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Nationalism and Empire in Europe

Unification for Romanians and Italians | Discontent in Ireland | Polish Resistance | Russian Territorial Expansion | Prussia vs Habsburg Austria | Austria-Hungary and Nationalism | Franco-Prussian War and German Unification

Romania and Italy

Emperor Franz Joseph as a young man

Franz Joseph, another mediocrity who inherited power by accident of birth.

map of Europe, 1848

Europe and distribution of ethnicities, 1848.   map of Europe, 1848, enlarged

In Europe after the Crimean War, the ages-old competition for control over territory still existed. There would be competition for control over territory between the power centered in Paris and the power centered in Berlin, and between Berlin and the Habsburg empire centered in Vienna.

The competition for territory included people wanting to be free of rule by foreigners. Nationalism had become a major force within Europe, marked by religious rivalries: conflict between the Eastern Orthodox Slavic peoples and Emperor Franz Joseph, who championed Roman Catholicism. And there was the Protestant English dominating the Roman Catholic Irish.

Independence for Romania

A nationalism versus empire issue was known in Europe as the "Romanian Question." It was featured in newspapers and was discussed particularly by Romanians in exile and by French writers and scholars. The Romanian lands of Moldavia and Walachia (Wallachia) were ruled nominally by the Ottoman sultan in Turkey and had been Russian protectorates since 1829. Attempts in 1848 to establish independence had been crushed. At the 1856 Paris Peace Conference that ended the Crimean War, Russia lost its protectorate status regarding Moldavia and Walachia. That conference compelled the Ottoman Empire to grant Moldavia and Walachia autonomy, to be guaranteed by the conference's participants.

In 1857, assemblies in both Moldavia and Walachia voted to unite the two regions. Austria and Turkey were opposed to the unification while Britain found it in its interest to accept it. On January 24, 1859, the unification took place. A Moldavian born aristocrat who had fought for independence in 1848, Alexander Cuza, was chosen by Romanians as ruler of what they called the United Principalities of Romania. And the unification was formalized in 1861.

The Unification of Italy

Italy had been divided politically since the disintegration of the Roman Empire. Since 1494 it had been a battleground for Europe's great powers. In the mid-1800s in the southern half of Italy was the Kingdom of Naples-Sicily, ruled by the amiable and intelligent but cynical Bourbon king, Ferdinand II. Just north of Naples-Sicily was Rome and Pope Pius IX (r 1846-78). Pope Pius depended on French and Austrian military power to maintain his positions, and he believed that to fulfill the Church's spiritual mission the papacy needed to continue rule over the Papal States. In the far north of Italy, in Venetia (including the city of Venice) and in Lombardy (including the city of Milan), Franz Joseph ruled. And in the far northwest was Piedmont, a part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, a liberal constitutional monarchy and a haven for Italian nationalists who had been involved in 1848-49 upheavals.

Like Walachia and Moldavia, Italy had been impacted by the Crimean War. In that war, Sardinia-Piedmont fought with France against the Russians. And Napoleon III, President of France beginning in December 1848 and Emperor since 1852, believed in nationhood for Italians as well as for the French. In the wake of the Crimean War, Napoleon supported Piedmont-Sardinia against Franz Joseph's opposition to Italian nationalism. War was still very much a way of settling differences, and with France as ally the premier of Sardinia-Piedmont, Camillo Benso de Cavour, goaded Franz Joseph's Austria into a war.

Austria's imperial army suffered from inferior leadership, from lack of preparation and training and from insufficient transport, with soldiers arriving for battle in a condition of exhaustion, sick and hungry. Italians and Hungarians in Austria's army deserted in large numbers, and in June, 1859, France and Piedmont-Sardinia defeated the Habsburg army at Solferino (near the town of Mantua in eastern Lombardy), the Habsburg-Austrian side losing 14,000 killed and wounded and more than 8,000 missing or taken as prisoners. France and Sardinia-Piedmont lost 15,000 killed and wounded and lost more than 2,000 as missing or as prisoners. Napoleon III was appalled by the bloodshed and deserted his alliance with Piedmont-Sardinia. Without France, Piedmont's premier, Cavour, feared that the cause of Italian unity was lost. But the war had given hope to urban masses down the Italian peninsula. They went into the streets chanting "foreigners out of Italy," and they chanted "Victor Emmanuel," the king of Piedmont-Sardinia, whom they wanted as their king.

In July 1859 a compromise peace was established at the Conference of Villafranca (in Spain). France acquired Savoy and Nice. Austria gave Lombardy (including Milan) to France, which then gave it to Piedmont-Sardinia.

Garibaldi and Victor 
	  Emmanuel II

Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel II greeting on the bridge of Teano on 26 October 1860 (a mural at Sala del Risorgimento, Palazzo Pubblico, in the city of Siena)

Then came a pro-democracy uprising across Sicily. A thousand nationalist volunteers led by Giuseppe Garibaldi arrived in Sicily on May 11, 1860. The Bourbon king, Francis II, of Naples-Sicily has been described as a weak character, influenced by his stepmother Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, by priests and court reactionaries. Garibaldi's thousand defeated a force of 3,000 who ran out of ammunition. The victory of Garibaldi's men in hand-to-hand combat inspired people to join Garibaldi in the thousands. Three months after having arrived, Garibaldi and his volunteers were in control of the whole of Sicily. Then they men moved into the southern half of the Italian peninsula. The government under Francis fell apart. In early September, Garibaldi and his army triumphantly entered Naples.

The papal states were now squeezed between Garibaldi's force from the south and the nationalist force in Piedmont from the north of the peninsula. Plebiscites in the former kingdom of Naples-Sicily and in the papal states overwhelmingly favored these regions becoming a part of a united Italy. The new kingdom of Italy was proclaimed on March 17, 1861. Italy had become a parliamentary monarchy under King Victor Emmanuel II, its capital Turin (in Piedmont). That portion of the papal states outside of Latium were now a part of Italy, while Rome and Latium remained under papal control, and Venetia remained under Austrian rule.


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