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Napoleonic Italy - 1796-1815

The malarious tranquillity of Italy beneath her Austrian and Bourbon despots was rudely shaken by the French Revolution. After Napoleon's campaign of 1796, the treaty of Campo Formio resettled Italy in 1797. Northern and Central Italy were redivided into four republics - the Cisalpine, with its capital in Milan; the Ligurian, with Genua for capital; the Cispadane, with Bologna; the Tiberine, with Rome; Venice (where the last doge, Luigi Manini, had dissolved the republic of St. Mark amid the execrations of the populace in the month of May) was flung, together with her territory between the Adige and the Adriatic as a compensation for other losses, to the Austrian empire. In the next year, 179S, Lower Italy became the Parthenopaen republic, with Naples for its capital. Carlo Emmanuele III., now king of Sardinia, resigned his dominions. Pius VI. fled from Rome, and died in France in 1799.

The whole of the old order of the peninsula was thus destroyed at a blow. Yet the people, at first, gained little but an exchange of masters, increased taxes, and a participation in the doubtful glories of the French republic. While Bonaparte was absent in Egypt, his recent settlement of Italian affairs was upset, and the French were everywhere driven out of the peninsula by force of arms. He returned, and Marengo (1800) made him once more master of Italy. Four years later, having proclaimed himself emperor, he took the Lombard crown in St. Ambrogio at Milan.

Italy now ranked as his kingdom, and a new settlement of her provinces had to be effected. The pope was left in Rome, and Ferdinand in Naples. Tuscany was rechristened the kingdom of Etruria, and given to the Bourbons. The Ligurian and Cisalpine republics were placed under the viceroy Eugene Beauharnais. After Austerlitz, Venice was added to this North Italian kingdom; and in 1806 Bonaparte made the Bourbons yield Naples to his brother Joseph. When Joseph went in 1808 to Madrid, Joachim Murat succeeded him as king in Naples. Sicily remained in the hands of Ferdinand. In 1809 Pius VII was deposed, and sent to France, and Rome was declared part of the French empire. The gingerbread kingdom of Etruria was abolished, and Bonaparte's sister, Eliza, wife of a Colonel Bacciocchi, was made duchess of Tuscany, with the titles of duchess of Lucca and princess of Piombino.

The Kingdom of Italy, although under Napoleon's complete control, represented a landmark in modern Italian history. The French imposed a centralized administration and a national civil code, overcoming the age old fragmentation and provincialism, and introduced the germ of social change in a country that had remained socially stagnant for centuries and had been virtually untouched by the revolutionary wave elsewhere in Europe.

Economically the Napoleonic period benefited the emerging middle class by selling expropriated church lands and aristocratic estates. The exigencies of the wars promoted dramatic improvements in land transportation and stimulated production and trade in the wool, leather, linen, minerals, and arms industries and in construction. It was probably in these years that the most economically advanced part of the Po Valley reached the point of breakthrough, in which industry was able to sustain its own growth and in which the middle class took its place as a legitimate, self conscious, and prosperous group.

The situation in the south differed considerably. Even though French rule under Joseph Bonaparte and, after 1808, Murat modernized the governmental, administrative, and fiscal institutions, it introduced only limited social change. Feudalism was abolished in 1806, but social and economic relations in the area changed little in practice. At the end of the French decade, the backwardness of southern Italy was even more obvious in comparison with the progress made in the northern areas.

Of equal importance to these concrete changes, however, were the more subtle changes in attitudes. The Napoleonic period had forced Italians to work together, for the first time in centuries, within entities that cut across the age old communes that had claimed the exclusive allegiance of the people. The idea of a united Italy no longer seemed impossible. The next half century was shaped by the quest to create an Italian nation and an Italian state.

Ephemeral as were Bonaparte's successive divisions and redivisions of Italy into provinces for his generals and relatives, they exercised no little influence. From the period of the French rule dated a new sense of nationality among Italians, generated by the military service of recruits drawn together from all districts in Napoleon's armies, by the temporary obliteration of most ancient boundaries, by the dethronement of alien and unloved princes, by the equal administration of one code oflaws, and by the spirit of the revolution which animated all French institutions. Italy began to feel herself a nation, and though it was long liefore Europe suffered her to win national rights, the demand for them, which in later days became too imperious to be resisted, was created in her people at this epoch.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:00:55 ZULU