the unification of italy -- 8/16/16

Today's selection -- from The Pursuit of Italy by David Gilmore. Prior to 1861, there was no Italy, just a fragmented patchwork of miniature kingdoms and provinces across the peninsula ruled in the post-Napoleonic era by the likes of Austria and the heirs of the Bourbon dynasty. But some had the desire to see the peninsula united as a single, independent country. The drive for this unification -- known as the Risorgimento -- came from Piedmont, a region in the northwestern peninsula presided over by Victor Emmanuel II, King of Sardinia-Piedmont, and his prime minister Camilio Benso, who was known as the Count of Cavour. One of the commanders of their forces was Giuseppe Garibaldi, and his greatest triumph came through his invasion of Naples and Sicily in the south. Today, all these men are celebrated and memorialized in statues and streets throughout Italy as "fathers of the fatherland." Only Garibaldi showed the strength of character deserving of this fame. At the time, Prime Minister Cavour detested Garibaldi, resented his fame, and worked to humiliate him and discredit his achievements:

Garibaldi in 1866

Garibaldi in 1866"As soon as Cavour realized that Garibaldi would conquer Sicily, he was eager to annex the island to Piedmont. He had always detested home-grown revolutionaries more than he disliked Bourbons and Austrians, and the last thing he wanted was to see Sicily and possibly Naples in the hands of democrats and other radicals. ...

"Cavour was intent on removing [Garibaldi], the man who had just handed him such vast new territories to govern. Persistently churlish to Garibaldi, he had even gone so far as to order his subordinates 'to hurl the garibaldini into the sea' if they resisted [another commander, Enrico] Cialdini's advance. Other Piedmontese figures, jealous of the 'liberator's' success and fearful of his popularity, competed in the belittling of the one indisputably heroic figure among the leaders of the Risorgimento [reunification]. Cialdini even told Garibaldi not to exaggerate his successes and claimed, absurdly, that the Piedmontese army had rescued him on the Volturno.

"Garibaldi's behaviour during the handover of power was irreĀ­proachable. He asked for no reward and rejected the king's offers of money, estates, titles and a senior position in the regular army. In early November he handed over to Victor Emanuel and left for his home on Caprera, an island off Sardinia, with just a sack of seed-corn and a few packets of coffee.

"The disparagement of Garibaldi and his redshirts continued after his departure. Within days the garibaldini -- the men who had marched from Marsala to the Volturno and captured a kingdom -- had been disbanded; although they had fought better than the Piedmontese in every war of the Risorgimento (and would do so again in 1866), very few of them were allowed to join the regular army. The humiliations of their leader were more petty and symbolic but still hurtful. At their meetings in Naples Farini had refused to shake hands or even speak to him. When Garibaldi sailed away to Caprera, British ships in the Bay of Naples fired their guns in salute, but [Piedmont Admiral Carlo] Persano's fleet was ordered to stay quiet."



David Gilmour


The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples


Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Copyright 2011 by David Gilmour


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