Prince Giuseppe Emanuele Ventimiglia
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Prince Giuseppe Emanuele Ventimiglia
Prince of Belmonte
Tenure1777  – 1814
Other namesGiuseppe Emanuele Ventimiglia Cottone
Known forSicilian Constitution 1812
BornPalermo, Sicily
DiedParis, France
NationalitySicilian
Occupationlandowner, member of the Sicilian Parliament

Member of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Sicily, was instrumental along with Paolo Balsamo and his uncle Carlo Cottone prince of Castelnuovo for the improvement of the quality of life of the Sicilian people, leading the project for the abolition of feudal rights in Sicily in 1806 and for the redaction of the Sicilian Constitution of 1812.

Life

Giuseppe Emanuele Ventimiglia was born in Palermo in 1766, the first son of Prince Vincenzo and his wife Anna Maria Cottone di Castelnuovo. Since an early age he was sent to Rome to study in the Collegio del Nazareno and then for a grand tour of Europe, going through Italy, Switzerland, the German Empire, Hungary and Poland. During this last stop of the tur he made acquaintance with Stanislao Poniatowski and accompanied him for his encounter with Catherine the great. During this journey with the Empress he visited Kiev and Kherson, sailing on the Dnieper river. Once in Crimea he came back through Moldavia and Valachia, stopping at Bucharest, then through Prussia, Saxony then France and finally England. Back in Paris, knew there his cousin Charlotte Ventimille, belonging to the French branch of his family, and he married her, before going back to Palermo with her.

The cultural life in Palermo was led by a circle of intellectuals gravitating around his uncle Carlo, Prince of Castelnuovo, and he had the chance to meet the astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi and the economist Paolo Balsamo amongst others. He joined the fight to keep open the Accademia Palermitana degli Studi, threatened by King Ferdinand who wanted to clear it up from liberal influences and hand it back to the Jesuits. Because of his ideas he became one of the key figures of the new Sicilian society under the British protectorate over the island: he was held in great esteem by British prime minister Charles Grey for a possible Anglo-Sicilian alliance to overshadow the Austrian influences of Queen Maria Carolina and her entourage, who were more favourable to the French of Murat.

To this end, Ventimiglia formed a militia of 30.000 armed men "for the preservation of the existing form of government, of the properties of the individuals, and the privileges of the various orders of society". Angst these privileges there was one that Ventimiglia considered intolerable: a fixed donation to Naples not sustained by any formal right and that was more resembling a medieval "donatio"; he proposed its replacement with a land tax to be based on a land registry, to ve eventually integrated with a form of indirect taxation only if the former were to be insufficient.

He openly sustained Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, brother in law of the king, and asked the Queen to dismiss the Neapolitan ministers (especially Medici) and also the creation of an independent Sicilian administration, one where the barons could have a meaningful role in the government of the affairs of Sicily once Naples had been conquered back. Along with other 43 aristocrats, Ventimiglia was arrested in the night between the 19th and the 20th of July 1811 and locked up with three others in the Castle of Saint James on the island of Favignana. The formal accusation was based on a series of intercepted letters in which the prince proved to have a secret correspondence with the Prince Regent, asking for a British intervention (even armed if necessary) to protect and defend the rights of the Sicilian population against the will of the Crown. He remained imprisoned notwithstanding his poor health until the 20th of January 1812 when he was freed upon the intervention of lord Bentinck.

Immediately Ventimiglia and others started working on a draft for a new Sicilian Constitution, modelled after the British one that he considered the ideal median way between monarchy and democracy. These works resulted in the Sicilian constitution of 1812. At the same time, the ties with England were made even more apparent through the appointment of lord Bentinck to the office of Foreign Secretary, while Britain was keeping the island under her protection against the French.

With the Restauration, King Ferdinand officially regained control of Sicily and as a result, Ventimiglia and his collaborators were dismissed. As an extreme measure to try and save the Sicilian Constitution he had loved so much and on whose drafting process he had spent so much effort for a decade, following the advice of his friend the Duke of Orleans, he went to Paris where he was received by King Louis XVIII of France who, even if congratulating him profusely for his achievements, did not undertake any formal obligation to put pressure on the Borbonic administration for the assurance of safeguards to the advantage of the Sicilian people or the keeping of the Constitution.

Died in Paris, undermined by tuberculosis in October 1814.

Honours

Cavaliere dell'Insigne e Reale Ordine di San Gennaro

References

  • Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (in Italian). Rome: Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana. 1960-2018.
  • C. W. Crawley, England and the Sicilian Constitution of 1812, The English Historical Review, vol. 55, No. 218 (Apr 1940), pp. 251-274
  • D. Gregory, Sicily: The Insecure Base, A history of the British occupation of Sicily 1806-1815, London and Toronto, 1988.

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