Fabrizio Ruffo

Fabrizio Ruffo

Fabrizio Ruffo (September 16, 1744 - December 13, 1827) was an Italian cardinal and politician, who led the popular anti-republican "Sanfedismo" movement (whose members were known as the "Sanfedisti").


Ruffo was born at San Lucido in Calabria, then part of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. His father, Litterio Ruffo, was duke of Baranello, and his mother, Giustiniana, was of the Roman family of Colonna. Fabrizio owed his education to his uncle, Tommaso Cardinal Ruffo, then dean of the College of Cardinals. In early life he secured the favour of Giovanni Angelo Braschi, who in 1775 became Pope Pius VI. Ruffo was placed by the pope among the "chierici di camera", the clerks who formed the papal civil and financial service. He was later promoted to treasurer-general, a post which carried with it the ministry of war. Ruffo's conduct in office was diversely judged. Pietro Colletta, the historian of Naples, speaks of him as corrupt, and Jomini repeats the charge.

Ruffo's biographer, Sachinelli, says that he incurred hostility by restricting the feudal powers of some of the landowners in the Papal States. In 1791 he was removed from the treasurership, but was created cardinal on September 29, though he was not in orders and in fact never became a priest. Ruffo went to Naples, where he was named administrator of the royal domain of Caserta, and received the abbey of S. Sophia in Benevento "in commendam".

When in December 1798 the French troops advanced on Naples, Ruffo fled to Palermo with the royal family. He was chosen to head a royalist movement in Calabria, where his family, though impoverished by debt, exercised large feudal powers. He was named vicar-general on January 25, 1800. On February 8 he landed at La Cortona with a small following, and began to raise the so-called "army of the faith" in association with Michele Pezza, "Fra Diavolo", and other brigand leaders. Backed by the Russian fleet of Admiral Ushakov, Ruffo had no difficulty in upsetting the Parthenopean Republican government established by the French, and by June had advanced to Naples. Possibly exceeding his authority, he promised the Neapolitan republicans immunity from reprisals and obtained their surrender in June, 1799. In the meantime, however, Admiral Horatio Nelson appeared with his fleet; he called the cardinal to task for his leniency, and revoked the terms of surrender. The republicans, it was asserted, had surrendered under terms that were unclear. Their leader, Francesco Caracciolo, was ignominiously executed aboard Nelson's flagship, June 30, and a general massacre of republican sympathizers in Naples followed.

The campaign gave rise to much controversy among nineteenth-century historians. Ruffo appears to have lost favour with the king by showing a tendency to spare the republicans. He resigned his vicar-generalship to the prince of Cassero, and during the second French occupation and the reigns of Joseph Bonaparte and Joachim Murat he lived quietly in Naples. Some notice was taken of him by Napoleon, but he never held an important post. After the restoration of the Bourbons he was received into favour. During the revolutionary troubles of 1822 he was consulted by the king, and was even in office for a very short time as a loyalist minister.


*cite book|first=Giovanni |last=Ruffo|title=Il cardinale Fabrizio Ruffo tra psicologia e storia: L'uomo, il politico, il sanfedista|year=1999
*cite book|first=Domenico |last=Petromasi|title=Alla riconquista del Regno: La marcia del cardinale Ruffo dalle Calabrie a Napoli|year=1994.



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