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main index   ©Jeff Matthews   entry Dec. 2003

Ferdinand IV (a sidelight)

I enjoy browsing in old journals. I mean old journals—the kind that let you read about persons before they grow up to be "history." Here is something I found in an issue of The North American Review from January 1816, only the second year of existence of that distinguished publication. It is a character sketch of Ferdinand IV of Naples (who would shortly become Ferdinand I of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies) right after he had been restored to his throne after Napoleon's defeat and the subsequent Restoration mandated by the Congress of Vienna. The item appears to be a reprint from The Journal, a British publication of the day. The writer pretty much confirms other contemporary and subsequent descriptions of the king as being affable and stupid. A lunkhead. That view is much kinder than some, such as this sentence from a much later (1911) description of Ferdinand in the Encyclopedia Brittanica: "...Ferdinand died on the 4th of January 1825. Few sovereigns have left behind so odious a memory. His whole career is one long record of perjury, vengeance and meanness, unredeemed by a single generous act..."

THE KING OF NAPLES (The North American Review, Jan. 1816)

Ferdinand 4th is in his fifty-sixth year; in his person he is tall and straight, rather thin than corpulent, his face is very long, his hair and eyebrows white, and his countenance on the whole far from comely, but lighted up by an expression of good nature and benignity that pleases more and lasts longer than symmetry of features. His manners are easy, his conversation affable, and his whole deportment (princes will pardon me if I presume to mention it as a compliment) that of a thorough gentleman. 

With regard to mental endowments, nature seems to have placed him on a level with the great majority of mankind, that is, in a state of mediocrity, and without either defect or excellency; a state the best adapted to sovereign power, because the least likely to abuse it. If one degree below it, a monarch becomes the tool of every designing knave near his person, whether valet or minister ; if only one degree above it, he becomes restless and unintentionally mischievous, like the Emperour Joseph; and if cursed with genius, he turns out like Frederick, a conquerour and a despot. But the good sense which Ferdinand derived from nature required the advantages of cultivation to develop and direct it; and of these advantages he was unfortunately deprived, in part perhaps by the early absence of his father, and in part by the negligence or design, first of his tutors, and afterwards, of his courtiers. 

Being raised to the throne in the eighth year of his age, and shortly after left by his father under the direction of a regency, he cannot be supposed to be inclined, nor they capable of compelling him, to application. The result has been as usual, a great propensity to active exercises, and an aversion to studious pursuits. The ignorance which follows from these habits is such as to extend to articles, known among us to every person above daily labour, and it not unfrequently shews itself in conversation, and betrays his majesty into mistakes that sometimes startle even well-trained courtiers. Thus, mention being accidentally made in his presence of the great power of the Turks some centuries ago, he observed, that it was no wonder, as all the world were Turks before the birth of our Saviour. 

Upon another occasion, when the cruel execution of Louis 16th, then recent, happening to be the subject of conversation, one of the courtiers remarked, that it was the second crime of that kind that stained the annals of modern Europe; the King asked with surprise, where such a deed had been perpetrated before; the courtier replying, in England. Ferdinand asked with a look of disbelief, what King of England was ever put to death by his people? The other of course answering, Charles 1st; his Majesty exclaimed, with some degree of warmth and indignation, "No, Sir, it is impossible, you are misinformed; the English are too loyal and too brave a people to be guilty of such an atrocious crime." He added "depend upon it, Sir, it is a mere tale trumped up by the Jacobins at Paris to excuse their own guilt by the example of so great a nation; it may do very well to deceive their own people, but will not I hope, dupe us."

There is other material on Ferdinand in the entries for The Bourbons (part 1) and Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel.

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