Venice Under Siege

There’s a great article in January’s History Today about Venice during the First World War. It’s a little outside our period but it refers to many of the themes that we use to understand the difficulties that Italy faced after unification. In particular we can see the attitude of the liberals who ruled Italy towards its peasantry in the 1871 quote from Antonio Papadopili, a member of the Venice’s elite, who wrote:

The fact is that the Venetian population do not want to work.  To render this town worthy of its name and fame, the people must be moralised.

Negative feelings towards Austria (Venetia was part of the Austrian Empire until 1866) are also evident, which I guess is not surprising as during the war they carried out 42 bombing raids on the city, according to the author Richard Bosworth.  See more at (subscribers only).

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The Carbonari and 1820

For a short time, it looked as if 1820 might become a decisive year in the history of Italy.  Revolutionaries in Naples seemed to have reached their goal – the unpopular and repressive King Ferdinand was scared and ready to make concessions that would enable him to keep his crown, when in July six years after his restoration dissatisfaction had boiled over into action.   Thirty members of a secret society called the Carbonari, led by a rebellious General, Guglielmo Pepe, had forced Ferdinand to grant a constitution.  This society, organised and hierarchical, used secret ritual, passwords and documents to bind their members together, and to keep their aims hidden.  Accounts, like this one, really seem to dwell on the complex and occult nature of their rituals.

The story of Italian unification often presented is that the Carbonari represented a middle and aristocratic strand of the population who wanted to expell Kings, Dukes and Popes from the peninsula and replace their rule with a untied Italian Republic.   However, as historian RJ Rath points out the evidence seems to present a more complicated picture about their aims:

It appears that there were [sic] always enough vagueness in the political objectives of the organization as a whole and sufficient allowance for freedom of thought within such a program as existed to make it possible for good liberals – and Carbonarism was a “liberal movement” – to come to different conclusions in regard to the ideal form of government to establish in Italy

It is not really possible therefore to pin down a single set of aims of the Carbonari, which were different in different parts of the country. It seemed that some groups did contain radical republicans, whilst others, as we can see from the events of 1820-21, wanted only to persuade their local monarch or duke to rule in accordance with a written constitution.  Many other Carbonari enjoyed the social aspects of their secret club, and used it as a place to network, or to raise money for charity – a bit like the Round Table in Britain today.

In fact these divided aims meant that although the Carbonari had large numbers of members, they did not really represent a political force, or even an effective force for change, as the failure of the revolts of 1820-21 and 1831 show.

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Episode 14 – The Orsini Plot and the Secret Meeting in Plombieres 1858

At the end of the podcast we learned that in 1856 Cavour had become a little over-excited and put forward a plan for war with Austria which the British Foreign Secretary had described as not ‘practical’ and ‘absurd’.

However, within 5 years there had been such a war, Austria had been defeated and a kingdom of Italy had been created which took in Piedmont, Lombardy, the Central Duchies and the Papal States, and even Naples.  Only Vienna and Rome remained outside this new Kingdom by the end of 1861.  This podcast tells us how that war was started.


Podcast No 14 – The Orsini Plot

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Episode 13 – The Development of Piedmont (Part II)

In the last podcast (quite a long time ago) we learned about Cavour’s part in the political, economic and industrial development of Piedmont in the 1850s’. In this second podcast about the development of Piedmont we’re going to cover diplomatic developments. In other words we’ll be looking at how the political and economic changes helped Piedmont to win friends and followers inside and outside of Italy.

If you are still reading and listening, thanks for keeping the faith! I’ll be finishing this podcast over the next few weeks – they’re all written, and I’m planning on recording a couple of them each week.

Stay tuned for the next episode!

Podcast No 13 – The Development of Piedmont after 1849

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A third Jesus Christ for Italy? Italian Heroes and the Risorgimento.

Whilst doing some reading for this blog – I intend to restart the podcast this summer and complete it as soon as I can, I started thinking about similarities between the Italian politician Bepe Grillo and Garibaldi.  Grillo’s wikipedia page lists him as ‘an Italian comedianactorblogger and political activist. He has been involved in political activity since 2009 as founder of the Five Star Movement, [who] does not hold any public office”.

I came across this article :We need a surreal fantasist like Beppe Grillo to rescue Italy, says Nobel-winning playwright Dario Fo | World news | The

In which Dario Fo, Italian left wing playwright, sets Grillo up as Italy’s saviour (and makes some very interesting use of the fractured nature of Italy’s past).  I wondered whether anyone else had started to think about the nature of Grillo’s campaign in the light of history.  Turns out Grillo himself was already using Italy’s troubled past to make his own political points, and perhaps to improve his own political future:

Beppe Grillo’s Blog

Grillo held a high profile election rally in Sicily in March 2013, after swimming to the island. It seems that Grillo is aware of the PR power of masculine feats of endurance, but also aware of the importance of Sicily in the history of the unification of Italy.  In his blog, Grillo writes of three visits to Sicily, the first by Garibaldi – which brought in the Piedmontese (it’s really interesting that he still refers to this as a victory for one of the Italian states, instead of celebrating the unification of Italy), the second by the Americans, who brought the mafia; and the third by himself, bringing a new kind of hope for Sicily based on development of the island’s economy.  The power of celebrity in Italy’s politics is also interesting, especially for us AS and A level historians who study the impact of one man in particular – Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Searching around brought me to this really interesting article, by Lucy Riall in History Today.

Garibaldi: The First Celebrity | History Today

Riall’s main point is that Garibaldi’s celebrity was, like its modern version, consciously created and nurtured, in order to contribute to the aim of a united Italy.   Riall tells us how Mazzini noticed the potential that Garibaldi presented as a symbol of Italian-ness.  Garibaldi was therefore a poster-boy for the idea of Italian unity, an idea which lacked many other positive symbols, traditions or even a common language.   She also points out how Mazzini’s campaign involved radicals in Britain, mainland Europe as well as in Italy itself.

Beppe Grillo’s Blog

We need a surreal fantasist like Beppe Grillo to rescue Italy, says Nobel-winning playwright Dario Fo | World news | The Observer

PoliticaPrima: Grillo as Garibaldi?

Comedian Beppe Grillo makes a splash in Sicily election campaign | World news | The Guardian

Don Murray: Fractious Italy votes to send in the clowns – World – CBC News

Garibaldi: The First Celebrity | History Today

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The Beating of General Haynau

I’m doing a little research for a book chapter on the popularity of Garibaldi during a visit he made to England in 1864.  Public opinion in Britain was much more focused on ‘foreign affairs’ than it is today.  Many people saw Britain as having a special role in showing the world the benefits of liberalism and a strong state constitution.  People were also confident that Britain could use it’s might to combat injustice around the world.

Whilst reading I came across this fascinating artefact.  It’s a handkerchief commemorating the beating of an Austrian general during his visit to England in 1850.  General Haynau, it was alleged at the time, had ordered the wives of Hungarian rebels to be flogged in 1849 after a failed revolt against Austrian rule.

In 1850 Haynau was visiting Britain and expressed an interest in touring the Barclay and Perkins brewery in Southwark.  One of the draymen recognised Haynau, from his famous moustaches, and raised a cry of ‘pitch him into the Thames!’ in revenge for his mistreatment of the Hungarian rebels and their wives.  Haynau was badly beaten, but managed to escape by hiding in a pub and then climbing out of the window under the protection of the police.   An international incident was only averted when Palmerston reluctantly apologised for Haynau’s rough treatment.

What’s interesting is that some enterprising person with an eye for profit decided to commemorate the affair by printing these handkerchiefs.  Whether they sold well I don’t know, but there was at least an expectation that they would – which shows what a strong interest the public had in Britain’s role in Europe and the world in the mid 1800s.

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Podcast Hiatus.

I am very sorry we have not finished the recording of the podcast… yet.  I’ve been somewhat distracted by writing the textbook, and running a department!  Anyway.  I’ve resigned as head of dept with effect of end of July, and will complete the podcast in the months following.  In the meantime, here’s the text that I’ll be working on to finish it.


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The languages of Italy.

I’m researching a page or two of the forthcoming (very forthcoming) textbook, and came across a couple of really interesting bits and bobs.  The first is this article about the Arbereshe Albanian minority in Italy, which reminded me of this other wikipedia article and map on the dialects of Italy today.  The map suggests that there is still enormous regional variation and diversity in the languages spoken in Italy.

Further searching led me to Italian Language Today, which looks like a really interesting book, a journal which I can’t get at… and this really interesting piece on the use of Italian as ‘polite’ language in Italy.

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Revising Over Christmas

If you’re coming to the Little Heath revision conference tomorrow (the 28th December) then you might find these items useful.

Firstly there’s the overview revision powerpoint, which I will send you home with, but which we will not go through in lots of detail.

Then there’s the powerpoint “Revise Everything” explaining why you really should revise the whole course, and not attempt to question spot.

Take a look at this guide to writing excellent Italian history.

Finally, the following links to past papers you should definitely use, practice and send your teacher any attempts:

The June 2012 paper is here – F964-02Jun12.


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Episode 12 – The Development of Piedmont (part I)

In this episode we consider the ways that Piedmont developed after the setbacks of the 1848 and 1849 revolutions.  We’ll find out about the political, economic and industrial development of Piedmont, and in the next episode we’ll follow up with the diplomatic developments.

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