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Caracciolo is an old and prominent Neapolitan surname. There are at least 50 bearers of that name in the current Naples phone book. Indeed, the name has divided into various branches over the centuries—"Caracciolo–of–here" and "Caracciolo–of–there," resulting in some very impressive listings in the directory. There is a "Prince Landolfo Amrogio Caracciolo di Melissano". That is the longest one I see, although, without a title, Francesco Alberto Caracciolo di Torchiarolo" edges him out by a few letters. (From the address in the phone book, he is my next-door neighbor, although I don't know why that should matter to me.)
There are even four
different streets named via Caracciolo in Naples:
Batistella Caracciolo (renowned painter of the
Neapolitan Baroque, contemporary of Ribera and
Caravaggio); Bartolomeo Caracciolo, about whom I
know nothing; T. Caracciolo (the T stands for
Tristan, I think); and the one that all Neapolitans
think of when they hear the name "Caracciolo"
—Francesco (portrait, above). The splendid road that
runs from Mergellina to Piazza Vittoria
along the sea, fronting the Villa Comunale,
thus, is named for Francesco Caracciolo (1752-1799),
the Neapolitan admiral whose name is dramatically
linked in history with the rise and fall of the
Neapolitan Republic of 1799 and with the principal
players in that episode: Queen Caroline, King
Ferdinand, Lady Hamilton,
and, especially, Horatio Nelson.
the links in the previous sentence,
other entries about this period include: The Bourbons, part 1;
Pimentel; Cardinal Ruffo, Lord
Nelson and Lady Hamilton, and On Trial for their
Francesco Caracciolo was born January 18, 1752 of a noble Neapolitan family. He entered the navy at a young age and fought with distinction with the Kingdom of Naples' ally, the British, in the American Revolutionary War. He also fought the Barbary pirates and against the French at Toulon. In December of 1798, the Neapolitan monarchy fled the capital in the face of the insurgent Neapolitan republican forces backed by the French army at the gates of the city. The King and Queen fled to Sicily on Nelson's ship, Vanguard, escorted by Caracciolo on the Neapolitan frigate Sannita.
Caracciolo returned to Naples in January to take care of private matters and arrived in the city after the Republic had been declared. His behavior at that point has remained the subject of speculation. Either he resented being snubbed by King Ferdinand, who had fled aboard Nelson's vessel and not Caracciolo's, or he was appalled at the cowardly flight, itself, or he was truly taken with the newly proclaimed Neapolitan Republic. Whatever the case, he took command of the naval forces of the new Republic. In other words, he betrayed his king.
He led the Republican
navy against royalist Neapolitan and British naval
forces for the brief life of the Republic, his last
major engagement being an attack on the British
flagship, Minerva, inflicting damage on that
vessel. The Republic, however, was doomed by the
withdrawal of French forces from Naples and by the
arrival of the royalist Army of the Holy Faith under
Cardinal Ruffo. Caracciolo was captured. His trial
is a matter of record and takes place against the
whole backdrop of deceit by which the Royalist
forces actually retook the city. The agreed to an
armistice, promised safe passage to Republican
defenders (presumably including Caracciolo), and
then put the Republicans on trial, anyway.
The church of Santa Maria della Catena,
final resting place of Admiral Caracciolo.
There was never any doubt as to Caracciolo's fate. Queen Caroline had relayed to Nelson her wish that Caracciolo should hang, no matter what. Caracciolo was tried aboard a British ship, Foudroyant, by Neapolitan royalist officers and charged with high treason. He was not permitted to call witnesses in his defence. He was condemned to death by three votes to two. He was not given the customary twenty-four hours for personal matters of the spirit. His request to be shot was denied and he was hanged from the yardarm of the Minerva on the morning of June 30, 1799. His body was weighted and thrown into the sea.
One of the mainstays of
modern Neapolitan mythology is that the body refused
to sink, floating to the surface and eerily bobbing
its way towards shore. Indeed, there is even a
painting showing King Ferdinand aboard his ship,
aghast at the sight of the admiral's corpse floating
alongside. Whatever the case, Caracciolo's body was
retrieved from the sea and his remains now rest in
the small church of Santa Maria della
Catena in the Santa Lucia section of
Naples (photo, above).
[Also see this excerpt from Robert
Southey's Life of
Nelson on the execution of Caracciolo.]