The Court of Assizes in Naples had
all the ingredients to fill columns and columns of the
popular press. Five famous personalities on trial for
their actions amidst accusations of treason, espionage,
theft, lesbianism and prostitution. The Sala dei Baroni of
Castelnuovo, Naples may have witnessed many important
occasions throughout the centuries but surely few could
match the spectacle of seeing (images, left-to-right,
above) Admirals Caracciolo and Nelson, King Ferdinand IV,
Queen Maria Carolina and Lady Emma Hamilton collectively
occupying the dock to stand trial for events that took
place 191 years ago.
For those not familiar with the history of Naples, such a scene needs a little explanation. In January, 1799, following the events in Revolutionary France, Naples declared itself a Republic. King Ferdinand and his Queen, Maria Carolina, under the threat of the approaching Revolutionary army had already fled Naples to take up residence in Sicily. The evacuation had been carried out under the protection of Admiral Horatio Nelson and with the help of Lady Hamilton, the wife of the English Ambassador to the Court of Naples. Admiral Caracciolo was the most highly regarded of the Neapolitan commanders, having already proved himself in battle on the flagship of the Neapolitan fleet — at that time the largest and most powerful fleet in the Mediterranean. Events prior to the evacuation had already shown that Nelson and Caracciolo did not exactly see eye to eye. The most noted incident occurred in a battle in the Bay, where Caracciolo had insisted that the Neapolitan flag be flown from the flagship and not, as Nelson would have preferred, the British flag. Whatever the truth of the relationship between the two, the fact that Nelson was given the role of protecting the Royals in their flight to Palermo was a great offence to Caracciolo who assumed that he should have been given the responsibility.
This apparent lack of
trust in Caracciolo may have been an important
factor in deciding the Admiral to side with the
Republicans, who had, following the declaration of the
Republic, occupied all the principle castles of Naples.
The admiral's decision to fight against the monarchy must
have been an enormous moral booster for the Republicans,
many of whom were intellectuals and (oddly enough,
considering events in France) of noble birth. The presence
among their ranks of a tried and tested military leader
was becoming increasingly necessary as the Republic came
under attack from the poor, extremely pro-monarchy
sections of the population of the city, and news began to
arrive that Cardinal Ruffo had been despatched from Sicily
by the Monarchs and was marching through Calabria at the
head of a huge popular army of Sanfedisti
(protectors of the faith) ready to attack the Republic in
the name of the Monarchy and the Church.
In any event the Republic enjoyed only a brief life, being crushed under the combined forces of the Calabrian Sanfedisti and the Lazzaroni of Naples. The aftermath was bloody and brutal and Nelson slipped back into the Bay of Naples with explicit orders from the monarchs to treat Naples as though it were an insurrection in Ireland. One of the English Admiral's first acts was to demand that the imprisoned Admiral Caracciolo be handed over to him on his flagship, where he summarily ordered that he be hanged ignominiously from the yard-arm and then cast into the sea. There then followed months of reprisals against the Republicans and the list of executed reads like a Who's Who of late 18th century Naples.
[Southey's Life of Nelson has a passage about the execution of Admiral Caracciolo that you may read by clicking here.]
And so we arrive, 191 years later, to a trial organised by L'AgapeFraterna. The idea of the trial, we are warned by the President, is not simply to enjoy a spectacle, is not simply to listen to important historical characters having their names sullied, but rather to try to gain an historical perspective of the events, with a view to understanding the present difficulties of Naples, and through understanding the origins of these problems, attempt to find a solution.
The trial began with the enactment of a play by Enzo Grano, wherein the five accused attempt to counter the various 'crimes' held against them. There then followed the defence speeches of five real-life lawyers, each of whom had the benefit of 191 years of retrospection to help them mount their cases. Poor Aldo Cafiero knew he had a difficult job of defending the 'perfidious' Nelson, so strong was the feeling in the courtroom in favour of the actions of Caracciolo. Indeed, as the action unfolded, with accusation piling upon accusation and defence lawyers rising to protect their clients from cutting character assassination, it became increasingly apparent that all the vilifying was serving to so besmirch all except Caracciolo that it was with comparative ease that his defence lawyer, Enrico Tuccillo, was able to resurrect the broken figure of the Neapolitan Admiral and have him walk unsullied into the collective memory of the Neapolitans gathered to see how the court would deal with their national hero, one of the few figures from the Court of Naples who refused to abandon his city in its moment of need, unlike, so the court was told, the monarchs who were seemingly too eager to take the crown jewels, order the scuttling of the powerful fleet, and flee to Palermo. Caracciolo, the defence argument went, did not join with the Republicans through any precise desire to see the end of the monarchy but because he was patriotic to his city and kingdom in a way that could not accept the betrayal which he saw in the actions of his monarchs, who he also saw as being completely under the influence of England through the persuasive presence of Nelson and the Hamiltons.
The jury, when it
came the moment of judgement, found Caracciolo not guilty
of any crime worthy of the dreadful end which awaited him
at the hands of Nelson. The other four were found guilty,
guilty above all of betraying the future of the city of
Naples, guilty of reimposing a monarchy that was outdated
and, anyway, fated to be smashed completely within one
generation of the end of the blood-stained Neapolitan
Other relevant entries:
Fonseca Pimentel Lord Nelson and
The Pathenopean Republic Admiral F. Caracciolo
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