Italian cardinal, leader of sanfedists; b. S. Lucido (Cosenza), Sept. 16, 1744; d. Naples, Dec. 13, 1827. Of noble birth, he was placed early under the tutelage of Giovanni Braschi, the future Pope Pius VI. After completing his studies at the Collegio Clementino in Rome, he entered the service of the Roman Curia. In 1785 he became treasurer-general in the apostolic camera, where his devotion to needed economic and financial reforms in the states of the church roused so much hostility from vested aristocratic interests that he retired to the Kingdom of Naples after being made cardinal (1794). He received the deaconate in 1795. King Ferdinand IV appointed him superintendent of his utopian colony of silk manufacturers at San Leucio, near Caserta. After the royal family escaped the approaching French army by fleeing to Sicily on Admiral Nelson's British man-of-war "Vanguard" (December 1798), Ruffo joined the court at Palermo. After proposing a plan to recover Calabria and receiving royal authorization to act as the king's vicar, Ruffo returned to the mainland (Feb. 7, 1799), accompanied by only eight companions and lacking funds or arms. The militant, audacious prelate, gifted with organizational talents, soon gathered from the civilian populace a sizable army, known as the Sanfedists. Ruffo aroused great enthusiasm by his understanding of the Calabrians and his desire to relieve them of oppressive feudal burdens, but he could not curb all the excesses of his motley troops. At the head of his army he proceeded to Naples, where he gained the capitulation of the French and Italian Jacobin forces of the Parthenopean Republic, after offering them mild terms, which Nelson and the restored Bourbons later disregarded by exacting bloody vengeance. Ruffo then fell into disgrace and left Naples for Rome (January 1800). During the Napoleonic era he tended to tolerate the emperor's religious policies. Upon his return to Rome in 1814, Pius VII appointed him to various posts. Ruffo regained favor with the Neapolitan Bourbons, and retired to Naples in his last years, which he devoted to study and writing on agricultural, economic, and military topics. Liberal historians have frequently reacted to Ruffo's counterrevolutionary activity by portraying his character in dark hues.
Bibliography: h. c. gutteridge, ed., Nelson and the Neapolitan Jacobins: Documents … June 1799 (London 1903), biog. data and evaluation in introd. ix-cxii. h. m. acton, The Bourbons of Naples (1734–1825) (New York 1958). n. rodolico, Enciclopedia Italiana di scienzi, littere ed arti 30:221, with photo.
[m. l. shay]