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2. Italians – a divided nation. Letter of Giuseppe Mazzini to Charles Albert – king of Sardinia

“Your Majesty,

Have you not looked closely at this nation, which is really great, since the disasters could not break it, could not deprive it of hope. Has the thought not arisen in your head: create, as God from chaos, the world from the scattered atoms; connect the scattered parts and say: the whole Italy belongs to me and is happy. You will then be as great as God and Creator and twenty million of people will cry out: God is in heavens, Charles Albert is on Earth. [...]

And if your soul is dead for the eagle’s thoughts; if when ruling, you just want to be a worthy successor of miserable and small predecessors; if you have a vassal soul, then stay where you are; incline your head against the Teutonic sceptre and be a tyrant, but a real tyrant. Indeed, it is only one step and Austria, that Austria you fear so much, will be your enemy. Austrian does not trust you. Try to throw ten, twenty heads at his feet; double the weight of chains carried by the living; repay him with boundless attachment for the contempt [...] and maybe the Italian tyrant will forget that you once conspired against him. He will allow you, perhaps, to guard for him that prey for which he has been sharpening teeth since 1814. But if these words will move your soul to the moment when your ambition reaches higher than the crown of Austrian vassal; if the words awake a voice in you: <> – oh, follow that voice. It is the voice of genius, the voice of the time, which is calling you through centuries toward immortality. It is the voice of the whole of Italy awaiting the one and only word to become yours.

Say it! Lead the nation and write on your banner: Unity, Freedom, and Independence! [...] Proclaim yourself an avenger, interpreter of national rights, restorer of Italy. Free Italy from the barbarians! Build the future! [...] Start a new era from yourself! [...]

King! I told you the truth. Free people are waiting for your answer in deed. But regardless of what you answer is, be certain that the posterity will announce you the first among the men of Italy, or the latest in a number of its tyrants. Choose!”

Comment: the author of the letter refers to the events of the 20-s of the nineteenth century when the conflict (also military) between Austria and Charles Albert, King of Sardinia began.

Source: Letter of Giuseppe Mazzini to Charles Albert from 1931, free translation by K. Czekaj based on: Sobańska-Bondaruk M., Lenard, S.B. (1998). Wiek XIX w źródłach. Wydawnictwo PWN, s. 99.


Italy in the mid-nineteenth century was a politically divided country. Northern Duchies (Milan, Venice, Modena, and Parma) belonged to the Habsburgs country for several ages. The centrally situated Papal State was under the political rule of popes. The southern part of Apennine Peninsula (the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) belonged to the Bourbons. Only Kingdom of Sardinia (including Piermont located in the North) had Italian national character. The rulers of that country were therefore designated to unite the Italian State. They should be in charge of the fight in the name of this idea, in particular against the main enemy – Austria. Charles Albert took unsuccessful attempt to liberate and unificate Italy during the Spring of Nations. But this goal was achieved only by his successor Victor Emmanuel in the second half of the century. The Italian unification movement (under the banner of equality and freedom) was headed by two revolutionists – Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi already from the 1820s. These two Italians are considered to be the greatest heroes in the history of the country.

Difficult terms:

Vassal – in the Middle Ages, a vassal was under the care of a senior – a feudal lord. The vassal ought to obey and help his lord in return of the protection and goods. Today, a vassal is a negative term that indicates inferiority and dependence on superior person.


  1. Why does Mazzini appeal to Charles Albert, of all the rulers, to wage a war against Austria?
  2. Why is Austria the biggest obstacle to the unification of Italy?

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Description and Analysis

  1. Why does Mazzini appeal to Charles Albert, of all the rulers, to wage a war against Austria?
    Charles Albert ruled Kingdom of Sardinia – the greatest of the Italian States which was not under the authority of a foreign dynasty (the Habsburgs or the Bourbons). Mazzini perceived him as a candidate for a ruler of the unified Italian state after getting rid of Austrian forces (which were seen as a symbol of German captivity).
  2. Why is Austria the biggest obstacle to the unification of Italy?
    The northern duchies of Italy (Lombardy, Venice, Parma, and Modena) were under the sovereignty of Austria. These Italian regions were economically strong and important for the Italian people in terms of their cultural and historical value. It was difficult to imagine the state unification without the recovery of these regions. Among the opponents of unification, Austria was the strongest. Defeating Austria was absolutely necessary for successful unification of Italy.

Geographical/Historical Context

Italy in the mid-nineteenth century, was a country divided politically. However, there was a movement (known as the Risorgimento) that had developed for decades. The goal of this movement was the reconstruction of the political consciousness of the people living in Apennine Peninsula and the creation of national state under the rule of the native dynasty. The most important activists of the movement were Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini. Their program not only assumed the political unification of the peninsula, but also profound social reforms in the spirit of democracy – freedom and equality of all Italians. Actions of Italian patriots (and uprisings initiated since 1820) could not count on success for a long time because of the collaboration of forces opposed to the idea of the unification and radical socio-economic ideologies. We mean here three conservative monarchies which shared control over most of Apennine Peninsula among themselves: the Habsburgs, the Bourbons of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and popes (who at that time, had full political and territorial power over the Papal State).

Therefore, the Italian movement for national liberation needed a strong and well-connected ally who would head the fight, first of all, against Austria. The ally also needed to have adequate authority to gather under his banner majority of Italian society, which would recognize him as the king and the unifier. The ruler of Kingdom of Sardinia from the House of Savoy (who also ruled Piedmont) seemed to be an ideal candidate.

Beginning of 1848 seemed to announce a new era in the history of Italian states. It aroused hopes for realization of the unification program. On January 12 that year, an uprising broke out in Palermo. As a consequence, King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies was forced to give his country a liberal constitution. The revolutionary movement quickly spread to other countries of the peninsula. Liberal constitutions (so-called fundamental statutes) were announced in Tuscany, Sardinia, and even in the Papal State which was ruled by Pope Pius IX who was considered a liberal. The Habsburgs were obviously reluctant to any reforms of the Italian duchies included in the boundaries of the empire. However, due to the revolutionary events in Vienna, they were forced to evacuate Austrian troops from Lombardy and Venice in March 1848. It seemed that everything was favourable to Charles Albert, who could easily gather newly formed national republics under his rule. Such a political system was introduced even in Rome, where Garibaldi and Mazzini went. The ruler of Savoy, however, did not show enough charisma and determination. As early as in July, Marshal Radetzky, who commanded the Austrian forces, defeated the Italian army in the battle of Custozza. In the south, Ferdinand II forced the Sicilian insurgents to surrender by resorting to violent methods (bombing of Messina). The Pope was rescued by intervention of French troops which in July 1848, put an end to the Roman Republic. Charles Albert for a few months waged war against Austria and abdicated in favour of Victor Emmanuel II after the final defeat in battle of Novara in 1849. The Spring of Nations did not bring unity to Italy, but it represents a very important step towards unification.


http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/504489/Risorgimento – Encyclopaedia Britannica page that contains information not only about the Risorgimento movement, but also references to the people, events, works of art related to the Unification of Italy.

http://www.victorianweb.org/history/risorgimento/1.html – website dedicated to the Unification of Italy in the vertical portal dedicated to the whole Victorian era.

http://www.regione.piemonte.it/cultura/risorgimento/iindex.htm – page of Museum of the Risorgimento in Turin.

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-214397236.html – article on the relationship between the Risorgimento movement and cultural unification of Italy.