Royal House of Bourbon of the Two Sicilies
©1997 Louis A. M. Mendola
Apart from the monumental works of Desmond Seward and the late Sir Harold Acton, little has been published in English regarding the dynasty that ruled Sicily and most of southern Italy until 1860. Still less has been written about the traditions associated with this family, known after 1816 as the Royal House of the Two Sicilies.
The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
The ironic phrase "the Two Sicilies" traces its origin from the War of the Sicilian Vespers (1282), prior to which the Kingdom "of Sicily" had encompassed, in addition to the island of that name, most of mainland Italy south of Rome. In the wake of the Vespers, Sicily itself became a dominion of the Aragonese Crown, though still a kingdom. For a time following the Vespers, the Angevin rulers of the mainland territories continued to refer to their Italian realm as "Sicily" because they did not wish to relinquish their dynastic claims to the island they had lost. [Palermo had been the capital of the "Kingdom of Sicily" ruled by the Norman de Hautevilles, and subsequently the Swabian von Hohenstaufens, until the Battle of Benevento in 1266, which facilitated establishment of Naples as the new capital of the realm known as "Sicily."] An analogy of sorts may be drawn with the Kingdom of Sardinia, which the Savoys actually ruled not from that island realm, but from Turin in northern Italy.
It was in 1816, during the Bourbon rule of the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily, that these two states were amalgamated to form the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. However, Carlo de Bourbon (reigned 1734-1759) had been referred to as king "of the Two Sicilies" (Re delle Due Sicilie) long before this, in numerous royal decrees and other official documents issued during his reign. Until its annexation to the Kingdom of Italy in 1860, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was the wealthiest and most industrialized of the various Italian states. Naples was the third most populous city of Europe (circa 1855), after London and Paris, and certainly one of the most opulent.
Headship and Succession in the House of the Two Sicilies
The Heads of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies have been: Carlo di Borbone, King of Naples and Sicily (1731-1759); his son King Ferdinando I of the Two Sicilies (1759-1825); his son King Francesco I of the Two Sicilies (1825-1830); his son King Ferdinando II of the Two Sicilies (1830-1859); his son King Francesco II of the Two Sicilies (1859-1894); his brother Prince Alfonso, Count of Caserta, later Duke of Castro (1894-1931); his son Prince Ferdinando Pio, Duke of Castro (1931-1960); his brother Prince Ranieri, Duke of Castro (1960-1966); and his son, Prince Ferdinando, Duke of Castro (from 1966). Prince Ferdinando's son and heir is Prince Carlo (see below).
The order of succession is: H.R.H. Prince Carlo Maria Bernardo, Duke of Calabria, Hereditary Prince of the Two Sicilies (born 1963); H.R.H. Prince Antonio of the Two Sicilies (1929); H.R.H. Prince Francesco of the Two Sicilies (1960); H.R.H. Prince Gennaro of the Two Sicilies (1966); H.R.H. Prince Giovanni of the Two Sicilies (1933); H.R.H. Prince Casimiro of the Two Sicilies (1938); H.R.H. Prince Luigi of the Two Sicilies (1970); H.R.H. Prince Alessandro of the Two Sicilies (1974).
Headship of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies is transmitted by legitimate male primogeniture according to laws enacted prior to deposition of the last King of the Two Sicilies. To be considered valid for purposes of transmission of dynastic rights, marriages of royal princes must be fully sanctioned by the Head of the House and celebrated in the Roman Catholic Rite, although the consort of a royal prince need not be of a royal family.
Among the laws governing dynastic succession, that most frequently cited was decreed more than two centuries ago. Before King Carlo departed Naples to assume the Spanish Throne in 1759, he abdicated the Crowns of Naples and Sicily in favor of his son, Ferdinando, having issued a Pragmatic declaring that henceforth any prince entitled to a place in the Spanish succession could not simultaneously claim a place in the Neapolitan succession. This law served to forever separate the dynasties and nations of the Two Sicilies and Spain. On several occasions (most recently in 1900), princes of the Two Sicilies have renounced rights of succession for themselves and any eventual heirs in compliance with this law. Because the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was a sovereign state bound only by its own laws, the dynastic statutes and practices of other royal Bourbon dynasties (France, Spain, Parma) are not applicable to the House of the Two Sicilies; nor is Neapolitan dynastic law applicable to the dynastic practices of any other dynasty. Likewise, Neapolitan dynastic and heraldic laws and practices cannot be compared directly to those of other countries.
Royal Dukedoms in the House of the Two Sicilies
The Kings of the Two Sicilies created various Princes of the Royal Family titular counts of certain cities of the Kingdom which from medieval times appertained directly to the Crown, rather than to particular noblemen of the realm. These Crown comital titles included Bari, Trani, Lecce, Caserta, Girgenti (Agrigento), Castrogiovanni (Enna), Siracusa, Aquila, Trapani, Lucera and Caltagirone. Like certain of the princely titles (Capua, Salerno, etc.), the rights to these comital titles have reverted to the person of the Head of the House of the Two Sicilies. The only royal dukedoms by which members of the Royal Family are known today are vested in princes in the direct line of succession who are, respectively, the firstborn son of the head of the dynasty and, in turn, his own firstborn son. Thus, the Head of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies is the Duke of Castro. His son, as Hereditary Prince ("Heir Apparent"), is the Duke of Calabria. The eldest son of the Heir Apparent would be the Duke of Noto. (The Duke of Calabria is not yet married.) Princes and Princesses of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies are styled "Royal Highness" (Altezza Reale).
Orders of Knighthood
The Head of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies is the lawful grand master of five orders of knighthood, three of which are bestowed today. It is evident from decrees and circulars pertaining to these institutions that in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies no distinction was made between "dynastic" and "state" orders, although the concept of differentiation between dynastic and state property certainly existed in Neapolitan law, where we encounter such phrases as "della Corona" in contradistinction to terms such as "demanio". Today, the grand magistracy of each of the following orders is vested in the headship of the dynasty, although the Order of Merit of Saint Ferdinand and the Order of Saint George of the Reunion are not bestowed at present.
The Distinguished Royal Order of Saint Januarius was founded in 1738 in honour of the patron saint of Naples, Saint Januarius (San Gennaro), on the occasion of the marriage of King Carlo to the young Marie Amelie von Walburg of Saxony. The premier order of chivalry of the Two Sicilies, it numbers but twenty knights in addition to those who are princes of the Royal Family. These include distinguished noblemen of the former Two Sicilies, in addition to two foreigners, namely Fra Andrew Bertie, Prince-Grand Master of the Order of Malta, and Count Andrei Ciechanowiecki. Deceased knights of San Gennaro having familial roots far beyond the Two Sicilies were King Umberto II of Italy, Prince Cyril Toumanoff, and Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg.
The Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George. Founded in antiquity, this Order was recognised by the eighteenth century as the familial patrimony of the Farnese Dukes of Parma. Vested from 1731 in the person of Carlo de Bourbon as de jure heir of the last Farnese grand master, the grand magistracy of the Constantinian Order, by the time of the deposition of the last King of the Two Sicilies in 1860, had come to be attached irrevocably to the Headship of the Neapolitan dynasty.[This is indicated explicitly in various decrees and other legal documents issued between 1812 and 1860, some of which are available for consultation at the Archives of State at Naples and Palermo.] In addition to numerous descendants of the aristocracy and titled nobility of the former Two Sicilies, the Constantinian Order includes knights and dames from various nations, and princes and princesses of a number of royal dynasties (Italy, Great Britain, Tuscany, Wurttemburg, Greece, Bavaria, Belgium, Hohenzollern, Orleans-Braganza and Hapsburg) and the Prince-Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
The Royal Order of Merit of Saint Ferdinand was founded in 1800 to reward civil merit. Unlike the aforementioned orders, it is not Catholic in character, and is not presently bestowed.
The Royal Military Order of Saint George of the Reunion was founded in 1819 to reward military and civilian merit. It is not bestowed at present.
The Royal Order of Francis I was founded in 1829 primarily to reward accomplishments in the arts and sciences. It is bestowed, though rarely, upon both Catholics and non-Catholics in compliance to its foundation charter and subsequent decrees issued before 1860.
Nobiliary Titles of the Two Sicilies
Although titles of nobility (like other heraldic rights) have not been recognised officially by the Italian state since 1948, their social use is legal, and such titles continue to be recognised by the royal families (House of the Two Sicilies, House of Savoy), the Vatican City state, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The principal titles and ranks include: Noble Prince (Principe) and Noble Princess (Principessa), Duke (Duca) and Duchess (Duchessa), Marquess (Marchese) and Marchioness (Marchesa), Count (Conte) and Countess (Contessa), Viscount (Visconte) and Viscountess (Viscontessa), Baron (Barone) and Baroness (Baronessa), Patrician (Patrizio), Nobleman (Nobile), Hereditary Knight (Cavaliere Ereditario).
Honours Bestowed by the House of the Two Sicilies
The Constantinian Order is recognised by the Italian Republic (with circulars issued by the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defence on 20 July 1963 and 16 May 1996), and by the other entities mentioned at "Nobiliary Titles" (above). Consequently, Italian ambassadors and military officers may wear its decorations while in service. A knight may be addressed by the Italian title "Cavaliere," abbreviated Cav., preceding his full name or his surname alone; a knight commander may be addressed "Commendatore" in the same manner. A dame may be addressed "Dama" preceding her given name alone or her full name. The consort a of knight may be addressed formally "Donna" (Lady) in like manner.
Churches Traditionally Associated with the Dynasty
Principal churches associated with the dynasty and its orders of chivalry include the Duomo (Cathedral) of Naples, the Basilica of Santa Chiara (Naples), the Basilica of Saint George in Velabro (Rome), the Basilica of the Magione (Palermo), the Basilica of Santa Croce al Flaminio (Rome), the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans (Rome), the Church of Sant'Antonio Abate (Naples), and the Church of Santa Maria della Steccata (Parma).
Certain of the former royal residences are used today for offices or museums which are sometimes open to the public. (The Royal Palace at Naples, for example, houses a branch of the National Library where the royal apartment is a museum, although the nearby San Carlo Theatre is still in use as one of Italy's premier opera houses, with the coat of arms of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies prominently displayed.) In addition to the aforementioned Royal Palace of Naples, former royal residences include the palaces at Capodimonte, Caserta, Portici, Palermo (Chinese Villa) and Ficuzza (the Hunting Lodge outside Palermo).
Relations with Italy
The Heads of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies never recognised the forced annexation of the territory of their ancestral realm to the Kingdom of Italy, and the illegal exile of the Royal Family ended only with the Allied liberation of Sicilian territory in 1943. The dynasty fully recognises the Italian Republic (founded 1946) as a lawfully founded successor state to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. As noted above, the Italian Republic recognises the dynasty's Constantinian Order, of which the present Foreign Minister, the Honourable Lamberto Dini, is a knight. This order of knighthood, which sponsored relief projects in Italy during the Second World War, today supports various charities in Italy and abroad. In addition to a charitable foundation and numerous regional representatives in Italy, the Order boasts several foreign delegations. The Delegate for Great Britain is the Right Honourable the Lord Mowbray, Segrave and Stourton; the Delegate for the United States is David L. Garrison.
The Duke of Castro and his son take part in various cultural activities in the land of their ancestors, where they have been received by cheering crowds as they opened a Neapolitan museum exhibit commemorating the centenary of the death of the last King of the Two Sicilies, or attended the San Carlo for productions such as "Francesco and Sofia" based on the lives of the last King and Queen, or simply dedicated squares or monuments named in honour of their forebears in remote towns far from the chaos of Naples. In June 1997, the Duke of Calabria assisted the Mayor of Naples in hosting H.S.H. Prince Albert of Monaco during an official visit to the city. (Prince Carlo is the Italian representative of the World Association of Friends of the Children founded by Princess Grace, now under the direction of Princess Caroline.) In essence, the Royal Family is a living symbol of southern Italian history and culture outside the eclectic sphere of Italian politics.
Like other descendants of citizens of the pre-unification Italian states whose ancestors have not renounced their rights to Italian citizenship, the princes and princesses of the House of the Two Sicilies are de jure citizens of the Italian Republic, although they have not in every case petitioned for the formal recognition of citizenship in the form of a certificato di cittadinanza or passport.
A Note on Translations
Certain Italian heraldic and nobiliary terms do not precisely retain their original definitions or connotations when translated literally into other languages. Confusion sometimes results when these free English translations are construed to be indicative of the British connotations of such terms. (This is not the author's intention.) "Principe ereditario" is sometimes translated "heir apparent" (a British term), although in Continental dynasties "hereditary prince" is more accurate. In Italy after 1860, "pari" was used to describe any titled nobleman, though it is literally translated "peer," a term which in Great Britain indicates the rank, title and parliamentary prerogative of a particular nobiliary grade. The term "cavaliere ereditario" refers to a "hereditary knight" who is not part of any order, as distinguished from a hereditary knight commander of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus or the Constantinian Order of saint George. Elsewhere, this term has been translated "hereditary knight bachelor," perhaps a more accurate description, although "knight bachelor" is itself a British term. In nineteenth-century Italian usage, the terms "feudal" and "demesnial" have particular connotations which may not in every case be the same as British ones. Furthermore, in an effort to avoid arcane usage, no distinction is implied herein between the terms "order of chivalry" and "order of knighthood," as no clear distinction is indicated either in the Italian language or by any but the most fastidious historians.
Unfortunately, some unorthodox and complicated theories have been advanced based almost entirely on a lack of knowledge of the Italian language. In view of occasional misrepresentations of Neapolitan dynastic law, it should be observed that the phrase "della Corona" must not be translated out of context to mean "dynastic headship of the family" when in fact " headship of state" is intended. In documents issued before the dynast's deposition, "la Corona" (the Crown) generally refers to the King not only as head of his dynasty but usually as the head of state as well; the term "head of state" was not often employed in describing non-constitutional (i.e. absolute) sovereigns in the nineteenth century. (As noted, however, a clear distinction was made between dynastic and state institutions in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, especially where both were mentioned in the same document or pertained to the same subject in law.)
Scholars writing in defence of the rights of the exiled House of the Two Sicilies in the twentieth century often use the phrase "della corona" to refer primarily to the headship of state or even to the monarchial state itself, as opposed to headship of the dynasty. When they say that the grand magistracy of a dynastic order was separate from "la Corona" they are referring to "the Crown " as the headship of state, not the headship of the dynasty per se . Most of these arguments were advanced by Italian scholars during the period that their young nation was a unified monarchial state (1870-1946) to demonstrate that the Neapolitan dynastic orders were not absorbed into the Kingdom of Italy when the Two Sicilies dynasty was deposed in 1860, but instead were preserved in the non-regnant headship of that dynasty, then in exile. It must be stated unequivocally that these arguments had nothing whatsoever to do with the hypothetical separation of the grand magistracy of any order of knighthood (such as the Constantinian Order) from the headship of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies. To wit: Before the deposition of King Francesco II (1860), the headhsip of the dynasty and the headship of state were coincidental to the concept of "the Crown". Afterwards, this phrase was employed almost exclusively to refer to the headship of state, by then lost, of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, rather than to the headship of state, which no longer existed de facto after 1861. Instead, the phrase "Capo della Casa" came to be used to refer to the dynastic headship, as it is today. By the twentieth century, "the Crown" referred more specifically to the regnant sovereignty of the Kings of the Two Sicilies.