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Second Italian War of Independence – The Secret Deal

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Diplomatic Relations with France

One of the tasks of Napoleon III’s foreign policy was the ousting of Austria from Italy and the affirmation of the French supremacy in it. As Napoleon III was achieving this goal an attempt was made on his life in 1858 in Paris by the Italian patriot Orsini, an active participant in the defense of the Roman Republic of 1849. Orsini hoped that the removal of one of the stranglers of the Italian revolution – Napoleon III, which was supported by military force by the dilapidated papal regime, would clear the way for the rise of the liberation struggle. After the execution of Orsini, Napoleon III decided to act as the “patron” of the Italian national movement in order to neutralize the Italian revolutionaries and at the same time confirm French hegemony in Italy.

At the initiative of Napoleon III, in the summer of 1858, his secret meeting with Cavour (leading figure in the movement toward Italian unification) took place at the French resort of Plombier, during which the terms of the Franco-Piedmont military-political alliance, formalized as a secret treaty in January 1859, were agreed upon. He provided for the liberation of Lombardy and Venice from the Austrians, the annexation of these areas to Piedmont and the creation in this way of the Kingdom of Upper Italy. Piemonte undertook to expose 100 thousand of it’s soldiers, France – 200 thousand. For this assistance, Napoleon III demanded that the Sardinian Kingdom transfer to France part of its territory – Savoy and Nice – on the grounds that the majority of the population of these provinces speaks French. In addition, Napoleon III cherished the plan to create in the center of Italy, on the basis of Tuscany, a kingdom led by his cousin, and also to the Neapolitan throne to plant his protege-son Murat. To the Pope he assigned the role of the nominal head of the future federation of the four Italian states. Thus, as before, the fragmented Italy would be bound hand and foot by dependence on France. Cavour knew about these plans of Napoleon III, but hoped that the events would interfere with their implementation.

After the signing of the treaty, the Allies began to prepare for a war with Austria. Internationally, Napoleon III secured the promise of Russia to observe in the event of war benevolent neutrality and not to hinder the accession to Piedmont of Lombardy and Venice, which were under the rule of Austria. In Piedmont, 20,000 volunteers from all over Italy wished to join the liberation campaign. Garibaldi agreed to take part in the war as a general of the Piedmontese army and head the 3,000-strong volunteer corps, which included many participants in the heroic defense of Rome and Venice in 1849. Relations with Austria were becoming more and more heated, and this led on April 26, 1859, to the beginning of the war.


Military operations developed successfully for the Allied forces. After the defeat of the Austrian army at Magenta (June 4), she had to leave Milan. On June 8, Napoleon III and Piedmont King Victor Emmanuel II solemnly entered it. The Allies continued the offensive, Garibaldi’s corps moved particularly quickly. At the end of June, the French and Piedmontese troops achieved victory in the stubborn battles of Solferino and San Martino. Military defeat forced the Austrian army to leave the whole of Lombardy.

The war caused the rise of the national movement in Central Italy. The ferment began in Tuscany. Supporters of the “National Society” led a large patriotic demonstration in Florence, to which the troops joined. The Duke had to leave Tuscany. A provisional government with a predominance of moderate liberals was created. In the first half of June, in the midst of popular unrest, the rulers of Parma and Modena left their territories, and the governors appointed by Piedmont took over the administration. Simultaneously, in Romagna, after the departure of the Austrian troops, the people began to overthrow the papal authorities and their place was also taken by the Piedmontese royalties. Soon the insurrections swept the other provinces of the Papal States.

The upsurge of the popular movement in the center of Italy threatened to frustrate Napoleon III’s plan to put his protege on the throne of Tuscany. At the same time, there appeared a threat of Prussian action in support of Austria. All this forced Napoleon III to cease hostilities. Without warning his ally, he concluded on 11 July in the town of Villafranca a truce with the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. At their meeting it was decided that Austria would give Lombardy to Napoleon III, and he would transfer it to Piedmont, Tuscany and Modena would return to the old rulers, the pope’s authority would be restored in all its possessions, and Venice would remain in Austria’s hands.

The Villafranc truce caused an outburst of outrage throughout Italy. Cavour resigned. Patriotic forces were determined not to allow the return of deposed monarchs. Arrived The generals from Piedmont took command of troops in Tuscany, Parma, Modena and Romagna. It became clear that it would not be possible to impose the old order of Napoleon III on the population of these regions without armed intervention, on which neither Austria nor France dared. On the territory of the duchies of Modena, Parma and Tuscany, a pro-Sardinian state was formed, called the United Provinces of Central Italy. The Provisional Government offered the Sardinian King Victor Emmanuel II dictatorship, he rejected this proposal, but agreed to take Tuscany for the time of the war under his own protection and appointed Boncompany as its general commissioner. The latter formed a ministry, with Rikazoli at the head, and called a council. The National Assembly unanimously voted to join the Sardinian Kingdom. In these circumstances, Cavour, who returned to power in January 1860, went to the holding in central Italy of plebiscites regarding the further fate of the liberated territories. The overwhelming majority voted for the amalgamation of Tuscany, Parma, Modena and Romagna with the Sardinian Kingdom. With the Decree on the 18th of March, 1860, Parma along with Piacenza were officially included in the Sardinian kingdom. Following this, the decree of March declared the annexation of Tuscany to the Sardinian Kingdom. But at the same time Savoy and Nice in accordance with the agreement between Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel went to France.


Indro Montanelli. L’Italia del Risorgimento
Franco Valsecchi. L’Italia del Risorgimento e l’Europa delle nazionalit√†
Walter Maturi. Interpetazioni del Risorgimento

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