The ultimate crisis of the kingdom grew ever nearer when the Throne past from the resolute and dynamic King Ferdinando to his shy and gentle twenty three year old son, Francesco (Francis) II (left). The opponents of the Bourbons immediately changed their tactics from the denigration of King Ferdinando to the mockery of his son. Francesco II was to be last King of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Under his reign, the Kingdom was invaded first by the Garibaldian army, then by the Savoy army and later annexed to the newly created Kingdom of Italy. All this, only one year after the death of Ferdinando II. Prince Francesco was born on 16 January 1836, the eldest son of King Ferdinando II and his first wife Queen Maria Cristina of Savoy, who died when he was only 15 days old. His father, together with his second wife, Queen Maria Teresa of Habsburg, gave Prince Francesco, Duke of Calabria, a deeply religious education which was surprising devoid of any major military education similar to that which King Ferdinando had himself received.
King Ferdinando taught him to love his Kingdom and his duties to his people. But Prince Francesco’s relations with his stepmother were difficult since she naturally gave priority to her own children. But the relationship was never turbulent and she respected him as Heir Apparent and Duke of Calabria.
Prince Francesco married Duchess Maria Sofia of Bavaria (right) – daughter of Duke Maximilian and sister of Elisabeth, wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary. Princess Maria Sofia turned out to be an exceptionally supporting and educated consort especially during the tragic days of their later lives. Queen Maria Sofia received much admiration for this, and especially during the long years of subsequent exile. In reality, King Francesco II reigned for only one year before the invasion of his Kingdom. King Francesco was certainly not endowed with his father’s strong character, nor did he possess his political experience, but he was very humane and magnanimous, had a deep faith, and a sense of duty towards his subjects – especially those less fortunate.
Following his coronation, King Francesco II granted many amnesties, appointed special committees to improve the situation in prisons, offer greater local autonomy to municipalities, streamlined bureaucracy, granted customs franchises to Palermo and Messina, established a Commercial Court and Savings Banks in Catania. The King remitted customs taxes which were still due, halved tax on flour, abolished taxes on farmhouses of the poor, reduced customs duties and especially those on foreign books; reduced taxes on foreign goods, established an Exchange Office in Chieti and Reggio Calabria, ordered the opening of pawnshops, wheat shops and saving and loan banks in those cities that did not have them.
Since the kingdom had been affected from a wheat shortage, while the rebels were blaming the King of putting the burden on the poor, he ordered the buying and distribution of foreign wheat stocks. Moreover, the King founded universities, high schools and boarding schools and established a commission to improve town planning in Naples.
King Francesco II enlarged the railroad system, personally controlled and asked liability for the delays of private firms in the fulfilment of construction contracts already passed. By royal decree of 28 April 1860 the King ordered the construction of the Naples-Foggia and Foggia-Capo d’Otranto railroads as well as the construction of the Basilicata-Reggio Calabria railroad and the Abruzzi railroad among other projects.
The strong pro-Bourbon resistance of the 1860s, which involved tens of thousands of men and women loyal to the Bourbon dynasty, is the best evidence of the unique bond between monarch and subject. Yet it was not enough to hold back the invading forces of Garibaldi and his foreign armies which forced the King and Queen to leave Naples on 8 December 1860. King Francesco and Queen Maria Sofia moved to Gaeta and remained there under seize until their surrender on 13 February 1861. Thousands of their loyal subjects assembled in Gaeta ready to defend, and if need be, die for their King and country. Queen Maria Sofia spent every single day of the seize helping her husband’s soldiers who were under cannon fire by healing their wounds, sharing their fears and difficulties, encouraging them, feeding them, supporting them. The Queen also played a key role in supporting and encouraging her husband during these most difficult moments.
In Gaeta, the royal couple gave the best of themselves, the best of their love, dignity, devotion, self-denial, and honour and sense of duty towards their country and their soldiers. Yet the resistance of Gaeta failed due to the extreme ferocity of the foreign troops surrounding it and the devastated Bourbon forces now afflicted by hunger and plague. King Francesco II ordered the surrender of Gaeta and soon after the royal couple embarked on a ship destined for Rome. The Royal couple left the harbour of Gaeta to the sound of Paisiello’ s Royal March and were saluted by a 21 cannon salvos. Huge crowds came out to bid them farewell – many waived with tears in their eyes. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had finally come to an end.