinand was invited to attend.

By then, events in Naples had developed to the point that any workable coalition among the various factions appeared to be impossible. However, the members of the Neapolitan parliament trusted the king when he promised to represent the constitutional position at the Laibach Conference—a meeting that spelled doom to the Neapolitan Revolution. Metternich had little difficulty in convincing the allies of the necessity of sending an Austrian army to Naples. When news of this decision reached Naples, Pepe took command of the Neapolitan army to defend the revolution. With the Austrian army on the border on March 7, 1821, Pepe’s army moved north to cross into the Papal States Papal States and took the offensive, only to suffer what was to be called the Rout of Rieti. Pepe’s efforts were in vain, as the Austrian army once again restored the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies;Bourbon Dynasty
Bourbon dynasties;Sicilian regime of Ferdinand.

The opposition to Bourbon rule, divided against itself, could not withstand the Austrian invasion. Imprisonment, exile, and censorship Censorship;French accompanied the restoration. Although it put an end to the civil war, the constitutional government was unable to work out practical reform. The Muratist ministry was never in full sympathy with the Spanish constitution Constitutions;Spanish , Spain;constitutions which ushered in a parliament vulnerable to a radical minority. On the other hand, the Carbonari encouraged factionalism and lacked the necessary leadership. Although foreign intervention was almost inevitable, the internal weaknesses of the revolutionary government paved the way for Metternich’s easy victory.


The significance of the Neapolitan Revolution of 1820 may best be seen in the context of a struggle between the forces of reaction, led by the Quadruple Alliance, Quadruple Alliance;and Neapolitan Revolution[Neapolitan Revolution] and the forces of self-government. The revolt in Naples was part of a larger picture, one that included periodic revolution in northern Italy, as well as revolts in Spain, Greece, France, Belgium, and Poland.

The desire for self-government, as symbolized in the Neapolitan Revolution of 1820, continued to be a strong force in world history through the twentieth century. Although the forces of reaction won a temporary victory in Italy, they were unable to withstand the progress of liberalism once it was wedded to the powerful sentiments of nationalism. Thus, the Neapolitan desire for self-government became an Italian desire and, forty years later, emerged into reality as an independent Italian state.

Further Reading

  • Acton, Harold. The Bourbons of Naples, 1734-1825. Vol. 1. London: Methuen, 1956. Offers a story, sympathetic to Ferdinand, of the revolutionary events as viewed from the palace at Naples.
  • Croce, Benedetto. History of the Kingdom of Naples. Reprint. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970. Reprint of 1925 edition that makes available in English a classic work by one of Italy’s most renowned writers, praised for his analytical and dramatic style. Especially relevant is chapter 4, “The Age of Revolutions and the End of the Kingdom.”
  • Davis, John A., ed. Italy in the Nineteenth Century, 1796-1900. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Collection of essays on a variety of aspects of nineteenth century Italian history.
  • DiScala, Spencer M. Italy from Revolution to Republic: 1700 to the Present. 3d ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004. Useful overview of modern Italian history that places the Neapolitan Revolution in a broad perspective.
  • Nicholson, Harold. The Congress of Vienna: A Study in Allied Unity, 1812-1822. New York: Grove Press, 2000. Reprint of a classic text first published in 1947 that provides a comprehensive narrative of the negotiations at the Congress and the power struggle among Castlereagh and other participants.
  • Romani, George T. The Neapolitan Revolution of 1820-1821. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1950. Concentrates primarily on narrating the events leading up to the revolution and the story of the revolution itself.
  • Schroeder, Paul W. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1994. A sweeping, magisterial history. See especially part 3 of chapter 13, “Revolution in Spain and Italy, 1820-1821.”

Peninsular War in Spain

France’s Bourbon Dynasty Is Restored

Congress of Vienna

Jesuits Are Expelled from Russia, Naples, and Spain

Great Britain Withdraws from the Concert of Europe

Italian Revolution of 1848

Italy Is Proclaimed a Kingdom

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