8°: XII with a lithographed signature on the back of the title page and with interleaved etched portrait and paper guard, pp. 20-351,  blank, three quarter blue morocco with blue linen boards, gilt embossed lines on boards, spine with gilt embossed decoration, raised bands, two red spine labels with gilt embossed titles, light blue marbled endpapers, gilt top edge, uncut fore edge and lower edge, some pages uncut (Very Good, minor staining on the boards, tiny tears in paper guard).
The present work concerns the efforts of Lieutenant-General William Bentinck, the British envoy to the royal court of Sicily from 1811 to 1814, to robustly interfere in that island’s internal affairs, to compel it to adopt a liberal constitution and to form a special defensive-commercial alliance with Britain. The story is a fascinating drama, with many curious twists and turns, that while largely forgotten today, it was then a pan-European cause célèbre.
The book was written by Captain Francis (Francesco) Romeo, a Neapolitan soldier who served as a senior aid to Bentinck during his time in Sicily. It is historically valuable in that it provides an insider’s account of the exciting events in Palermo.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy assume complete dominance over the Mediterranean. Britain assumed possession of Malta and the Ionian Islands which, in addition to Gibraltar, served as excellent operational bases. Britain, at the height of its imperial ambition, proceeded to employ its maritime power to significantly interfere in the internal politics of various Mediterranean islands and coastal regions for the first time. It was in this context, that Britain become heavily involved in the affairs of Sicily. Circling back, upon the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, Sicily was part of the Kingdom of Sicily, that controlled the island, plus much of southern mainland Italy; for this reason, the country was often called the ‘Two Sicilies.’ The realm was ruled by Ferdinand I, who was heavily swayed by his headstrong wife, Maria Carolina of Austria. In 1806, Napoleon’s legions invaded the mainland part of the country, causing Ferdinand’s court to move from Naples to Palermo, whereupon it sought British protection.
In 1811, Lieutenant-General William Bentinck (1774 – 1839), an esteemed veteran of the Peninsular Wars, was sent as the official British envoy to Ferdinand’s court. There he gained a personal dislike of Ferdinand and uncovered further evidence of something he had already suspected – that Queen Maria Carolina was secretly corresponding with the French. The Queen, for her part, referred to Bentinck as ‘la bestia feroce’ (the ferocious beast).
In 1812, Bentinck used his martial leverage to compel Ferdinand to surrender power, while forcing Maria Carolina into exile; the crown prince, Francis, was declared regent. Both Bentinck and the young king personally harboured Enlightenment reformist sentiments, and together they pushed through the liberal Sicily Constitution of 1812. However, this was considered as far too-radical for the island’s conservative establishment, resulting in severe blowback.
In 1816, Ferdinand managed to regain control of his throne, whereupon he rolled back Francis and Bentinck’s reforms. Nevertheless, while unsuccessful in and of itself, the liberal Constitution of 1812 had an enduring legacy in that it served as a rallying cry by liberal-minded Sicilians during their successful struggle in the years leading up to and during the Risorgimento.
Turning back to Bentinck, he was given another chance to implement his liberal ideas during his tenure as a reformist Governor-General of India (1828-35).
This is the second edition. The first one was published in 1820.
References: OCLC 232583030.