Revolutions swept through Italy and then Europe early in 1848. They had not been planned, unlike the revolutions of 1820 and 1830, although economic distress and popular unrest meant that they were widely expected. A revolt in Palermo, Sicily, in January 1848 marked the start. After the king of Naples, Ferdinand II, agreed to grant a constitution, other Italian rulers followed suit: the pope, the grand duke of Tuscany, and finally (and most reluctantly) Charles Albert of Piedmont. Vienna, the capital of Austria, became the site of revolution in March, setting off uprisings in Lombardy. After five days of bloody street fighting, Austrian forces withdrew from Milan. The Venetians also revolted against Austria and established a republic.
Conservatives initially hoped to stem the threat of revolution by making minimal political concessions. In Piedmont Camillo Cavour had advised the king, Charles Albert, that a constitution was the only means to avoid revolution. However, the king and his advisers understood that hostility to Austria and nationalist enthusiasm offered opportunities to realize their expansionist ambitions. War against Austria also offered a means of preserving unity among dangerously divided revolutionaries. In March 1848 Charles Albert, leading a Piedmontese army, invaded Lombardy and appealed to the Italians to rally to his cause.
Charles Albert’s aim was to rally Italian opponents of Austrian rule under his leadership, but the outcome was very different. In April 1848 Pius IX denounced the war against Austria, and in July the Austrians defeated the Piedmontese army at the Battle of Custozza. The initiative now swung to the radicals, who gained control in Tuscany and then in Rome, after Pius IX and his cardinals fled from the city in December. In January 1849 Mazzini and revolutionary leader Giuseppi Garibaldi took office in a republican government established in Rome. By spring 1849 the tide had turned.
In the south King Ferdinand II of Naples already had reversed himself and staged a coup against the constitutional government in May 1848. In the spring of 1849 his army suppressed revolts on the mainland and regained control of Sicily by bombarding its main cities. This action earned Ferdinand the title of King Bomba.
In northern Italy, Austrian armies led by Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky crushed the revolutions in the Battle of Custoza. Charles Albert abdicated in favor of his son, Victor Emmanuel II, in April, after defeat by the Austrians in the Battle of Novara. Austrian troops restored the grand duke of Tuscany and began to besiege Venice. Meanwhile, the pope had appealed for help from Spain, Naples, and France, and they sent armies to destroy the republican government in Rome. Giuseppe Garibaldi directed the defense of Rome against overwhelming odds. In July, French troops entered the city to restore the papal government. But Garibaldi conducted a retreat that enabled most of the republic’s defenders to survive.
Garibaldi’s defense of the Roman Republic turned defeat into a moral victory, making him the most renowned figure among the Italian nationalists. Born in Nice and a sailor by profession, Garibaldi had initially followed Mazzini. His reputation before 1848 rested chiefly on the experience he had gained fighting for the Liberals in Uruguay. In 1848 his guerrilla tactics had proved effective against Austrian troops, and his defense of the Roman Republic enhanced his military prestige. After 1849 Garibaldi came to admire Victor Emanuel, which caused many nationalists to drop their republican sympathies and rally to the Piedmontese monarchy. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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