At the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) Italy was referred to as a “geographic expression” as there was no unified national state. Instead, the peninsula consisted of a patchwork of independent governments. Many were controlled by the Austrian Empire, particularly in the northeast. Going from north to south: Nice and Savoy (that later were ceded to France in 1860), Kingdom of Sardinia, Kingdom of Lombardy and Venetia, Duchy of Parma, Duchy of Modena, Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Duchy of Lucca, (most of these were nominally controlled by Austria), Papal States (under the Pope’s control), Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (ruled by the Spanish branch of the Bourbons).

“Italy’ in 1815

In the early1820s, small revolutions broke out in various parts of Europe. Probably the best-known was the Greek Revolution as those enslaved people began to break away from the iron thumb of the Ottoman Empire, a process that took almost a century to complete.

There were also small revolutions in the kingdoms of Venice, Rome and Tuscany as they declared themselves Republics.

Influencing these revolutions in 1820 and 1821 were the Carbonari. (The word literally means ‘charcoal makers’.) This was an informal network of secret revolutionary societies active in Italy until about 1831. They influenced other revolutionaries in France, Spain, Brazil, Uruguay and Russia, but like many revolutionaries, their goals were ill-defined and if successful, probably would have led to national chaos.

In 1805, Giuseppe Mazzini was born. At an early age, he believed in independence for Italy. By 1831, he had joined forces with others who shared his views and dreams. This special forces group went on a mission to Tuscany, where they were arrested. When he was released, he helped create the Society of Young Italy that committed some illegal activities. The intent of the Society was to educate the Italian people to a sense of their nationhood and encourage the masses to rise up against what they referred to as the existing reactionary régimes.

Giuseppe Mazzini

Another group, Neo-Guelfs, saw an Italian confederation headed by the pope. Still another group wanted unification under the House of Savoy, who were from the liberal northern Italian state of Piedmont-Sardinia (the only truly independent state on the Italian peninsula). The Catholic Neo-Guelfs were much more moderate and were led by such individuals as Manzoni and Vincenzo Gioberti. [If you have ever looked at the dedication of Verdi’s Requiem, it was to Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian nationalist poet who wrote the novel The Betrothed in 1827.] Gioberti became disillusioned after the failure of the 1848 revolutions when the papacy became quite reactionary, and he began to attack the Jesuits and the Piedmont’s timid monarchy.

Something to ponder as I write this during the Russian attack on Ukraine. Not only was the leadership of Piedmont timid, but the army was indecisive and was defeated by the Austrians at the battles of Custozza and Novara. Should the United States learn from history and present a stronger image? Then the independent revolutionary governments in Milan, Venice and Rome were suppressed one by one. Austria was able to re-establish its rule over Lombardy and Venetia and placed rulers in Tuscany, Modena and Parma.

As Piedmont-Sardinia had maintained its independence during this subjugation, others who wanted a unified Italian state turned to that kingdom. Without a doubt, the able leadership and diplomacy of Prime Minister Count Camillo Benso di Cavour was a true beacon. In 1855, he joined England in the Crimean War. He massaged the English by creating a rail network based on that of England and consulted with the English on developing Italian industrialization. He attended the Congress of Vienna in 1856 with the other great European powers. After the Pact of Plombières that assured Cavour French support against Austria, he engineered the beginning of war between Austria and Piedmont-Sardinia that he won; Austria ceded Lombardy to Cavour’s kingdom. He then annexed most of central Italy, including the northern part of the Papal States.

Count Camillo Benso de Cavour

Now enter Giuseppi Garibaldi and his Redshirts.

Giuseppi Garibaldi

Born in Nice (now part of France), he became involved in Young Italy, but was forced to flee the Italian peninsula when it was discovered that he had engineered a plot to overthrow the Piedmontese government. He went to South America and fought in Brazil and Uruguay where he adopted the red shirts worn by South American gauchos. His Italian Legion (60 loyal fighters) landed in Nice in 1848, attacked Milan, but had to flee to Switzerland. In 1849, he got involved back in Italy fighting French forces loyal to the pope. He fled from Rome and was exiled on Staten Island. In 1855, he met with Mazzini in London and then bought an estate on a small island off the coast of Sardinia and became a farmer. But the love of his life was Risorgimento. In May 1860 landed in Sicily with his Thousand Red Shirts. He then crossed the Strait of Messina to the Italian mainland. He declared himself dictator of Naples. Then he did something interesting: because he wanted a peaceful unification of Italy, he turned over his military conquests to the king of Piedmont and returned to his island farm.

Because of his past affiliations with France and his affinity for the Second French Republic, he sided with that nation in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. As a result of that war, the Italian government took control of Rome when the French garrison controlling the city was recalled to France, the last possession of the Papal States; Italy was essentially united.

The last piece of the puzzle of Risorgimento occurred when Italian territory still in Austrian hands (known as Italia Irredenta {unredeemed Italy}, the neck of the Istrian Peninsula with its important port of Trieste, was added to Italy because Italy was on the winning side and Austria was a loser in World War One.

Istrian Peninsula (Italy got western part of with port of Trieste)

Actually, our story cannot end here. The Papacy refused to recognize the new Italian monarchy and it was not until 1929 that the “Roman Question” was settled, when Benito Mussolini and King Victor Emanuel III met with Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Accord, creating the “independent” Vatican State in the center of Rome (basically St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Palace and Museums). Currently, the only other territory that is not part of the Italian staate is San Marino.

Why is all this important?

We fly into Venice (Marco Polo Airport — VCE) on 8 September. After getting our checked bag and clearing customs, we board a coach for Padua. In 1815, both Venice and Padua were part of the Kingdom of Lombardy and Venetia. After our time in Padua (with a day trip to Venice) and then the days in the Lakes Region to the north, we motor to Milan that is also in Lombardy. Some of us will fly back to the States on 15 September and the remainder on 17 September from the Malpensa Airport (MXP).

I hope no one is worried that the Italian word “Malpensante” means ‘misguided.’