Naples:life,death &
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entry Oct 2006

From Robert Southey’s ( 1774-1843) Life of Nelson.

The execution of Francesco Caracciolo, admiral of the navy of the Neapolitan Republic

Caracciolo was brought on board at nine in the forenoon, and the trial began at ten. It lasted two hours. He averred in his defence that he had acted under compulsion, having been compelled to serve as a common soldier till he consented to take  command of the fleet. This, the apologists of Lord Nelson say, he failed in proving. They forget that the possibility of proving it was not allowed him, for he was brought to trial within an hour after he was legally in arrest; and how, in that time, was he to collect his witnesses? He was found guilty, and sentenced to death; and Nelson gave orders that the sentence should be carried into effect that evening, at five o’clock, on board the Sicilian frigate La Minerve, by hanging him at the fore-yard-arm till sunset, when the body was to be cut down and thrown into  the sea. Caracciolo requested Lieutenant Parkinson, under  whose custody he was placed, to intercede with Lord Nelson for a second trial — for this, among other reasons, that Count Thurn, who presided at the court-martial, was notoriously his personal enemy. Nelson made answer that the prisoner had been fairly tried by the officers of his own country, and he could not interfere, forgetting that if he felt himself justified in ordering the trial and the execution, no human being could ever have questioned the propriety of his interfering on the side of mercy.

Caracciolo then entreated that he might be shot. ‘I am an old man, sir,’ said he [he was forty-seven]; ‘I leave no family to  lament me, and therefore cannot be supposed to be very anxious about prolonging my life, but the disgrace of being hanged is dreadful to me.’ When this was repeated to Nelson, he only told the lieutenant, with much agitation, to go and attend his duty. A a last hope Caracciolo asked the lieutenant if he thought an application to Lady Hamilton would be beneficial. Parkinson went to seek her. She was not to be seen on this occasion — but she was present at the execution. She had the most devoted attachment to the Neapolitan court; and the hatred which she felt against those whom she regarded as its enemies made her at this time forget what was due to the character of her sex, as well of her country. Here also a faithful historian is called upon to pronounce a severe and unqualified condemnation of Nelson’s conduct. Had he the authority of His Sicilian Majesty for proceeding as he did. If so, why was not that authority produced? If not, why were the proceedings hurried on without it? . . .

The body was carried out to a considerable distance, and sunk in the bay, with three double-headed shot, weighing two hundred and fifty pounds, tied to its legs. Between two and three weeks afterwards, when the king [Ferdinand IV] was on board the Foudroyant, a Neapolitan fisherman came to the ship, and solemnly declared that Caracciolo had risen from the bottom of the sea, and was coming as fast as he could to Naples, swimming half out of the water. Such an account was listened to like a tale of idle credulity. The day being fair, Nelson, to please the king, stood out to sea; but the ship had not proceeded far before a body was distinctly seen, upright in the water, and approaching them. It was soon recognized to be, indeed, the corpse of Caracciolo, which had risen and floated, while the great weights attached to the legs kept the body in a position like that of a living man. A fact so extraordinary astonished the king, and perhaps excited some feeling of superstitious fear akin to regret. He gave permission for the body to be taken on shore and receive Christian burial.

related entries:

        Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel      Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton      On Trial for their Reputations

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