Term first used in southern Italy in 1799 and applied during the following two decades to Catholics who, as defenders of their holy faith (Santa Fede ), joined in popular, spontaneous armed insurrections, to overthrow the republics set up by French and Italian Jacobins and to abolish the religious, political, and social innovations introduced under the influence of the french revolution. They were similar in cause and character to the French uprisings in Vendée (1793–96), and occurred in Piedmont, Venice, Modena, Toscany, and the States of the Church. Most famous was the army of several thousand Sanfedists organized and led by Cardinal Fabrizio ruffo in the Kingdom of Naples: in 1799 it destroyed the short-lived Parthenopean Republic, which had proved very hostile to the Church, and restored the Bourbon monarchs who had fled to Sicily. In the process the heterogeneous collection of recently organized and ill-disciplined troops of peasants, mixed with some criminal elements, committed atrocities as savage as those of their opponents, against the will of the cardinal. Once King Ferdinand IV regained power, he refused to honor the mild capitulation terms offered by Ruffo to the defeated Jacobins in Naples and was responsible for the cruel vengeance wreaked on them. Unworthy of credence is the so-called Sanfedist oath to have no pity on young or old, to shed every drop of blood of the abhorred liberals, and to hate undyingly all enemies of the faith. Liberal historians, opposed to the counterrevolutionary movement and to the Sanfedist type of patriotism, local rather than national, have severely but unreasonably condemned Ruffo and the Sanfedists in Naples and elsewhere by ascribing the excesses of a few to the entire mass.
After 1815 reactionary groups in the states of the church and other Italian states that opposed the carbonari were also called Sanfedists, as were those in the States of the Church after 1859 who were unfavorable to annexation to the new Italian kingdom. Liberal polemic extended the meaning of Sanfedist in a pejorative sense to include all supporters of the union of throne and altar; but after the mid-19th century, it preferred to substitute the term "clerical" for Sanfedist.
Bibliography: h. acton, The Bourbons of Naples (1734–1825) (London 1956). e. e. y. hales, Revolution and Papacy, 1769–1846 (Garden City, NY 1960). v. cuoco, Saggio storico sulla rivoluzione napoletana del 1799, ed. n. cortese (Florence 1926). w. maturi, Encyclopedia Italiana di scienzi, littere ed arti, 36 v. (Rome 1929–39) 30:639.
[m. l. shay]