Customised search for historical information

12 January 2009

On this day in history: Sicilian Revolution of Independence, 1848

1848 was a year of revolution around the World, but particularly in Europe. The first uprising of that tumultuous year started on 12th January in Sicily. The Congress of Vienna, held in 1815 following the defeat of Napoleon, reunited the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily for the first time since the thirteenth century as the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

The administration of the island was brutal, corrupt and inefficient. As a result many Sicilians longed for the liberal constitution of 1812, which the island's nobility had persuaded the beleaguered Bourbon court to accept while resident on the island, but which King Ferdinand I abolished following his restoration three years later. Dissatisfaction spilled over into open revolution three times between the creation of the kingdom in 1816 and 1848.

On 9th January 1848 political agitators in Palermo circulated a pamphlet written by Francesco Bagnasco, who had been active in the revolution of 1820, in which he called on all Sicilians to rise up against the Bourbons on January 12 - Ferdinand's birthday. Despite the arrest of eleven radicals on 10th January, the people took to the streets and following clashes with soldiers and police in which some demonstrators died they built barricades around Fieravecchia, Palermo's poorest quarter, where Baron Giuseppe La Masa formed a committee to direct the revolution.

The next day the rebel's ranks swelled when peasants and bands of brigands from the surrounding countryside joined the rebellion, while the six thousand Bourbon soldiers withdrew to the fortress of Castellamare from where they bombarded Palermo rather than face the inferior insurrectionary force in the city streets. The five thousand reinforcements who arrived on the 15th were not enough to prevent the revolutionaries taking control of the city and then the whole island, except the heavily fortified city of Messina, by the middle of Ferbruary. Ferdinand had little choice but to negotiate with the revolutionary government, which now included many of the islands nobles.

Attempts at a diplomatic solution continued for the next eighteen months during which time the literate Sicilian males elected a parliament with Ruggero Settimo, the Prince of Castelnuovo, as president. Finally, in May 1849, Bourbon forces recaptured the island while over forty of the leaders of the revolution went into exile. Nevertheless, the forces unleashed by the Sicilian Revolution had an impact across Italy culminating in the unification of Italy ("il Risorgimento")") during the 1860s.