“Few people in 1830 believed that an Italian nation might exist. There were eight states in the peninsula, each with distinct laws and traditions. No one had had the desire or the resources to revive Napoleon's partial experiment in unification." (Denis Mack Smith)
In the 18th century, Italy was still divided into smaller states, but differently than during medieval times when the political entities were independent and were flourishing economic and cultural centers almost unrivaled in Europe. During the 18th century, all of them were submitted to one of the greater hegemonic powers. This process of conquest and submission began during the early 16th century, when France was called on by the Duke Milan to intervene in his favor and from there never stopped.
This was the geopolitical picture in Italy when the tumult of the French Revolution crossed the Alps, and the military campaigns of the legendary Napoleon Bonaparte would initiate a chain of events that would have massive reverberations across Italy throughout the 19th century. The different Italian states on the peninsula experienced Napoleonic rule in the early 1800s, followed by a brief restoration that led to widespread political upheavals in the 1820s. As the 1840s came to a close, the Italian peninsula was in major disarray. In 1847, the Austrian Chancellor Klement von Metternich referred to Italy as merely a “geographical expression,” and to some extent, he was not far off the mark. The inhabitants did not speak Italian; only a literate few wrote in the Italian of Dante and of Machiavelli, and a mere estimated two and a half percent spoke the language. The rest spoke their own regional dialects, which were so distinct from one another as to be incomprehensible from town to town. Similarly, most future Italian citizens knew nothing of the history of the peninsula, but instead learned of their own local traditions and histories.
The events of 1848-1849 began to pull the peninsula together, however. In January 1848, Sicily had a major revolution, which provoked widespread uprisings and riots, after which the kingdoms of Sardinia, the Two Sicilies, the Papal States and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany all were granted constitutions. In February, the Pope fled Rome and a three-month long Republic was declared, headed by Giuseppe Mazzini. In March, a revolution in Venice led to the declaration of a republic. In April, Milan also rebelled and became a republic. Soon, the Austrian government clamped down again. No one would have fathomed the nationalist Risorgimento movement would unify Italy a little over a decade later.
The Kingdom of Italy: The History and Legacy of the Italian State from Unification to the End of World War II chronicles the turbulent events and wars that unified Italy into one kingdom, and the struggle to maintain it over the next 75 years. You'll learn about the Kingdom of Italy like never before.
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