Tanucci, BERNARDO, Marchese, Italian statesman, b. at Stia in Tuscany, of poor family, in 1698; d. at Naples, April 29, 1793. At the University of Pisa, where certain benefactors enabled him to study, he was appointed in 1725 to a chair of law, and attracted attention in the republic of scholars by the vehemence, rather than by the erudition, with which he defended the authenticity of the Codex Pisanus of the Pandects. When Charles, son of Philip V of Spain, passed through Tuscany on his way to conquer the Kingdom of Naples, he took Tanucci with him; he appointed him at first council of state, then superintendent of posts, and finally prime minister. On the last occasion the king ennobled him. As prime minister he was most zealous in establishing the supremacy of the State over the Church, and in abolishing the privileges of the nobility together with feudalism. He restricted the jurisdiction of the bishops, impeded the last increment of the so-called mortmain, and reduced the taxes belonging to the chancery of the Roman Curia. All this was sanctioned in the Concordat of 1741, the application of which, however, went far beyond the intentions of the Holy See. For controversies which might arise in consequence of the Concordat a mixed tribunal, composed of ecclesiastics and laymen, was constituted. But Tanucci went much farther, establishing the principle that not more than ten priests should be ordained for every thousand souls, which number was later reduced to five for each thousand. The Placet was rigorously enforced. The censures of bishops against laymen incurred by obedience to the state laws were annulled. Without permission of the king new churches could not be erected.
His hostile policy to the Church led Tanucci to neglect other interests, above all the foreign relations. In 1742 an English fleet seriously threatened the Neapolitan coasts, and the kingdom was saved only by the signature of an act of neutrality in the war between Spain and Austria. For the reformation of the laws he instituted a commission of learned jurists with instructions to compile a new code, which was, however, not put into force. When Charles III of Naples succeeded to the throne of Spain in 1759, Tanucci was made president of the council of regency instituted for the nine-year-old Ferdinand V. The latter, even when he attained his majority, preferred to hold aloof from the government business and plunged into the pleasures of the chase. Furthermore, the former King Charles III, although in Spain, continued by his instructions to Tanucci to govern the kingdom. The latter could now with greater freedom take up his hostile policy to the Church. The revenues of the vacant bishoprics and abbeys—and as time went on their number always increased—were confiscated. Thirty-eight convents were suppressed; tithes were at first restricted, then abolished; the acquisition of new property by mortmain was forbidden, and new restrictions were made against the recruitment of the clergy. The Placet was even extended to ancient papal Bulls, and the principle was established that concessions of an ecclesiastical nature, not made or assented to by the king, could be revoked at pleasure by the same king or by his successors. In this manner it was possible to suppress or change testaments in favor of the Church at the pleasure of the king, who, according to Tanucci, possessed this power directly from God. Appeals to Rome were forbidden without the royal permission. Matrimony was declared a civil contract by nature, from which principle the trial of matrimonial cases by civil courts was deduced. By the order of Charles III the Jesuits were suppressed and expelled from the Kingdom of Naples (1767).
This expulsion of the Jesuits was part of the movement of the Bourbon courts throughout Europe to destroy the Society, Pombal in Portugal, Aranda in Spain, Choiseul in France, and Tanucci in Naples acting in concert to this end. Scarcely had Clement XIV been elevated to the pontificate than he was urgently solicited by the Bourbon courts to suppress the Jesuits, and no effort was left untried by the Bourbon ministers to accomplish this purpose. The pope pleaded time and patience in the examination of the charges against the Society, but was overborne by the incessant and menacing attitude of the Bourbon league against the Jesuits. Tanucci labored with no less energy in the war upon the Society of Jesus than Pombal, Aranda, and Choiseul, with whom he was in close sympathy in their general hostility to the Church as well as in their determination to bring about the complete suppression of an order of men, whose widespread influence was a check upon their own high-handed methods against the freedom of the Church. To excommunication by Clement XIII Tanucci responded with the occupation of Benevento and Pontecorvo, which were not evacuated until after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773. The protests of the bishops against many of the new teachings in the schools after the expulsion of the Jesuits were dismissed as invalid. One of the last of his acts was the abolition of the chinea, that is the annual tribute which the kings of Naples since the time of Charles of Anjou had paid to the pope as sovereign (1776). His unfortunate policy in finance and in regard to the food taxes provoked popular revolutions on several occasions. But when, in 1774, Queen Caroline, an Austrian princess, entered the Council of State, the power of Tanucci began to decline. In vain he endeavored to neutralize the influence of the queen, and in 1777 he fell into disgrace and was dismissed. Retiring into the country, he died neglected and childless.
Tanucci represents the Italian type of that unfortunate species of statesman of the eighteenth century the most prominent example of which was the notorious Pombal. Sceptics in faith and in morals, they were “anti-clerical” because they aspired to a universal tyranny of the State, in which the king should be a figurehead while the minister himself was the master. They desired to expel the Jesuits, accusing them, as one would say today, “of liberalism”; they ably prepared the way for the power of sects and the crash of revolutions.