In 1796 the young Napoleon Bonaparte (left) began his invasion and gradual conquest of most of the territories belonging to the pre-unification Italian States. Napoleon was met just about everywhere by ferocious public resistance who rose up to defend the Church and their Catholic faith as well as their lawful sovereigns and governments. In February 1798, the revolutionary armies invaded the Papal States forcing Pope Pius VI (below right) to seek the protection of King Ferdinando in Naples. In November of that same year, the King, aware that the Napoleonic army was marching towards Naples, and with a resolve to return the Pope to power in Rome, decided to declare war on the French.
The Austrian General Mack received the command of the Bourbon armed forces, but his decision to enter Rome without striking a decisive blow to the French, resulted in Mack and the Bourbon Army being forced to retreat. In turn the French, under the command of the Napoleonic General Championnet, now had an excuse to march on Naples.
On 8 December 1798, King Ferdinando issued a proclamation to all his subjects inviting them to resist the invaders. No other proclamation was ever taken as literally as this one. Tens of thousands of men from all social classes and ages, including women and the elderly, took up arms against the French and bravely fought for six months until January 1799 when the French succeeded in conquering Naples. To ensure total possession and control of Naples, the French massacred over 10,000 people who had risen up in the name of their king.
In December 1798, the Bourbon Court was forced off the mainland and retreated to Palermo, Sicily. A republic was declared in Naples which faced wholesale popular discontent. At the end of January 1799, Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo of the Princes of Sicilies (below right) went to Palermo and presented King Ferdinando with a plan to militarily re-conquer the Kingdom of Naples. The King granted the Cardinal one ship and seven men and prayed for the support of the population. This support came as a volunteer army, thousands strong, sprung up within weeks committed to defend the Bourbon cause and oust the French.
Cardinal Ruffo established “the Royal Catholic Army” (Armata Cattolica e Reale) in the name of King Ferdinando IV and succeeded in the span of only three months to oust the French and restore the Bourbon monarchy in Naples on 13 June 1799.
King Ferdinando IV and Queen Maria Carolina returned to Naples in triumph (left) yet they reigned in peace only until 1805, when the Napoleonic storm broke for a second time. At the beginning of 1806 French Emperor Napoleon re-conquered the Kingdom of Naples and placed his brother Joseph on the Throne. Once again, the King and Queen, together with their Court moved to Palermo, Sicily, where they remained under British protection. Another spontaneous guerrilla movement sprung up aimed at ousting the French again. In 1808 Emperor Napoleon, having promoted his brother Joseph to Throne of Spain, put his brother-in-law Gioacchino Murat on the Throne of Naples. He remained on the Throne until 1815 when Bourbon forces landed in Calabria, and together with the local population, rose up against French rule. Murat was later executed.