Maltese connection to Carlo, Principe di Capua

(Text taken for study purposes, from an article titled “Relatively Royal: The Scandalous Affair Of Carlo & Penelope, Prince & Princess di Capua” (article in copyright))




The following extract is taken from “Relatively Royal: The Scandalous Affair Of Carlo & Penelope, Prince & Princess di Capua” because of its relevance to the study of the history of Nobility and Royalty in Malta.


Copyright © 2010 The Esoteric Curiosa. All Rights Reserved. Original text at


Penelope Caroline Smythe

19.VII.1815 - 13.XII.1882


It was once discovered that a long forgotten author of the Tourist’s Illustrated Handbook for Ireland, published for the use of travelers in the early 1850’s, advised his readers that ‘Ballynatray is the birthplace of Miss Penelope Smyth, now Princess of Capua, and whose family feuds with her Royal relatives are matters of much Neapolitan, not to say European, notoriety’. In point of fact, the gossips of Europe had indeed enjoyed considerable discourse and jesting over the serious rupture which Miss Smyth brought upon the ancient Royal House of Bourbon from the sunnier southern climes of the Mediterranean.


The result of this coupling provided the grounds for a round of right “royal fist a cuffs!” In one corner stood King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicily’s, while in the other corner, stood his younger brother, Prince Carlo Ferdinando of Bourbon-Sicily, Prince of Capua.


At the very heart of this fraternal squabble was the slender young Penelope Caroline Smyth, second daughter of Grice and Mary Broderick Mitchell of Ballynatray. She was born on July 19, 1815, the year of Waterloo, and grew up on the banks of the Blackwater in the new house at Ballynatray.


Contemporaries considered her beautiful. So much so, that she was featured in a popular pictorial tome called 'Some Fair Hibernians'. By 1830, at the tender age of fifteen she had been proposed to by a son of Sir John Edmond Browne, but graciously declined. This young Irish lass was to become a main player in one of the many romantic intrigues that took up so much royal time in the closing decades of the Bourbon dynasty’s rule in southern Italy—that is, the Kingdom of the Two Sicily’s.


The essence of the scandal was that the dashing Prince fell in love with the beautiful Penelope, eloped to Scotland and married her at Gretna Green. The King, his brother, refused to recognize the marriage because Penelope was not of Royal blood. The aggrieved Prince sought to change his brothers’ heart. The King would not relent. The Prince and his Irish Princess abandoned Sicily and settled in Malta where they raised two children. In 1862, after the collapse of the kingdom of the Two Sicily’s, King Ferdinand’s son and successor finally gave the Royal seal of approval to the marriage and recognized the couple as Prince and Princess of Capua.


The origins of the secondary title of the young Romeo of this story was in Capua, a town in Italy. The ‘Prince of Capua’ was a title given to second sons of Sicilian Kings since the golden age of King Roger II (1093 – 1154). Prince Carlo was born in Palermo on November 10, 1811, son of King Francesco I of the Two Sicily’s and of his wife, Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain. Carlo was a notorious ladies’ man and, from all accounts, a totally exuberant and likable fellow. He was also an Anglophile. When his father died in 1830, Carlo’s elder brother succeeded as King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicily’s.


It is not clear when or how the Prince and Penelope were introduced. It seems her sister was engaged to marry an Italian noble by name of Prince Cimitelli. The love between seems to have been entirely genuine but they came under immense pressure from the outset due to the differences in class between a Prince of the House of Bourbon and a mere Irish girl.


That said, there seems to have been considerable debate amongst her contemporaries as to where Penelope actually came from. In ‘Some Fair Hibernians’, for instance, she is described as ‘Miss Smith of Beltrae, Co. West Meath’. Others claimed she was from Devon while others whispered of America. A contemporary went so far as to write:


‘Of her beauty there can be no question, and as second daughter in a family of eight children, she was, shortly before her elopement, regarded as one of the prettiest girls in Exeter while she was a resident in an ordinary middle-class house in the suburbs of the capital of Devonshire. Her fortune was £20,000 and her virtue very much in evidence, as prior to her disappearance with her Royal swain she is said to have been privately united to him at the Royal Vilia of Marlia, near Lucca’.


The talk of her Exeter origins is, of course, ridiculous, but the marriage in Lucca may have more credibility. They were certainly the marrying kind.


The first public record of the affair came on February 4th 1836 when The Times told its readers that ‘Miss Penelope Smith, who eloped with Prince Charles of Naples, is from Cork in the south of Ireland’. It went on to say, falsely: ‘She has a sister who is, it is said, affianced to the Prince Cimitelli’ before concluding rather prudishly that ‘the Prince is a married man and we have never heard of the lady’s death’.


On March 8th of the following, Richard Smyth received an irate letter from the manager of the Pantechnicon Carriage Makers in Belgrave Square claiming that Penelope, professing herself a good friend of Sir Charles Ogle, had borrowed approximately £45 in cash from them shortly before she skedaddled to Naples. The manager suggested to Richard that he felt ‘abused’ but was confident that ‘from the high respectability of your family, you will facilitate a prompt arrangement of the account’. It was by no means the last time Richard was called upon to sort out his errant sister’s financial affairs and there seems to have been considerable debate between her and the other siblings, particularly Henry Smyth at Castle Widenham.


In March 1836, Penelope wrote to her brother Richard at Ballynatray explaining how she had been received in a ‘most cordial manner’ by Carlo’s sister, the Queen of Spain. ‘She embraced me several times and repeated that I should call her ‘Sister’ and not ‘Majesty’!! She is a most amiable person and assured me she would do all in her power to serve me [acceptable] to the King of Naples and her mother.’


Apparently, her future sister-in-law, the Queen of Spain’s entreaties were evidently not quick enough and, on April 5th 1836, Carlo and Penelope arrived at Gretna Green in Scotland and were married. Peculiarly, the marriage registry suggests they were married twice more at Gretna before they left in June. On May 7, 1846, for example, the registration particulars, evidently written by the Prince, state: ‘Carlo Ferdinando Borbone, Principii de Capoa, from the Parish of Castello Nuovo, County and States de Napoli de Italia: to Penelope Carolino Smyth, from the Parish of Temple Michael, County Waterford, Ireland, daughter of the late Guie Smyth, Esquire. JOHN LINTON’. The witnesses were Richard Linton, Jan. Bell and Archdeacon McSween. Indeed, the couple’s eccentric tendencies ensured they were married on a further three occasions - in Madrid, in Rome (by Cardinal Wold) and, ultimately, in London.


Armed with their miscellaneous marriage licenses from the Rome, Madrid and Gretna Green ceremonies, the couple applied for a license to marry according to the forms of the Church of England. However, the Sicilian Ambassador intervened with a caveat from Carlo’s brother, King Ferdinand, counseling that ‘by decrees of the Sicilian Kingdom, no valid marriage could be contracted by a Prince of the Blood Royal without the consent of the Reigning Sovereign’.


The crux of the problem was that their union was not recognized under Sicilian law because Ferdinand refused to give them his consent. He considered Penelope a commoner. It was a treasonable offence to treat her as a Royal. She was duly relegated to the quasi-royal position of a morganatic wife and was thus allowed no share in her consort's official dignity. The Court of Canterbury were obliged to uphold the contention and refused to grant the marriage license. Carlo and Penelope responded by holding yet another marriage ceremony, this time in the well-to-do Church of St. George at Hanover Square in London.


Carlo’s older brother, King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicily’s, was a bad egg. Born in 1810, he succeeded to the throne at the age of 20 but quickly earned the sobriquet ‘Ferdinand the Bomber’ when he violently suppressed a rebellion in Sicily by bombing the port of Messina. The rebellion was itself the consequence of a massive and deadly cholera epidemic that had swept across Europe in 1836, the year of Penelope and Carlo’s elopement. 


Initially, with both the encouragement and financial help of the King Ferdinand’s first wife, Princess Maria Christina of Savoy, who was eventually to become a saint when she was beatified in 1872, the young couple pursued the course of true love. Sadly, the Queen died very young and with her support dried up, King Ferdinand further put the financial screws to his renegade brother by tying up his funds in Naples.



As news of the King’s refusal to consent spread across Europe, society eagerly awaited the next move by the Prince and his bride. The multi-married couple were dubbed the ‘misalliance’. On October 22, 1836, The Times gave the first hints:


‘The King of Naples seems to have abandoned his intention of travelling. The sister of Miss Penelope Smith (Princess of Capua) has just been married to a nobleman of that city’.


‘The intelligence from Naples [confirming] the audacious attempt by Miss Penelope Smith who has entreated the Prince of Capua to crown her Queen of Sicily. It was rumored that M. de Houdetot, the King’s Aide-de-camp, had been ordered this morning to set out in all haste for Naples. The General was at a quarter to 2 at the Ministry of Marine, regulating the departure of several vessels intended to reinforce our naval station on the coast of Sicily’.


Penelope’s actions seem to have been about to provoke a major diplomatic incident. The Times certainly deemed the story important enough to run on page 3, second only to an account of a breakdown in the Russo-Prussian peace talks taking place in Berlin. But the Prince and Princess do not seem to have had much passion for the limelight. Despondent and hurt, they abandoned Naples and made their way to the island of Malta in the autumn of 1836. They employed a Russian architect to build them a new palace called Selma Hall in the town of Sliema. They remained as exiles in Malta for the next fourteen years, raising at least two children - Francesco (Ferdinando Carlo) di Capua, the Count di Mascali, (1837 – 1918) and Vittoria di Borbonne (1838 – 1895).  Disraeli met the couple in 1838 and remarked how lovely Penelope was and how she had Carlo absolutely wrapped around her little finger.


 Absence from Naples did not stop them from trying to make the King see right. On Thursday December 13th 1838, the long overdue arrival of the Paris papers (Le Siècle) in England enabled The Times to update its readers on the latest from Naples.


‘It is rumored in several of the London political circles that a reconciliation is about to be effected between the Prince of Capua and his brother, the King of Naples, through the interference of a member of the Royal Family of the both Sicily’s. The young prince is to be allowed to return to Naples, where his brother promised that he should be treated with all the honors and privileges due to his birth, and that his wife (Miss Penelope Smith) should obtain a rank and title similar to that of the Princess of Leignitz, the wife, by the left hand, of the King of Prussia. It appears, even, that an understanding is on the point of being entered into respecting the eventual rights of the children born of the marriage of the Prince of Capua with the daughter of an Irish gentleman. The arrival of Prince Napoleon in England suddenly broke off relations. The Prince of Capua from that day would make no concession. He required that his wife be treated as a princess, and that their children enjoy the rights they would be entitled to if born of a mother of Royal blood. In short, the Prince of Capua put forward such inadmissible pretensions, that it is evident that his Royal Highness is resolved on running the chances of a pretender. In England the Prince of Capua and Louis Napoleon are now called ‘the two pretenders’. Who would have expected this six months since? The ability of Mr. Molé, it must be confessed, works miracles’.


On Wednesday December 25th 1839, The Times seized upon a story in the Cologne Gazette to reveal how the Chevalier Vesace had been sent on a mission from Naples to London ‘to negotiate a reconciliation between the King of Naples and his brother, the Prince of Capua’. The King, said the paper, had ‘consented to advance some 40,000 ducata to pay his brothers debts’. It was also suggested that Penelope is ‘to have the title of the Duchess of Villalta’. Again these talks amounted to nothing and Penelope certainly never became the Duchess of Villalta.


On Thursday February 18th 1841, The Times published a letter that had appeared in Le Presse some three weeks earlier. The letter stated that the ‘Queen of the French’ (aka Queen Amelia, the consort of Louis Philippe) had united with the Dowager Queen of Naples in an attempt to reconcile the King of Naples with his brother.


The author of the letter anticipated a successful outcome. He also stressed that the King of Naples had ‘never objected to his brother making a love match’. Indeed, he went on, the King was so well informed of the Prince’s intention to elope that on the very moment that he ‘was about to cross the frontier with Miss. Penelope Smith, a captain of gendarmerie handed him a letter, written by His Majesty, advising him to consider the consequences of the act he was about to commit’. The correspondent claims that there were ‘state reasons’ behind the King’s refusal to bestow the titles of Prince and Princess on his brother’s children.


Moreover, he was not in a position to give in to the Prince’s demand that his wife, a commoner, be granted a title that would make her superior to the Archduchess of Austria, wife of the Prince of Salerno (the King’s uncle), or the Princess of Sardinia, wife of the Count of Syracuse (the Prince of Capua’s younger brother). ‘His Majesty could not yield to such a demand without wounding the susceptibilities of the Courts of Vienna and Turin, and it was this consideration alone that compelled the King to oppose the Prince’s demand’.


The Smyths of Ballynatray may have waggled an eyebrow or two at the correspondents final suggestion that the King, ‘wishing to prove to his brother that he is willing to make every concession compatible with etiquette and political considerations’ was prepared to raise Penelope to the rank of Countess and ‘to give her precedence over all the ladies of the Court except those of royal blood’. As head of the family, Richard Smyth was certainly embroiled in regular correspondence with his sister who was seeking to cash in on any inheritance she might get from Ballynatray to sustain her life on the continent. Unfortunately this correspondence, part of the papers held by the National Library of Ireland’s Manuscript Department, is largely illegible today.


However, the following week, there came a retort from the Prince’s camp in The Times. The author quoted Section 1, Article 14 of the Code Civil of Naples: ‘The foreign woman who married a Neapolitan shall follow the condition of her husband’. Thus, the author concluded, it was not up to the King whether he was prepared to grant Penelope the rank of Countess or not. It was simply ‘a matter of course that the Princess of Capua take the station that the law points out as hers’. The author further scoffed at the King’s offer to make Penelope a mere Countess, adding that it was only a few months since the King, through Lord Palmerston, had offered to create her ‘Princess of Mascali’. The letter concluded that neither Carlos nor Penelope had much interest in returning to Naples. They were however, ‘extremely desirous of receiving the very large income (22,000l a year) to which the Prince is entitled as a prince of the blood royal, and as a legatee under the will of his father, the late King, and for his pay and emoluments arising out of the public employments he held, which have been withheld since his marriage in 1836, and of which I am told the Prince and his family stand very much in need’.


Carlo and Penelope left Malta on August 22, 1850 and returned to Italy with their son, Francesco, and daughter, Vittoria.  The Kingdom of the Two Sicily’s collapsed in 1860.


© 2010 The Esoteric Curiosa. All Rights Reserved




Cookie Notice - Find out more about how this website uses cookies to enhance your browsing experience:
Research is at best referenced where possible as data will show notarial acts, parish records or a reference, otherwise, it is to the conclusion of and corresponding researchers. We do not take any responsibility for mistakes, poor links and assumptions. We are constantly updating the website to improve the standards from which majority of our data comes from private sources/researchers.