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Italian Unification 

(detailed version)


Muratori, Alfieri and Genovesi ignite the fire of revolution.


Milan is occupied by the French under French General Napoleon Bonaparte who founds the Cispadane Republic (including Modena, Bologna, and Ferrara).


Pope submits to Bonaparte; Uprisings against French in Verona; French enter Venice; Cisalpine Republic established in Lombardy; Venice given to Austria.


Roman Republic declared; Ferdinand IV enters Rome (later retaken by French); Abdication of Charles Emmanuel IV of Savoy.


French occupation of Naples; Milan taken by Russians; Austrians enter Turin; Naples capitulates to Bourbons.


Napoleon occupies Milan; Kingdom of Etruria founded by Napoleon in Tuscany; Treaty of Florence between France and Naples.


Cisalpine Republic called Italian Republic; France annexes Piedmont.


Napoleon crowns himself King of Italy; Ligurian Republic annexed to France; also Parma and Piacenza.


Venetia annexed to Kingdom of Italy; Joseph Bonaparte declared King of the Two Sicilies.


Joachim Murat becomes King of Naples; Papal States partly annexed to Kingdom of Italy.


Napoleon annexes Rome and Papal States to French empire.


Napoleon defeated; banished to Elba.


Revolt in Naples.


Revolt in Piedmont.


Revolution in the Papal States; King Charles Albert becomes King of Sardinia; “Young Italy” founded by Mazzini.


Pius IX becomes Pope.


Uprisings in Palermo; Constitutional edict in Naples; Constitutional monarchy proclaimed in Piedmont; Constitution granted in Rome, Republic proclaimed with Mazzini as head. Successful revolution in Milan; Venice proclaimed a Republic; Charles Albert [Piedmont and Sardinia] invades Lombardy; Tuscan forces invade Lombardy; Naples constitution denied; Union of Venetia and Piedmont declared, soon overthrown; Battle of Custoza, Charles Albert defeated.


Charles Albert abdicates in favor of Victor Emmanuel II; Sicilian revolution crushed by Naples; Austrians take Florence; Venice surrenders to Austria.


Cavour becomes Prime Minister in Sardinia-Piedmont (Piemonte).


Napoleon III becomes emperor of France.


Meeting of Cavour and Napoleon III.


War between Austria and Sardinia Piedmont; Austria defeated by Piemontese and French; Sardinia gains Lombardy.


Tuscany and Emilia declare for union with Sardinia-Piedmont; Revolution in Sicily, Garibaldi lands and is victorious; invades Italy and gains victory; enters Naples Piemontese army under Victor Emmanuel take over from Garibaldi; Marche and Umbria vote for annexation to Piedmonte.


Sicily and Naples vote to join Kingdom of Italy; Kingdom of Italy proclaimed.


Italy joins Prussia in War against Austria; gains Venetia;


Italian troops occupy Rome when French abandon city;


(July) Rome made Capital of Kingdom

During the 18th century, intellectual changes began to dismantle traditional values and institutions. Liberal ideas from France and Britain spread rapidly, and from 1789 the French Revolution became the genesis of “liberal Italians”. A series of political and military events resulted in a unified kingdom of Italy in 1861. The settlements reached in 1815 at the Vienna Congress had restored Austrian domination over the Italian peninsula but had left Italy completely fragmented . The Congress had divided the territory among a number of European nations and the victors of the Napoleonic Wars. The Kingdom of Sardinia recovered Piedmont (Piemonte), Nice, and Savoy and acquired Genoa.

There were three major obstacles to unity at the time the congress took place, i.e. (a) the Austrian occupation of Lombardy and Venice in the north, (b) the principality under the sovereignty of the pope, i.e. the Papal States that controlled the center of the Italian peninsula; and (c) the existence of various states that had maintained independence, such as the Kingdom of Sardinia, also called Piedmont-Sardinia, which located at the French border had slowly expanded since the Middle Ages and was considered the most advanced state in Italy. The Kingdom of Sardinia consisted of the island of Sardinia and the region called Piedmont in northwestern Italy. The Kingdom of Sicily that occupied the island of Sicily and the entire southern half of the Italian peninsula . Other small states were the duchies of Toscana (Tuscany), Parma, and Modena. In each of these states, the monarchs (all relatives of the Habsburgs, the ruling family of Austria) exercised absolute powers of government.

Giuseppe Mazzini

Giuseppe Mazzini

Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian patriot spearheaded a national revolutionary movement. Mazzini’s ideology of an independent integrated republic spread quickly among large segments of the Italian people. Revolutionary cells formed throughout the Italian peninsula.

Massive reforms that took place during the 1840s in the Papal States, Lucca, Tuscany, and the Kingdom of Sardinia were intended to slow the revolutionary movements, instead these reforms (1846 and 1847) only intensified the resolve of the revolutionary cells culminating in the Revolutions of 1848, that spread to Germany, the Austrian Empire, France, and parts of northern Italy.

The first revolution on the Italian peninsula took place in the Kingdom of Sicily, which resulted in a constitution for the whole kingdom. An insurrection in 1848 caused pope Pius IX to flee Rome and a republic was proclaimed. King Charles Albert of Sardinia mobilized his army and marched to the assistance of Lombardy and joined in the war to drive the Austrians from Italian soil.

​While it initially looked as if the independence and unity of Italy was a realistic possibility, the Austrians defeated the Piedmontese and Charles Albert had to abdicate. His son, Victor Emmanuel II, succeeded him in 1849. A new revolutionary leader, Giuseppe Garibaldi, could not avoid Rome’s destruction by the French in 1849. Only Sardinia held firm to their constitutional government.

Count Camillo di Cavour

Count Camillo di Cavour became prime minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia In 1852 . It was his leadership and accommodating policies that led to the unification of Italy in little more than a decade.

Count of Cavour

Cavour was able to persuade Napoleon to a secretly planned war against Austria. By early 1859, Cavour had caused a crisis that provoked the Austrians to send an ultimatum demanding Piedmontese disarmament.  As part of the “plan”, Cavour rejected the ultimatum which led to the subsequent war with the Austrians.The French came to the aid of the Piedmontese and the Austrians were defeated in the two major battles of Magenta and Solferino. The Austrians were forced to surrender Lombardy, with its great city of Milan (my home town), to Napoleon III. Finally, in 1859, Napoleon transferred Lombardy to the sovereignty of Victor Emmanuel II.

Following elections during 1859 and 1860, all northern states (of the Italian peninsula), except Venetia, which was still part of Austria, joined the Kingdom of Sardinia. Napoleon’s growing concern with respect to the sudden (large) size of his neighbor was resolved in part by the cessation of the Sardinian provinces of Savoy, near the Alps, and Nice, on the Mediterranean coast to France in 1860 . After 1860, the only French presence on the Italian peninsula was in the city of Rome, where French troops remained at the request of the pope.

Giuseppe Garibaldi

Giuseppe Garibaldi Italian nationalist revolutionary hero and leader in the struggle for Italian unification and independence. Born in 1807 in Nice, France, he joined Mazzini’s movement in 1833. In 1834 Garibaldi was ordered to seize a warship, but the plot was discovered by police and he was condemned to death.

Giuseppe Garibaldi

He escaped to South America, where he lived for 12 years. There he displayed unusual qualities of military leadership while participating in the revolt of the state of Rio Grande do Sul against Brazil, as well as later in a civil war in Uruguay.  In 1848, Garibaldi traveled to the United States settled in Staten Island, New York, and later became a US citizen.

During the same year he returned to Italy and participated (again) in the movement for Italian freedom and unification, which became widely known as the Risorgimento (Italian for “revival”).

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