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Italy and empire
Medieval Italy
Shifting alliances
Towards the nation state
     Blueprints for Italy
     Eighteen dramatic months
     Cavour and the Risorgimento
     A muddled war
     Final steps to unity

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Fascist Italy
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Blueprints for Italy: 1831-1848

The first man to devote his life to revolution on behalf of a united Italy is a young member of the Carbonari, Giuseppe Mazzini. In 1831 he founds Giovine Italia (Young Italy), an organization devoted to education and insurrection. By 1834 he is under sentence of death in Piedmont, where he has tried to provoke a popular revolution with the help of a sailor in the Sardinian navy, Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Both men spend the years between 1834 and 1848 in exile - Garibaldi taking part in several wars in Latin America and Mazzini editing a succession of inflammatory journals, mainly from London. Meanwhile there are differing views about the Italy which patriots should be eager to fight for.


Mazzini is a republican, obsessed with the concept of insurrection and by nature disinclined to compromise. His value to the cause in inspirational terms is considerable, but success is more likely to be achieved by the practical realities of politics. This means aiming for a united Italy under one of the existing rulers.

There are two candidates. Of the four powers in restoration Italy (the king of Sardinia, the Austrian emperor, the pope, the king of the Two Sicilies), two - the Austrian Habsburgs and the Bourbons in Naples and Sicily - are foreign dynasties much hated by their subjects.


By contrast the pope can expect the allegiance of most Catholics, and the king of Sardinia represents an ancient Italian dynasty (his house of Savoy has been linked with Turin since the 11th century). Either ruler would be convincing as an Italian figurehead.

The first proposal to gain serious support is for a federal Italy ruled by the pope (in effect extending the papal states to incorporate the entire peninsula). This policy is advocated in a widely read book of 1843, Vincenzo Gioberti's Del primato morale e civile degli italiani (Moral and civil primacy among the Italians). This campaign is given a strong boost when a cardinal of liberal reputation is elected pope, in 1846, as Pius IX.


The alternative scheme, for the king of Sardinia to become king of Italy, is an equally logical development from the existing state of affairs. It would merely represent the expansion of his north Italian territory in Piedmont to include the entire peninsula. As yet this is not a programme much considered outside Piedmont itself.

But anything seems possible during the dramatic events which erupt unexpectedly in 1848. Mazzini and Garibaldi hurry back to Italy to take part in the revolutionary turmoil. And Camillo Benso di Cavour is already taking an interest in the politics of Piedmont.


Eighteen dramatic months: 1848-1849

An uprising in Sicily against Bourbon rule, in January 1848, is the event which sparks off Europe's most dramatic year of political upheavals. Revolutions in the next two months in Paris and Vienna make it evident that no outside intervention is likely for the moment in Italy. Patriots in the Austrian territories are quick to take their cue.

A rebellion in Venice on March 17 is followed by the proclamation of a revived republic. On March 18 the citizens of Milan rise against their Austrian rulers; after five days of fierce fighting they expel from the city the garrison of 12,000 troops.


The events in Milan tempt Charles Albert, the king of Sardinia, into declaring war on Austria on March 24. Seeing a chance of extending his territory of Piedmont into rich Lombardy, he marches east from Turin to join forces with the Milanese. But his adventure proves a disaster. He is outfought by the veteran Austrian field marshal Joseph Radetsky, now aged eighty-two. The end result is that Charles Albert is forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Victor Emmanuel II.

Meanwhile other rulers have been losing control throughout Italy, including even Pius IX in Rome. Amid mounting unrest his chief minister, Pellegrino Rossi, is assassinated in November 1848. The pope flees for safety to the fortress of Gaeta.


A Roman republic is proclaimed in February 1849. This promising event is followed by the arrival of the veteran revolutionaries Mazzini and Garibaldi. Mazzini plays a major part in running the republic during its brief existence and Garibaldi fights magnificently in its defence (against an army sent by the new French republic on behalf of the pope, a measure of how much Italian affairs are intertwined with the broader issues of European politics).

The Roman republic falls to the French forces in early July 1849. Pius IX is restored to his papal throne - turning the clock safely back, in a pattern which becomes common almost everywhere during 1849.


The Venetian republic succumbs in August 1849 to the Austrians, who are also now securely back in Milan. Ferdinand II, the Bourbon king, reasserts control in Naples and Sicily. The response by the authorities to these alarming upheavals is increased repression. Pius IX concludes with some justification that liberalism is not in the papal interest.

In the initial panic of the various rulers, confronted by the uprisings of 1848, many liberal constitutions were hurriedly introduced in the states of Italy. All but one are repealed in the restoration of 1849. The exception is Piedmont where the king, Charles Albert, has been toppled in the events of these eighteen months.


Charles Albert's son and successor, Victor Emmanuel II, resists the general trend back towards repression. Instead, over the next few years, his kingdom of Piedmont is gradually transformed into one which Italian nationalists can respect.

The reason for the change is not so much the king himself as Camillo Benso di Cavour. During the events of 1848 Cavour is the most influential journalist in Piedmont, editing the newspaper which he has founded in 1847 under the title Il Risorgimento (The Resurgence). In June 1848 he is elected to parliament under the new constitution. By 1852 he is prime minister.


Cavour and the Risorgimento: 1852-1859

As the movement towards a united Italy gathers pace, it becomes known by the title of Cavour's newspaper in Turin - the Risorgimento. The events of 1848-9 have made it plain that a new Italy will not emerge from uncoordinated uprisings in different states (as Mazzini continues to believe) and that the Italians require foreign allies if they are to confront successfully the might of Austria.

Cavour's policy, as prime minister of Piedmont-Sardinia, centres on addressing these problems. At home he needs to present Piedmont as a kingdom which radicals from all over Italy will be prepared to support. Abroad he needs to find an ally of Austria's stature.


His problem internally is that Piedmont-Sardinia has been a typical reactionary monarchy of the post-Napoleonic period. He therefore takes steps to liberalize the government, though he is himself instinctively conservative (see Liberal and conservative). And he welcomes political refugees from other Italian states.

Mazzini's views remain too radical (the Piedmontese death sentence on him stands until 1866), but Garibaldi's support is successfully enlisted - in 1859 he is given the Piedmontese rank of general. Daniele Manin, leader of the Venetian republic of 1848-9, declares in 1856 (when he is in exile in Paris) that he supports royal Piedmont in the cause for a united Italy.


Piedmont's attempt to cut a dash on the international stage begins with a small part in the Crimean War as the ally of France and Britain. The main advantage of this is that Cavour takes part in the peace talks in Paris in 1856, where he is able to give the impression that Piedmont somehow represents Italy.

In the search for an ally against Austria, he first approaches Britain but without success. His chances are better with France, where Napoleon III is now emperor. He has a romantic interest in driving Austria from Italy, as his uncle did twice (in 1796-7 and in 1800), and in avenging the humiliation suffered by the Napoleonic cause at the congress of Vienna.


In July 1858 Napoleon III and Cavour meet secretly in France, at Plombières. They agree that Cavour will foment unrest in Austrian territories in north Italy so as to entice Austria into making the first military move. An allied French and Piedmontese army will then respond by invading Lombardy and Venetia. At the end of the operation these north Italian provinces will be merged with Piedmont. In return the two regions belonging to Piedmont on the French side of the Alps (Savoy and Nice) will be ceded to France. And the alliance is to be confirmed in the old-fashioned way by the marriage of a cousin of Napoleon III to a daughter of Victor Emmanuel II.


A muddled war: 1859-1860

The war begins much as Napoleon III and Cavour have planned, though Napoleon has cold feet in the interim and tries to back out - until an aggressive move by Austria against Piedmont in April 1859 makes intervention inevitable. The French and Piedmontese army, assisted by Garibaldi and his volunteers, has a rapid success. On June 8 Napoleon III enters Milan.

Two weeks later, on June 24, there is an extremely savage encounter at Solferino, with very heavy casualties on both sides. The carnage leads directly to the formation of the Red Cross. It also appals Napoleon III (who lacks his uncle's familiarity with battlefields) and contributes perhaps to his sudden abandonment of his pact with Cavour.


Without informing his Piedmontese allies, Napoleon makes peace with the Austrians at Villafranca in July. Whatever the impact of Solferino, there are also political reasons for this sudden change of heart. Cavour's notion of a future Italy seems to be diverging from Napoleon's. Cavour, busy encouraging revolutions within the states of central Italy, has clear ambitions to merge them within the kingdom of Piedmont. But Napoleon supports the concept of a federal Italy ruled by the pope (he was already president of the French republic when France restored Pius IX to Rome in 1849).


Nevertheless the terms of Villafranca have considerable advantages for Piedmont. Venetia, not yet reached by the allied armies, will remain Austrian. But Lombardy is now ceded to Piedmont. Moreover Savoy and Nice have not yet been transferred to France.

These two regions soon prove of diplomatic value. Uprisings against the Austrians in Parma, Modena and Tuscany, and against papal rule in the Romagna, are followed by plebiscites. All these regions vote to be merged with Piedmont-Sardinia. This is contrary to Napoleon's policy, but Savoy and Nice do the trick. The treaty of Turin, in March 1860, transfers them to France and the central Italian territories to the kingdom of Sardinia.


Final steps to unity: 1860-1861

Garibaldi, a native of Nice, is profoundly displeased by Cavour's transfer of his birthplace to France. While remaining loyal to Victor Emmanuel II, he prefers now to revert to his earlier buccaneering style of revolution - taking his volunteers wherever they may best aid the cause of Italian nationhood.

An uprising in Sicily attracts his attention in May 1860. With about 1000 men, many of them wearing red shirts (with the result that they become known as i Mille, the thousand redshirts), he sails from Genoa. Landing at Marsala on May 11, he proclaims himself dictator of Sicily - liberating the island from Neapolitan rule in the name of Victor Emmanuel.


Garibaldi has a rapid success in Sicily. After three days of street fighting Palermo surrenders on May 30. A week later 20,000 Neapolitan troops lay down their arms. By July 20 there is no further resistance in the island. With a much increased army Garibaldi crosses to the mainland on August 18. By September 7 he is in Naples.

This striking success by the radical revolutionary alarms the conservative Cavour, who responds with a bold move of his own. Ostensibly to prevent Garibaldi from invading Rome, Cavour sends a Piedmontese army to occupy the papal states. His troops meet little opposition. Towards the end of October they join up with Garibaldi's volunteers in Neapolitan territory.


On November 7 Victor Emmanuel II makes a triumphal entry into Naples with Garibaldi by his side. The last Neapolitan stronghold, the fortress of Gaeta, falls to the Italians in February 1861.

Parliament in Turin annexes the kingdom of the Two Sicilies together with the papal states (apart from Rome itself and the surrounding Campagna). There is nothing now to delay the establishment of the kingdom of Italy. Victor Emmanuel is proclaimed monarch on 17 March 1861. Garibaldi and others would wish him to be Victor Emmanuel I, inaugurating the new Italy, but Cavour insists that he is Victor Emmanuel II - king of a much enlarged Sardinia-Piedmont. Only Rome and Venetia remain outside his realm.


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