Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848

The Latest Heroic Deed of the House of Bourbon

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 24;
Written: by Engels on May 31, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 1, June 1, 1848.

The House of Bourbon has not yet reached the end of its glorious career. True, its white flag has recently been rather besmirched and its withering lilies are drooping sadly enough. Charles Louis of Bourbon bartered away one dukedom [Lucca] and to abandon a second one [Parma] ignominiously; Ferdinand of Bourbon lost Sicily and in Naples was forced to grant a Constitution to the revolution. Louis Philippe, although only a crypto-Bourbon, nevertheless went the way of all French-Bourbon flesh across the Channel to England. But the Neapolitan Bourbon has avenged the honour of his family brilliantly.

The Chambers are convened at Naples. The opening day is to be used for the decisive battle against the revolution. Campobasso, one of the main police chiefs of the notorious Del Carretto, is surreptitiously recalled from Malta. Large bands of armed Sbirri, led by their old ringleaders, again patrol Toledo Street for the first time in a long while. They disarm the citizens, rip off their coats and force them to cut off their moustaches. May 14, the opening day of the Chambers, draws near. The King demands that the Chambers should pledge themselves under oath not to change anything in the Constitution he has granted. They refuse. The national guard declares itself for the deputies. Negotiations take place, the King gives way and the Ministers resign. The deputies demand that the King should publicise his concessions in the form of an ordinance. The King promises such an ordinance for the following day. During the night, however, all troops stationed in the vicinity of Naples move into the city. The national guard realises that it has been betrayed and throws up barricades which are manned by 5,000 to 6,000 men. But they are opposed by 20,000 soldiers, partially Neapolitans and partially Swiss, equipped with 18 cannon. Between them stand the 20,000 lazzaroni [17] of Naples who are not participating for the time being.

On the morning of the 15th, the Swiss are still declaring that they will not attack the people. One of the police agents, however, who has mingled with the people, fires upon the soldiers in the Strada de Toledo. Thereupon fort St. Elmo at once hoists the red flag and on this signal the soldiers rush at the barricades. A horrible massacre begins. The national guards defend themselves heroically against the superior strength of four to one and against the cannon shots of the soldiers. Fighting rages from 10 a.m. until midnight. The people would have won in spite of the numerical superiority of the soldiery had the miserable conduct of the French Admiral Baudin not induced the lazzaroni to join the royal side.

Admiral Baudin was lying with a fairly large, French fleet before Naples. A simple but timely threat to fire upon the castle and the forts would have forced Ferdinand to yield. But Baudin, one of Louis Philippe’s old servants who was used to the earlier period of the entente cordiale[18] when the existence of the French fleet was merely tolerated, remained inactive, thereby causing the lazzaroni, who were already leaning towards the people, to join the troops.

This action of the Neapolitan lumpenproletariat decided the defeat of the revolution. Swiss guardsmen, Neapolitan soldiers and lazzaroni combined pounced upon the defenders of the barricades. The palaces along Toledo Street, which had been swept clean with grape-shot, collapsed under the cannon-balls of the troops. The frantic mob of victors tore into the houses, stabbed the men, speared the children, violated the women only to murder them afterwards, plundered everything in sight and then set fire to the pillaged dwellings. The lazzaroni proved to be the greediest and the Swiss the most brutal. The base acts and barbarities accompanying the victory of the well-armed and four times stronger Bourbon mercenaries and the always sanfedistic[19] lazzaroni over the nearly destroyed national guard of Naples, are indescribable.

Eventually, things went too far even for Admiral Baudin. Droves of refugees arrived on his ships and told of the events in the city. The French blood of his sailors was brought to boiling point. Now at last, when the victory of the King was assured, he contemplated a bombardment. The slaughter gradually came to an end. One no longer murdered in the streets but limited oneself to pillage and rape. The prisoners, however, were led off to the forts and shot without further ado. It was all over by midnight. Ferdinand’s absolute rule was restored in fact and the honour of the House of Bourbon was purified with Italian blood.

That is the latest heroic deed of the House of Bourbon and as always it is the Swiss who are fighting the people on behalf of the Bourbons. On August 10, 1792, on July 29, 1830, and during the Neapolitan battles of 1820[20], everywhere we find the descend ants of Tell and Winkelried serving as mercenaries in the pay of the royal family whose name has for years been synonymous throughout Europe with that of absolute monarchy. Now all this will of course soon come to an end. After long disputes, the more civilised cantons have succeeded in prohibiting the military capitulations.[21] The sturdy sons of the original free Swiss League will have to give up kicking Neapolitan women with their feet, revelling in the pillage of rebellious towns and, in case of defeat, being immortalised by Thorwaldsen’s lions like the fallen of August 10.

The House of Bourbon, however, may for the time being breathe a sigh of relief. Nowhere has the reaction which set in again after February 24 [overthrow of Louis Philippe] achieved such a decisive victory as at Naples and this in spite of the fact that the first of this year’s revolutions began precisely in Naples and Sicily. The revolutionary tidal wave, however, which has inundated Old Europe, cannot be checked by absolutist conspiracies and coups d'état. By his counter-revolution of May 15, Ferdinand of Bourbon has laid the cornerstone of the Italian republic. Already Calabria is in flames, in Palermo a Provisional Government has been formed and the Abruzzi will also erupt. The inhabitants of all the exploited provinces will move upon Naples and, united with the people of that city, will take revenge on the royal traitor and his brutal mercenaries. And when Ferdinand falls he will at least have had the satisfaction of having lived and died a true Bourbon.