Naples Amid the Soldier Kings
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
March 2016

Naples and Sicily first became a united kingdom in 1130, when Norman adventurers conquered southern Italy. Naples ruled southern Italy and usually Sicily as well from the Middle Ages until Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Red Shirts overthrew the kingdom in 1860 and united it with the new Kingdom of Italy. Though often called the “Kingdom of the Two Sicilies,” this only became its official moniker in 1816.

Sergeant and musketeer of the Palermo Regiment, 1758.

The kingdom’s close ties to Spain date to 1282, when the uprising known as the “Sicilian Vespers” led to the nobility offering the crown to Pedro III of Aragon. With some interruptions, both Naples and Sicily remained subject to Aragon until 1504, when the two lands were directly incorporated into the newly united kingdom of Spain. They remained Spanish provinces until Austrian armies conquered Naples in 1707 during the War of the Spanish Succession; the Spanish crown yielded Naples and Sicily (as well as Sardinia) during the Peace of Utrecht that ended that conflict. Austria received Naples and Sardinia, while Piedmont took Sicily; they swapped islands in 1720.

Ruled by a Habsburg viceroy, Naples was treated as an imperial backwater. Emperor Charles VI could not raise the tax revenue from the impoverished countryside to adequately defend the kingdom, and the Habsburg crown lacked the funds to build the ports and merchant ships and the fleets to protect them that the emperor’s advisors claimed could make Naples an economic powerhouse for the mostly land-locked Empire.

At the end of the War of the Polish Succession in 1735, Austria ceded Sicily and Naples back to Spain in exchange for a Spanish promise to recognize the eventual accession of Maria Theresa to rule Austria. Don Carlos, son of the ambitious Spanish queen Elisabeth Farnese, became King Charles VII of Naples in 1738. During the 1740 War of the Austrian Succession, Spain and Naples promptly ignored their promises, fighting against Maria Theresa and fending off an Austrian invasion in 1744.

Like almost all of the rest of Italy, Naples remained neutral throughout the Seven Years’ War, the period of Soldier Kings (Tuscany sent troops to fight alongside the Austrians). Charles VII abdicated his Neapolitan throne in 1759, to become Charles IV of Spain. Three years later, he led his new kingdom into the war on the side of France and Austria, but Naples did not participate. A poor kingdom, Naples nonetheless maintained a fleet and a standing army built around Swiss mercenary regiments. Neither was noted for its efficiency.

Officer and musketeer of the Neapolitan Royal Guard, 1758.

When Charles left for Spain, his son Ferdinand became king. With Ferdinand still a child, chief minister Bernardo Tanucci, a Tuscan bureaucrat, served as regent. Tanucci had no desire to involve the kingdom in his former patron’s wars, as the royal government had its hands full trying to curb the powers of both nobility and church. Naples became a haven for Enlightenment thinkers and artists, especially those of the Roman Catholic persuasion, drawn by the Tanucci regime’s relaxed views and the standard draw for artists and writers — the lowest cost of living in Europe. Naples fell under Austrian influence in the 1770s when Ferdinand married Maria Theresa’s daughter, Maria Carolina, and entered the Napoleonic Wars with disastrous results: Mount Vesuvius exploded soon after Naples declared war on France, and the revolutionaries overran the kingdom in 1798.

Under both Charles and Ferdinand, Tanucci tried to instill the enlightened despotism of the bigger European monarchies. Landowning nobles resisted agricultural reform, and Tanucci hoped to divert them to military service. The army expanded in hopes of enrolling noble youths as officers, but ended up having to recruit foreigners to lead its new troops. The church — especially the many monasteries and convents — was pressed to yield up centuries of tax privileges, and eventually Tanucci expelled the Society of Jesus from the kingdom due to Jesuit resistance. Though economically weak, Naples would no doubt have played the same games of power politics as the rest of enlightened Europe if given the chance.

Officer and trooper of Prince Ferdinand’s Own Dragoons, 1758.

I’m no longer sure why we left the Neapolitan army and fleet out of Soldier Kings. The two land areas weren’t on designer Rob Markham’s original map, and so they had no corresponding pieces in the original submission. For some reason we did not expand the mix of pieces accordingly when we expanded the map.

Naples consists of both Naples and Sicily and begins all scenarios as a Spanish minor ally. It has starting forces of two armies and one fleet, and a recovery/new unit number of 1.

Major Power influence numbers are:

Britain: 0
France: 0
Prussia: -1
Austria: +1
Russia: 0
Spain: +3
Turkey: -2
Holland: -1

You can download the new Neapolitan counters here.

Send the Neapolitans into battle! Order Soldier Kings today.

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.