* 1720 Dukes of Savoy ruled over the backward state of Piedmont in northwest of Italy. He became King of the island of Sardinia. Piedmont and Sardinia came together to be normally known as just Piedmont
* End of the 18th century population was small and most were peasants. Life was short. The capital Turin had little industry and countryside was poverty stricken.
* But Piedmont had 2 advantages over other states because it had a strong army & was well governed by an absolute monarch. There was no parliament so the people had no say in how the country was ran.
* At the end of the 18th century Piedmont made an alliance with Austria. Because the Piedmontese family had connections with the French royal family and so were in turn enemies of Napoleon. Piedmont and Austria declared war on France when the French army attacked Nice and Savoy west of Piedmont.
* From 1802 to 1814 Piedmont was united with France. They governed every part of the state society including the language spoken to schooling being under the French system. There was no great opposition to French rule and it came to an advantage for the middle classes for career opportunities. Only towards the end of French occupation was there unrest such as young men setting up anti-French societies.
* 1815 King Emmanuel I returned after exile to return as a restored monarch. Piedmont was still bound to out-of-date laws made before 1800 that could not be changed. French legal system and equal justice was abolished.
* The Vienna Settlement of 1815 gave the Republic of Genoa to Piedmont, which was of commercial benefit because it was an important port.
* 1819, as central & local government were being modernised in Piedmont, the alarms of revolution brought this to a halt. Secret society memberships were growing and moderate Piedmontese hoped this would make the king introduce political and other reforms. There was little chance that, Victor Emmanuel I or his brother Charles Felix would take action. They turned to 2nd in line to the thrown, Charles Albert.
* Charles Albert was strange quiet young man brought up in exile in France. He saw how cruel and suppressive Victor Emmanuel’s government had become. He sympathised with the revolutionaries. There is some evidence to even suggest he supported the liberals in leading a revolution but only denied it because they failed or he was a government agent gathering info about the actions of the revolutionaries, in keeping with is secretive personality. The most likely idea of his actions was that he simply did not do anything as he hesitated between 2 or more causes of action. The legend of Charles Albert as not being able to make up his mind started hat this point in history.
* A revolutionary group seized the fortress of Alessandria in Genoa ; established a Provisional government named as “Kingdom of Italy” and declared war on Austria. Victor Emmanuel, tired of being pressured by revolutionary groups, abdicated for Nice. Charles Felix succeeded him but died in 1831. Charles Albert became the King of Piedmont
* 1821 Charles Albert began his reign as a reactionary monarch signing a treaty with Austria and threatening action against the liberal government in France. By 1848-9 Charles Albert granted his people a constitution which survived to the constitution of the united Italy in the 1860s.
* Reasons for this vary, many think he was a nationalist or a secret revolutionary, and once King, was waiting to declare himself. Most people think it was because of Charles Albert’s complicated character.
* Charles Albert’s view of life was entirely divorced from reality and his whole career was one of contradictions
* Policies in the early years showed how uncertain a person he was. For instance he increased censorship laws so that Mazzini, Garibalidi left Piedmont. Then went Gioberti who was anxious to publish his proposals for a federation of Italian states ruled by the pope. Cavour also left Piedmont: “that intellectual hell”.
* However, Charles Albert also showed sounds of being a reformer. Made helpful changes to the trade laws such as reducing the duties on imported goods. He tidied up the legal system and its laws.
* During the 1840s influences from other parts of Italy prejudiced Piedmont. 1841, social, non-political were allowed to meet freely for the 1st time. It was important because it recognised these groups existed and put forward an idea of a more relaxed regime.
* Piedmont hosted a lot of scientific congresses which spread a lot of nationalist ideas such as in 1846 Charles Albert was referred to as “the Italian leader who would driver out the foreigners”.
* Charles Albert was influenced by these ideas and thought he would be a military genius who would destroy the Austrian hold on Lombardy and Venetia.
* As the 1840s went the pressures for liberal reforms grew. In Turin there were peaceful demands for a constitution from well educated out-spoken middle class and professional social classes. In Genoa where the respect republican Mazzini the demands were more violent. In October 1847 after noisy demonstrations and threats of revolution Charles Albert agreed to make reforms and granted a constitution in 1848. He was probably influenced by the reforms introduced at the time by the Pope in the papal states because he was a devout catholic.
* Charles Albert’s general reforms were to take some power away from the monarch & into the hands of government officials. For instance, police were to be under control of the Minister of the Interior. Local government was also reorganised and local councils elected.
* The constitution was known as the Statuto & published on 8th February 1848.
* The articles were deliberately not clearly expressed so it avoided Charles Albert not giving too much power away whilst keeping options open.
* About 2% of the population could vote- those could read and write and who paid taxes.
* Charles Albert’s ministers thought it was too extreme and were replaced by more liberal minded men.
Reasons for granting the Statuto
* Revolutions broke out in Sicily, Naples, Lombardy ; Venetia in rapid succession. Austrian Lombardy wanted an independent republic and the more moderate people wanted a union with Piedmont. Charles Albert thought by leading the revolt he would eventually rule Lombardy. He was hesitant but eventually declared war on Austria.
* Charles Albert entered the war with enthusiasm. Army of 60,000 men was incompetently led by him and were ill prepared for war. They crossed into Lombardy and occupied the capital city of Milan. The Austrians already evacuated the city but came back with reinforcements and crushed Charles Albert at Custoza on the border with Venetia.
* The King’s only option was to ask for armistice. This allowed the Piedmontese army to withdraw Lombardy leaving it in Austrian hands again.
* In 1849 having regrouped his forces and being persuaded incorrect by his chief minister that Luis Napoleon newly elected president of the French Republic that he would come to his aid if Piedmont again attacked Austria. Charles Albert re-entered the war with no success. He was heavily defeated by the Austrians at Novara in April.
* His idea of “Italy will make herself by herself” became wrong and there was no way Italy could be independent or united without outside help.
* Charles Albert was succeeded by his son Victor Emmanuel II seen as defying Austrian plans for the Statuto’s abolition. Most historians now believe he was not anxious to keep it but was pressured by the Austrians to keep it instead. Austrians believed anything besides a republic was tolerable.
* The constitution remained in force and gave opportunity for an active political life in Piedmont something which did not exist anywhere else in Italy.
* It had reasonably free press, an elected if unrepresentative assembly, and a certain amount of civil liberty and legal equality.
* Piedmont attracted refugees from the rest of Italy during the next decade, which was to be dominated by the political leadership of the now returned Cavour, the military successes of Garibaldi and the interventions of Napoleon III of France.