Unification of Italy (1870)

The Unification of the Kingdom of Italy


Before 1870, Italy didn’t exist.  Parts of it were small, independent kingdoms.  Other parts of it were controlled by the Austrian and Ottoman Empire.  Yet another section ruled by the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.  As elsewhere in Europe, nationalism began to gain popularity with Italians.  Giuseppe Mazzini was an author who help spread Italian nationalism with his work.  For his role in popularizing the idea, he is called the Beating Heart of Italy.

giuseppe-mazzini-1-sizedGiuseppe Mazzini

One of the independent kingdoms, the Kingdom of Sardinia (also called Piedmont-Sardinia because the same king ruled both kingdoms) was in position to lead Italian unification.  It was the largest and most powerful of the Italian kingdoms.  Many Italians living there–particularly the middle class–thought Italian unification was good idea.  The foreign powers that controlled parts of Italy were in the way though, chief among them being the Austrian Empire.  King Charles Albert of Sardinia tried to fight a war to drive the Austrians Empire out of the areas they controlled, but the First War of Italian Independence was a disaster.

victor emmanuel IIcavour King Victory Emmanuel II                                                              Count Camillo di Cavour

In 1849, Victor Emmanuel II became the king of Piedmont-Sardinia.  Italian unification picked up momentum when he appointed Count Camillo di Cavour prime minister in 1852.  Cavour was cunning politician and  used diplomacy and strategic alliances to unify northern Italy.  Cavour formed and alliance French King Napoleon III  and fought the Second War of Italian Independence against the Austrian Empire.  With French assistance, the war was a success.  The Italian province of Lombardy from the Austrians.

As Cavour worked on uniting northern Italy, he also lent support to nationalists rebelling in southern Italy.  Leading the rebellion was Giuseppe Garibaldi, who headed a small army of Italian nationalists called the Red Shirts.  From Sicily, the Red Shirts marched north, uniting the southern Italian kingdoms.  Cavour got Garibaldi to agree to unite the southern areas with the kingdom Piedmont-Sardinia built, forming the kingdom of Italy in 1861, ruled by King Victor Emmanuel II.

Gustave-Le-Gray_Giuseppe-Garibaldi_Palermo-1860_1-1000x1500Giuseppe Garibaldi

The Kingdom of Italy was not complete yet.  It allied with Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866 (which the Italians call the Third War of Italian Independence), annexing the northern province of Venetia.  Then, in 1870, the French, who were being defeated in the Franco-Prussian War, were forced to remove their troops from the Papal States, protecting the area of central Italy controlled by the Pope.  This allowed the Kingdom of Italy to incorporate the area, unifying the rest of the Italians in the new Italian nation-state.

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