When one thinks of secret societies, they think of power and clandestine meetings with evil purpose. Overthrowing governments are commonly said to be their goal. Many of these societies just have rumors floating around them because they are so secret while others are secret because they admit they are trying to overthrow the government. The Carbonari was such a group.
The years following the American Revolution were chaotic for most of Europe. The colonies revolt against England inspired many across the ocean. It wasn’t long before ripples increased into tsunami waves under monarchial governments. It was the perfect breeding ground for political secret societies like the Carbonari to rise up.
Italy was a hotbed of political activity like most other European countries. It was the perfect place for the birth of the Carbonari. It was the early 1800s, around 1819, that the “charcoal burners” first began. Some claim that the society existed long before but historically the best proof puts them in this time period. This was a time in which governments were back and forth especially with Napoleon wrecking havoc in Europe.
From the beginning, the sole purpose of the Carbonari was to overthrow the Italian government. This was never in dispute or kept secret for anyone. But this does not mean there was no secrecy. Overthrowing the government demands secrecy if there is to be success or all would have died under treason. This led to secret memberships, secret meeting places, secret rituals, secret codes, and secret everything.
It has been said that the Carbonari were a branch of the Freemasons, but that is not accurate. Many men were members of both groups, and many left the Freemasons as persecution of their group rose to join the Carbonari. This led to an increase in number and power. It was not long that success could be seen in the Italian revolt. The successful the Carbonari were the more their membership grew and their organization. It was not long before Carbonari lodges were established in all of Europe.
From the Italian revolution to the overthrow of Napoleon to the Spanish revolution, the Carbonari were not adverse to murder, plots, and intrigue to overthrow governments. As history can attest to, they were very successful as revolution after revolution ripped through Europe. But their success became their death.
With all goals achieved, the Carbonari found themselves without a purpose. They had achieved what they set out to do. The result, the slow decline and death of the Carbonari. Though not existing in its original form today, their inspiration has led to many other smaller groups forming in pockets around the world though the Carbonari themselves have stayed on in the annals of history.