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Formation early 1800s
Purpose/focus Conspiratorial organisation
Location Kingdom of Naples
Kingdom of Sardinia
Papal States
Duchy of Modena

The Carbonari ("charcoal burners"[1]) were groups of secret revolutionary societies founded in early 19th-century Italy. Although their goals often had a patriotic and liberal focus, they lacked a clear political agenda[2]. They were a focus for those unhappy with the political situation in Italy following 1815, especially in the south of the Italian peninsula[3]. Members of the Carbonari, and those influenced by them did take part in important events in the process of Italian Unification (often referred to as the Risorgimento) and in the further development of Italian nationalism.

In the north of Italy other groups, such as the Adelfia and the Filadelfia were more important[4].



They were organized in the fashion of Freemasonry, broken into small cells scattered across Italy. They sought the creation of a liberal, unified Italy.

The membership was separated into two classes—apprentice and master. There were two ways to become a master, through serving as an apprentice for at least six months[5] or by being a Freemason on entry.[6] Their initiation rituals were structured around the trade of charcoal-selling, hence their name.


Although it is not clear where they were originally established,[7] they first came to prominence in the Kingdom of Naples during the Napoleonic wars.[8]

They began by resisting the French occupiers, notably Joachim Murat, the Bonapartist King of Naples. However, once the wars ended, they became a nationalist organisation with a marked anti-Austrian tendency and were instrumental in organising revolution in Italy in 1820–1821 and 1831. The 1820 revolution began in Naples against King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, who was forced to make concessions and promise a constitutional monarchy. This success inspired Carbonari in the north of Italy to revolt too. In 1821, the Kingdom of Sardinia obtained a constitutional monarchy as a result of Carbonari actions, as well as other reforms of liberalism. However, the Holy Alliance would not tolerate this state of affairs and in February, 1821, sent an army to crush the revolution in Naples. The King of Sardinia also called for Austrian intervention. Faced with an enemy overwhelmingly superior in number, the Carbonari revolts collapsed and their leaders fled into exile. In 1830, Carbonari took part in the July Revolution in France. This gave them hope that a successful revolution might be staged in Italy. A bid in Modena was an outright failure, but in February 1831, several cities in the Papal States rose up and flew the Carbonari tricolour. A volunteer force marched on Rome but was destroyed by Austrian troops who had intervened at the request of Pope Gregory XVI. After the failed uprisings of 1831, the governments of the various Italian states cracked down on the Carbonari, who now virtually ceased to exist. The more astute members realised they could never take on the Austrian army in open battle and joined a new movement, Giovane Italia ("Young Italy") led by the nationalist and Freemason Giuseppe Mazzini.

In Portugal

The Carbonari (Carbonária) was first founded in Portugal in 1822 but was soon disbanded. A new organization of the same name and claiming to be its continuation was founded in 1896 by Artur Augusto Duarte da Luz de Almeida. This organization was active in efforts to educate the people and was involved in various antimonarchist conspiracies. Most notably, Carbonari members were active in the assasination of King Carlos I of Portugal and his heir, Prince Luís Filipe, Duke of Braganza in 1908. Carbonari members also played a part in the Republican 5 October 1910 revolution.

Relations with the Catholic Church

The Carbonari were anti-clerical in both their philosophy and program. The Papal constitution Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo and the encyclical Qui Pluribus were directed against them. The controversial document, the Alta Vendita, which called for a liberal or modernist takeover of the Catholic Church, was attributed to the Sicilian Carbonari.

Prominent Carbonari

Prominent members of the Carbonari included:

both were imprisoned by the Austrians for years, many of which they spent in Spielberg fortress in Brno, Southern Moravia. After his release, Pellico wrote a book Le mie prigioni, describing in detail his ten-year ordeal. Maroncelli lost one leg in prison and was instrumental in translating and editing of Pellico's book in Paris (1833).

In literature

The story Vanina Vanini by Stendhal involved a hero in the Carbonari and a heroine who became obsessed by this. It was made into a film in 1961.

Robert Louis Stevenson's story "The Pavilion on the Links" features the Carbonari as the villains of the plot.

Katherine Neville's novel The Fire (book) features the Carbonari as part of a plot involving a mystical chess service.

In Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White" the character of Professor Pesca is a member of 'The Brotherhood', an organization placed contemporaneously with, and similarly featured as, the Carbonari. Clyde Hyder suspects that the model for Prof. Pesca was Gabriele Rossetti, who was a member of the Carbonari, as well as an Italian teacher resident in London during the 1840s.

Anton Felix Schindler's biography of Beethoven "Beethoven as I Knew Him" states that his close connection with the composer was begun in 1815 when the latter requested an account of Schindlers involvement with a riot of Napoleon's supporters in Vienna, who were agitating against the Carbonari uprisings. Schindler was arrested and lost a year at college. Beethoven was sympathetic and, as a result, became a close friend of Schindler.

The Carbonari are mentioned prominently in the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Adventure of the Red Circle" (1911), written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Carbonari are also mentioned briefly in the book "Resurrection Men" by T. K. Welsh, in which the main character's father is a member of the secret organisation.

They feature in Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard as opponents of the vampire-backed Austrian Empire.

Grandfather of Mr. Settembrini in the novel The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann is said to be Carbonari.

The Carbonari are mentioned in The Hundred Days by Patrick O'Brian, part of the Aubrey-Maturin series.

See also


  1. ^ "CARBONARI (an Italian word meaning charcoal-burners)" from the Carbonari article in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
  2. ^ Denis Mack Smith, in The Making of Italy (1968) refers to their 'thoroughly indeterminate' political program and to carbonari as a 'generalized movement of protest'
  3. ^ Denis Mack Smith, in the Making of Italy (1868) and Christopher Duggan, in The Force of Destiny (2008)
  4. ^ Denis Mack Smith, in the Making of Italy (1868) and Christopher Duggan, in The Force of Destiny (2008)
  5. ^ "apprentice could rise to the grade of a master before the end of six months." From Carbonari in the Catholic Encyclopedia
  6. ^ "Freemasons could enter the Carbonari as masters at once." From Carbonari in the Catholic Encyclopedia
  7. ^ "It is not certain whether the Carbonari, as a political society, had its first organization in France or Italy." According to the book Foreign Policy and Wars in Europe (no mor einfo, besides that it is an old book) "charcoal-burners" from the cheif occupation of the people in the Abruzzi, a rugged district of the central Apennines, where their first association was founded in 1808. From the Carbonari article in the Catholic Encyclopedia
  8. ^ "The Carbonari were probably an offshoot of the Freemasons, from whom they differed in important particulars, and first began to assume importance in southern Italy during the Napoleonic wars." From the CARBONARI article in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CARBONARI (an Italian word meaning "charcoal-burners"), the name of certain secret societies of a revolutionary tendency which played. an active part in the history of Italy and France early in the 19th century. Societies of a similar nature had existed in other countries and epochs, but the stories of the derivation of the Carbonari from mysterious brotherhoods of the middle ages are purely fantastic. The Carbonari were probably an offshoot of the Freemasons, from whom they differed in important particulars, and first began to assume importance in southern Italy during the Napoleonic wars. In the reign (1808-1815) of Joachim Murat a number of secret societies arose in various parts of the country with the object of freeing it from foreign rule and obtaining constitutional liberties; they were ready to support the Neapolitan Bourbons or Murat, if either had fulfilled these aspirations. Their watchwords were freedom and independence, but they were not agreed as to any particular form of government to be afterwards established. Murat's minister of police was a certain Malghella (a Genoese), who favoured the Carbonari movement, and was indeed the instigator of all that was Italian in the king's policy. Murat himself had at first protected the sectarians, especially when he was quarrelling with Napoleon, but later, Lord William Bentinck entered into negotiations with them from Sicily, where he represented Great Britain, through their leader Vincenzo Federici (known as Capobianco), holding out promises of a constitution for Naples similar to that which had been established in Sicily under British auspices in 1812. Some Carbonarist disorders having broken out in Calabria, Murat sent General Manhes against the rebels; the movement was ruthlessly quelled and Capobianco hanged in Septemlber 1813 (see Greco, Inlorno al tentativo dei Carbonari di Citeriore Calabria nel 1813). But Malghella continued secretly to protect the Carbonari and even to organize them, so that on the return of the Bourbons in 1815 King Ferdinand IV. found his kingdom swarming with them. The society comprised nobles, officers of the army, small landlords, government officials, peasants and even priests. Its organization was both curious and mysterious, and had a fantastic ritual full of symbols taken from the Christian religion, as well as from the trade of charcoal-burning, which was extensively practised in the mountains of the Abruzzi and Calabria. A lodge was called a vendita (sale), members saluted each other as buoni cugini (good cousins), God was the "Grand Master of the Universe," Christ the "Honorary Grand Master," also known as "the Lamb," and every Carbonaro was pledged to deliver the Lamb from the Wolf, i.e. tyranny. Its red, blue and black flag was the standard of revolution in Italy until substituted by the red, white and green in 1831.

When King Ferdinand felt himself securely re-established at Naples he determined to exterminate the Carbonari, and to this end his minister of police, the prince of Canosa, set up another secret society called the Calderai del Contrappeso (braziers of the counterpoise), recruited from the brigands and the dregs of the people, who committed hideous excesses against supposed Liberals, but failed to exterminate the movement. On the contrary, Carbonarism flourished and spread to other parts of Italy, and countless lodges sprang up, their adherents comprising persons in all ranks of society, including, it is said, some of royal blood, who had patriotic sentiments and desired to see Italy free from foreigners. In Romagna the movement was taken up with enthusiasm, but it also led to a certain number of murders owing to the fiery character of the Romagnols, although its criminal record is on the whole a very small one. Among the foreigners who joined it for love of Italy was Lord Byron. The first rising actively promoted by the Carbonari was the Neapolitan revolution of 1820. Several regiments were composed entirely of persons affiliated to the society, and on the 1st of July a military mutiny broke out at Monteforte, led by two officers named Morelli and Silvati, to the cry of "God, the King and the Constitution." The troops sent against them, under General Pepe, himself a Carbonaro, sympathized with the mutineers, and the king, being powerless to resist, granted the constitution (13th of July), which he swore on the altar to observe. But the Carbonari were unable to carry on the government, and after the separatist revolt of Sicily had broken out the king went to the congress of Laibach, and obtained from the emperor of Austria the loan of an army with which to restore the autocracy. He returned to Naples early in 1821 with 50,000 Austrians, defeated the constitutionalists under Pepe, dismissed parliament, and set to work to persecute all who had been in any way connected with the movement.

A similar movement broke out in Piedmont in March 1821. Here as in Naples the Carbonari comprised many men of rank, such as Santorre di Santarosa, Count San Marzano, Giacinto di Collegno, and Count Moffa di Lisio, all officers in the army, and they were more or less encouraged by Charles Albert, the heir-presumptive to the throne. The rising was crushed, and a number of the leaders were condemned to death or long terms of imprisonment, but most of them escaped. At Milan there was only the vaguest attempt at conspiracy; but Silvio Pellico, Maroncelli and Count Confalonieri were implicated as having invited the Piedmontese to invade Lombardy, and were condemned to pass many years in the dungeons of the Spielberg.

The French revolution of 1830 had its echo in Italy, and Carbonarism raised its head in Parma, Modena and Romagna the following year. In the papal states a society called the Sanfedisti or Bande della Santa Fede had been formed to checkmate the Carbonari, and their behaviour and character resembled those of the Calderai of Naples. In 1831 Romagna and the Marches rose in rebellion and shook off the papal yoke with astonishing ease. At Parma the duchess, having rejected the demand for a constitution, left the city and returned under Austrian protection. At Modena, Duke Francis IV., the worst of all Italian tyrants, was expelled by a Carbonarist rising, and a dictatorship was established under Biagio Nardi on the 5th of February. Francis returned with an Austrian force and hanged the conspirators, including Ciro Menotti. The Austrians occupied Romagna and restored the province to the pope, but though many arrests of Carbonari were made there were no executions. Among those implicated in the Carbonarist movement was Louis Napoleon, who even in after years, when he was ruling France as Napoleon III., never quite forgot that he had once been a conspirator, a fact which influenced his Italian policy. The Austrians retired from Romagna and the Marches in July 1831, but Carbonarism and anarchy having broken out again, they returned, while the French occupied Ancona. The Carbonari after these events ceased to have much importance, their place being taken by the more energetic Giovane Italia Society presided over by Mazzini.

In France, Carbonarism began to take root about 1820, and was more thoroughly organized than in Italy. The example of the Spanish and Italian revolutions incited the French Carbonari, and risings occurred at Belfort, Thouars, La Rochelle and other towns in 1821, which though easily quelled revealed the nature and organization of the movement. The Carbonarist lodges proved active centres of discontent until 1830, when, after contributing to the July revolution of that year, most of their members adhered to Louis Philippe's government.

The Carbonarist movement undoubtedly played an important part in the Italian Risorgimento, and if it did not actively contribute to the wars and revolutions of 1848-49, 1859-60 and 1866, it prepared the way for those events. One of its chief merits was that it brought Italians of different classes and provinces together, and taught them to work in harmony for the overthrow of tyranny and foreign rule.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. - MUCh information on the Carbonari will he found in R. M. Johnston's Napoleonic Empire in Southern Italy (2 vols., London, 1904.), which contains a full bibliography; D. Spadoni's Sette, cospirazioni, e cospiratori (Turin, 1904) is an excellent monograph; Memoirs of the Secret Societies of Southern Italy, said to be by one Bertoldi or Bartholdy (London, 1821, Ital. transl. by A. M. Cavallotti, Rome, 1904); Saint-Edme, Constitution et organisation des Carbonari; P. Colletta, Storia del Reame di Napoli (Florence, 1848); B. King, A History of Italian Unity (London, 1899), with bibliography. (L. V.*)

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