lunedì 14 febbraio 2011

All about Bronte

When we went on the Circumetnea railway(earlier post) I asked several people about Lord Nelson. They rushed to tell the story warmly. Yes, he became the duke, he had the castle built but he never came here. I offered comment about Nelson's dirty role in the suppression of the liberal revolution in Naples in 1799. My comments puzzled. There was a reluctance or perhaps lack of knowledge of Nelson other than as hero, also a conservatism among ordinary people. In London, Nelson's conduct at Naples in 1799 was severely criticised; he was brought back to command the Channel Fleet.

 I later find this history of some of it.

The cast:
King Ferdinand IV

Queen Carolina perhaps lover of
Sir John Acton, made Prime Minister by Carolina
William Hamilton, British Minister
Lady Hamilton whose oft demanded dance smote...
... the heart of Horatio, Lord Nelson, who became the callous agent of these women
Admiral Caracciolo, different sort of hero chap, done in viciously by the other lovely people here.

In Naples in 1799 the situation was in simple terms this. The king, Frederick IV, was recognised by all who dealt with him as a fool, uninterested in affairs to state, committed to hunting and fun and games with ladies in waiting and military officers. His wife, Maria Carolina, daughter of the former Austrian emperor, brother now of the current emperor Joseph and sister of Marie Antoinette, decapitated Queen of France in the revolution, was the centre of power. Joseph, reflecting on a visit to Naples, provides a dreadful account of daily life at court, concluding, of Frederick the king, that he has
"... so definite an aversion from all innovation, so great an indolence of mind and a distaste for reflection, that I must assure you that the man has never reflected in his life about himself, or his physical or moral existence, his situation, his interests, or his country. He is quite ignorant of the past and the present and never thought about the future..." [cited in Harold Acton, The Bourbons of Naples 1734-1825, London 1956; quoted at page 9, Modern Naples, A Documentary Historuy 1799-1999 John Santore, New York 2001]

Around Maria Carolina was an extraordinary gaggle of English. Upon achieving a place on the Council of State on the birth of her first child, the Queen had ousted a moderate and sensible prime minister replacing him with a hardline (as regards the absolute right of kings and inappropriateness of popular assemblies) prime minister Sir John Acton, of a line of knights and lords Actons of some fame in history. This one was reputedly Maria Carolina's lover, certainly very much her agent. A close friend and influence on the Queen was the young Emma Hamilton, wife of the much older British Minister to Naples, Lord Hamilton. Emma was also rather openly the lover of Nelson.

All shared a detestation of the Napoleonic regime. It was of course central to British policy to sustain Neapolitan hostility to Napoleon and commitment to war against France. With the added value of Maria Carolina's links to Austria. The French had occupied Rome. With some kind of agreement from Austria that Austria would join the party, Ferdinand sent his army north and removed the French from Rome—briefly. No Austrians arrived. The Austrians had massed forces against France in central Europe where they were (along with much of the rest of the old power of Europe) defeated at the battle of Austerlitz on 27 December 1798. Napoleon then ordered his brother Joseph to leave Paris secretly to lead armies he had sent to Italy. On 19 January 1799 he wrote again to say:

"I wish you to enter the Kingdom of Naples in the first days of February, and I wish to hear from you in the course of February that our flag is flying over the walls of the capital. You will make no truce, you will hear no capitulation: my will is that the Bourbons shall have ceased to rule at Naples." [Santore, op.cit, p56]

At news of the French nearing Naples, the two trios (Frederick, Maria Carolina, Acton; Lord and Lady Hamilton and Nelson) scuttled off for Palermo aboard Nelson's flagship, leaving behind an exhortation to the people of Naples to resist, cleverly signed as from Rome a week before. A 'Parthenopean Republic' of prominent largely landowning aristocratic liberals was put in place with the support of the French after the French had suffered unprecedented and ferocious resistance from the masses, the Lazzaroni... who detested the new republic, which itself did nothing much more as a government other than debate theological issues. This was the seat of a court which after 300 years of occupancy by foreign rulers, was full of courtiers and hangers on and diverse leeches who extracted impoverishing taxes from the countryside of southern Italy and Sicily.

From Palermo Frederick despatched a Cardinal to Calabria who led growing peasant forces north, turning out the republic. He granted amnesty to the republicans and embarked on policies of reform. But returning to Naples before the king, Maria Carolina ended the amnesty, re-arrested the republicans and their supporters including the popular naval commander Admiral Caracciolo. She reportedly asked Nelson to treat Naples, the richest and largest city in Europe, as if it were a rebellious Irish town. Nelson participated fully in reprisals and executions. Caracciolo was hung from his flagship's yard arm.
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.
© Jeff Matthews 2002-2012 entry May 2003

For Nelson's services to the state, a package of lands way round the back of Mount Etna was turned into a duchy called Bronte and Lord Nelson was made the first Duke of Bronte. He never got there, called back to London, criticised for his role at Naples and  sent off to the Channel fleet. Hamilton too returned to London, having offered resignation years earlier.

After the death of Lord Hamilton and divorce from his wife, Horatio Nelson was able to place Emma Hamilton and their daughter Horatia in a small farm near what is now Charing Cross in London. To which he came for an idyllic leave with them, only to be swiftly called back to the Engish fleet with the French fleet massing. He led the defeat of the French at the Battle of Trafalgar, himself dying from a shot from a French marksman in the close quarters battle. And after all that, famously said "Kiss me Hardy." Two accounts of which, here and here.

This secured an heroic historical place for Nelson. By some theories, a Patrick Brunty who changed his name to Bronte, did so in admiration of the Admiral.  Thus his daughters Emily, Charlotte and Anne's literary works were not published under the name Brunty but Bronte.

Lady Hamilton was now bereft of male supporters in a world where women owned nothing, while her lavish habits of spending persisted. She spent time in debtors prison.

I will leave you, again, at the smudgy station sign at Bronte...

...and this correspondence from Lady Hamilton to husband Sir William Hamilton's nephew before and after Sir William's death:
Nephew of Sir William Hamilton.
25th of February, [1800.]
I received your letter by Mr. Campbell. He is lodged with us. We find him a pleasant man; and shall write fully by him. He will tell you a little how we go on, as to our domestic happiness. We are more united and comfortable than ever, in spite of the infamous Jacobin papers, jealous of Lord Nelson's glory, and Sir William's and mine. But we do not mind them. Lord N. is a truly virtuous and great man; and, because we have been fagging, and ruining our health, and sacrificing every comfort, in the cause of loyalty, our private characters are to be stabbed in the dark. First, it was said, Sir W. and Lord N. fought; then, that we played, and lost. First, Sir W. and Lord N. live like brothers; next, Lord N. never plays: and this I give you my word of honour. So I beg you will contradict any of these vile reports. Not that Sir W. and Lord N. mind it; and I get scolded by the Queen, and all of them, for having suffered one day's uneasiness.
Our fleet is off Malta: Lord Nelson has taken Le Genereux, and was after the frigates; so the attempt to relieve Malta has failed.
I have had a letter from the Emperor of Russia, with the Cross of Malta. Sir William has sent his Imperial Majesty's letter to Lord Grenville, to get me the permission to wear it. I have rendered some services to the poor Maltese. I got them ten thousand pounds, and sent corn when they were in distress. The deputies have been lodged in my house; I have been their Ambassadress, so his [I.]M. has rewarded me. If the King will give me leave to wear it abroad, it is of use to me. The Q——n is having the order set in diamonds for me; but the one the Emperor sent is gold. I tell you this little history of it, that you may be au fait. Ball has it also, but I am the first Englishwoman that ever had it. Sir W. is pleased, so I am happy. We are coming home; and I am miserable, to leave my dearest friend, the Q——. She cannot be consoled. We have sworn to be back in six months; and I will not quit her, till Sir William binds himself to come back. However, I shall have a comfort in seeing some of my old friends; and you, in particular. We have also many things to settle. I think, I can situate the person you mention about the Court, as a Camerist to some of the R. F——y, if her education is good.
It is a comfortable situation for life; so, I will bring her out.
The Q. has promised me. Let this remain entre nous.


[April 1803.]
Lady Hamilton will be glad to know how long Mr. Greville can permit her to remain in the house in Piccadilly, as she must instantly look out for a lodging; and, therefore, it is right for her to know the full extent of time she can remain there. She also begs to know, if he will pay her debts, and what she may depend upon; that she may reduce her expences and establishment immediately.

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