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

Review of the Sicilian government

Manuscript page showing a synopsis in English of the 15th article of the 1812 Sicilian constitutionManuscript page showing a synopsis in English of the 15th article of the 1812 Sicilian constitutionThe British government's first major involvement in the affairs of Italy began with the French Revolutionary Wars and continued until Napoleon's abdication in 1814. Between 1806 and 1811 the emperor had succeeded in extending French rule to the whole of peninsular Italy. Britain's priority at this period was to safeguard the Savoy and Bourbon regimes on their islands of Sardinia and Sicily, respectively.

The manuscript featured here contains an account of events in Sicily, with particular reference to British involvement. The author, John Goodwin, was British consul at Palermo from June 1834 until his death in 1869. This is one of five manuscripts by him on Sicilian affairs (the others cover contemporary politics, industry and agriculture) from the Foreign Office library.

In December 1798, faced with a French invasion of Naples, Nelson had overseen the temporary evacuation of Ferdinand IV (III in Sicily) to Palermo. In 1806 the royal family were forced into a second period of exile which, guaranteed by British protection until 1814, lasted nine years. 

A proposal to reform the island’s feudal parliament was supported by the British envoy to the Sicilian court, Lord William Bentinck (1774-1839), who arrived in Palermo in 1811. On 12 July 1812 the general parlamento approved a new constitution that established, among other reforms, parliamentary institutions based on the Westminster model. The image shown here contains a synopsis in English of the 15th article of the 1812 constitution.

The new parliament met in 1813, but Bentinck, who was also commander-in- chief of British forces on the island, became disillusioned; and the British government, which had previously tolerated his interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom, withdrew its support. The parliament was dissolved in 1815, on Ferdinand's return to Naples, and the constitution became defunct with the union of the two states as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1816.

However, the British-designed Sicilian constitution of 1812 was to be an inspiration for many Italian liberals in the decades leading up to the Risorgimento, and as late as 1848 there was an attempt to resuscitate it.

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