The History of Sicily

Quarantotto (The Revolution of 1848)

The King died in 1825 and was succeeded by his son, Francis, who was as inept at governing as his father. The Kingdom became a police state, with the army engaging in widespread corruption. However, Francis did arrange for the departure of the Austrians. When he died in 1830, he was succeeded by his son Ferdinand (1810-1859).

Like his grandfather, Ferdinand II was not averse to mixing with the common people both in Naples and Sicily and, at first, he tried to reform the governmental infrastructure of the island. After all, he had been born in Sicily. At the time the island was suffering from widespread political corruption and criminal activity. Its economy had stagnated, and starvation was not uncommon. However, when he realized that his reforms were not working, Ferdinand turned to harsher measures such as censoring the press and mass arrests.

In 1837, cholera broke out and rumors spread that the government had introduced the disease into the island. In Catania and Siracusa, crowds demonstrated for Sicilian independence, but the government repressed them. In 1848, several revolutions broke out across Europe. The first of these occurred in Palermo on January 12; it is still known as the “Quarantotto” (“Forty eight”). A mob attacked the Royal Palace and, eventually, the Bourbon troops were forced to evacuate Sicily. By the end of the month, a new government under Ruggiero Settimo (1778-1863) was formed. Ferdinand offered the Sicilians a new constitution and a modicum of self-rule, but they rebuffed him and, on April 13, they declared their independence. Ferdinand responded by sending 20,000 troops to Sicily. The Bourbon attack began in Messina, where the navy hurled shells upon the city, forcing its subjugation. So brutal was the attack that, eight hours after Messina surrendered, shells were still exploding on its streets. On May 15, the Bourbons entered Palermo.

The new republic had lasted barely four months, but the viciousness of Ferdinand’s attack on Messina earned him the name “King Bomba.” Fearing another revolt, the King imposed a series of laws severely limiting the Sicilians’ personal freedom. Ferdinand died in 1859, succeeded by his son, who was just 23 years old.


Ferdinand II of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies