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 watch-words 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 Manhès against the rebels; the movement was ruthlessly quelled and Capobianco hanged in September 1813 (see Greco, Intorno 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 be 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.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)