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Unification of Italy

In the eighth century, Italy was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Gradually, Italy was divided into different small units. The emperors of different countries, especially Austria and France, continued to establish their dominion over the Italian provinces.

The French Revolution of 1789 brought the message of liberty and nationalism into Italy. In the eighteenth century, Napoleon Bonaparte reduced several divisions to only three divisions.
The Congress of Vienna, headed by Metternich, the Chancellor (Prime Minister) of Austria, in 1815 ignored the political aspirations of the Italian patriots desiring freedom, unity and reforms. It restored the old states on the basis of the principle of legitimacy. The five groups organised were
  1. Naples and Sicily
  2. The Papal States
  3. Modena, Parma and Tuscany
  4. Lombardy and Venetia
  5. The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia ruled by Italian King, Victor Emmanuel I
A movement for freedom and unity known as the ‘Risorgimento’ began in Italy. The anti-Austrian feeling supplied a unifying force. It was Mazzini who strengthened Italian nationalism and kept alive the spirit of revolt.
A number of secret societies sprang up in Italy for unification; one of the most important was the Society of the Carbonari (i.e. charcoal burners):
Mazzini, the Prophet of Italian Nationalism, was a member of Carbonari and also founded a society called ‘Young Italy’. Mazzini appealed particularly to the young to join the Young Italy and serve the noble cause of unification. He spread the ideas of unity and independence through his writings and speeches.
Count Cavour, the Prime Minister of Sardinia, played a remarkable and major role in the unification of Italy. Like all the Italian patriots, Cavour desired that Austria should be driven out of Italy.
He took part in the Crimean War in 1855 along the side of Turkey, England and France against Russia to win the support of these countries for the cause of unification.
The Austro-Sardinian War broke out in 1859; Sardinian King Victor Emmanuel II won the battle and liberated Lombardy. The Italian unification under Count Cavour could not continue as the emperor of France, Napoleon III, withdrew support abruptly.
In 1860, the Sicilians appealed to Garibaldi, another architect of the unification of Italy. Garibaldi with his army, ‘Redshirts’, defeated the Bourbon King and liberated Sicily. Garibaldi proceeded towards Rome, but his advances were checked by King Victor Emmanuel II. Garibaldi surrendered to the King. The Unification of Italy was completed in 1870 after Franco-Prussian war.

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