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Existence 1811-1848
Type Paramasonic
Purpose Conspiratorial organisation
Location Kingdom of Naples
Kingdom of Sardinia
Papal States
Duchy of Modena
Affiliation Calderari (expelled in 1813)

The Carbonari ("charcoal burners"[1]) were groups of secret revolutionary societies founded in early 19th-century Italy, and France. Although their goals often had a patriotic and liberal focus, they lacked a clear political agenda[2]. They were a focus for those unhappy with the political situation in Italy following 1815, especially in the south of the Italian peninsula[3]. Members of the Carbonari, and those influenced by them did take part in important events in the process of Italian Unification (often referred to as the Risorgimento) and in the further development of Italian nationalism.

In the north of Italy other groups, such as the Adelfia and the Filadelfia were more important[3].


They were organised in the fashion of Freemasonry, broken into small cells scattered across Italy. They sought the creation of a liberal, unified Italy.

The membership was separated into two classes—apprentice and master. There were two ways to become a master, through serving as an apprentice for at least six months[4] or by being a Freemason on entry.[5] Their initiation rituals were structured around the trade of charcoal-selling, hence their name.


Resistance to Murat, Calderari break

Carbonari originally came into play against Joachim Murat, who declared himself King of Naples.

The organisation first became prominent in the Kingdom of Naples in 1812 during the Napoleonic Wars and has been called an "offshoot of the Freemasons".[6] It was mobilised from Sicily by emissaries of Maria Carolina of Austria, the philomasonic queen-consort of Naples and Sicily, to undermine Joachim Murat, who had taken the peninsula kingdom of her husband Ferdinand IV of Naples during the First French Empire's Napoleonic campaigns.[7] Some publications claim that it found its origins amongst the "charcoal-burners" in Abruzzi around 1808, but was largely obscure until it gained support from Maria Carolina.[8][9]

During this early stage, the Carbonari was a broad-based movement, it included amongst its ranks monarchists, republicans, theocrats and constitutionalists. Essentially their immediate driving motivation was to remove the influence of revolutionised France and its puppet-monarch Murat.

Unionism and revolution

However, once the wars ended, they became a nationalist organisation with a marked anti-Austrian tendency and were instrumental in organising revolution in Italy in 1820–1821 and 1831. The 1820 revolution began in Naples against King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, who was forced to make concessions and promise a constitutional monarchy. This success inspired Carbonari in the north of Italy to revolt too. In 1821, the Kingdom of Sardinia obtained a constitutional monarchy as a result of Carbonari actions, as well as other reforms of liberalism. However, the Holy Alliance would not tolerate this state of affairs and in February, 1821, sent an army to crush the revolution in Naples. The King of Sardinia also called for Austrian intervention. Faced with an enemy overwhelmingly superior in number, the Carbonari revolts collapsed and their leaders fled into exile.

In 1830, Carbonari took part in the July Revolution in France. This gave them hope that a successful revolution might be staged in Italy. A bid in Modena was an outright failure, but in February 1831, several cities in the Papal States rose up and flew the Carbonari tricolour. A volunteer force marched on Rome but was destroyed by Austrian troops who had intervened at the request of Pope Gregory XVI. After the failed uprisings of 1831, the governments of the various Italian states cracked down on the Carbonari, who now virtually ceased to exist. The more astute members realised they could never take on the Austrian army in open battle and joined a new movement, Giovane Italia ("Young Italy") led by the nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini.

In Portugal

The Carbonari (Carbonária) was first founded in Portugal in 1822 but was soon disbanded. A new organisation of the same name and claiming to be its continuation was founded in 1896 by Artur Augusto Duarte da Luz de Almeida. This organisation was active in efforts to educate the people and was involved in various antimonarchist conspiracies. Most notably, Carbonari members were active in the assassination of King Carlos I of Portugal and his heir, Prince Luís Filipe, Duke of Braganza in 1908. Carbonari members also played a part in the Republican 5 October 1910 revolution. One commonality among them was their hostility to the Church and they contributed to the republic's anticlericalism.[10]

Relations with the Catholic Church

The Carbonari were anti-clerical in both their philosophy and programme. The Papal constitution Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo and the encyclical Qui Pluribus were directed against them. The controversial document, the Alta Vendita, which called for a liberal or modernist takeover of the Catholic Church, was attributed to the Sicilian Carbonari.

Prominent Carbonari

Prominent members of the Carbonari included:

both were imprisoned by the Austrians for years, many of which they spent in Spielberg fortress in Brno, Southern Moravia. After his release, Pellico wrote a book Le mie prigioni, describing in detail his ten-year ordeal. Maroncelli lost one leg in prison and was instrumental in translating and editing of Pellico's book in Paris (1833).



  1. "CARBONARI (an Italian word meaning charcoal-burners)" from the Carbonari article in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
  2. Denis Mack Smith, in The Making of Italy (1968) refers to their 'thoroughly indeterminate' political program and to carbonari as a 'generalized movement of protest'
  3. 3.0 3.1 Denis Mack Smith, in the Making of Italy (1868) and Christopher Duggan, in The Force of Destiny (2008)
  4. "apprentice could rise to the grade of a master before the end of six months." From Carbonari in the Catholic Encyclopedia
  5. "Freemasons could enter the Carbonari as masters at once." From Carbonari in the Catholic Encyclopedia
  6. Carbonari article in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
  7. Bell 1819, p. 256.
  8. Carbonari article in the Catholic Encyclopedia
  9. Bradford 1835, p. 398.
  10. Birmingham, David, A concise history of Portugal, p. , Cambridge Univ. Press 2003


  • Bradford, Thomas Gamaliel (1835). Encyclopædia Americana, Volume II. Desilver, Thomas, & Co. 
  • Bell, J (1819). Belle assemblée: or, Court and fashionable magazine; containing interesting and original literature, and records of the beau-monde. 
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