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The Revolution of 1848-1849 in Italy – First Independence War

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In the 30s-50s of the XIX century, Italy was economically backward and politically fragmented, burdened with many feudal survivals by an agrarian country. Its industry was weakened, clasped by the borders of small states, fenced off from each other by political and customs borders, and only in the 1840s – and even then only in the most developed economic regions of northern Italy – entered the stage of the industrial revolution. In agriculture, feudal vestiges were strong. The Italian bourgeois, heavily investing their capital in agriculture, were exploited by the same semi-feudal methods as the nobles, who were deprived of their land and turned into beggar peasants and laborers.

Spanish domination, which was preceded, although short-lived, by the French, was replaced by the Austrian as a result of the war for the Spanish inheritance and in accordance with the Treaty of Utrecht and Rastadt in 1713-1714.  After the war for the Polish and Austrian inheritance only the Milan region continued to be in direct possession of Austria.

All this time in a special situation was the Piedmontese state , formed of a number of feuds belonging to the house of Savoy . At the end of the war for the Spanish inheritance, it became a kingdom, significantly expanded its territory by annexing adjacent lands.

The right image is irrelevant.

So, again, as for almost three centuries, the fate of Italy was determined by the decisions of the great powers, according to which Austrian domination was established in most of the states of the Apennine peninsula.

In the late 1840s, the socio-political crisis continued to grow in Italy. The aggravation of the social issue was due to the development of the initial accumulation of capital and the disintegration of the social structures of feudalism. Pauperizm became an integral feature of the social appearance of the villages and cities of Italy, but the social issue was primarily a peasant one and assumed cardinal changes in the sphere of land ownership and land use.

The pace of industrialization was low and held back by the political fragmentation of the country, but they lagged behind the rate of proletarianization of the population. Italy needed a variety of reforms.

Revolution of 1848-1849

On March 23, the Venetian Republic headed by Daniele Manin (1804-1857), was proclaimed. In March, the barricades of Milan were covered, and the many-thousand corps led by the Austrian general Josef Radetsky left the city. From Parma and Modena, Austrian troops were driven out. In these circumstances, the King of Piedmont, Charles Albert, offered his assistance to Lombardy and Venice in the name of national liberation of the country. Charles Albert wanted to deliver the idea of ​​creating the North Italian kingdom.

This was the beginning of military action against Austria, which went down in history as the first War of Independence. In the military operations against the Austrians, in addition to the army of Piedmont, regular troops of the Papal States, the Naples Kingdom, detachments of patriots of Tuscany, Lombardy and Venice took part in the struggle. The Italian states united in a single liberation fight. But the political disagreements of the Italian rulers, the forcing of the Savoy dynasty of the unification process around Piedmont did not allow to consolidate the success.

On April 29, the pope declared that he was neutral and withdrew his troops. The position of Rome should be interpreted as the reluctance of the pontiff to complicate relations with Austria. Almost immediately, Neapolitan King Ferdinand II led his troops. A favorable moment for the defeat of the Austrian troops was missed.

On July 22, Piedmont’s troops suffered a serious defeat at Custozza, and then Milan was surrendered. August 8, Carl Albert signed a truce. Austrian domination in Lombardy and the Venetian region was restored, the patriotic camp lost its unity and right and left radicalism intensified.

From September 1848 to May 1849, the Sicilian insurrection was suppressed. Ferdinand II bombarded the Sicilian city of Messina and received for this the moniker king-bomb.

In November 1848, a revolution began in the Papal State. The pope fled, and in Rome a republic was proclaimed under the leadership of Giuseppe Mazzini.

In Tuscany, in February 1849, an uprising broke out, Leopold II was removed from power and a republic was established. In such conditions, a new phase of the Piedmont War began against the Austrian troops. This stage lasted only a few days.

March 23 at the Battle of Novara, Piedmontese troops suffered a crushing defeat. Charles Albert for fear that now the Sardinian kingdom will overflow the Republican movement, abdicated in favor of his son Victor Emmanuel II. Given the current situation and unwilling to allow further decline in the prestige of the monarchy, the new king authorized the Constitution and the functioning of the parliament. In April, liberal and democratic forces in Tuscany were defeated, and the throne was returned to the Duke of Leopold, the Dukes of Parma and Modena returned to their thrones.

The pope, seeking to crush the Roman Republic more quickly, turned to France for help. French general Udino began fighting with the armed forces of Giuseppe Garibaldi, defending Rome. July 3, 1849 the republic fell, the republican institutions ceased to exist, and its leaders were forced to emigrate. On August 22, Venice stopped resisting.

The revolution of 1848-1849 was an important stage of Risorgimento, but it was halted. In its course, it collapsed constitutional regimes in all Italian states, except for Piedmont, and there was a stubborn rivalry between the liberal and democratic forces in the struggle for leading positions, although their rapprochement was already outlined in determining Italy’s main goal. Preservation of the Constitution and Parliament in Piedmont is the only positive result of this revolution.


Giorgio Candeloro. The history of modern Italy.
History of Italy. T. 2. M., 1970.
Bertie J. Democrats and Socialists in the Risorgimento period



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