The Unification of Italy

Treaty of Vienna

The signing of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna

The ‘Final Act’ of the Congress of Vienna was signed on the 9th June 1815, nine days before Napoleon’s final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. The purpose of the Congress was to review and reorganise Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, in an attempt to achieve a lasting peace.

Having first met after the defeat and surrender of Napleonic France in 1814, the Congress continued in spite of the renewal of hostilities following the period known as the Hundred Days in which Napoleon returned from exile and took back control of France. Chaired by Metternich, the Austrian principal minister, the Congress was led by the so-called Four Great Powers of Austria, Russia, Britain, and Prussia alongside France.  In total over 200 states were represented in some way at the Congress, making it the largest diplomatic event of its time.  However, the key terms were discussed and decided by the Great Powers in informal meetings.

The Final Act of the Congress set in place a map of Europe that remained largely unchanged for the next forty years, and – some may argue – set the scene for the First World War. Indeed the delegates were often criticised in the later nineteenth century for focusing more on achieving a balance of power than on maintaining peace. Nationalism, for example, was largely ignored in the final settlement. Although this was a key factor in the disputes and conflicts that emerged later, it’s important to remember that the Congress did succeed in its primary aim of securing wider European peace for the best part of a century.

The origins of Italian unification: 1815-1847

This revision podcast presents the background of Italian unification. Beginning with an overview of changes on the peninsula up to the late 18th Century, it firstly examines the impact of French rule under Napoleon.  The Congress of Vienna of 1815 ‘reset’ Italy, and so the podcast goes on to explore the differing opinions of how nationalism should be achieved.  There is some discussion of the failed revolutions of the 1820s and 1830s, as well as an introduction to the views of key personalities including Mazzini, Cavour and Pope Pius IX.

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Flag of the Roman Republic

The Italian Revolutions of 1848-49

This IB and A Level History revision podcast looks at the causes and events of the revolutions of 1848-49 in the Italian states. Beginning with the impact of Pope Pius IX’s liberal experiment of 1846-47, it explores the development of the revolutions that followed, and which swept across the Italian states. The rise and fall of the Roman Republic is explained, before going on to assess the reasons for the ultimate failure of the revolutions.

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Cavour

Italy 1849-58: The emergence of Piedmont

This IB and A Level History revision podcast explores Piedmont before and after Cavour’s appointment as Prime Minister. Political aspects covered include the Statuto, the Siccardi Laws and the Connubio. Piedmont’s involvement in the Crimean War is also addressed, as well as Cavour’s relationship with Napoleon III. The podcast ends with a summary of the Plombieres agreement.

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Garibaldi and Victor Emanuel II

Garibaldi hands southern Italy to Victor Emanuel II

On the 26th October 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi met with Victor Emanuel II, the King of Sardinia, at Teano and handed him control of southern Italy. Hailing him as King of Italy, Garibaldi’s surrender of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies effectively ended any hope for an Italian republic but was one of the most significant events in the unification of the peninsula.

Garibaldi landed with his ‘Thousand’ – better known as the Redshirts – on the island of Sicily on the 11th May. The number of troops under his command quadrupled within just three days and so, on the 14th, Garibaldi proclaimed himself dictator of Sicily in the name of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy.

Within a fortnight he had besieged the Sicilian capital of Palermo, where many of the inhabitants joined with him and began to attack the Neapolitan garrison. Despite the arrival of 25,000 reinforcements the Neapolitans surrendered the city following an armistice facilitated by a British admiral, but not before the city had been virtually reduced to rubble.

Further difficult battles followed, but by the start of September Garibaldi had crossed to the mainland and taken control of Naples after the king fled with his army. However, he was not yet defeated, and still had the support of around 25,000 soldiers. At the Battle of Volturno, Garibaldi’s Redshirts were only successful against them thanks to the arrival of the Piedmontese Army who made it clear that they would not allow Garibaldi to march on Rome. When Victor Emmanuel arrived on the 26th October therefore, Garibaldi handed over his territory and retired to the island of Caprera.