In 1825 King Ferdinando’s son succeeded to the Throne of the Two Sicilies as King Francesco (Francis) I (left). His reign however turned out to be little more than an interregnum as he died five years later. Born in Naples on 14 August 1777, Prince Francesco became Heir Apparent and Duke of Calabria in 1778, on the death of his elder brother. In 1797 he married Archduchess Maria Cristina of Austria, daughter of Emperor Leopold I of Austria. Princess Maria Cristina gave birth to a daughter, Princess Carolina, but died suddenly in 1801, forcing Prince Francesco to search for a new wife.
In 1802 Prince Francesco, as Duke of Calabria, married Infanta Maria Isabella, daughter of King Carlos IV of Spain. From this marriage twelve children were born including Maria Teresa who later became Empress of Austria, Maria Amelia, later Queen of the French and Maria Luisa, Grand Duchess of Tuscany (below right).
In his youth Prince Francesco was conditioned by his mother’s strong personality. Only when he moved with his father and mother to Sicily – due to the fact that Napoleonic forces occupied the continental kingdom – could he start to show his personality. Despite this period being difficult for the Court, the British, led by Lord Bentick, offered protection over the island and heavily influenced it during time. Lord Bentick was utterly opposed to Queen Maria Carolina and succeeded in convincing King Ferdinando to exile his wife.
The myth of Prince Francesco’s liking for liberalism originates from this period. Under British influence, he granted a Constitution to Sicily in 1812. In November 1813 following Lord Bentick’s departure from Sicily, the King appointed Prince Francesco as Lord-Lieutenant of Sicily, before returning to Naples following the fall of Napoleon. The Duke of Calabria remained in Sicily until 1820, the year of the constitutionalist Carbonari risings. Prince Francesco apparently came to terms with the revolutionaries and accepted a new constitution. When his father died in 1825, he ascended the Throne aged 48 and was no longer in his prime.
As monarch, King Francesco I (below left) was a pious, accessible and calm person. The King granted amnesties to deserters and traitors, he commuted life imprisonment into hard labour and reduced prison sentences. Together with his Queen, King Francesco I travelled to Milan and requested that the Austrian forces – present since 1820 – leave his Kingdom. This achievement occurred some seven years later in 1827, and resulted in the economic recovery of the country.
Unfortunately King Francesco I too had to face revolutionary risings, especially in the Cilento region, which were easily put down. The King died in 1830 just at the time when revolutionary movements were once again springing up all over Europe. In 1830 (the year in which the French branch of the Bourbons lost the Throne), King Francesco I left a difficult heritage to his 20 year old young son and heir, Prince Ferdinando.