Piedmont in the 1850s

Mark Rathbone asks why the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia emerged in the 1850s as the likely unifier of Italy.

In 1849, no one in Italy would have put any lire on the kingdom of Piedmont emerging as the catalyst of Italian unification. In March of that year, its army had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Austrian Empire at Novara. Its king, Charles Albert, was so dispirited by the utter failure of his attempt to establish control of northern Italy by fighting a war against Austria that he abdicated. So why, just a decade later, was his son and successor, Victor Emmanuel II, able to launch a further war against Austria, beginning a train of events which unified Italy under Piedmontese leadership?

Five widely differing factors offer the key to understanding this remarkable process: a constitution, a marriage, a political movement, a means of transport and a war. This article will attempt to explain each of these and how together they enabled Piedmont to emerge as Italy’s unifying force by 1859.

A Constitution

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