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 Through the Eyes of...

Elizabeth Craven (1826)

There is another entry, The Beautiful Lady Craven and her Beautiful Villa, that contains biographical information on Elizabeth Craven. Here, below, are excerpts from chapter 8, vol. 1, of her memoirs in which she comments on the persons of the king and queen of Naples, Sir William and Lady Hamilton, the San Carlo Theater and the general Neapolitan "taste for all public amusements." I have supplied photos and links in the text to explanatory material elsewhere in this encyclopedia.


excerpts from CHAPTER VIII. vol 1.

Elizabeth CravenDuring my residence at Anspach for five years, the Margrave took two journeys into Italy. In the winter following my arrival at Anspach, the Margrave wished me to go to Naples with him, in order to pass a few months there: I of course acceded to his proposition, and we set off, with my youngest son, Keppel. We were received at Court with the greatest delight, for the Margrave had always been held in the highest estimation by the King of Naples. The Queen also, who at that time was ill, showed me a great partiality, as I was allowed to attend upon her; and, by my attentions, I truly gained her heart.

Ferdinand IV was in his person tail and muscular, active in his undertakings, capable of undergoing immense fatigue, and, to all appearance, formed for a long life. His nose was immoderately long, like that of his father, Charles III. King of Spain, and of his brother, who succeeded, Charles IV. His features were coarse and harsh; yet the general expression of his countenance was rather intelligent, and perhaps even agreeable, although, separately taken, every feature was ugly. His conversation, his deportment, his manners, were, from an unpolished simplicity, rude in their nature, though rather pleasing; as they removed from the mind what is always to be expected from a sovereign, — that habit of disguise, artifice, and concealment, which accompany the possessor of a throne. If he did not converse much with strangers, yet he always appeared to say what he thought; and, although destitute of art or elegance, he did not betray a want of understanding or of information. He reminded me of a rustic elevated by accident to the crown; but then it was an honest well-intentioned countryman, not entirely unworthy of such an honour. There are pictures of their Majesties at Kensington Palace, in the apartments of the Duke of Sussex.

Queen Maria Carolina        
The Queen of Naples, who was sister to the Emperor Joseph, appeared much better calculated to represent the majesty of a throne, and to do the honours of a Court, where she had first imbibed the rudiments of her education. It was natural to her. Though her face was neither beautiful, nor her person lovely, yet was she not altogether deficient in either point: her figure might be esteemed too large, but it wanted neither dignity, grace, nor attractions.

Her Majesty soon took such a fancy to me, that she made me pass most of my evenings with her tête-à-tête; while, in the mornings, I frequently accompanied the King in his hunting or shooting parties, of which he was extremely fond. My adroitness in killing game, my skill in riding on horseback, and the indifference I showed about my person in rain, in wind, or whatever might be the fatigue, endeared me much to the King. Sir William Hamilton, who, early in life, had experienced the kindness of my relations to him, returned that kindness in my person, by saying such handsome things of me at Court that I became a universal favourite. The Margrave, I think, was never so happy as during our stay at Naples: as he excelled in all manly exercises, he was not a little gratified to display me as one accustomed to these sports. The King had never seen a side-saddle, and was much amused with it, and extremely jocose on seeing that method of riding.

From Sir William Hamilton I learned that the King's education had been entirely neglected, purposely, by his father; for Charles, alarmed at the imbecility of his eldest son, the Duke of Calabria, who on that account had been set aside in the succession, ordered particularly, on his departure for Spain in 1759, that this son, who was the third, should not be allowed to apply to severe studies, or attend to any thing which required intense application.

Before the present King had attained his seventeenth year, a wife was provided for him from the Court of Madrid, the Archduchess Josepha, one of the daughters of the Empress Maria Theresa, was selected for him. As she was agreeable in her person, and amiable in her disposition, the young Ferdinand expected her arrival with the greatest anxiety and impatience. But unfortunately the fatal intelligence soon reached him from Vienna that she had fallen a sacrifice to that scourge of mankind, and which disorder had been so destructive to many branches of the Royal Families of Europe — the confluent smallpox. He manifested as much sorrow as could be expected from one who had never beheld the object of his hopes: but he was sadly disappointed at being prevented from enjoying his usual exercises out of doors, as it was necessary to observe the decorum of mourning on such an event.

As the policy of the Court of Austria directed it to a union with the Court of Naples, the Archduchess Caroline was substituted in the place of her sister, and was soon afterwards conducted from Vienna to Naples. She was then only sixteen years of age, and had many charms, although not regularly handsome. They were married in the year 1768.

The Queen herself, so great was the King's partiality for huntings was often obliged to attend him in his expeditions. The immense quantity of game preserved in the royal parks and woods at Caserta, Caccia Bella, and Astruni [sic for the Astroni wildlife preserve near Agnano], exceeds all credibility: wild boars, and stags, and deer of every kind, were slaughtered without mercy. The King never missed a shot, and would cut up the animals after they were killed with all the skill of a butcher. The Queen was often obliged to witness these scenes. His Majesty's skill on the water was equal to that on land: he harpooned, or caught fish, and was regardless of cold, hunger, fatigue, or danger. He was generally attended by a number of the inhabitants of the Lipari Islands, who have always been particularly skilful as fishermen.

Placed at the extremity of Italy, and enjoying a delicious climate, upon shores to which the Romans retired when conquerors of the world, to partake of luxuries not to be attained in any other quarter, and which still are covered with the remains of Roman magnificence or Grecian splendour, — where all the productions of the Levant, blended with those of the Mediterranean, are to be found, — Ferdinand had such means of happiness as rarely fall to the lot of mortals. His popularity was great; perhaps his indifference to public business removed him from the odium consequent on such engagements; while the Queen, who possessed an active mind and considerable talents, as well as love of power and ambition, assumed a share in administration: not that Ferdinand was indifferent to the welfare of his subjects, or regardless of the prosperity and security of his dominions, but his minister indulged his natural propensities, and was glad of every opportunity of keeping him remote from public affairs.

William Hamilton              
Sir William and Lady Hamilton constituted for a time the great pleasure of the Court. Sir William had been brought up from early life under his late Majesty George III., to whom after his accession to the throne he became equerry. He had entered in his youth into the army, and was present at the battle of Fontenoy, and another engagement. His superior understanding and philosophic turn of mind made him a most interesting man. In every branch of science and polite literature he excelled, while the versatility of his character constituted the most extraordinary composition.

After having explored the wonders of Vesuvius, he would dedicate his leisure to the sports of the field with the King; and when he had attained the age of seventy, he preserved an undiminished ardour. In his person he was tall and thin, of a dark complexion, with an aquiline nose. He was the son of Lady Archibald Hamilton, who enjoyed a distinguished place under Frederic, late Prince of Wales.

Though a finished courtier, he had none of that servility of manners, or that species of adulation, which is generally to be met with, but he preserved an independence which seemed to qualify him particularly for the diplomatic profession. No foreign minister ever enjoyed in so peculiar a degree the confidence and affection of the King of Naples, which he proved by every instance of personal regard, and which even extended to the British nation.

Our time passed in every enjoyment which the luxury of an Italian Court could afford, and in every species of amusement for which the country is celebrated: we had the best musicians and the best dancers.

             San Carlo
The theatre of St. Charles [San Carlo] is one of the largest and the most magnificent in Europe. If we imagine one of those amphitheatres which the Romans erected to contain a whole nation, some idea may be formed of the grandeur of this: it consists of one hundred and seventy-two boxes, of six ranges in height, without including that of the King, which forms a superb and magnificent hall. These boxes will contain about two thousand persons; and the space for the pit is equally capacious. Each box is illuminated with a brilliant lustre; and on the grand gala days seven or eight hundred flambeaux add to the splendour, forming at once, to the eye of the spectator, a scene hardly to be paralleled.

The music of Nicolai [sic] Piccini, my favourite composer, enchanted us, while the dancers were the best that could be selected. It is impossible to give an idea of the splendour of the masked balls given by the King, when the whole house is united to the stage. A vast hall appears, as it were, upon entering it, filled with lights, and containing from four to five thousand masks — all well dressed. The King and Queen appear at all these balls in habits of masquerade. To give a description would fill an entire volume: it seemed as if all the world were masked, and the four quarters of the globe doing honour to the amusements. Characters of every nation appeared to be there assembled, with monsters, satyrs, slaves, and sorcerers. I have been credibly informed, that, during the carnivals at Naples, above forty thousand masked habits have been either hired or sold; and if a calculation were made of all the expenses attending these festivities, the amount would be found most enormous...

At Naples, where the Government supplies nothing for the ease of its subjects, and where none are rich, because relative luxury conducts every one to poverty; where public misery is concealed under national pomp; where indigence inhabits the palaces of the great as well as the cottages of the poor, — every one hurries after spectacles, diversion, and games; and here is implanted a general taste for all public amusements.

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