Gladstone's Charges against Francis V, Duke of Modena, March 7, 1861

The following attack upon Francis V, Duke of Modena (King Francis I), was made in the House of Commons, March 7, 1861, by William Ewart Gladstone, de facto Chancellor of the Exchequer. This appears to be the first time since the death of the Cardinal called Duke of York, that the heir of line of King Charles I was the subject of parliamentary debate.

In July 1861 a correspondence ensued between Gladstone and Constantine Phipps (called Marquis of Normanby) in which Phipps showed Gladstone's chief charge to be false. Lord Derby responded to Gladstone in a speech in the House of Lords, July 22, 1861. Finally Constantine Phipps (called Marquis of Normanby) published a detailed analysis of Gladstone's charges in his A Vindication of the Duke of Modena in which he totally exonerated the Duke of Modena of all wrongdoing.

It is not surprising that the attack upon the Duke of Modena was made by a leading member of the Whig Party, and that it was responded to by a leading member of the Conservative Party.

Now, Sir, unfortunately there is, at least there was, a deplorable solidarity among the Italian governments, and as sometimes in a miniature you see represented with the greatest force the features of the countenance, so there was one of the smallest of these states, the most insignificant of these governments, which perhaps presented the fullest and truest development of the system - I mean the government of a sovereign to whom no allusion has been made by my honourable friend the member for Dundalk, the late Grand [sic] Duke of Modena - one of those whom, of course, we ought to regard with pity, and even with veneration, as a righteous ruler driven out from his states by the contemptible intrigues of Victor Emmanuel. Well, Sir, here are again a set of original documents. Perhaps the honourable member will say that they are forgeries. [Mr. Hennessy: Hear, hear!] I have never seen the original manuscripts, but I hold in my hand the published book, and no contradiction of that book has to my knowledge or belief ever appeared. Let us have a few specimens of the mode of governing in that country which was above all others a paternal state, which was the pet state of the Austrians, and was steadily supported and uniformly countenance by the Pope. The Pope, who has the thunders of the Vatican ready to launch at the head of Victor Emmanuel, and to brand his crimes, never had any words except those of courtesy and kindness for the Duke of Modena, to whose deeds I am about to refer. These are documents, of a great number of which I have not been able to make myself master, but I think that the specimens which I shall give you will be sufficient.

[First Charge]

The first which I shall cite was written in the year 1853, a time of profound peace. It does not mention whether the persons referred to were criminal offenders, but I have no doubt that they were. This document is signed "Francesco", and dated "Reggio, May 22, 1853", and is addressed to the Minister "di Buon Governo", which I may translate the Home Office, although my honourable friend the Home Secretary, who I am glad to see is not in the House, would not thank me for the comparison. The decree refers to a batch of 254 criminals, and orders that they shall all be sent to another prison, and then continues, observing that about one-third of them, who have received but very slight sentences from the tribunals, are to finish their sentences within the current year, "We decree by our sovereign authority that none of them" - eighty or ninety - "shall be restored to society until they shall have given a proof of reformed conduct in the place where they are to be confined, and shall have acquired some trade." This is the system of government with regard to the security of the people as respects their personal rights. [Sir George Bowyer: The offence?] The document does not state the offence. My case is that they were offences that had been tried and judged not by Italian juries but by Italian judges; not persons of opulence and station, like those of this country, but receiving pittances not sufficient for a moderate livelihood, and holding those pittances at the absolute will of the Crown. The duke of Modena said, "I see that these sentences expire within the year, and therefore I decree that the imprisonment of the whole shall be prolonged until the parties shall individually give satisfactory proofs of reformation."

[Phipps' Refutation of First Charge]

[Second Charge]

Again, a young man of seventeen, named Granaj, of Carrara, was found guilty of murder or manslaughter. the law of Modena does not permit capital punishment under the age of twenty-one. After the trial the Duke of Modena sends forth an edict declaring that notwithstanding the law the young man shall be executed. [Sir George Bowyer made an observation which was not heard.] The honourable gentleman seems in some degree acclimated.

[Phipps' Refutation of Second Charge]

[Third Charge]

In another edict I find that the Duke is nauseated by reading three judicial sentences, and his reason is that the crimes are so lightly treated that the punishment is worth nothing at all. The Duke is even more nauseated by finding that previous good conduct has been alleged on the part of the criminals.

[Phipps' Refutation of Third Charge]

[Fourth Charge]

The third thing that nauseates him is that a man named Felice Libbra, who had been the accomplice of some criminal, should be let out of prison when he had exhausted the whole term of his imprisonment. In this case the judges were rebuked and a new trial was ordered. I do not wonder that a smile of incredulity passes over the lips of honourable gentlemen. It ought to do so. It would be wrong that in this age and in this part of the world one should be too ready to believe that such things could take place. But I quote official documents, which I offer for the inspection of honourable gentlemen opposite.

[Phipps' Refutation of Fourth Charge]

[Fifth Charge]

I have told the House of the case of a criminal who did not come under the operation of capital punishment, but in whose case the Duke made an ex post facto law for his execution. Here comes a converse case of a law of remission that is not allowed to be retroactive. The Duke, writing to one of his ministers, describes his affliction relative to the case of some criminals who were entitled to the operation of a mitigating law, and he issues an edict addressed to his "Dear Cocchi", its object being to declare that the mitigating law shall not be applicable to that crime.

[Phipps' Refutation of Fifth Charge]

[Sixth Charge]

Here is another case in which one citizen was killed and others were wounded in a row between the townspeople and the military at Carrara. The order to fire was given, not by the commander of the troops, but by a soldier, without the order of the commander, who was on the spot. The Duke of Modena issued a public edict, stating that, having looked into the case, he was of opinion that the soldier was perfectly justified in firing without the order of his commander, who, he added probably deserved a rebuke for not having given the order to fire.

[Phipps' Refutation of Sixth Charge]

[Seventh Charge]

I will trouble the House with one more document, and if ever there was a document that deserves to be transmitted for the study of posterity it is this. It is a letter of congratulation addressed by the Duke of Modena to his Minister of the Interior. I will state its purport in English. The Duke states that, having examined the list of those admitted to philosophy and the superior faculties in the University from 1848 to 1853, "we have remarked with genuine satisfaction the decreasing number of admissions." He says that these admissions had previously gone to an excess most pernicious to society. "We recognise that these results are owing, not only to the method of examination and the firmness of the professors, but particularly to the firmness of the Minister of the Interior, who is persuaded of the evils that flow from an excess of students and doctors. Wherefore we exhort him, as well as all the professors, to continue always in this salutary path of reducing more and more the number of those who are to be admitted to the faculties and philosophy, and particularly to the faculty of law, which still continues in excess." This is followed up by a positive decree that there shall only be two examinations in the University, that only 150 students shall pass the first, and 80 the second. This is to me a novel view of civil service examinations.

[Phipps' Refutation of Seventh Charge]

This page is maintained by Noel S. McFerran ( and was last updated October 26, 2003.
© Noel S. McFerran 2000-2003.