The Mad Monarchist: Monarch Profile: King Ferdinand I of the Two-Sicilies

Originally posted on The Mad Monarchist.

The reign of the Spanish over southern Italy and the island of Sicily, in its last instance, can be traced back to their seizure from the Austrian Hapsburgs during the War of the Polish Succession. At that time, the son of King Philip V of Spain, Charles, was placed on the throne. He had previously been Duke of Parma before moving to Naples as part of the constant struggles and trade deals between the great powers over the states of the Italian peninsula. Eventually, he succeeded his brother as King Charles III of Spain (Carlos III) and so he passed the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily to one of his sons, Ferdinand, who had been born in Naples on January 12, 1751. He was to preside over a time of immense tumult, trepidation and transition in the history of southern Italy, ending ultimately in the creation of a new political entity called the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies. Little Ferdinand was only in his eighth year when he became King Ferdinand IV of Naples and III of Sicily when his father became King of Spain. King Charles III was forbidden by treaty from continuing to rule over all three kingdoms personally so choosing his third son to succeed him in Naples was a way of ensuring that the Spanish Bourbon dynasty would still retain the crown.

Obviously, as a small child at the time, actual power remained in the hands of the King of Spain or those officials appointed by him to administer southern Italy. At the head of the local government was a council of regency led by…

via The Mad Monarchist: Monarch Profile: King Ferdinand I of the Two-Sicilies.

The Jewish Ghosts of Palermo

The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife

There was a Jewish presence in Sicily for centuries, possibly from before the birth of Jesus. The Jews were the only outsiders who made their homes in Sicily and became part of her population without invading. They simply turned up, fitted in and made themselves indispensable.

IMG_20150416_110436 Possibly the most important Jewish street in Palermo, the Via dei Cartari was where all the Jewish scribes drew up any contract needed by the citizens of Palermo

The Jews were the literate and educated members of society and they also taught their children all the different languages they knew. This guaranteed them work as interpreters and scribes.


In Palermo, they lived and set up their shops in the Jewish quarter of Palermo, where they also build very modest synagogues, and schools to pass on their knowledge to their children. They were the educated and wealthy elite. Their skills made them indispensable to successive…

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A Time to Die – the Spanish Inquisition in Sicily

The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife

The history books about Sicily have little to say about the time of the Spanish rule. I find this strange, because the Spanish changed Sicily more than any other conqueror. The way they wanted this island is the way it still is: the Sicilians just cannot seem to shake them off.

Prickly pears Prickly pears

Some history books do tell us they brought tomatoes, which the Sicilians planted around Etna and with everything. They brought cocoa beans which the Sicilians of Modica still make into bars of raw chocolate using the Aztec recipe the Spanish conquistadores taught them. They brought the potato, and made Sicilians such an island of chip-lovers that they even invented the chip pizza. They created the Sicilian baroque style of architecture which is unique to this island, is found all over it, and is so spectacularly beautiful it has made six baroque Sicilian towns into a UNESCO…

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The Three Ancient Super-Powers: Part 1, The Phoenicians | The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife

Originally posted on The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife.

It may be hard to imagine, these days, that Sicily was once the cradle of European civilisation. Three super-powers battled for supremacy and Sicily was the centre of it all.

Today, I’ll tell you about the Phoenicians, the earliest super-power and Sicily’s first colonists.

Carthaginians and Phoenicians: the first empire

The Phoenicians were the first super-power, from the narrow strip of coastal land now called Lebanon.

Fearless sailors and ingenious traders throughout the known world, the Phoenicians invented money, created an alphabetic script for taking inventory, and built the world’s first import-export economy.

Everyone in the ancient world wanted their red murex shellfish, because wearing clothes in this special colour protected them against the Evil Eye, a terrifying primal force which caused infertility, crop failure and death. Egyptian Pharaohs, Roman Consuls and Greek dictators dared not leave the house without their red clothes on. The name „Phoenician“ comes from the Greek word for red.

This was not all they sold. They also produced fine glass artwork and ceramics, they transported rare food crops, and they sold the best wood in the world for making ships’ masts, from their indigenous Lebanese pines.

Phoenician colonies sprang up all over the Mediterranean. These began as small trading stations, with a warehouse and a few guards who stayed behind to protect the merchandise and trade with the locals. Gradually, they grew into full-scale city-states. Their seminal culture laid the groundwork for much of modern Mediterranean religions, foods, languages, agriculture and art.

Carthage (nowadays called Tunis), benefitted from its central position and eventually became the largest of all the Phoenician city-states. When the Assyrians of modern-day Iraq conquered Phoenicia around 800 B.C., Carthage became the centre of the Phoenician civilisation. Carthage founded colonies of its own, including many in Sicily.

And the evil eye? To this day, some elderly Sicilians sprinkle salt inside their doorways and hide red pouches of…

via The Three Ancient Super-Powers: Part 1, The Phoenicians | The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife.

The Mad Monarchist: First Savoy Reign over Sicily

Originally posted on The Mad Monarchist.

The King & Queen depart for Sicily

The island Kingdom of Sicily was first under the reign of the House of Savoy from 1713 to 1720 during the reign of King Vittorio Amedeo II. It came about as a result of Piedmontese participation in the War of Spanish Succession alongside Great Britain and Austria. At first, it was proposed to give the House of Savoy both Naples and Sicily (at the time separate kingdoms) but as the Hapsburgs still ruled in Naples this was finally dropped. King Vittorio Amedeo II was more interested in gaining Milan which the Savoy had been reaching for over many years but his Dutch and Austrian allies objected to this. The British, under Queen Anne, finally took decisive action and, being in command of the Mediterranean thanks to the success of the Royal Navy, announced that Sicily would be given to the House of Savoy and King Felipe V of Spain had little choice but to agree and renounce his claim on the island. The British tried to maintain a commanding influence but King Vittorio Amedeo II refused to grant British merchants any additional favors than they had known previously under the Spanish. Still, Britain was convinced that Sicily would be better off and the region more stable under the Savoy.

King Vittorio Amedeo II and Queen Marie d’Orleans arrived in October of 1713 to formally take possession of their new kingdom and were given a joyous welcome from the local population when they were delivered to Palermo by…

via The Mad Monarchist: First Savoy Reign over Sicily.

Aqua Tofana: slow-poisoning and husband-killing in 17th century Italy

A Blast From The Past

Detail from "The love potion", by the nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelite Evelyn De Morgan. The tangled tale of Aqua Tofana is intimately connected to the "magical criminal underworlds" of the 17th century, which supplied love philtres, potions, medicines and poisons to a mostly female clientele. Detail from “The love potion” by Evelyn De Morgan (1903). The tangled tale of Aqua Tofana is intimately connected to the “criminal magical underworlds” that flourished in the 17th century. Swarming with dubious alchemists, self-proclaimed sorcerers and renegade priests, these remarkable communities supplied love philtres, charms and poisons of varying efficacy to a mostly female clientele.

Early in the autumn of 1791, while he was still hard at work on the great requiem mass that would form such a large part of his legend, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart fell mortally ill. Convinced that there was no chance of recovery, he

began to speak of death, and asserted that he was setting the Requiem for himself… “I feel definitely,” he continued, “that I will not last much longer; I am sure that I have been poisoned. I cannot rid myself of this idea… Someone has given me acqua tofana and calculated the precise time of my death.

Scholars have wrangled now for two full…

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Sicilian Earthquake 28 December 1908

At 5.20am on 28th December, 1908, an earthquake of a 7.5-magnitude struck the coast of Sicily and shattered thousands of lives.

Two photo reporters among the ruins after the earthquake in Messina (december 1908).

Two photo reporters among the ruins after the earthquake in Messina (december 1908).

The death toll of over 100,00 people comprised Sicilians and mainland Italians, and destroyed several towns, most notably, Messina, a city of 158,000, where ‘about one in every three perished‘. As with so many disasters in the last hundred years, and doubtless before, it was the quality of construction work that proved Messina’s downfall. And while new codes were put in place to make sure buildings would no longer collapse so easily, it is horrifying to note that by the end of the 50s, there were families still living in temporary accommodation that had been built soon after. The quake was felt throughout the mainland, and as far as Montenegro, Albania and the Ionian Islands.

Clearing away the ruins on route to Catania, Sicily (after the 1908 Messina earthquake)

Clearing away the ruins on route to Catania, Sicily (after the 1908 Messina earthquake).

The tsunami that followed saw waves almost as high as 40 feet, which crashed ashore at Reggio di Calabria on the mainland before hitting the island of Malta.

‘Experts long surmised that the tsunami resulted from seafloor displacement caused by the earthquake. However, research completed in the early 21st century suggested that an underwater landslide, unrelated to the earthquake, triggered the ensuing tsunami.’

It was this tsunami that affected the ship that was taking my great grandparents, Dora and Benedict Hoskyns, from Algiers to Florence. In a letter to her mother, Dora describes the journey.

Villa Medici

[December/January 1908]


Darling Angel,

We have just got here & at present still feel so stupified by all we have gone through that I hardly know how to write. As you know we left Algiers on Sunday night last at 11, & were timed to get to Genoa on Tues. morning at 3 in the morning.

Everything went well till Mon. morning when at about 10, the wind began to cut up & got worse & worse so that by the time it was dark it was blowing a hurricane. I can never describe to you that awful night. The groaning & straining of the ship, the crack of breaking things, the screaming tearing wind & the great terrible waves thundering against the ship & the sea racing up & down past our port-hole. Our luggage was hurled down & tore backwards & forwards across our cabin all night. Darling it was the only time one had ever been face to face with what might have been the end of everything & the horror of it was simply appalling.

We were 24 hrs. in the Gulf of Lyons, instead of 10 & were 18 hrs. late in getting to Genoa where there was intense anxiety as to our fate. Of course we knew nothing then of the terrible catastrophe at Messina, but it was all at the same time & was evidently part of the same fearful under the sea convulsion.

Dear Ben was in the berth above me & whenever it was more than usually terrifying I saw his hand come down to hold mine & I said to him at last “well anyhow we are together.” We felt calm on the whole but I was terribly terribly frightened, but it was the next day when things had got better that we felt utterly worn out & shattered.

The bodies of victims in Messina

The bodies of victims in Messina

I hear that the Lord Mayor has started a fund & as it may be closed before we get back wd. you send £3.3.0 from “D.K.H.” “a Thanksoffering”. I shd. like to give something & Ben is going to, but I want to at once & I will give you the cheque as soon as we get home.

Half-way through the night we cd. tell by the way the waves broke that the Capt. had altered the course of the ship & he let her run before the storm or I don’t think she cd. have lived. He was on the bridge all night & it was a wonderful thing to think of, the safety of the whole ship in the hands of one or two men.

People on board who had been through typhoons, terrible Atlantic storms, said they had never had such an experience. I simply lay & said my prayers & all the hymns & psalms I cd. think of & we do feel more than thankful & grateful to have been brought safely through it all. I shall never as long as I live forget it. Looking back only makes it seem worse.

The joy of getting to this dear place [Villa Medici] was immense. The quiet & peace & stillness is beautiful & we are just going to sit still & recover. Poor Ben is dreadfully tired of course but I think he will sleep well & need do nothing but rest & try to forget. Will you let Moley & Geraldine see this. I can’t write often of it all.

Goodbye my precious darling. How how thankful I am to think we shall see you all again.

Fondest dearest of love,

Yr. own most loving grateful child,


View of Florence from Fiesole

View of Florence from Fiesole

Sarah Vernon © 2 June 2014