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Wars of Italian Independence
A series of wars that brought about the Unification of Italy, also known as the Risorgimento (resurgence).

This was the flag of the Kingdom of Italy.

First Italian War of Independence

The conflict began in 1848 when the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia declared war on Austria, while most of its cities - especially Milan, Venice and Vienna - were in revolt. The Piedmontese had limited support from the other major Italian states (the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Papal States). Initially, the Italian allies succeeded in capturing Milan, but the Piedmontese King's (at the time Carlo Alberto) ambiguous attitude, coupled with his fear of losing the Kingdom's sovereignty, led to the dissolution of the alliance. The Austrians counterattacked and defeated the Piedmontese at Custoza in July 1848 and reclaimed Lombardy by the following year.

The war ended with the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia paying an indemnity to Austria and Carlo Alberto abdicating in favour of his son.

Second Italian War of Independence

That defeat confirmed that Piedmont-Sardinia could not defeat the Austrians without an equally powerful ally. With the support of their Prime Minister - Camillo Benso, Conte di Cavour - the Italians found an ally in Napoleon III, who signed a secret alliance. Cavour proceeded to provoke Austria with a series of military manoeuvers near the border, which sparked a war in April 1859 when an ultimatum to demobilise went unheeded.

The war's notable high point was the Battle of Solferino in June 1859, where a combined Franco-Piedmontese Army, led by Napoleon III and the Piedmontese King Vittorio Emanuele II, fought the Austrian Army led by Emperor Franz Josef; that was considered the largest battle since the Battle of Leipzig (with both sides fielding roughly 160,000 troops each). The Franco-Sardinian Army defeated the Austrians, however, fearful that more German states would involve themselves in the war, Napoleon agreed to an armistice and Italy was awarded Lombardy in the ensuing Armistice of Villafranca. The following year, with French and British approval, Sardinia annexed Parma, Modena, Tuscany and the Papal Legations, whereas France was given Nice and Savoy as payment for their support in the war.

The Expedition of the Thousand

In 1860 a small volunteer force - the so-called "Expedition of the Thousand", a literal Redshirt Army led by Giuseppe Garibaldi - landed in Sicily and began toppling the Bourbon rule in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies during a short, but incredibly successful, military campaign which lead to its annexation by Piedmont-Sardinia.

On March 17, 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed: it was essentially an extension of Piedmont-Sardinia, where Piedmontese laws not only remained in effect but were also extended to the rest of the Peninsula. Turin remained the capital until 1864, when it was moved to Florence.

Third Italian War of Independence

Or Third War of Italian Unification. Better known as the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, with an appendix in the the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71. The Kingdom of Italy attacked the Austrians, but was defeated on the field and on sea. However, as it was allied to Prussia, it ended up on the winning side nonetheless and was able to annex Venice and its adjoining territories. As a consequence of the subsequent defeat against Germany, France was no longer able to protect the remnant of the Papal State, enabling the Kingdom of Italy to annex it on September 20, 1870, and make Rome its capital.


Depictions in Fiction:

  • The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa is set on Sicily before, during and after the Risorgimento (1860). The film adaptation includes a battle scene showing Garibaldi's red shirts overcoming the Neapolitan army.
  • In The Prague Cemetery, the main character follows Garibaldi's expedition and tries, unsuccessfully, to stop him.
Mexican-American WarHollywood HistoryCrimean War
The RenaissanceUsefulNotes/ItalyFascist Italy
War of the Triple AllianceAdministrivia/Useful Notes Pages in MainWarsaw Pact

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