History of the Kingdom of Naples 1734-1825

This work by General Pietro Colletta was translated from the Italian by S Horner and published with a Supplementary Chapter 1825-1856 by T Constable and Co., Edinburgh and Hamilton, Adams, and Co., London in 1858.

We give below an extract from this work relating to events which had a direct bearing on the mathematician Annibale Giordano and the various political intrigues that were taking place at the time:

The year 1794.

Natural phenomena rendered the year 1794; still more gloomy; several men were killed by thunderbolts; one fell in a church, and another in the port of Naples, where it split the masts and destroyed the rigging of a new vessel just ready equipped for the war; and a sailor was burnt to ashes. Many and fearful shipwrecks occurred on our shores, epidemics of a severe nature prevailed, and many eminent men died in the metropolis, so that at the conclusion of a year to which the credulous attached a superstitious idea, better times were expected. But in the commencement of the following year, news arrived of the death of the Prince of Caramanico, Viceroy of Sicily, accompanied by rumours and tales respecting his end, such as were calculated to spread a panic throughout both kingdoms.

The reader must here be reminded, that it was the Prince of Caramanico who first proposed to the queen to invite Acton from Tuscany; that Acton on his arrival had found favour at Court, and, jealous of his benefactor, had availed himself of his new influence to remove the prince to a distance from the palace. Caramanico therefore was supposed to have died of poison, either by the connivance of his rival, or taken to save himself the mortification, and to deprive his enemy of the triumph, of seeing him led prisoner to the fortress of Gaeta under an accusation of treason, of which he had received intimation by messengers in whom he could confide; and he had determined to avoid the disgrace and danger by death. Several occurrences in the prince's household, the precautions which had been used, his sudden death, supposed marks of poison, the circumstances of the times, his high position, and the power of an unscrupulous enemy, strengthened the belief in these stories. The odium in which the minister and the queen were held was increased, and began to be displayed towards the king (whose indolence was not sufficient excuse for the crimes perpetrated in his name), and tales to the prejudice of all three were circulated among the people, which were derogatory to the royal dignity, and excited a spirit of hatred against those in power.

After the lamented death of the viceroy, all hoped for the disgrace of the minister, and that he would be replaced by the Chevalier de Medici, a nobleman of high family, and who was already on the road to political greatness; judging by his rapid career through the offices he had already held, he was pronounced worthy of still higher advancement, which was the more eagerly demanded in the present perils of the state. This reputation which, when proceeding from the people, is always a recommendation, increased the ambition of the youth, attracted the notice of the queen, and excited the jealousy of the ministers, which was the greater since they knew that no other man in the Court of Naples could rise, or even aspire to an elevation equal to themselves; and therefore they had only to set aside this one rival, to secure their own permanence in office. They were aware that the sure way to accomplish his ruin was to accuse him of treason, and only wanted time to weave the web of calumny.

Among those condemned by the Junta was one Annibale Giordano, a professor in mathematics, and man of great talents though low moral character; he was in the habit of frequenting the house of Medici, where he was received as a friend. Whether prompted by others, or induced by the baseness of his own nature, he accused the Chevalier Medici as an accomplice in the conspiracy. The minister, Acton, kept the letter containing the accusation, promised to conceal the name of the accuser, and giving him a reward, charged him to keep the matter secret; he then proceeded to collect other evidence, with the names of the accusers undersigned, or even without names, but under a promise to reveal them, when the regent was deprived of his terrific power. The evidence having been collected, the minister sent to request a private interview with the king and queen, when he addressed them as follows:-

In the present evil times, replete with difficulties, loyalty is often confounded with treachery, the true with the false; where accusations are disbelieved, the State may be exposed to danger, and where believed, the royal peace of mind is disturbed, and perhaps the honest and just are suspected. In cases of minor importance, therefore, armed with the authority granted me by your Majesties, I have acted on my own responsibility; and thus, all severe measures are attributed to me, and clemency to the king. But there are more serious cases, where the authority of a minister is not sufficient, and I dare not be alone responsible. I have," he continued, pointing to the papers in his hand, "long refrained from mentioning an affair of great importance, but silence would now be guilt on my part. Annibale Giordano, who was among the first accused of treason, has had the courage, in a paper signed with his name, to accuse the regent of the Vicaria, the Chevalier de Medici, as an accomplice in the conspiracy.
Wonder appeared in the countenance of the king, and indignation in that of the queen, but without appearing to notice the effect of his words, he continued:
The enormity of the crime weakens our belief in the accusation; a young man raised to one of the first positions in the State, with still higher distinctions before him, born of a noble family, treated with favour by his sovereigns, and with respect by the ministers (by one of whom he is even beloved), how is it possible that he should stake so many present advantages for a visionary hope in the future? The accusation might be considered a calumny and invention of an enemy, had not the regulations so wisely laid down by your Majesty for the public safety, prevented the omission of a single truth, and discovered other facts and fresh proofs against the regent: he was present at the meeting of the club of Jacobins at Posilippo, for the purpose of conspiracy, though under the pretence of a supper; he conferred with La Touche; by his means, the arrest of the Jacobins who went on board the French vessel was stopped; which at the time, though aware of the failure, I attributed to accident, or an ill-concerted plan, rather than to criminal intention. Other proofs of his guilt stand registered in these pages, and among them are calumnies against his sovereigns. Many noblemen, instigated by his advice and example, are among the conspirators, such as the Colonna, Caraccioli, Pignatelli, Serva, and Oaraffa, with others distinguished by their birth, rank, and wealth. They are indeed younger members of these families, not the heads; but the conspirators though mere youths are protected by their seniors, who, from natural affection, defend their children, and thus abet the enterprise. It is my duty to lay these matters before your Majesties, and waiting your decision, remind you that to balance the conduct of wicked and ungrateful men, you have the obedience of your army, the loyalty of your people, and the devotion of numbers.
The queen did not venture to speak before the king had spoken; and Ferdinand only asked the minister what he proposed, to which Acton replied:-
I know that it is the duty of the minister to suggest the remedy while exposing the evil; but after long reflection, I have not been able to solve the doubts which fill my mind, and I hoped for command and advice from your Majesties. Clemency and rigour are equally dangerous. A few months ago, the conspirators were men from the middle rank of life, they are now the highest in the State. Where will this insanity end, if not suppressed by terror? Yet severity will offend many influential persons. The times indeed are changed, but the pride of the baronial wars survives in the memory of the people, who still relate histories of the injuries inflicted by the Arragonese kings and the struggles of the barons. The barons of today are not warriors, but they are supported by the passion for liberty, too widely spread among the people. In the midst of these doubts a thought has occurred to me, which might answer our purpose, though not strictly accordant with the rules of justice, and which I will here lay before your Majesties. The Chevalier de Medici is ambitious; the impatience of youth cannot endure the suspense and tedium of expectation. If your Majesty would raise him to the cabinet, his guilty wish to change the government of the State would cease, and he would himself at once crush the conspiracy, all whose machinations are well known to him.
Before Acton could finish his insidious suggestions, the queen interrupting him, exclaimed, -
Thus to disgrace the crown! Are we sunk so low as to offer premiums to conspirators? Who would not henceforth conspire against the Crown if, when successful and discovered, he is to be rewarded?
turning to the king, she added,
Sire, let the Chevalier de Medici, whatever his birth and influence, and the nobles of whatever name or wealth, share the common fate, and be brought before the tribunal of state; one high example is worth a thousand obscure names.
The king upon this broke up the conference, and ordered that the day after the morrow the ministers of the Crown, General Pignatelli, commander-in-chief of the army. Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, the Duke di Gravina, and the Prince of Migliano, should meet in council in the palace of Caserta. The next day the queen declared that she had been acquainted with the plots revealed by the minister, but had concealed them from the king, not to disturb his repose, and waiting until the proofs were matured.

All this was a mere boast and falsehood, as the plots were invented by Acton himself to ruin Medici, and had been kept by him a profound secret to prevent any vindication. Even royal personages, when they meddle in matters of police, are contaminated with a desire for vain glory; the crafty Englishman seized the advantage presented him by this falsehood, and privately informed a majority of the council that the queen had discovered new conspiracies, that a speech of his on the previous day, in which he had recommended mercy, had been ill received by the sovereigns, and that it would therefore be wiser to recommend severity; he promised to mention no names, but begged for secrecy, which was promised in return, and received thanks for his confidence.

The council met in Caserta, where the king informed them he wished their advice in a matter of the utmost importance, concluding his short address in these words: "Forget your private affections, your ties of class and kindred; and be guided only by one consideration, the safety of my crown. General Acton will explain the case." Acton accordingly stated the affair in a studied and insidious speech, after which the king asked the opinion of those present, who only added accusations to the accusations already made by the minister; as under a tyrant, adulation or cowardice often prevents good advice in times of greatest need. It was resolved that Medici, with as many as were accused, noble or plebeian, should undergo their trial.

The Junta of State, who had been in such haste to punish, that in the case of Tonimaso Amato they could not wait for letters from Messina, and who had been so merciless towards three almost beardless youths, were not thought either sufficiently expeditious or sufficiently austere to sit in judgment in the case now before them. Their partiality was feared towards the Chevalier de Medici, who had himself been one of them, and until that time had shown himself unrelenting towards those very conspirators who were now said to be his associates. The Junta was therefore dissolved, and recomposed of men of harsher character. Vanni and Giaquinto were retained; but in place of Cito, Porcinari, Bisogni, and Potenza, were appointed the magistrate Giuseppe Guidobaldi, Fabrizio Rutfo, Prince of Castelcicala, and others, already notorious. Castelcicala was at that time ambassador in London, but returned home, overjoyed at his new office and the opportunity it afforded him of proving his fidelity to his sovereigns, and his indignation against rebels to God and the throne. The queen was delighted at his appointment, since a princely inquisitor of state justified her former declaration, that she would destroy the old prejudice which attached infamy to spies, who were in reality the best citizens, because faithful to the throne, and guardians of the law. Vanni was accordingly created a marquis, and the order of Constantino decorated the lowest and most infamous of informers, while offices of state were bestowed on those alone who were designated meritorious persons.

JOC/EFR May 2018

The URL of this page is: