Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Faithful House of Savoy

King Umberto II and Pope Paul VI
This anniversary year of the unification of Italy has had my mind occupied quite a bit as of late with the Royal House of Savoy. A recent post which mentioned the deep faith of King Umberto II and Queen Maria Jose by MM member Matterhorn at her informative site The Cross of Laeken reminded me again of the injustice with which the House of Savoy is often treated, even by those who might be expected to be among their staunchest supporters; namely Catholic monarchists. However, as anyone with experience can attest, Catholic monarchists can be amongst the most impossible to please which is probably why so many (and God love them) are really what I like to call “theoretical monarchists”. They support monarchy in theory but do not actually support any existing monarchies nor do most have time for monarchist efforts which strive for anything less than a restoration of an absolutist confessional state under the guidance of a revived inquisition. I admit, such a thought warms my heart, but real results requires one to be realistic and face the facts.

When it comes to the House of Savoy, it seems many hold a grudge against the entire family, going backward and forward in time, all because of the unification of Italy and particularly because of “the Roman Question”. I can certainly understand their sympathies in that regard, and I have mentioned my opinion on the subject before and do not need to again here. However, I do not like to see an entire royal family smeared or rejected because of a few individuals or even a few unsavory associations. The House of Savoy is one of the oldest royal lines in Europe and was once among the most preeminent Catholic royal families. And the Catholic part is important because we are addressing that aspect in particular here. This was something that Blessed Pope Pius IX constantly stressed to King Victor Emanuel II during their many long years of correspondence, with the Pope reminding the King of what an old and honorable Catholic dynasty he represented.
Italian Royals at the Vatican

There was Count Amadeus V, better known as Amadeus the Great, who fought with the Knights of St John to defend Rhodes from the Muslims in 1315. There was Duke Louis I who obtained the famous Shroud of Turin which was held by the House of Savoy from 1453 to 1946. Duke Charles Emanuel II, known as “the Hadrian of Piedmont” was a tireless campaigner against heresy in his dominions (some would even say a little too zealous). King Victor Amadeus III was known for being very religious and an early and unshakable enemy of the French Revolution. King Charles Emanuel IV (a good friend of his cousin Cardinal York and who inherited the Jacobite claim to Britain upon his death) was also a very devout Catholic who, toward the end of his life, abdicated his royal status and joined the Society of Jesus. But, you may be thinking, that was all a long time ago, what about those around the time of and since the unification of Italy? The story does not really change that much.

It was King Charles Albert (Carlo Alberto) who got the ball rolling in that direction and remember that his mother was Queen Maria Theresa of Austria who was a descendant of the Italian branches of the Hapsburg and Bourbon families and a very devout, traditional Catholic women who did her best throughout her life to pass on her values to her children. One of those was, of course, King Victor Emanuel II who made the unification of Italy a reality. He was a man being pulled in all directions and many, many books can (and have) been written about his role in the process and his dealings with the Church. Suffice it to say that things were not so simplistic as many seem to believe. In their many letters the King never ceased to ask the Pope for his pardon and blessing, the Pope never ceased to remind the King of his august family history and there was so much mutual admiration expressed one could at times forget that the two were, technically, enemies in the political arena. St John Bosco was an intermediary between the two and toward the end of their lives they began a secret correspondence again. As most also know, when the Pope learned that the King was near death, he sent a priest to him with powers to lift the excommunication he had previously pronounced so that the King could die in good standing with the Church.
Pope John Paul II and King Umberto II

The wife of King Victor Emanuel II, Queen Adelaide of Austria, was also a very devout and pious woman, very charitable and she likewise did her best to pass these values on to her children. The youngest, Princess Maria Pia, married the King of Portugal and was known in that country as an absolute angel of mercy. The older daughter, Princess Maria Clotilde, was also known for her piety and charity but suffered from being forced into an unhappy marriage into the Bonaparte clan. All of the Kings of Italy were staunch Catholics, even if not always devout ones. King Umberto I was known for matching the no-compromise of the attitude of the papacy during his reign but he became much more religious toward the end of his life and this can be taken as sincere since he obviously had no idea he was going to be assassinated and thus a fear of mortality could not have been his motivation. Likewise he was supportive of his very religious queen, Margherita of Savoy.

King Victor Emanuel III was, likewise, a very religious man who quickly challenged anyone who expressed anti-clerical sentiments in his presence. The “Roman Question” remained a complicated problem and the King did have his doubts when Mussolini presented his proposal for coming to an agreement with the Church in what eventually resulted in the Lateran Treaty. He was concerned about what actual territory the Papacy would control as a result of the compromise, in the end this was restricted to the Vatican and a few extra-territorial buildings, but given this, it must also be kept in mind that the Italian kingdom had, in the past, offered the Papacy control over a much larger area, all of the land within the Leonine wall, but the Church had turned it down. However, it was finally worked out to the satisfaction of both sides and King Victor Emanuel III and Pope Pius XI exchanged messages of congratulation to each other on that occasion.

The King & Queen with Pope Pius XII
On the part of the Church, support for the monarchy was displayed at the highest levels. The children of the unfortunate Princess Mafalda were sheltered in the Vatican when the Nazis arrested her husband (Philipp of Hesse) and later herself. Princess Giovanna, who became Queen of Bulgaria, was very close to future Blessed Pope John XXIII and also played a key role in safeguarding the people of her adopted land from Nazi persecution. Padre Pio, now St Pio of Pietrelcina, had many devotees amongst the household of Queen Elena and gave spiritual assistance to Princess Maria Jose and others of the Royal Family. A book could be written about the position of the Church regarding the 1946 referendum on the monarchy, which was quite complicated, however it is sufficient to note that, despite how highly favored Alcide De Gasperi was in the Vatican, Pope Pius XII (who came from a Roman “Black Nobility” family) was very upset to see the monarchy abolished. He had long been on good terms with the House of Savoy and, as a cardinal, King Victor Emanuel III had awarded him the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Anunciation.

For some, no amount of contrary information will ever change their point of view. However, I think it is important to defend any royal house that is unjustly defamed. Again, any royal house with so long a history is going to have individuals of every variety. However, I would hope that the good and admirable should be the primary focus and the faults of a few individuals should not override the fidelity and piety of so many other upstanding sons and daughters of this venerable Catholic dynasty.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Italian "Discoverer" of Canada

North American school children, especially in Canada, will be familiar with the name of John Cabot, the intrepid explorer for England who was the first European since the early Viking voyages to "discover" North America, particularly what is now the east coast of Canada. However, what is often overlooked is that this "English explorer", while certainly sailing for England, was not English but Italian; Giovanni Caboto. In fact, many of the early explorers in the employ of the English, French, Portuguese and especially Spanish navies were Italians. It is disputed where exactly Giovanni Caboto was originally born (some say northern Italy, others the south etc) but it is certain that he became, later in life, a citizen of the Republic of Venice and even after going abroad wrote in and referred to himself using the unique Venetian dialect of the time.

Debts forced him to leave Venice and move to Spain where he tried to find backing for a trans-Atlantic expedition both there and in Portugal. Finding no takers he finally moved to England where he would have more success. In 1496 he was given letters patent from King Henry VII (founder of the Tudor dynasty) to explore the coasts and islands of America unclaimed by any Christian power. He left that summer on his first voyage though few records remain of the trip. The following year he made another voyage and, according to the official histories of Great Britain and Canada, landed on New Foundland on St John the Baptist Day. In 1997 HM Queen Elizabeth II with representatives of the Canadian and Italian governments gathered at the most accepted place of his landing to greet a replica ship making the same voyage across the Atlantic.

No contact was made with any natives though they did see evidence of habitation. The English flag was raised, claiming the land for King Henry VII and, interestingly, the Venetian and Papal flags were also raised as well. The Papal flag is not so unusual since, at that time, England was still a very Catholic country but the Venetian flag seems a bit strange but was likely a salute to the homeland of the leader of the expedition and perhaps to some of the Italian bankers who helped finance the voyage. Upon his return, Giovanni Caboto was hailed as the "Great Admiral" and cheered by all the English people. However, the King was distracted by other matters and a third expedition was not organized until 1498 with a fleet of five ships that were intended to establish trade with the New World. However, Caboto never returned from that voyage and it is believed that the ships were all lost at sea in some storm or other disaster.

Still, that was the begining of the English-speaking world reaching Canada, the first seeds for what would grow to be the northern nation of today. And it was all thanks to an Italian Roman Catholic from Venice named Giovanni Caboto.

Friday, December 23, 2011

King Francesco II of the Two-Sicilies

The man who would be the last King of the Two-Sicilies represents a quandary that comes up for monarchists from time to time. King Francis II was a man of strong faith, deep convictions and firm principles. He also presided over the destruction and collapse of his kingdom, partly because of those very attributes which make him so admirable. This problem has arisen more than once in the history of fallen monarchies; is it better to stand firm and uncompromising, going down in honorable defeat or is it best to adapt, change and compromise in order to survive? The question will probably never be settled to the satisfaction of all. The future last monarch was born Francesco d’Assisi Maria Leopoldo on January 16, 1836 the only son of King Ferdinand II by his first wife Queen Maria Christina of Savoy (the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont-Sardinia) who died only a few days after Francis was born.

As his mother died so young, Francis was most influenced by his father and his stepmother Maria Theresa of Austria. His father had been rather moderate but grew increasingly authoritarian in reaction to rebellion. His stepmother, perhaps, was an even greater influence. The two were very close, she considering Francis her son and he considering her his mother. She was a rather reclusive figure and, from start to finish, a staunch conservative who always adamantly defended the absolute monarchy. Francis grew up as an intensely religious and intensely reactionary character (both good things). However, the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies was not the impoverished backwater many would later try to portray it as. The majority of people lived quite modest lives to be sure but Naples was a booming and modern city. The Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies was home to the first railway in the Italian peninsula, there were great institutions of learning and even telegraph communication between Naples and the city of Palermo on Sicily.

Francis had no real problem with technical innovations but he was never in doubt that his royal duty would be to maintain the absolute power of the monarchy and the privileged place of the Catholic Church. On February 3, 1859 Francis married Duchess Maria Sophia in Bavaria in Bari. The marriage would not be without problems. Francis was very shy and could seem stand-offish and it would be many years for the marriage was consummated due to a medical problem on the part of the King. There were also extremely pressing problems for Francis to deal with as he became King Francis II of the Two-Sicilies only a few months after his wedding on May 22, 1859. He inherited a kingdom under threat from rebels within who wanted limited, constitutional government and without by professional revolutionaries and the expanding Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia which offered what the discontented educated elites most wanted.

One of his first acts was to appoint as prime minister the moderate Carlo Filangieri, a loyal man but one who supported the granting of a constitution and that the best way to gain security was to accept the offered alliance from the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. However, Francis II resisted both suggestions and was most concerned with the rumors of rebellion running through the country. A critical moment came very quickly, on June 7, when the Swiss Guard mutinied, demanding a number of concessions from their new employer. The King tried to assuage them with promises of redress while at the same time calling up troops under General Alessandro Nunziante who then marched in, surrounded the Swiss and massacred them. What was viewed as a deadly threat against the absolute authority of the monarch had been bloodily ended, however, in doing so, the King had cut down the body that was the elite corps of his armed forces which would leave him vulnerable in the future to enemies who wanted a great deal more than higher pay and better working conditions.

By this time, Piedmont-Sardinia had consolidated Savoy rule over the area north of Rome (what would soon be the Kingdom of Italy) and another offer of alliance was put forward to Naples. They would divide the Papal States between them, with the northern half of the Italian peninsula being ruled from Turin and the southern half from Naples, each supporting the other. Especially in light of what had already happened, Filangieri urged the King to accept the offer. He, and others, viewed the Papal States as doomed and reasoned that it was better to have Piedmont-Sardinia as a friend rather than an enemy. If they embraced Turin, the Piedmontese could not strike them and if a serious rebellion broke out Turin would be legally obliged to aid in defending the Two-Sicilies. In political terms it made perfect sense but King Francis II could not abide the thought of in any way participating in the partition of the Papal States and robbing the Pope of his political power. The Papal theocracy had ruled central Italy for a thousand years and Francis II viewed any action taken against the Papal States as sacrilegious. Filangieri also advocated giving the people a constitution, something else the King would not countenance. Again, the offer of alliance was refused and Filangieri, sensing the coming disaster, resigned when his advice on the alliance and the constitution was not taken.

With pious bravery, King Francis II prayed, trusting in God to deliver his realm from danger. The Papal States were absorbed along with the central Italian duchies by Piedmont-Sardinia and, with many feeling a shift in the wind, revolutionary plots became common in the Two-Sicilies which even the King’s secret operatives were powerless to stamp out. Many were executed but many also escaped or hid themselves until the professional revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi arrived, with Piedmontese (and covert British) support, to invade Sicily. In May of 1860 Garibaldi and his thousand red shirts conquered Sicily with relative ease and, ignoring advice to the contrary, quickly planned to move to the peninsula. King Francis II, alarmed that the situation had become so critical, announced he was granting a constitution but, by that time, it was too little, too late and as Garibaldi and his forces invaded the government and the army began to fall apart with many officials and army officers deserting to the enemy. The King tried to arrange a peace or even a truce but it was to no avail and as Garibaldi approached he and the Queen fled Naples for the coastal fortress city of Gaeta.

It was there that King Francis II became a legend. His demeanor was no longer seen as shy and aloof but calm and courageous, cool under fire as he moved among his soldiers defending the walls. The French navy defended them by sea and Gaeta proved a tough nut to crack. However, the French finally withdrew their ships and Piedmont-Sardinia dropped all pretenses and formally joined the conflict, defeating the Neapolitan army (or what was left of it) and moving in to besiege Gaeta as well. It was a bitter pill for King Francis. Victor Emmanuel II (soon to be the first King of Italy) was his blood relative after all. However, the Piedmontese felt no compunctions about their involvement. As they saw it, multiple times they had extended the hand of friendship to the Two-Sicilies only to have it slapped away. Refusing to be their friend, King Francis would have to be their enemy. This he did with a quiet heroism that made his relative handful of troops defending Gaeta all but worship him. Like his stepmother he had always been somewhat withdrawn and never the populist sort of monarch but at this final crisis he showed, at least those in the besieged city, what his true colors were and they adored and admired him for it. He looked after the welfare of the people in the city and shared the danger with his soldiers defending the parapets. However, it was a hopeless struggle and eventually he was obliged to surrender to the forces of Victor Emmanuel II.

A monarch without a country, King Francis II and Queen Maria Sophia went to Rome where they were sheltered by Pope Pius IX and established a court-in-exile. At the outset many nations still recognized Francis II as the lawful King of the Two-Sicilies and the Pope was very gracious toward the gallant fallen monarch, perfectly aware of the fact that, to a degree at least, his misfortunes were the result of his refusal to take part in the partition of the Papal states. However, his time in Rome was not happy nor did it last for very long. The other nations of Europe may have sympathized with Francis II but many also viewed him as the author of his own problems and none were willing to provide actual assistance. As the Kingdom of Italy was consolidated even diplomatic recognition began to fall away. The Queen also began having an affair with a member of the Papal military corps, unknown to the King, and finally had to be spirited away when she became pregnant by the man. When the last foreign troops were withdrawn from the Italian peninsula Rome was occupied and made the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy. The Pope shut himself up in the Vatican and refused to come out while Francis II had to look for a new place of exile. France, Austria and Bavaria were all temporary homes.

The Queen, after having her baby and giving the child away confessed her affair to her husband. King Francis, perhaps not surprisingly, forgave the woman and finally took it upon himself to endure the operation that would correct the problem that kept him from performing his marital duties. It was a success and finally the two were able to live together fully as man and wife and soon a daughter was born to the exiled King and Queen in 1869. They were both overjoyed but this soon turned to despair when the baby girl, named Maria Cristina Pia, died only a few months later. It seemed that nothing had been spared the last King of the Two-Sicilies. The Queen became increasingly depressed and, for the most part, the King had only his still firm Catholic faith to give him comfort. He never ceased praying that God would effect a miracle and somehow turn his tragedy into a triumph but it was not to be, not in this life anyway. On December 27, 1894 at the age of only 54 King Francis II of the Two Sicilies died in Austria-Hungary.

Views of the last King of the Two Sicilies vary greatly as partisans on both sides of the unification issue exaggerate their conflicting accusations. The image that Francis II was an authoritarian tyrant who terrorized his poor, suffering people is positively false. He had not a bad bone in his body and indeed was a very charitable and compassionate man. What is true is that he seemed better suited to a seminary than the throne of a country in crisis. Nor was he a flawless and pristine saint, he made plenty of mistakes, many of which were recognized at the time. The fact that Italy became a unitary state rather than a confederation of local royal states can be, in part, laid at his door as he refused to support such an idea even if it would have made him the first King of Italy. However, as disastrous as this proved to be, setting himself against the irresistible tide of history, his reasons for refusing were noble; he would not violate the territory of the Papal States for any reason whatsoever.

What is less clear was his failure to personally take immediate action against the invasion of Garibaldi. Maintaining an absolute monarchy in the wild country of southern Italy where rebels were numerous required a great deal of armed force. The Two Sicilies actually had the largest standing army on the Italian peninsula and Garibaldi, though famous as a revolutionary soldier, did not really have all that great of a record of success behind him. Additionally, he had only about a thousand volunteers, most of them northern Italians (some not Italians at all but like-minded foreigners) unfamiliar and unaccustomed to conditions in Sicily and who often had more zeal than military experience or ability. We know from his performance at Gaeta that King Francis II could be an inspirational military leader and it seems hard to deny that if he had immediately mobilized his army and led them himself against Garibaldi his much larger army could have easily destroyed the red shirted revolutionaries. This may not have saved his kingdom in the long run, but it is at least possible that it would have made Turin think twice about messing with Naples and left the Two Sicilies alone and contented themselves with the rest of Italy.

Francis may have thought that his last minute agreement to enact a constitution would save his throne but, if so, this was a naïve hope. Frankly, by that time, no one was buying it anymore. In the face of revolution two of his predecessors, Ferdinand I and Ferdinand II, had both granted constitutions but both later revoked them once they again had the upper hand militarily. Francis had refused a constitution and when he finally agreed to have one, no one really believed the offer was sincere. The people had learned that they could use force to get what they wanted and they had learned not to trust their monarchs. Shooting all of the Swiss Guards was probably a mistake as well, although we can understand the mentality behind such a move, it was probably short-sighted and robbed the King of the backbone of his military strength. So, the man made mistakes. However, it must also be remembered that he was only 25 when he lost his throne and his behavior at the end was so gallant and heroic that even his enemies had to admire him. In death he left behind a legacy as a brave monarch and a pious son the Church of Rome and it was always that which was most important to him anyway. The propagandists of the victors made a great deal of sport of him after his defeat, which was not only wrong but unworthy. Regardless of the political opinions one might have, Francesco II, last King of the Two Sicilies, should not be ridiculed but revered.

Duke Francesco V of Modena

The last reigning Duke of Modena was born Francesco Geminiano von Habsburg-Lothringen on June 1, 1819 to Duke Francis IV of Modena and his wife Princess Maria Beatrice of Savoy (daughter of King Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont-Sardinia), the second of four children. At his baptism five days later his godfather was HIM Emperor Francis I of Austria with Archduke Ferdinand Charles Joseph of Austria-Este standing proxy. He grew up in an atmosphere of tension and tumult as agitation grew among those advocating for a more limited government, and end to Austrian interference in the duchy and greater democracy. All of these efforts Duke Francis IV worked hard to suppress. Fortifications were destroyed (for fear they would be used by rebel forces) and Austrian troops became a common sight. Austrian rule was not particularly unjust but it was not what the public wanted, having been fond of the methods of the previous Este rulers who had made infrastructure improvements, passed political reforms, spoke the local dialect and who had led them against the French. Austrian rule, on the other hand, was (as in other areas) mostly unpopular with the educated upper-classes who opposed the principle rather than the effect.

Duke Francis grew up amidst all of this and was known for his kindness and sensitivity as well as being at times indecisive. He also had quite an illustrious pedigree, not only on the Hapsburg side of his father but also on the Savoy side of his mother. In 1840, when his mother died, intractable British Jacobites recognized the future Duke of Modena as “King Francis I of England, Scotland, Ireland and France”. An interesting historical twist but, needless to say, Francis never used or claimed such lofty titles himself. He knew he would have his hands full simply becoming and remaining Duke of Modena. He was given a good education with a number of eminent aristocrats and clerics serving as his tutors. By 1842 he had been honored with the Austrian Order of the Golden Fleece, the Dutch Order of the Netherlands Lion and the Savoy Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation. He was fond enough of chivalric orders that in 1855 he started one of his own, the Order of the Eagle of Este.

Inheritance to the duchy came with the death of his father on January 21, 1846 at which time the young man became Duke Francis V of Modena, Duke of Reggio and Mirandola, Duke of Massa, Prince of Carrara and Lunigiana and, of course, Archduke of Austria. He inherited a domain in a great deal of turmoil with many divided loyalties, much genuine, honest discontent but also a great deal of unrest spread by the revolutionary Carbonari who were very active in the area. Ironically, the Carbornari had for a time supported Francis IV when he had ideas of encouraging Italian nationalism and becoming King of Italy but, alarmed by the 1830 Revolution in France, he had them arrested at which point they became even more devoted to the overthrow of the monarchy. Austrian troops had been needed to suppress the uprising then and they would be needed again. In the Revolutions of 1848 rebellion broke out again and again the Duke was forced to flee only to be restored later by Austrian forces. This worked for the time being but did nothing to improve his image with the nationalists who rather resented an Italian duke being sustained by Austrian troops and in an Italian duchy where the national anthem was ‘God Save the Emperor of Austria’.

By this time Francis also had a family to worry about having been married in 1842 to Princess Adelgunde of Bavaria (daughter of King Ludwig I) and if the trauma of the 1848 revolt was not bad enough it was followed by the death of the couple’s only child, Princess Anna Beatrice in 1849. However, none of this should be seen as the result of a personal dislike for Francis V. Even though many people were unhappy with the state of affairs in Modena, their Duke remained quite popular with the ordinary people. He was fair in matters of justice and impressed many people during the war when he helped care for the sick and injured himself. Even those suffering from a cholera outbreak were not shunned by the hands-on Hapsburg Duke. When he was restored by the Austrian forces after the unpleasantness of 1848 many people turned out to cheer his return. Even those who wanted some political reform and to join in some union or coalition with their Italian brothers often still liked the Duke personally and hoped that he would lead them in that direction.

Alas, it was not to be and in the settlement of the Second Italian War for Independence in 1859, following the battle of Magenta the Duchy of Modena was handed over by the Austrians to the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. On June 14 Francis V fled to Austria amidst another rebellion and on August 20, 1859 Piedmontese troops marched in to occupy Modena. On November 7 chosen leaders from Tuscany, Parma, Modena and the Papal Legations formed the United Provinces of Central Italy and elected a president, who King Victor Emmanuel II refused to recognize, sending a royal governor to oversee the area instead. In December the area was declared the “Royal Provinces of Emilia” and after plebiscites were held Modena was formally annexed by the Kingdom of Italy on March 18, 1860. Duke Francis V, in Vienna, formally protested the annexation four days later but, of course, the tide of events had long passed him by and no country, not even Austria, could reverse the course of history.

Duke Francis V spent the rest of his life in exile, mostly in Austria but occasionally visiting other countries, including a pilgrimage to the Middle East. He died, still loved by some and despised by others, on November 20, 1875 and was buried in the Capuchin Church in Vienna, leaving his large estate to his cousin the ill-fated Archduke Francis Ferdinand, who also inherited his title of Archduke of Austria-Este.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bona Sforza, Italian Queen of Poland

One of the fascinating figures in Polish history is Bona Sforza, as one might tell, not a Polish lady but an Italian one who by marriage became Queen of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania and a consort that had quite an impact. Those familiar with the tumultuous political history of Renaissance Italy will recognize the Sforza family name, a powerhouse in Milan and a long-time force in Italian politics. As the rulers of Milan the Sforza family had at one time or another Lord Jean I of Monaco and Leonardo da Vinci and eventually had marriage times with numerous royal and papal families. Bona Sforza was born on February 2, 1494 the third child out of four of Gian Galeazzo Sforza (sixth Duke of Milan) and his wife Isabella of Naples (daughter of King Alfonso II) -thought by some to be the inspiration for the Mona Lisa. The real power at the time though was her great uncle Ludovico Sforza, a patron of the arts and Renaissance man responsible for starting the Italian Wars and who later got himself into a great deal of trouble with the King of France for trying to assassinate Jean II of Monaco. Despite such powerful family ties, Bona Sforza had a rather tragic youth, being the only one of her siblings to survive childhood.

For any high-born girl of her day the subject of marriage was never far away. However, the tendency of her great uncle to make enemies made it difficult for Isabella to secure a marriage alliance for her daughter. Ludovico had set himself against the Pope and the King of France so options in Italy, Spain or France were pretty scarce. However, he had, by the marriage of another niece, secured an alliance with the grand and powerful Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. It was the House of Hapsburg which helped arrange the marriage of Bona Sforza to another Austrian ally, the widowed King Sigismund I of Poland. She was about 24, not extremely young by the standards of the day, but her husband, known as “King Sigismund the Old” was 51. The two were married and Bona was crowned Queen of Poland in Krakow on April 18, 1518. The may have looked the odd couple; the delicate Milanese young lady and the rugged, bearded Polish king, but both were made of tough stuff and Bona was determined to succeed as Queen consort. She possessed admirable qualities for the job, having been taught by a member of the powerful Colonna family of the Roman nobility and she was perceptive, resourceful and never wasteful or frivolous.

The Queen built her own base of support, winning allies among the powerful Polish nobility and gaining favorable clerical appointments from the Medici Pope Leo X. Her position was also strengthened in 1524, when her mother died, as Bona became Princess of Rossano and Duchess of Bari in her own right as well as the holder of the Brienne claim to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. She was also kept fairly busy in the bedroom and gave the King six children; 1 son and 4 daughters surviving. All went on to illustrious titles when they grew up; Queen Isabella of Hungary, King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland, Duchess Sophia of Brunswick-Lüneberg, Queen Anna I of Poland and Queen Catherine of Sweden, Duchess of Finland. As Queen of Poland she sought to support her husband who, like most Polish monarchs, was constantly having to fight to maintain his position. Frugal by nature, the rise of her own family in Italy had taught her that power comes from independence and independence comes from wealth. With that in mind she set herself to expanding the fortune of the Jagiellon dynasty as much as she could.

The mortgaged estates of the Polish Crown were redeemed but the nobility proved intransigent on submitting to permanent taxation or to a standing army which would have increased the power of the monarchy and been a help to the King in his constant struggles against Wallachia, the Russians and the Tatars. Making the Polish monarchy, and the Jagiellon dynasty, as strong as possible was the overriding goal of Queen Bona and the acquisition of new territories in Lithuania helped, gaining the King of Poland the additional title of Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1536-1546. This brought in a good deal of revenue but having more than one heir would have helped as well but this was not possible. The Queen lost her sixth child after falling off a horse and was never able to have any more children so securing the succession of her son Sigismund II Augustus was her top priority. The boy was created Grand Duke of Lithuania and finally crowned King of Poland in 1529 alongside his father which greatly upset some of the Polish nobles who demanded that no successor to the boy-king be chosen without their consent.

When it came to dealing with enemy nobles and foreign relations, Queen Bona was no push-over, this woman did come out of Renaissance Italy after all and she was not untouched by rumors of having some enemies poisoned, though, there is of course no evidence for such accusations. On the European stage, despite them being responsible for her marriage, the Queen opposed the Hapsburgs and favored an alliance with France. She viewed the Hapsburgs as a threat to Poland and was willing to be friendly with any power that would keep their attention elsewhere. So, she supported the Hungarians against the Hapsburgs and even corresponded with the famous Roxelana, wife of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. She offered to give up the titles she had inherited from her mother in return for Silesia but the King opposed this and the negotiations collapsed. It was during this time that Protestantism began to arrive in Poland. The Teutonic Knights secularized but Prussia remained symbolically subordinate to the Polish King. Queen Bona took actions against Protestants for heresy but was not an intolerant person and had no problem with Protestant views being discussed. In any event, Protestantism was never able to take root in Poland.

Queen Bona did have some problems with her husband, clashing over a potential bride for the boy (a famously gorgeous Lithuanian Calvinist being the choice the Queen opposed) and his being sent to Lithuania which lessened her influence at court. However, that all came to an end in 1548 when King Sigismund died, leaving his son as sole King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. When his lovely Lithuanian consort, Queen Barbara, died many suspected the Queen mother of being involved since she had always opposed the marriage and it definitely led to an even cooler relationship between mother and son. The Queen finally retired to her Duchy of Bari where she died under somewhat suspicious circumstances on November 19, 1557.

Mary of Modena, Italian Queen of England

Mary of Modena was the second wife and Queen consort to Britain's King James II. She was born in 1658 in the Duchy of Modena in Italy and descended from the French royal family and the Medici family of Italy. Following the death of his first wife and his conversion to Catholicism James (then Duke of York) began looking for a good Catholic wife, despite the problems this was sure to cause. His older brother King Charles II had ordered his first children raised Protestant but did not object to him marrying a Catholic (Charles II himself believed Catholicism to be correct but political fears kept him from converting until he was on his deathbed). The young Mary of Modena seemed the ideal choice for James. Like his own mother Mary of Modena was a pretty Catholic girl with French connections who believed in religious monarchy. The two married in 1673; James was 40 and Mary of Modena only 15.

King Charles II, never one to miss a pretty face, quickly warmed to his new sister-in-law and those who knew her descibed her as charming, kind and intense; seemingly the ideal royal wife. However, religious divisions in the country worked against her and she was immediately attacked many Protestants who accused her of being an agent of the Pope (Clement X had suggested the match); secretly plotting some sinister attack on Great Britain. Others, however, looked at the age of James II and did not expect he would have any children by his Catholic wife and that the Protestant succession was secure in his eldest daughter who was wed to the Dutch Prince of Orange. Their fears seemed to be groundless as Mary and James had no luck with pregnancy with several children being stillborn or not living past infancy.

All of this became even more critical in 1685 when James became King and Mary of Modena became Queen consort of Britain. From the outset their were troubles and worries about rebellion as King James II tried to introduce religious freedom for Catholics and dissenting Protestants and uphold the powers of the monarchy. Queen Mary of Modena was not very politically involved but when she did advise her husband she advised him toward that which he was already naturally inclined to; friendship with France, support for Catholicism and staunch defense of royal authority. Sadly, it was Mary's greatest happiness that was to be the downfall of her husband as, in 1688, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy who was, naturally, baptized as a Catholic and even had the Pope named as his godfather.

Immediately Protestants claimed that the child was an imposter and called for the overthrow of the King and Queen. Even James' own daughter in Holland announced she believed her half-brother to be illegitimate. The King ordered an investigation simply to silence the critics but it did no good. With the threat of revolution and a Dutch invasion looming James sent Mary of Modena and his young son to safety in France. In due course his army mutinied, he was captured and finally allowed to escape into exile to join them there; thus begining the long years of the Stuart exile. Queen Mary of Modena was a staunch Queen-in-exile and a strong support to her husband. She gave birth to a daughter in exile and when James II died she persuaded King Louis to recognize her son, James III, as the legitimate King of Great Britain and Ireland. She devoted the rest of her life to religious devotion and to supporting the Jacobite efforts to restore the Stuarts to the British throne. She died in 1718 of breast cancer in Paris. Her tomb was later destroyed by republicans in the French Revolution.

Maximilian, Last Viceroy of Lombardy-Venetia

In February of 1857 Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian was appointed by his elder brother, the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph, Viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, that part of the Italian peninsula directly under Austrian rule. It was not an appointment he really wanted to make as he feared Max was too liberal to be entrusted with a great deal of political power. However, it was done, in large measure, to appease King Leopold I of the Belgians whose beloved daughter Charlotte had recently married the Archduke. The Belgian monarch wanted his daughter to be more highly placed than simply being the wife of the commander of the Austrian navy -Austria being less than a major naval power, and the King of the Belgians, by his reputation across Europe and his influence with his niece, Queen Victoria of Great Britain, was a man whose goodwill was important to have. So, the Austrian Emperor made the appointment, entrusting, in name at least, two of the five most important cities in the Hapsburg realm; Milan and Venice, to Maximilian.

Maximilian was greatly pleased with the appointment, seeing a chance to finally do some good, to show that his ideas of a liberal, benevolent monarchy would prove the successful pattern for the future. The new Vicereine Charlotte was also enthusiastic about the position and, being the studious young lady she was, immediately began teaching herself everything possible about the history of the Italian peninsula, the workings of the government of Lombardy-Venetia and learning the Italian language. The handsome young couple entered Milan on September 6, 1857, only six weeks after their marriage in Brussels. They had first traveled about their new domain in a rather low-key style, observing the region and gathering what information they could, but for their formal entry into Milan they donned their best Hapsburg imperial finery and entered in a sumptuous carriage. Rows of Austrian soldiers in their white coats were drawn up at attention, artillery thundered out a welcoming salute and the bands struck up, in turn, the Austrian and Belgian national anthems. It was a glittering and magnificent affair as they greeted everyone and took up their formal residence in the palace at Monza. Charlotte wrote to a friend about how beautiful and sunny Italy was and how happy she was, both in Milan and with her new husband saying, “Max is perfection in every way”.

However, trouble had been brewing in Lombardy-Venetia for quite some time. All across the Italian peninsula the national sentiment was coming to boil as more and more people became focused on uniting the Italian states and driving out the foreign armies that occupied Italian soil. Some of this was political, some academic but there were also the secret societies who would not hesitate to use violence to see their goal of a single Italian nation achieved. The area had been engulfed in rebellion during the Revolutions of 1848 and the Emperor Francis Joseph was worried about how his little brother would handle that section of the populace who were very much the unwilling subjects of the Hapsburg Crown. Archduke Maximilian had made no secret of the fact that he had long favored granting greater freedom and self-government to the two most significant non-German populations of the Austrian Empire; the Hungarians and the Italians. For the Emperor, who took his example from the very conservative Emperor Francis I, change was to be avoided at almost any cost. For the new Viceroy, change was essential and he thought himself just the man for the job.

Maximilian hoped to change the reputation of the Austrians in Italy by displays of trust and good will. It was a tall order as many in Italy associated Austria only with repression, bayonets, floggings and executions. Archduke Maximilian, however, was not a militarist of any kind and he walked among his new people alone and without an escort, greeting them and talking to them personally. His handsome face and charming smile won people over and, according to letters written by Charlotte at least, the people began to be won over by his good faith and trust. It was not easy though for one man to change attitudes set in place by years of history and conflict. An often told story was that when Emperor Francis Joseph and Empress Sissi had visited the region earlier troops had to force crowds out onto the streets to greet them and when ordered to cheer for the Imperial couple coming in the third carriage, responded by shouting, “Long live the third carriage!”. At Venice few people attended the imperial reception as crowds gathered to spit and curse at those who did. It was not an easy position Maximilian and Charlotte had been placed in for certain.

The new Viceroy did everything right. He gave to the poor, generously, went personally to help with the seasonal flooding and organized a lottery to benefit the displaced. He did his best to reclaim land, provide more reliable clean water to the cities, improve education and to beautify Milan and Venice. The Viceregal couple attended every local celebration and the people began to respond positively. No one who met them failed to be impressed by them and soon, in their young and idealistic way, Maximilian and Charlotte began to envision a grand future for themselves with their Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia not being an obstacle to Italian unity but the leader of it and that they might one day become King and Queen of an enlightened united Italy. However, that dream would most certainly never be realized. Many of the people, perhaps even most of the people, truly liked their handsome Austrian Viceroy and his beautiful Belgian wife and appreciated their kindness. However, that personal affection did not extend to political approval. They were still foreigners and in the rising nationalism of the time, that made a difference. Lovely as they might be, they were not Italian and Italy would belong to the Italians and none other. The couple could also expect no cooperation from Vienna in obtaining any greater autonomy for themselves or their kingdom.

Soon, the limitations of their personal popularity became apparent. When parties were thrown at the palace, hardly anyone would show up as those who did would be treated as outcasts or even traitors by their fellow Italians. The aristocracy shunned the Viceregal couple. Undeterred, they tried turned to the middle class for support but again, they would not associate with them. To do so would cause their countrymen to boycott their businesses. The educated class had never wanted anything to do with them since, as usual, it was the university professors who had long been the most adamantly liberal and opposed to Austrian rule. Things finally became so bad that when Maximilian and Charlotte ventured out, such as to the theater or opera, news of their arrival would precede them and the house would be all but empty when they arrived. When there continued to be student protests for Italian unity or when the Piedmontese flag appeared or articles calling for national unity were printed in newspapers, Emperor Francis Joseph in Vienna determined that, as he expected, his brother was being too lenient and firm measures would have to be taken.

Maximilian, of course, resisted this, reasserting that patience and goodwill were necessary to truly win over the public. He also had the audacity to ask for what amounted to autonomy for his kingdom with its own military, governmental, educational and taxation systems. This, Maximilian argued, was the only way to keep Lombardy-Venetia united to the Hapsburg Crown. The Emperor refused and instead encouraged his brother to rely more on the army and police and even went so far as appointing the long-time Austrian army commander in the region, General Count Gyulai, something of a co-Viceroy alongside Maximilian and who would have to co-sign all major decisions. Of course, the Archduke was outraged by this and became more and more depressed with his position. He tried to get around the move by asking to have control of the army himself so that military and civil matters would be united in the office of the Viceroy but the Emperor refused. Maximilian and Charlotte even went to Vienna to argue in person on behalf of their unwilling subjects but they gained not a single concession.

When they returned, things had only grown worse. The Italians still liked the couple but viewed them, not entirely unfairly it must be said, as powerless tools in the hands of those in Vienna they viewed as enemies. It was fair enough as Vienna viewed the Italians as enemies as well. Maximilian was deeply depressed and sent Charlotte to visit her family in Belgian while he remained alone in the palace surrounded only by his soldiers. Soon, in 1859, war clouds gathered between France and Piedmont-Sardinia on one side and Austria on the other. In such a crisis, the Emperor did not feel he could trust his high-minded brother and on April 21, General Count Gyulai arrived with a letter from Vienna informing Archduke Maximilian of his dismissal. Two days later, to the horror of many, including the elder statesman Prince von Metternich, Francis Joseph ordered a general mobilization. In the short Second War for Italian Independence, Lombardy-Venetia was annexed by Piedmont-Sardinia, coming under the reign of the House of Savoy, according to the Treaty of Zurich. In 1866, by the Treaty of Prague, Venice was ceded as well. Archduke Maximilian and Archduchess Charlotte again found themselves with nothing to do, at least until some elegant Latin aristocrats and French officials arrived from Paris sounding out their opinions on the idea of an empire in Mexico…

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

MM Movie Review: The Leopard

As we have recently seen the passing of the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, it is fitting to take a look at a movie that covered this period on the island of Sicily. It is a uniquely Sicilian story and yet much of the drama could have unfolded in almost any part of Italy as the long established aristocracy came face to face with the wave of nationalism and the forces of the revolution. I have often recommended this movie to people trying to understand the many aspects of the Risorgimento. Yet, it is not a simplistic movie. There are few angels or demons but it reveals the complex nature of the situation Italy (and in this case Sicily) found itself in during the revolutionary period. Considering who was behind it, Luchino Visconti (a communist homosexual), I was surprised by what a downright reactionary flavor it had almost throughout. Yet, Visconti, or more properly Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo, was also an aristocrat and is said to have modeled the prince whom the film revolves around after his own grandfather.

“The Leopard” is an epic film in every way; very grand, very colorful, very intricate and very long (depending on the version you see, very, very long). Visconti disowned the shortened American version for cutting out scenes he considered vital, but having only ever seen the Italian version I cannot speak to that. Watching the film you get an idea of how the Risorgimento was viewed by almost every level of society and the sometimes differing views people within each strata had about it. It is, however, the story of one aging aristocrat, Prince Don Fabrizio Salina, throughout this tumultuous period and so the emphasis is naturally on him. Because the Prince (played by American actor Burt Lancaster) is such a compelling character, the viewer cannot help but identify and sympathize with him. As a result, many of Visconti’s fellow radical leftists denounced the film when it came out as being reactionary and putting the old ruling class of Sicily in far too favorable a light. That, of course, is far too simplistic a view. Almost every side is shown in this movie, good and bad aspects alike. Almost no one is entirely pure and yet even the less palatable characters are usually shown as at least having idealistic motivations.

The title comes from the leopard on the coat of arms of the Salina family and the film opens with Prince Fabrizio, the worldly but wise patriarch, leading his family in prayer. They live in palaces, a country estate in the summer months and another as their primary residence in a ramshackle Sicilian village. The nationalist revolution sweeping Italy finally comes to intrude on this family which traces its ancestry back to ancient Rome. Garibaldi and his red shirts are invading Sicily, rallying the discontented to overthrow the Bourbon kingdom. The Prince realizes that the way of life he has always known is about to change forever and there is nothing he can do to stop it. “If we want things to stay as they are, things have to change”. There is a great sense throughout of everyone, from the highest to the lowest, being swept along by the irresistible tide of history; like it or not, revolution is coming. The Prince loves his wife, though after a moment of weakness he admits to his friend and confessor Father Pirrone that it is more of a devoted alliance than a romance. She crosses herself before every embrace and, the frustrated Prince says, despite all their years of marriage and the children they’ve had together he’s never seen the naval of his very proper and pious wife. He is devoted to his children but realizes that the future of the family will not be in their hands.

That duty will fall to his well-born but rather immature nephew Tancredi. He is a young man looking for adventure with illustrious ancestry but little money as his own father squandered the family fortune. Because of that, he needs his uncle Fabrizio as much as his uncle needs him to carry on the family line into the new Italy that is being created. Tancredi, eager for glory and excitement, rushes off to join Garibaldi as he battles his way across Sicily. Bourbon troops execute people while trying to fend off the red shirts, yet some people still support them. Many embrace the revolutionary cause, others look to their traditional leaders for guidance. Prince Fabrizio decides that they will be ruined if they oppose the coming new order and that they must come to an accommodation with the revolutionaries. It also means he will have to stoop to ingratiate himself with the rising middle class, embodied by the comical social climber Don Calogero, mayor of the local town of Donnafugata. Because of the mayor’s astuteness in taking advantage of imposed land reforms he is one of the wealthiest men in the area and set to grow richer. The Prince recognizes that the fortune of this funny little man could sustain his own family in the future.

Tancredi returns, no longer a red shirted revolutionary but as an officer in the more respectable royal army of King Victor Emmanuel II. He is more than willing to marry the daughter of Don Calogero, a stunning but unpolished girl named Angelica (played by Claudia Cardinale) because she is positively gorgeous and in the interests of his family Prince Fabrizio agrees and arranges the match though it is extremely painful for him to do so. When the unification of Sicily with the rest of Italy is voted on, the Prince (after just a hint of hesitation) votes “yes” knowing that most will follow his example and do the same. The mayor later proclaims that the vote was unanimous, however, in one of my favorite scenes, the Prince’s huntsman admits that he had voted “no”. He understood the reasons Don Fabrizio had for voting “yes” but, Spaniards or not, the old Bourbon Royal Family had been good to him and he said to have voted “yes” would have made him feel like a traitor to their memory. Tensions rise but are soon smoothed over. The Prince, who one would expect to be the reactionary, bent with the wind out of self-preservation while his lesser, who had nothing to lose, could afford to be defiant. The Prince admires his loyalty but is nonetheless sure he is doing the right thing. He comforts himself that, at least this new state will be a monarchy (yes!).

The Prince goes ahead with arranging the wedding festivities for his nephew and his beautiful, bourgeois bride. He is aware of his own age, that his day is passing and the transition from the old to the new Italy is seen in what he goes through, his trials, his adjustments and his interactions with others. There is a huge amount that is “said” in this movie of which very little is actually spoken, but you see it all played out like a grand painting that conveys a deep message without saying a word. Don Fabrizio knows what he must do and he does it, conveying mostly with his eyes and body language how difficult it is for him. He was a man used to being in charge, being the final authority and has to come to grips with the rise of a new power system. He finds Don Calogero as ridiculous as anyone and yet he must tolerate him. He finds his daughter Angelica as desirable as his nephew (and every other male that lays eyes on her) and yet he knows he can do nothing about it. In his prime he certainly could have, and we are led to believe he still *could* but such a thing would be out of the question. It is only noticeable because, Angelica knows it too.

Another very interesting part of the movie was when a government official, looking very out of place in Sicily, arrives from Turin for rather flimsy reasons. The Prince keeps him at arms length until the purpose of his visit is revealed. King Victor Emmanuel II wishes all sections of the new Kingdom of Italy to be represented in his government and Don Fabrizio was recommended to be appointed Senator. The Prince is rather repelled by the idea of becoming a statesman. He would be happy to accept another title but not an actual job. The envoy is perplexed by his attitude, having in the course of his visit become very impressed with the strength, sincerity and wisdom of the Prince. However, although Don Fabrizio would not stand opposed to the tide of history and was willing to accept the new kingdom, he was not willing to participate in it and, as he said, would be unable to function in such an environment, never having learned the arts of self-deception and double-talk required of politicians. The envoy pleads with him to reconsider, pointing out how much he could help lift Sicily out of the backward and impoverished state he found her in. The Prince informs him that the Sicilians don’t want to be helped, seeing themselves as always perfect. The envoy begs him to reconsider, sincerely admiring the man, but the Prince can only laugh off his lack of understanding of the Sicilian people and their local culture. Some things will never change. The Prince then, surprisingly (yet not so surprisingly) recommends none other than the ridiculous Don Calogero for the position, saying he possesses just the right qualities for a politician.

The final big scene of the movie is a grand ball, with all of the very finest in traditional, Old World aristocratic opulence, which lasts an astounding 45 minutes. You have to see it to believe it. It is a visually stunning sequence and I’ve never seen any movie that stuck with one setting for so long, following several conservations as a way of wrapping up all of the loose ends of the film and (here is why you must pay close attention) doing it all in spite of the fact that no one is really talking about what they seem to be talking about. It is just brilliantly done and it is not buried, if you have been paying attention throughout the movie you will easily pick up on the unsaid messages being conveyed. What is difficult is believing that such a thing in one *very* long sequence could be pulled off successfully and yet it is. Again, I’ve never seen anything like it. The realism is also no piece of artistic mastery, actual Sicilian aristocratic families were brought in to play the part of the horde of grandly dressed and bejeweled guests who represent the old elite of the Bourbon kingdom that is no more. Yet, some things go on just as they always had.

I will stress again that this is not a movie for “casual viewing”. It is very long and while there are not a lot of complex plot points or anything like that, if you don’t pay attention you will miss out on the innumerable subtleties that make this a great movie rather than just a good one. In case anyone cannot tell, I love this movie. It is an artistic masterpiece. The settings are spectacular, the buildings, the landscape, the background of life in Sicily is done perfectly. The actors are pretty much all top notch (hard to go wrong with Burt Lancaster) and I say that because they all successfully convey so much of the “feeling” of this movie just in their eyes, their expressions and their body language. I think it is a great film, and I’m not alone in that as it won a pile of awards. When it comes to understanding the Risorgimento, I tell people to just watch “The Leopard” and you will come away with a pretty good idea of it. Just so there are no false expectations, it is not a history lesson, it is not hitting you over the head with, “Here’s what happened, these guys were good, these guys were bad,” and so on. The fact that so many radical leftists condemned it as reactionary or a right-wing love letter says something to recommend it. For what it was trying to do, the time, place and people it was trying to convey, I think it hit the mark perfectly. For those who complain that I only talk about movies I hate, here is one from the opposite end. “The Leopard” -I highly recommend it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vicente Filisola, Italian General in Mexico

A longtime figure in the early history of independent Mexico, General Vicente Filisola could always be counted on to be among the forces of the most conservative and loyalist faction. He was born in 1789 in Ravello, Italy but moved to Spain with his family when he was quite young. On March 17, 1804 he entered the Spanish army, starting what was to be a lifelong military career. He earned promotion to second lieutenant after six years of dedicated service and In 1811 was sent to New Spain (modern Mexico) to serve with the forces charged with suppressing the attempted revolution launched by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Filisola was a dedicated and loyal officer in the Spanish army and earned numerous promotions. His most important action, however, was becoming a close friend to his fellow officer Agustin de Iturbide.

Iturbide, also a leader in the Spanish army, had fought for the King of Spain against the revolutionaries but was the most prominent of a growing group of Mexican conservatives who believed that Spain was becoming too liberal, that Mexican independence was inevitable and that they could and should take the lead in the revolution to direct it to a more traditional and less radical conclusion. Filisola supported Iturbide in his "Plan of Iguala" which called for an independent Mexican monarchy, originally intended to remain part of the Spanish Empire, based on the guarantees of unity, independence and religion. Filisola was given command of the Army of the Three Guarantees and the rank of brigadier general. When Iturbide himself was persuaded to lead the independent Mexico as Emperor Agustin I, General Filisola was dispatched to the south to bring Central America into the new Mexican Empire.

Filisola succeeded in his assignment, taking control of Central America and ensuring that Imperial Mexico stretched all the way from northern California to Panama. However, when Emperor Agustin lost his throne as a result of the treachery of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the Central American nations broke away and Filisola returned to Mexico for a new assignment with the new republican government. Almost immediately, the new government faced the issue of immigration from the United States. Iturbide had been working out an agreement for the establishment of Anglo colonies in Texas and after a time the Mexican Republic continued the program. Invasions by Filibusters or land pirates had long been a problem, but the Anglo colonists were mostly loyal to the new Mexican constitution of 18124. However, the growing number of Anglo colonists alarmed many in Mexico and efforts were slowly put in place to halt immigration and increase the Mexican presence in Texas.

General Filisola, on October 12, 1831, was given a grant to settle 600 families in East Texas who could be anyone except Anglo-Americans. However, this was land which the government had promised to the Cherokee Indians in 1823 and Filisola was never able to establish his colony and his short term as an empresario came to nothing. Nonetheless throughout the 1820's and early 1830's General Filisola held a number of important commands in the Mexican army, including holding command of the eastern internal provinces which he was given in January of 1833. However, it was in 1835 that Filisola received what was to be his most important appointment. It was in 1835 that the province of Texas had risen up, captured all of the important posts in Texas and after a long hard battle in San Antonio had expelled the Mexican garrison commanded by General Martin Perfecto de Cos, the brother-in-law of the Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

General Santa Anna immediately began raising an army to retake Texas and crush or expel the entire Anglo population. General Vicente Filisola was made deputy commander of this force, named the Army of Operations in Texas, and was second only to Santa Anna himself. Santa Anna marched first on San Antonio where less than 200 Texans had barricaded themselves in the old Spanish mission known as the Alamo. The battle was a victory for Mexico, albeit an extremely costly one. General Filisola arrived with his troops three days after the Alamo had fallen since the massive size of the Mexican army meant that the main body was stretched out with units several days march apart. Later, General Filisola wrote down many observations about the campaign, commenting on the determined bravery of the Mexican soldier and the vanity of Santa Anna who would listen to nothing that was not in agreement with the ideas of Napoleon Bonaparte. Filisola also considered the assault on the Alamo a costly and unnecessary waste of manpower, pointing out that if Santa Anna had only waited for his heavy artillery to arrive they could have shelled the crumbling mission to rubble without risking the life of a single Mexican soldier.

After the battle, Santa Anna pushed his army relentlessly forward in pursuit of Texas General Sam Houston who was retreating north. Overconfident, Santa Anna was oblivious to the strategic danger he placed himself in and took a smaller part of his army ahead in the hope of capturing Houston personally. At San Jacinto, Houston cut Santa Anna off from General Filisola and the main army and launched a surprise attack on the sleeping Mexicans. Santa Anna suffered a stunning defeat and was himself captured and forced to order his army back to Mexico and recognize the independence of Texas. General Santa Anna sent orders to General Filisola to withdraw the army back to San Antonio. General Filisola ordered the retreat, but not simply to San Antonio, but all the way across the Rio Grande to Mexico. Because of this, General Filisola earned the total wrath of many of his subordinates and in time his retreat from Texas became the single most remembered action of his life.

General Filisola would spend much of the rest of his life explaining and answering for taking the army out of Texas. Santa Anna, it was argued, had given the order under duress and so Filisola was not bound to obey it. However, General Filisola said he would have ordered the retreat even without an order from Santa Anna because the military situation left him no other option. General Santa Anna had taken huge losses at the Alamo and San Jacinto, and deep in enemy country and could expect no reinforcements while the atrocities committed by Santa Anna continued to draw outraged volunteers from the United States to aid the Texans. The Mexican army had been pushed to exhaustion pursuing Houston, their supply lines had broken down and huge numbers were down with dysentery. Filisola, who had a higher regard for his soldiers than anyone, said that nature had left them no option but to withdraw or risk losing the rest of the army.

No instructions reached Filisola from Mexico City until he had crossed the Nueces River when he was ordered to hold what territory had been retaken. He offered to march back north, but it was clearly apparent that the army could not bear the task. They were weak, malnourished, poorly equipped and their morale was sapped. Filisola continued on to Matamoros and on June 12, 1863 command of the army was given to General Jose Urrea, the most victorious officer of the campaign, and Filisola resigned his post of deputy commander, turning the position over to General Juan Jose Andrade. He retired to Saltillo but was able to answer the charges other officers had made against him, accusing him of cowardice and treason for ordering the retreat, when he was court-martialed by the Mexican government. General Filisola presented the facts, gave his side of the story and was properly exonerated in June of 1841. He also wrote extensively, detailing what had happened on the failed Texas campaign and explaining his own actions. When the Mexican-American War broke out General Filisola was recalled to service and commanded one of the three divisions in the Mexican army. He died not long after the war on July 23, 1850 during a cholera epidemic in Mexico City.