Italy Is Proclaimed a Kingdom Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The proclamation of Italy as a kingdom united the kingdom of the Two Sicilies with King Victor Emmanuel’s kingdom of north Italy and laid the basis for modern Italy.

Summary of Event

Through the first six decades of the nineteenth century, Italy was politically divided in independent principalities, Papal States, and dependencies of other European powers, which often warred against one another. Between April 29 and July 11, 1859, France and Sardinia were joined in a war against Austria. However, the French emperor Napoleon III Napoleon III [p]Napoleon III[Napoleon 03];and Italy[Italy] quit the war before his army had achieved the goal that he had pledged to the prime minister of Sardinia-Piedmont, Count Cavour, in their Plombières agreement of July, 1858, namely to force Austria to surrender both Lombardy Lombardy and Venetia to Sardinia. Under the terms of the Armistice of Villafranca of July 11, 1859, and the subsequent Treaty of Zurich Zurich, Treaty of (1859) of November 10, 1859, Sardinia received Lombardy, but the Austrians retained Venetia. Venetia Napoleon therefore renounced his claims to the Sardinian territories of Savoy Savoy and Nice, which were to have been France’s compensation for its role in the war. Italy;kingdom of Victor Emmanuel II Italy;unification of Cavour, Count [p]Cavour, Count;and Italian unification[Italian unification] Garibaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Papal States;and Italian unification[Italian unification] [kw]Italy Is Proclaimed a Kingdom (Mar. 17, 1861) [kw]Proclaimed a Kingdom, Italy Is (Mar. 17, 1861) [kw]Kingdom, Italy Is Proclaimed a (Mar. 17, 1861) Italy;kingdom of Victor Emmanuel II Italy;unification of Cavour, Count [p]Cavour, Count;and Italian unification[Italian unification] Garibaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Papal States;and Italian unification[Italian unification] [g]Italy;Mar. 17, 1861: Italy Is Proclaimed a Kingdom[3470] [g]Mediterranean;Mar. 17, 1861: Italy Is Proclaimed a Kingdom[3470] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 17, 1861: Italy Is Proclaimed a Kingdom[3470]

After the Treaty of Zurich was ratified, Cavour visited Napoleon at Paris in 1860, and struck a deal with him under which Cavour might annex the formerly independent grand duchy of Tuscany, the duchies of Modena, and Parma, and the papal territories of the Emilia and the Romagna. In return for French collaboration in the creation of a much enlarged realm for King Victor Emmanuel, France was to receive the coveted territories of Nice and Savoy. However unhappy these changes made the great powers of Europe, it seemed as though the long nagging Italian question had been settled.

Radical Italian revolutionaries and republican nationalists, such as the long-exiled Giuseppe Mazzini, were far from satisfied. For Mazzinian thinkers, nationalism was a beneficial force that could not be fulfilled until every ethnic group had obtained self-determination. If that required the destruction of Italian monarchies and even the spoliation of the pope through terrorism and revolution, the reward was worth the price.

Mazzini’s most celebrated disciple, Giuseppe Garibaldi, had made his own peace with the liberal monarchy of Victor Emmanuel. In 1859, Garibaldi had commanded a corps of volunteers that fought against Austria in the brief war of that year as the Cacciatore degli Alpi (Alpine Hunters). Nevertheless, the cession of Nice to France infuriated him. While he could tolerate the French annexation of Savoy Savoy , most of whose population spoke French, he resented Sardinia’s cession of Nice. He had been born in that city, and he regarded the dialect spoken there as more Italian than French.

On Redshirts, Garibaldi’s May 5, 1860, Garibaldi gathered 1,089 red-shirted volunteers at the port of Quarto, near Genoa. They sailed out to sea in two small vessels. Garibaldi later said that he had not decided whether he was going to attack the French in Nice, the pope at Rome, or King Francis II, Francis II (Sicily) the Bourbon king of the Two Sicilies. Kingdom of the Two Sicilies On the day of Garibaldi’s departure, Cavour was nowhere to be found. To the end of his life, Cavour denied being in collusion with Garibaldi. Circumstantial evidence, however, points to Garibaldi, Cavour, and King Victor Emmanuel having been partners, fully aware that Garibaldi intended to land in Sicily Sicily;and Giuseppe Garibaldi[Garibaldi] . Certainly, if Garibaldi had attacked either Nice or Rome, he would have provoked a war with France. Beyond that, the North Italian naval commander Admiral Persano had been cautioned by Cavour to watch the two Garibaldian vessels but not to interfere with them. Furthermore, the weapons belonging to the National Italian Society National Italian Society , Cavour’s own clandestine revolutionary, nationalist organization, had been loaded aboard the vessels without protest by Sardinia’s port authorities or police. Indeed, once Garibaldi was in Sicily, the Sardinian navy Navy, Sardinian carried supplies and reinforcements to him.

Unification of Italy





Garibaldi’s conquest of Sicily Sicily;and Giuseppe Garibaldi[Garibaldi] was comparatively easy thanks to the sympathy of the population and the disloyalty of King Francis II’s Francis II (Sicily) armed forces. By July 20, the island was in the hands of the Redshirts Redshirts, Garibaldi’s , whose numbers were increased by deserters from the Bourbon army and by local volunteers. On August 18, Garibaldi’s army crossed the Straits of Messina and began the conquest of the Italian mainland. This would have been impossible if Francis II’s navy had fought for him loyally. On September 6, the king fled from Naples Naples , taking refuge ultimately in the fortress of Gaeta, close to the borders of the Papal States. The next day, Garibaldi entered the fallen capital city.

Giuseppe Garibaldi (left) welcoming Victor Emmanuel (right) as king of Italy.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

By now, Mazzini himself had returned from his long exile, hoping to join his former disciple in the battle to unify Italy. All Europe took alarm at the possibility that after Garibaldi conquered the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Kingdom of the Two Sicilies he would attack Rome, where the pope was guarded by a French army. It was well remembered that in 1849, Mazzini and Garibaldi had overthrown and exiled Pope Pius IX, proclaiming a Roman republic. French intervention, however, had restored the pope and driven the republican revolutionaries back into exile.

At this juncture, Cavour played the role of a conservative monarchist, fearful of what Garibaldi might do if he were allowed to continue his advance toward the borders of the French-guarded Papal States. Even today, it is not possible to know with certainty whether Cavour was genuinely fearful or merely pretending panic.

As Garibaldi continued his advance toward Gaeta, however, meeting stiff opposition from what was left of the Bourbon army, Cavour sent a secret embassy to see Napoleon III Napoleon III [p]Napoleon III[Napoleon 03];and Italy[Italy] . The emperor was vacationing at Chambery, enjoying the cool Alpine air in his newly acquired duchy of Savoy Savoy . Cavour’s three agents were headed by his faithful friend Giuseppe La Farina, who had been the clandestine head of the National Italian Society National Italian Society . La Farina told the emperor that the only way to control Garibaldi and to prevent a clash between Mazzinian republicans and the French army at Rome was if King Victor Emmanuel led the North Italian Army south through papal territory, carefully avoiding conflict with the French garrison in Latium. The emperor replied laconically, “Do it, but do it quickly.” In brief, Napoleon intended to protest in public against Victor Emmanuel’s invasion and annexation of the Two Sicilies, Kingdom of the Two Sicilies but he would neither interfere nor allow anyone else to interfere with the unification of Italy.

King Victor Emmanuel’s march through papal territory met little resistance from papal forces. On October 26, the king met Garibaldi north of Naples Naples , where Garibaldi ceremoniously surrendered his sword to Victor Emmanuel and saluted him as king of Italy. Moving with unseemly but efficient haste, the new regime organized two plebiscites in the newly seized territories. Public votes by a largely illiterate population produced overwhelming victories favoring the accession of Victor Emmanuel and the unification of Italy.

On November 8, in the throne room of the royal palace in Naples, Garibaldi solemnly announced the results of the plebiscites, then graciously renounced all offices and went into retirement. In January of 1861, one-half million male voters elected the first all-Italian parliament. On January 27, the new legislative body met in Turin, the old capital of Sardinia-Piedmont. Sardinia-Piedmont On March 17, following parliamentary approval, Victor Emmanuel II was officially proclaimed hereditary king of Italy.


After decades of civil and international wars and diplomatic wrangling, the proclamation of Italy as a kingdom united the main components of modern Italy and laid the basis for Italy’s development into a modern state. At the moment of triumph, Cavour Cavour, Count [p]Cavour, Count;death of became ill with a nervous condition complicated by fever. His condition steadily deteriorated. With his usual prescience, he took care to arrange to receive Extreme Unction and Roman Catholic burial in spite of his having been excommunicated by the pope. He died on June 6, 1861, having lived scarcely long enough to enjoy his triumph. Giuseppe Garibaldi then emerged from the struggle as a national hero, but by withdrawing from public life he allowed new leaders to emerge.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beales, Derek, and Eugenio Biagini. The Risorgimento and the Unification of Italy. Rev. 2d ed. Harlow, England: Longman, 2002. Comprehensive study of the Italian national movement that unified modern Italy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blumberg, Arnold. A Carefully Planned Accident: The Italian War of 1859. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1990. Useful for the events of 1859-1860, which provide a background for Garibaldi’s exploits.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davis, John A., ed. Italy in the Nineteenth Century: 1796-1900. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Collection of essays on nineteenth century Italy, many of which address aspects of Italian unification.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Delzell, Charles F., ed. The Unification of Italy, 1859-1861: Cavour, Mazzini, or Garibaldi? New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965. Contrasts primary and secondary sources to reveal the conflicts between the public and private motives of the three principles.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">DiScala, Spencer M. Italy from Revolution to Republic: 1700 to the Present. 3d ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004. General history of Italy that offers several chapters on Italian unification.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mack Smith, Denis. Cavour and Garibaldi, 1860: A Study in Political Conflict. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1954. Mack Smith analyzes the means whereby two men, essentially hostile, became the founders of united Italy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Trevelyan, George Macaulay. Garibaldi and the Thousand. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1979. Of the three volumes on this subject written by Trevelyan, this work is indispensable. First published in 1909, it is also one of the best examples of the elegant use of the English language.

Neapolitan Revolution

Mazzini Founds Young Italy

Mazzini Begins London Exile

Italian Revolution of 1848

Crimean War

Napoleon III and Francis Joseph I Meet at Villafranca

Garibaldi’s Redshirts Land in Sicily

Austria and Prussia’s Seven Weeks’ War

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Count Cavour; Giuseppe Garibaldi; Giuseppe Mazzini; Napoleon III; Pius IX. Italy;kingdom of Victor Emmanuel II Italy;unification of Cavour, Count [p]Cavour, Count;and Italian unification[Italian unification] Garibaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Papal States;and Italian unification[Italian unification]

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