Sir John Acton, 6th Baronet

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"Sir John Edward Acton, Bt. x at Parlermo (sic) 1811". View of Bay of Naples in background.[1]
Arms of Acton of Aldenham, Shropshire: gules, semée of cross crosslets fitchée or two lions passant guardant in pale argent

Sir John Francis Edward Acton, 6th Baronet (baptised 3 June 1736 – died 12 August 1811)[2] was commander of the naval forces of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and prime minister of Naples under Ferdinand IV.[3]


He was the son of Edward Acton, a physician at Besançon, and was born there in 1736. He served under his uncle in the navy of Tuscany, and commanded the Tuscan frigates in the Spanish led Invasion of Algiers.[4] During the calamitous disembarkation in which the Spanish were drawn into a trap by the feigned retreat of the Algerines, Henry Swinburne wrote that the Spaniards would have been "broken and slaughtered to a man... had not Mr. Acton, the Tuscan commander, cut his cables, and let his ships drive in to shore just as the enemy was coming on us full gallop. The incessant fire of his great guns, loaded with grape-shot, not only stopt them in their career, but obliged them to retire with great loss."[5]

In 1779, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples persuaded her brother the Grand-Duke Leopold of Tuscany to allow Acton, who had been recommended to her by Prince Caramanico, to undertake the reorganisation of the Neapolitan navy. The ability displayed by him in this led to his rapid advancement. He became commander-in-chief of both the army and the navy of the Kingdom of Naples, minister of finance, and finally prime minister.[4][6]

In 1791, Acton succeeded to the title and estates in 1791, on the death of his second cousin once removed, Sir Richard Acton of Aldenham Park, Shropshire.[4][6]

His policy was devised in concert with the English ambassador, Sir William Hamilton, and aimed at substituting the influence of Austria and Great Britain for that of Spain at Naples. Such policy consequently involved open opposition to France and the French party in Italy.[4] The fleet, which, when he entered the service of Naples, had practically no existence, comprised in 1798 as many as 120 sail with 1,200 cannon, while the land forces were increased from 15,000 to 60,000. In no degree, however, were the interests of Naples promoted by the vainglorious policy thus inaugurated, and it speedily resulted in disaster. Acton had set himself to extend the commerce of the country by increasing the facilities of internal communication and restoring some of the principal ports, but the increased taxation required to support the army and navy more than counterbalanced these efforts, and caused acute distress and general discontent.

The introduction of foreign officers into the services aroused also the resentment of the upper classes, which was further augmented when the fleet was placed under the orders of the British Admiral Horatio Nelson. [6]

Sir John Acton, Bart. Born 1736 Ob. 11 August 1811. Buried at Palermo.[7]

After the success of the French arms in the north of Italy, in December 1798, Acton with the king and queen and the English ambassador escaped on board the a British ship to Palermo, whereupon the citizens and nobles with the aid of the French established the Parthenopean Republic with a capital at Naples. When, five months afterwards, the king was restored with the help of a Calabrian army, called the Sanfedisti, led by Cardinal Ruffo. With the help of Ruffo and the consent of the Queen, Acton established a reign of terror, and, at the instance of an irresponsible authority called the Junta of State, many prominent citizens were thrown into prison or executed. [6]

In 1804, Acton, on the demand of France, was removed from power, but in accordance with his advice Ferdinand, while agreeing to an alliance with Napoleon, permitted Russian and English troops to land at Naples. Shortly afterwards the minister was recalled, but when the French entered Naples in 1806, he with the royal family took refuge in Sicily. He died at Palermo, 12 August 1811, and was buried in the church of Santa Ninfa dei Crociferi. [6]

Marriage & progeny[edit]

On 2 February 1800 he married his niece Mary Ann Acton, the eldest daughter of his brother General Joseph Edward Acton (1 Oct 1737 – 12 Jan 1830). She was aged only thirteen, and papal dispensation was required for the marriage, which appears to have been made to keep control of the family's wealth.[2] By his wife he had three children:[4]


  1. ^ Attributed to Emanuele Napoli Collection of Richard Lyon-Dalberg-Acton, 4th Baron Acton
  2. ^ a b Reid, Stuart (2008) [2004]. "Acton, Sir John Francis Edward, sixth baronet (1736–1811)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/76. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-16010-8, p.6
  4. ^ a b c d e  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Acton, Sir John Francis Edward, Bart." . Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 160–161.
  5. ^ Travels through Spain, in the years 1775 and 1776, Volume 1, Pages 61–62, By Henry Swinburne, Published 1787
  6. ^ a b c d e Henderson 1885.
  7. ^ Attributed to Giovanni Griffoni. In Saloon at Coughton Court, Warwickshire. Throckmorton Collection, The National Trust: NTPL Ref. No.173366


Baronetage of England
Preceded by
Richard Acton
of Aldenham

Succeeded by
Ferdinand Acton