History of Italy (1815-1870): Part 1 of 4

Italy and the Risorgimento: From a geographical expression to a united country.

2011/05/30 - Written by Filippo Salvatore
Italy and the Risorgimento
Italy and the Risorgimento
Here is a chronological presentation of some of the salient dates, events and protagonists that enabled the unification of the Italian peninsula.

Four possible models were proposed: a confederation of states under the spiritual and temporal guidance of the Pope by Vincenzo Gioberti; a federation of secular republics by Carlo Cattaneo, (a model being pursued nowadays by Umberto Bossi’s Lega Nord); a united republic by Giuseppe Mazzini, and a united constitutional monarchy by the Piedmontese diplomat Camillo Benso Count of Cavour. The fourth option, a united and centralized constitutional monarchy under the aegis of the Savoy dynasty, was the one that won out and led to the declaration on March 17th, 1861 of a united Italy.

Traditional patriotic hagiography refers to Giuseppe Mazzini as being il cuore (the heart) of Italy’s unification, Camillo Benso di Cavour as il cervello (the brain), and Giuseppe Garibaldi as la spada (the sword). Italy’s unification, notwithstanding its tortuous path and its resulting shortcomings, has to be viewed, in hindsight, as one of the major accomplishments of 19th century European history. Knowledge of the past enables a better understanding of the present. This is my aim in presenting in a point form the Risorgimento, the process that led to a national identity that anyone, both on Italian soil or abroad, is so proud of. 

1815 - Napoleon Bonaparte is defeated at Waterloo and exiled to the St.Helen island. At the Congress of Vienna (June 1815) Austria, England, Russia and Prussia institute the Concert of Europe, or Holy Alliance, an instrument of antirevolutionary intervention under Austrian Prince Klemens von Metternich’s influence. The Savoy dynasty is brought back to power and Genoa and Liguria are annexed to Piedmont. Milan and Venice become part of the Austrian empire. Three small Italian states (Parma, Modena and Tuscany) are tied to the Austrian dynasty. The papacy views Austria as its prime protector. The King of Naples Ferdinand I of Bourbon is restored to the throne by Austria and is part of its sphere of influence.

The political Restoration sanctioned in Vienna that did away with the ideals of the French Revolution found its major challenge on the Italian Peninsula. The conflict caused numerous upheavals and revolutions in the course of the 19th century. The process of Italian political and territorial unification is known as Risorgimento.

1820 - Upheavals organized by Carboneria (a secret political organization) take place in Naples and Sicily led by General Gabriele Pepe. Historian Pietro Colletta gives a detailed account of the events in his Storia del Reame di Napoli. King Ferdinand crushes the revolutions with Austrian help.

1821 - Liberal upheavals take place in Piedmont. Carbonari Piero Maroncelli and Silvio Pellico are arrested and sent to prison. Pellico tells his sufferings in the Spielberg penitentiary in a famous book Le Mie Prigioni.

1831 - Upheavals take place in the Duchies of Parma and Modena. Duke Francesco IV seems to favour the revolution, but he reneges and has the leaders of the plot arrested. Ciro Menotti is condemned to death.

1831 - A former Carbonaro, the Genoese Giuseppe Mazzini, founds La Giovine Italia, a secret society that advocates a united and republican Italy. In 1833 he is condemned to death in absence for a failed conspiracy in Piedmont. In 1834 he founds La Giovine Europa. In 1837 Mazzini goes in exile to London where he stays till 1848.

1844 - Two Venetian brothers Emilio and Attilio Bandiera, admirers of Mazzini, organize an insurrection among the sailors of the Austrian fleet. They land in Calabria and try to begin a revolution. Peasants see them as brigands, not liberators. They are shot to death by the Bourbon army.

1846 - Bishop Mastai-Ferretti, who chooses the name of Pius IX, is elected Pope. To begin with, he is viewed as a liberal when he gives freedom to political prisoners. After 1849, he takes a very conservative political stand and defends the Pope’s right to temporal power.

1848 - Insurrections break out throughout Europe (France, Austria, Hungary, Prussia and Italy). King Charles Albert of Savoy concedes the Statuto (constitution). The same happens in the Papal States, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and in Tuscany.

1848 - Le Cinque Giornate di Milano - On March 18th Milanese patriots rise against Austria and during five days freedom reigns in the city. On March 23th Piedmont accepts the patriots’ call and declares war on Austria. The economist Carlo Cattaneo, who favoured a federal republic for a united Italy, is the leader of the Cinque Giornate. On July 25th the Piedmontese army is defeated at Custoza. On August 9th King Charles Albert signs an armistice and the Austrians once more take possession of Milan.

1849 - Proclamation of a democratic Republic in Rome. Giuseppe Garibaldi assumes command of the republican forces. A young volunteer from Genoa, Goffredo Mameli, composes the poem Fratelli d’Italia which will become the national anthem of Italy. He is wounded and dies in his twenties. A triumvirate (Giuseppe Mazzini, Aurelio Saffi and Carlo Armellini) assumes political power and eliminates the temporal power of the Pope. From his refuge in Gaeta Pope Pius IX calls upon the king of Naples and on France to help him restore his power. On July 1st, the Roman Republic falls. Garibaldi and his volunteers fight gallantly. They manage to flee from Rome. At San Marino, Garibaldi dissolves his army. His wife Anita dies and he leaves Italy and goes to America.

1849 - Fall of the Venetian Republic. Venice that had voted against the Salasco armistice (August 9th, 1848) between Charles Albert and Austria remains the only democratic republic that challenges Austrian domination. Under the valiant command of Daniele Manin and Niccolò Tommaseo the Republic of Saint Mark faces a long siege that comes to an end in August 1849. Manin goes into exile in France and Tommaseo in the Greek island of Corfù.

1849 - King Charles Albert of Piedmont is convinced by the Piedmontese parliament to resume war against Austria. On March 28th he is defeated at Novara. He abdicates and chooses exile in Oporto. His son Victor Emmanuel II replaces him on the throne.

1854-56 - War in Crimea. The Kingdom of Piedmont sends troops to help France and England against Russia. Piedmont’s status as a belligerent increases its international prestige. At the peace conference of Paris in February 1856, Cavour participates as an equal and focuses European attention on the Italian problem. At Plombières, Cavour signs a secret alliance with Napoleon III of France. France will help Piedmont if it is attacked by Austria. He uses his qualities as a brilliant journalist (in 1847 he founds and directs the daily Il Risorgimento) and diplomat to preserve liberalism and integrate the Savoy dynasty into the Italian national fabric. He also convinces Garibaldi, a former Mazzinian republican, to support the ‘monarchist’ solution to achieve national unity.

1859 - Second War of Independence. Austria sends King Victor Emmanuel an ultimatum asking for disarmament and the disbandment of special corps Cacciatori delle Alpi under Giuseppe Garibaldi’s command. On April 25, 1859 the Austrian army crosses the border and hostilities begin. On May 12, Napoleon III joins forces with the Piedmontese. In the bloody battles of Solferino and San Martino near the Garda lake in Lombardy, the Austrians are defeated by both the French and the Piedmontese. On June 9th, 1859 Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel enter Milan. Lombardy is annexed to the Kingdom of Piedmont. When the liberation of Venetia seems imminent, Napoleon III signs an armistice at Villafranca with Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. During the war petitions had been sent to Cavour by the people of Tuscany, Parma, Modena, Bologna and Romagna asking to be annexed to the constitutional kingdom of Piedmont and they will by plebiscite in March 1860. At the Peace of Zurich, Lombardy becomes part of the Savoy dynasty, Venetia remains Austrian. Nice and Savoy become part of France.

1860 - April 4, a popular insurrection breaks out in Palermo. Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Thousand volunteer Red Shirts, (I Mille) set sail from Quarto, near Genoa towards Sicily. I Mille land at Marsala (May 13) and fight against the Bourbon army at Calatafimi, Milazzo and Palermo. After an irresistible march, they move up from Southern Italy and reach Naples. After the battles of Volturno and Gaeta, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies is conquered by Garibaldi on behalf of the Piedmontese. King Victor Emmanuel II and Garibaldi meet at Teano, north of Naples (November 8). The regions of central Italy belonging to the Papal States decide by plebiscite to join the kingdom of the Savoy dynasty.

1861- Official proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in Torino on March 17th, 1861. Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy becomes king of Italy. Prime Minister Camillo Benso Count of Cavour dies.

1866 - Third War of independence. Italy allies itself with Prussia at war with Austria for the control of Germany. The Italian army is defeated at Custoza on land and at Lissa on the sea. Prussia, however, defeated Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War, and Venice becomes as a result part of Italy. The cities of Trento and Trieste and their surrounding regions remain part of the Austrian Empire till the end of the First World War in 1918.

1861-1875 - Peasant rebellions, known as brigandaggio, take place in Southern Italy against the Piedmontese ’conquest’. The new state levies heavy taxes and imposes compulsory military conscription.

1870 - War between Napoleon III of France and Prussia. The French troops defending the temporal power of the Pope are recalled to France from Rome. Italy takes advantage of the occasion to occupy the Eternal City. General Lamarmora and his bersaglieri enter the city at Porta Pia and annex the city to the Kingdom of Italy.

1872 - Giuseppe Mazzini, who had returned from exile, dies in Pisa under a false identity.

1878 - King Victor Emmanuel II dies. His son Umberto I inherits his throne.

1882 - Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had retired in the small Sardinian Island of Caprera, dies. 

Related articles:

Part II (1870-1919) : Coming soon

Part III (1922-1945) : Italy under Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Regime

Part IV : Coming in August




See all Arts & Culture Articles >>


Receive weekly giveaways and updates from
our blogs and premium online content.