[kahr-buh-nahr-ee; It. kahr-baw-nah-ree]
Carbonari [Ital.,=charcoal burners], members of a secret society that flourished in Italy, Spain, and France early in the 19th cent. Possibly derived from Freemasonry, the society originated in the kingdom of Naples in the reign of Murat (1808-15) and drew its members from all stations of life, particularly from the army. It was closely organized, with a ritual, a symbolic language, and a hierarchy. Beyond advocacy of political freedom its aims were vague. The Carbonari were partially responsible for uprisings in Spain (1820), Naples (1820), and Piedmont (1821). After 1830 the Italian Carbonari gradually were absorbed by the Risorgimento movement; elsewhere they disappeared.
The Carbonari ("charcoal burners") were groups of secret revolutionary societies founded in early 19th-century Italy. Their goals were patriotic and liberal and they played an important role in the Risorgimento and the early years of Italian nationalism.


They were organized 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 or by being a Freemason on entry. Their initiation rituals were structured around the trade of charcoal-selling, hence their name.


Although it is not clear where they were originally established, they first came to prominence in the Kingdom of Naples during the Napoleonic wars.

They began by resisting the French occupiers, notably Joachim Murat, the Bonapartist King of Naples. 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. 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 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 Mazzini.

Relations with the Church

The Carbonari were anti-clerical in both their philosophy and program. 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 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).

The Carbonari in Portugal

The Carbonari (Carbonária) was first founded in Portugal in 1822 but was soon disbanded. It was founded again in 1896 by Artur Augusto Duarte da Luz de Almeida. This organization was active in efforts to educate the people and was involved in various antimonarchist conspirations. Most notably, Carbonari members were active in the murder 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 revolution of October 5, 1910

Carbonari in Literature

The story Vanina Vanini by Stendhal involved a hero in the Carbonari and a heroine who became obsessed by this. It was made into a film in 1961.

Robert Louis Stevenson's story "The Pavilion on the Links" features the Carbonari as the villains of the plot.

Katherine Neville's novel The Fire (book) features the Carbonari as part of a plot involving a mystical chess service.

The carbonari are also mentioned briefly in the book "Ressurection Men",by T. K. Welsh, where the main character's father is a carbonari.


the carbonari are also mentioned briefly in the book "Ressurection Men", where the main character's father is a carbonari

See also

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