FRANCIS IV. (1779-1846) duke of Modena, was the son of the archduke Ferdinand, Austrian governor of Lombardy, who acquired the duchy of Modena through his wife Marie Beatrice, heiress of the house of Este as well as of many fiefs of the Malaspina, Pio da Carpi, Pico della Mirandola, Cibò, and other families. At the time of the French invasion (1796) Francis was sent to Vienna to be educated, and in 1809 was appointed governor of Galicia. Later he went to Sardinia, where the exiled King Victor Emmanuel I. and his wife Maria Theresa were living in retirement. The latter arranged a marriage between her daughter Marie Beatrice and Francis, and a secret family compact was made whereby if the king and his two brothers died without male issue, the Salic law would be changed so that Francis should succeed to the kingdom instead of Charles Albert of Carignano (N. Bianchi, Storia della diplomazia europea in Italia, i. 42-43). On the fall of Napoleon in 1814 Francis received the duchy of Modena, including Massa-Carrara and Lunigiana; his mother's advice was "to be above the law ... never to forgive the Republicans of 1796, nor to listen to the complaints of his subjects, whom nothing satisfies; the poorer they are the quieter they are" (Silingardi, "Ciro Menotti," in Rivista europea, Florence, 1880).
The duke was well received at Modena; inordinately ambitious, strong-willed, immensely rich, avaricious but not unintelligent, he soon proved one of the most reactionary despots in Italy. He still hoped to acquire either Piedmont or some other part of northern Italy, and he was in touch with the Sanfedisti and the Concistoro, reactionary Catholic associations opposed to the Carbonari, but not always friendly to Austria. Against the Carbonari and other Liberals he issued the severest edicts, and although there was no revolt at Modena in 1821 as in Piedmont and Naples, he immediately instituted judicial proceedings against the supposed conspirators. Some 350 persons were arrested and tortured, 56 being condemned to death (only a few of them were executed) and 237 to imprisonment; a large number, however, escaped, including Antonio Panizzi (afterwards director of the British Museum). The ferocious police official Besini who conducted the trials was afterwards murdered. The duke actually proposed to Prince Metternich, the Austrian chancellor, an agreement whereby the various Italian rulers were to arrest every Liberal in the country on a certain day, but the project fell through owing to opposition from the courts of Florence and Rome. At the congress of Verona Metternich made another attempt to secure the Piedmontese succession for Francis, but without success. The duke became ever more despotic; Modena swarmed with spies and informers, education was hampered, feudalism strengthened; for the duke hoped to consolidate his power by means of the nobility, and the least expression of liberalism, or even failure to denounce a Carbonaro, involved arrest and imprisonment. But strange to say, in 1830 we find Francis actually coquetting with revolution. Having lost all hope of acquiring the Piedmontese throne, he entered into negotiations with the French Orleanist party with a view to obtaining its support in his plans for extending his dominions. He was thus brought into touch with Ciro Menotti (1798-1831) and the Modenese Liberals; what the nature of the connexion was is still obscure, but it was certainly short-lived and merely served to betray the Carbonari. As soon as Francis learned that a conspiracy was on foot to gain possession of the town, he had Menotti and several other conspirators arrested on the night of the 3rd of February 1831, and sent the famous message to the governor of Reggio: "The conspirators are in my hands; send me the hangman" (there is some doubt as to the authenticity of the actual words). But the revolt broke out in other parts of the duchy and in Romagna, and Francis retired to Mantua with Menotti. A provisional government was formed at Modena which proclaimed that "Italy is one," but the duke returned a few weeks later with Austrian troops, and resistance was easily quelled. Then the political trials began; Menotti and two others were executed, and hundreds condemned to imprisonment. The population was now officially divided into four classes, viz. "very loyal, loyal, less loyal, and disloyal," and the reaction became worse than ever, the duke interfering in the minutest details of administration, such as hospitals, schools, and roads. New methods of procedure were introduced to deal with political trials, but the ministerial cabal by which the country was administered intrigued and squabbled to such an extent that it had to be dismissed.
On the 20th of February 1846 Francis died. Although he had many domestic virtues and charming manners, was charitable in times of famine, and was certainly the ablest of the Italian despots, Liberalism was in his eyes the most heinous of crimes, and his reign is one long record of barbarous persecution.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)