Podcast 5 – the Rebellions of 1831/2



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Podcast 5 – the Rebellions of 1831/2.
In the last podcast we thought carefully about how the rebellions of 1821 were brought to an end by Austria’s military might, and the dis-interest of the great powers.
Ten years later another set of rebellions broke out. These were much more geographically spread out over more of the Italian peninsula. However, they came to a sticky end, just like the earlier rebellions, at the hands of Austria’s army. It is really useful to look at this second wave of rebellions because they help confirm the factors that were preventing the independence or unification of Italy. After we have looked at the 1831 revolts, we’ll spend some time comparing them to the 1821 revolutions, to make sure we understand why both failed to bring change to Italy.
Just like 1821, it was events outside Italy that inspired new attempts to change things in the peninsula. In 1830 the Bourbon King of France was overthrown, and in his place King Louis Phillipe was installed. This new king had the reputation of a liberal, of a reformer. It was hoped by some in Italy that this might mean that France would support attempts to change things in Italy.
In 1831 it was the states of Modena, Parma and the Romagna (the northern part of the Papal States) where trouble took hold. The places which saw revolts in 1821 remained quiet. However, the same sorts of people were the ones hoping to bring change.
In Modena in February 1831, Enrico Misley, a lawyer and son of a university professor, at the head of a group of Carbonari revolutionaries, approached Duke Francesco of Modena with the idea of causing a revolution in Modena, and in Piedmont. Misley tried to persude the Duke that he could, in the confusion, take the throne of Piedmont. Francesco liked the sound of the idea, but realised that the Austrians wouldn’t stand for it. Francesco arrested Misley, whose followers rebelled anyway. In the confusion Francesco fled (as did the Duchess of Parma, the state next door, Marie Louise).
Across the border in the northern Papal States, middle class liberals in the cities of Bologna, Perugia and Ancona decided to throw off the rule of the Pope. During the Napoleonic era these middle class men had enjoyed quite a lot of power in their cities. In 1815 when the Pope’s rule had been restored they lost this power. They resented the rule of the Cardinals appointed by the Pope. 1831 looked, to these liberal reformers, like an opportunity to claim independence from the Papacy in Rome.
Here’s an extract from a declaration made by the rebels in Bologna on February 8th 1831:
Article 1 – The TEMPORAL power of the Roman Pontiff over this city and province is legally at an end for ever.
Article 2 – A general assembly of the people is summoned to choose deputies who will form a new government
Article 3 – This will soon be explained in more detail when other nearby cities have joined us and we know how many deputies are to be elected. A legal national representation will then come into existence.
At first sight this might seem like a pretty powerful call to arms to create a new Italy, especially when we hear words like ‘a legal national representation will then come into existence’. However, what this declaration actually shows is the local nature of this revolt. You can see that the Bologna rebels are waiting for news from other cities in the Romagna, and when they speak of a national representation they’re thinking of a state that might come to be ­in the Romagna not an Italian state. Added to this is the fact that the rebels in Bologna decided not to send troops or aid to those in Modena, which they referred to as a ‘foreign’ city.
So, what we see in 1831 is two separate revolts. One in Modena, one in The Romagna, both with different leaders, different aims and different ideas. The only thing that united them was their utter defeat at the hands of the Austrian army. The Pope, and the Duke of Modena asked for help from the Austrian Emperor. Austria’s interest in maintaining control over Italy, and in defeating nationalist ideas (there’ll be more about these in next week’s podcast) meant that they were only too pleased to crush both rebellions.
So, why did Italian rebels fail so dismally to bring about any lasting changes in the years 1815-48? What made Italy such a unstable, but ultimately an un-changeable political situation in those years? Listen on for the top three reasons for failure in these revolts.
At number three is the limited aims and support of the rebels. We’ve seen how the average Italian peasant was absorbed in the everyday necessities of growing food, finding work, looking after their families. Such peasants were un-interested in ideas like “Italy”. When peasants did get involved in revolutions, as in Sicily in 1821, they were crushed by other middle class revolutionaries. It was the middle classes who were revolting in the years after 1815. These middle class revolutionaries also had their own concerns, and only a very few were active supporters of the idea of Italian unity. The revolutionaries of Naples in 1821 and of Bologna in 1831 wanted the kind of influence they had enjoyed in the Napoleonic era. In 1821 the Piedmontese rebels wanted a constitution, not a united Italy. It’s not surprising that the rebels in Bologna refused to support the foreigners in the neighbouring state of Modena, they had a different language, different customs, and they were ruled by a different Duke.
The second reason why the revolutions of 1821 and 31 failed to win any kinds of change was that of foreign indifference or impotence. The 1815 Vienna settlement meant that Italy was Austria’s back yard. Britain didn’t want to intervene, in case France got more influence at Austria’s expense. Britain’s policy was called ‘maintaining the balance of power’ and what was bad for Austria might be good for France, their old enemy.

France wanted more influence, but after the Napoleonic era had to act in ways that didn’t seem too threatening to the other powers. After Louis Phillipe came to the throne he was scared that Britain, France, Prussia or Austria might try to restore the Bourbons, the ‘rightful’ kings of France. He couldn’t therefore afford to try to gain influence in Italy by helping the rebels.


At number one though, is the strength of Austria. We’ve already heard how Italy was officially Austria’s back yard, according to the 1815 treaty of Vienna. We’ve also heard about the reasons why other countries couldn’t intervene in Italian affairs. The events of the revolts in 1821 and 1831 should also convince us that Austria had the military might to prevent the success of any revolutions in Italy. Indeed the threat of Austria’s intervention was such that Aristocrats like Charles Albert, and Francesco of Modena, who otherwise might have attempted to use revolutions to their advantage, were too scared to attempt this.
So, there you have it – three big reasons why it was very hard to bring about political change in the Italian states in the years after 1815, and right up to 1848.
Something to do
Read the following source:
“A decade of Napoleonic rule in the Romagna had accustomed the educated classes to efficient modern government, progressive in outlook and secular in character. The Restoration of 1815 had replaced this with an outdated an inefficient administration, an antiquated legal system and the rule of the church, which ousted laymen from the government.”
Adapted from Historian Alan R Rainerman’s explanation for the 1831 revolts (1983)
It’s really important that you understand some of the words that are used in the course. What do the words ‘progressive’, ‘secular’ and ‘laymen’ mean? If you don’t know, look them up in a dictionary.
What evidence is there in the podcast to support Rainerman’s point that the middle classes wanted to end the power of the Pope?

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