The History of Sicily

The Carbonari and the Constitution of 1820

In December 1816, King Ferdinand, who had been Ferdinand III of Sicily and Ferdinand IV of Naples, became Ferdinand I of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In theory, the title had existed ever since Charles of Anjou continued to claim the crown of Sicily after his expulsion from the island. However, the Congress of Vienna officially created the new kingdom, with Naples as its capital. In Sicily, foreign trade, especially with the British, declined, for many foreign companies relocated to the mainland.

Guglielmo Pepe (1783-1855), who had fought for Napoleon but was now, nominally, serving in the Neapolitan army, was collecting a militia known as the carbonari (“charcoal burners”), who wished to overthrow the Bourbons and the Papacy and to create a united Italy. They had supported the Sicilian constitution of 1814 and backed uprisings in other parts of Italy. In July 1820, they rose up in Avellino, and then took control of Naples. They demanded that the King form a new government under a new constitution. The King did so, using the constitution adopted in Spain that same year. However, the Sicilians refused to accept this turn of events. After all, they had their own constitution, and they demanded independence from Naples. To quell this new rebellion, the Neapolitans sent troops to Palermo, which cut off the city’s water supply and forced it to submit. In 1821, a congress of European powers meeting in Austria, with Ferdinand in attendance, decided that the Neapolitan constitution would endanger monarchial powers in other parts of Europe. The Austrians invaded Neapolitan territory, routing Pepe’s troops, and the constitution was rescinded.


Church of San Giorgio, Modica