The revolutionary element was strongest at first in the island of Sicily and at the beginning of the 1848 King Ferdinando’s troops were unable to suppress the uprising. The revolution in Sicily was followed by an uprising on the mainland, as radicals, backed by students, demanded a constitution. The King agreed to grant one but far from making the situation more stable, it led to anarchy. In May 1848 a revolt broke out in Naples and the king had no option but to retaliate. Many lives were lost, but the country was thankfully spared the horrors of a full-blown revolution and civil war.
It was during this time that King Ferdinando II, always a devout man, offered sanctuary in his kingdom to Pope Pius IX (left) for two years following the proclamation of the Rome Republic.
However liberal radicals never forgave him for his action. Great Britain and France tried to force the King to release his remaining political prisoners by threatening a naval demonstration in the Bay of Naples. King Ferdinando held his ground knowing that to give in to British and French demands, would greatly weaken his authority in the eyes of his subjects. Diplomatic relations with Britain and France were broken for a time as a result.
More ominous that the Anglo-French bluster was the growing threat from Piedmont and the forces of Italian nationalism – the Risorgimento. In 1857 a party of three hundred nationalists landed in Sapri confident that the people would join them in the war for unification. Instead the local peasants, with the support of the army, killed the nationalists.
By the time the partisans of a united Italy made their next move on his kingdom, the king, aged 48, was dead. Death took King Francesco in his prime and just when his energy, experience and far-sightedness might have played a key role in preventing the fall of his kingdom only months later.