King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

Memoirs of the secret societies

Title page of book and frontispiece portrait of Ferdinand ITitle page of book and frontispiece portrait of Ferdinand IThe ‘Carbonari’ (charcoal-burners) was the name given to adherents of one of a network of secret societies active in Italy after the restorations of 1814 and 1815. The aims of the conspirators focused on Italian independence and constitutional government.

In 1820 there was a military revolt in Naples, led by members of the Carbonari and inspired by the success of the revolution in Spain earlier that year. The king, now ruling as Ferdinand I of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, portrayed here in the frontispiece, was forced to adopt the constitution originally imposed on the king of Spain in 1812, and restored by the 1820 revolution. 

These events alarmed Austria, guarantor of the post-Napoleonic settlement in Italy. Ferdinand was required to withdraw the constitution and allow an Austrian army to occupy Naples. In the meantime, a revolution in Sicily that had sought to restore the island's independence was brutally put down by an army from the mainland. Despite Ferdinand's proclamation bestowing a pardon on all who had been members of the secret societies, some of those involved sought exile in Great Britain and elsewhere. 

The book featured here contains documents that provide a background to these events; it also describes the organisation and customs of the secret societies, with illustrations of their uniforms and ceremonies. The text is a translation from a manuscript by an unknown Neapolitan author (ascribed to ‘Bertoldi’) who, to accommodate his English translator, wrote in French; it was important to him, he says, to publish in London, as ‘The continent is accustomed to receive the truth with less distrust when it proceeds from Great Britain.’ A version in Italian was published in 1904.

Our copy belonged to the family of Gabriele Rossetti (1783 -1854), a Sicilian poet and scholar mentioned in the text. Rossetti, who spent three years in exile in Malta before moving to London in 1824, was the father of Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In 1831 he was elected professor of Italian at King's College London.

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