Friday, September 28, 2012

Prince Ferdinando, 1st Duke of Genoa

HRH Prince Ferdinando di Savoia, first Duke of Genoa, lived a short life but one filled with promise. He is another one of the “might have beens” that appears in royal history on occasion and during his time he was one of the most respected and admired royal figures in Italy. He was born Prince Ferdinando Maria Alberto Amedeo Filiberto Vincenzo on November 15, 1822 in Florence, the second son of Prince Carlo Alberto of Carignan and Princess Maria Teresa of Tuscany. Only two years later Prince Carlo Alberto was recognized as heir to the throne by King Vittorio Emanuele I of Piedmont-Sardinia. This raised the profile of the young family and soon brought to the forefront the ideas of Prince Carlo Alberto in favor of constitutional monarchy. In 1831 King Carlo Felice died and Prince Carlo Alberto became King of Piedmont-Sardinia and, with his own promotion, he named Prince Ferdinand the Duke of Genoa. Like the other sons of the House of Savoy, Prince Ferdinand grew up being trained to be a soldier and inculcated with the long history the royal family. As a second son, it was expected that he would have a military career.

The Duke of Genoa embarked on such a career, becoming a general in the army and admiral of the Sardinian navy. He gained considerable respect for his role in the First Italian War of Independence (1848-1849) in which he commanded a division of the Piedmontese army. During the course of the conflict his heroism earned him the Gold Medal of Military Valor for his service. He was tall, very similar in appearance to King Carlo Alberto and always led from the front. His soldiers admired him greatly as an intelligent commander and one who would not hesitate to expose himself to danger. Like both of his parents he was also a devoutly religious man as well as a man of high ideals. Many others, evidently, thought the same and agreed with his vision of what a modern monarchy could or should be. In this regard, it is difficult not to underestimate the influence of the British model of constitutional monarchy among the moderate people who were unhappy with their political situation but too traditional to favor something with so poor a record as republicanism. Many people hoped to find success as well as political freedom equal to that of Great Britain by emulating the British model of mixed government with power divided between the people, nobility and monarchy rather than being concentrated at the top.

In 1848, starting in Palermo, the Sicilians rose up in revolt against the House of Bourbon. The nobles of Sicily had, during the Napoleonic Wars, (with British encouragement) forced King Ferdinando III of Sicily and IV of Naples to enact a constitution which gave the Kingdom of Sicily a more British-style government. However, this constitution was later revoked and discontent had spread. On January 11, 1848 rebellion erupted again and in a more violent fashion. The old constitution was restored, establishing a representative government with the central role being given to an elected parliament. Rebel forces took control of almost the whole island (not the Bourbon bastion of Messina) and even talked of establishing a pan-Italian confederation. They also began looking around for an appropriate prince to be the new sovereign of their new constitutional monarchy and, given the leadership shown by King Carlo Alberto in Piedmont-Sardinia, quickly turned to his son the Duke of Genoa. Knowing his temperament and background, the representatives of the British government were pleased with such a choice and encouraged the Duke to accept the offer, with the British ambassador in Turin promising that Britain would immediately recognize Sicilian independence once he did so.

By the summer everyone was well enough convinced and the Sicilian secessionist government voted unanimously to offer the throne to the Duke of Genoa. Since having another king named Ferdinand would have aroused some resentment, it was expected that he would reign as King Alberto Amedeo I of Sicily. However, when the Sicilian delegation came to Turin to make their formal offer, the Duke of Genoa was at the front with his troops and reluctant to leave them. King Ferdinand II of Naples had joined in the war against Austria alongside King Carlo Alberto, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and (for a time) even the Pope, but when he learned that the Duke of Genoa was being considered as his possible replacement on the throne of Sicily, he immediately broke off the alliance and recalled his troops. When the war ended in victory for the Austrians and defeat for the Piedmontese, the Duke of Genoa respectfully declined the offer of the Sicilian throne. Things also began to fall apart back in Sicily where the Neapolitan navy shelled Messina, killing many people, following by a massive campaign by Bourbon troops to retake the island. It took about nine months and was a very bloody affair but finally the rebel government was subdued and their leader forced to flee to the protection of the British on Malta.

That ended any chance of the Duke of Genoa becoming the King of Sicily. However, he proved his worth well enough on the field of battle with the Piedmontese army. At the disastrous battle of Novara, the Duke of Genoa fought like a lion and had four horses shot out from under him. But, in the end, the Piedmontese were defeated and King Carlo Alberto abdicated in favor of his son, King Vittorio Emanuele II. After the war, the Duke of Genoa was put in command of the Piedmontese royal artillery, a branch of the service he set about reorganizing and modernizing. The following year he also achieved some domestic happiness with his marriage to Princess Elizabeth of Saxony, daughter of King Johann and Queen Amalie Auguste of Bavaria. They married on April 22, 1850 in Dresden and the following year had their first child, Princess Margherita, who would go on to one day marry her cousin King Umberto I and become Queen consort of a united Italy. Their second child, Prince Tommaso, was born in 1854 and would go on to preside over the Italian government during the First World War. The Duke of Genoa remained a very respected military figure and when Piedmont-Sardinia joined in the Crimean War alongside the United Kingdom and Imperial France, he was to take command of the reserve corps in the expeditionary force being dispatched to Russia. However, despite being a young man still, he had fallen ill and was growing increasingly frail. He died on February 10, 1855 at the age of only 32 in Turin and was buried in the royal crypt, succeeded by his son Prince Tommaso who became the second Duke of Genoa.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Happy Birthday

A happy birthday to His Royal Highness Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, born on this day in 1943, claimant to the leadership of the House of Savoy, as such potential heir to the throne of Italy and heir to the throne of the short-lived independent Croatia.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Queen Caterina de' Medici

The popular image of Catherine de Medici is one of the quintessential ‘wicked woman’. At a time when the French monarchy was in grave danger and France itself was violently divided between opposing religious forces, Queen Catherine is one figure both sides today seem to be mostly in agreement on with Protestants viewing her as the very embodiment of evil itself while most Catholics disavow her completely and even believe her to have been a witch and a Satanist. Those unfamiliar with her story and how history has treated her may be shocked by what is written about her. Her defenders are, unsurprisingly, few and most of those who do speak up on her behalf do so very guardedly and only up to a certain point, arguing that she may have had good intentions for doing terrible things or was being forced by events beyond her control to make difficult choices, though hardly anyway would deny that those choices included the unspeakably cruel. There is also no denying that she had little to no choice in the general direction that her life would take. The course of her life was set at a fairly young age by the political maneuverings of two powers.

Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de’ Medici was born on April 13, 1519 in Florence, Italy to Lorenzo II who had been made Duke of Urbino by HH Pope Leo X (his uncle) and his wife Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne who was from a well placed French noble family. She was adored by her parents but within weeks her mother died of puerperal fever and a few days later Lorenzo II died of syphilis. Pope Leo X had arranged the match of her parents to secure a Franco-Italian alliance against the Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I and intended little Catherine to marry within the Medici family, when the time came, to secure the family hold on Florence (in those days, stability was a precious commodity). Catherine was raised by her grandmother and later by an aunt. The family fortunes struggled a bit when Pope Leo X died but rose again with the election of another Medici to the Throne of St Peter; Pope Clement VII. She learned the rough world of Italian politics at a very young age when she was taken hostage by a rival family bent on ending Medici rule over Florence. It says a great deal that Catherine, held in a convent, found this the most calm, peaceful and happy period of her life. After Italy was invaded and Rome itself devastated by imperial troops, Pope Clement VII was obliged to formally crown the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to enlist his help in securing Florence for the House of Medici as well as the liberty of young Catherine.

During the siege Catherine was under the greatest threat imaginable but survived unhurt to be delivered to Pope Clement VII in Rome who wept with joy upon seeing her, so great was his relief that she had been safely rescued. Immediately, the Pope determined to arrange a lofty marriage for the girl and, as usual, there were political considerations to be made as well. To counter the German domination in Italy of Emperor Charles V, the Pope turned to his erstwhile ally King Francis I of France who was also looking to shore up his position on the Italian peninsula. A marriage agreement was soon made between Catherine de Medici and the younger son of King Francis; Henri, Duke of Orleans. Both were only 14-years old and were married at Marseille on October 28, 1533. At first everything went well. Catherine was well treated at court, said to be bright and friendly but it all came crashing down when Pope Clement VII died and was succeeded by Pope Paul III who immediately broke off the French alliance in favor of closer ties with the Germans and refused to pay the dowry for Catherine agreed to by his predecessor. For Catherine, her warm welcome quickly turned to a cold shoulder. Prince Henri gave her little notice and enjoyed a string of mistresses while the childless Catherine was shamed for not producing a son for the House of France (which really required the cooperation of Henri).

Things became more intense when her brother-in-law Francis, Dauphin of France, died in 1536 making her husband Henri heir to the throne. As Dauphine of France, the pressure was greater than ever for Catherine to have a son. Nothing seemed to work and many advised the King to have his son divorce Catherine and find another wife. This drove Catherine to desperate measures, everything from prayers, fasting and pilgrimages to some truly disgusting home remedies said to increase fertility. For quite a while, nothing seemed to work but then, it all changed. Most attribute this to the inexplicable ways of nature, others to the advice of her doctor who told her and the Dauphin how to ’do things’ properly but still others say that Catherine turned to witchcraft and became a Devil-worshiper and it was after that point that she finally became pregnant in 1544 and had roughly a child every year thereafter. Be it the doc or the devil, Catherine was finally a mother, her position was secured and the means by which she would frequently be the effective ruler of France established. In 1547 she was crowned Queen consort alongside her husband who became King Henri II. However, he still lived mostly apart from her and generally treated his favorite mistress better than Queen Catherine.

Queen Catherine had a less than happy time as consort. The King rarely paid any attention to her other than to father more children and even this ended in disaster when the Queen suffered a terribly traumatic incident giving birth to twin girls. Catherine nearly died, one of the babies died in the womb and the other died short afterward and the Queen was never able to have children again. The only high point was finally ending the Italian Wars with the Holy Roman Empire when one of Catherine’s daughters was married to King Philip II of Spain. However, during the festivities, which included jousting, King Henri II was mortally wounded and died on July 10, 1559 nursed to the end by the wife he had always neglected. Catherine’s 15-year old son then became King Francis II of France but there was immediately a coup of sorts which saw real power go to the House of Guise. France was quickly becoming divided during this time by a 3-way struggle for power between the Protestants (led by the Bourbon family) on one side, the Catholics (led by the Guise family) on the other and the royal court in between. The Guise faction were quick to move against the Protestants but Queen Catherine (and many in the Catholic Church) promoted tolerance and reconciliation. King Francis II, however, did not live long enough to ever become a force of his own and Queen Catherine struck a deal with the Protestants to ensure that she would hold power in the name of her younger son who became King Charles IX in 1560 at age nine.

The Queen first tried to bring the Protestant and Catholic leaders together to work out a peace but was unsuccessful and soon the infamous Wars of Religion were raging across France. The Queen tried to appease the Protestants by enacting religious toleration and ‘toning down’ Catholic practices they found most objectionable (with the approval of the Pope) but it was not enough to stop each side from attacking the other. She also pressed the Church for more money to keep the Protestants in check and even tried to make a deal with the Ottoman Sultan to relocate French and German Protestants to Eastern Europe but the Sultan declined the offer. More powers became engulfed in the conflict. When the Protestant brought in German mercenaries to continue the fight, Queen Catherine brought in the Swiss but no side seemed strong enough to totally defeat the other two. Queen Catherine was, officially, on the Catholic side but stuck to trying to make peace and even allowed Protestants to hold high places at court and marry into the Royal Family. Gaspard de Coligny, a Protestant, soon became the top advisor to King Charles IX and he wanted to invade The Netherlands to fight the Spanish. The Catholics, naturally, opposed this and Catherine saw Coligny replacing her as the primary influence on the King. Coligny had to go. An assassination plot was arranged but Coligny survived and the Protestants were infuriated.

The King was outraged at the near murder of his friend and believed that the Guise family were responsible. But, the Queen assured him that if the Protestants took Paris it would not be only the Guise men who died but the Royal Family and the King himself as well. It was then that the plot was hatched to strike first and suddenly by killing Coligny themselves, a terrible blow to the Protestant leadership. When she threatened to leave France for the safety of Italy the King finally gave in and agreed but, in a parting comment, said that if Coligny was to die they would have to kill every other Protestant as well for if any were left alive they would surely want their revenge on him. So, on August 23, 1572, St Bartholomew’s Day, the massacre of Protestants began. For a week in Paris and other areas across France Protestants were killed though the actual number of victims in unknown, ranging from thousands to tens of thousands. Queen Catherine was undoubtedly involved as she made sure that those Protestants she favored were spared. It was not the only massacre of the religious wars of course, and there had been Protestant massacres of Catholics, but it was the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre that would become the most infamous episode of the Wars of Religion in France and the blackest mark against Catherine.

Prior to this, some Protestants had viewed Catherine de Medici as the reasonable member of the Royal Family, the voice of peace and moderation. After St Bartholomew’s Day she was portrayed by the Protestants as the “wicked Italian Queen” who conducted her affairs in the style of Machiavelli, callous, cruel and unprincipled. Less than two years later King Charles IX died and his brother became King Henri III (a rather odd fellow if ever there was one) with the Queen mother Catherine again named as regent. This was only because he was, at the time, serving as King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth but he was soon back in France. Henri was Catherine’s favorite son but he did little right in her eyes. Still, he followed her course of reconciliation and made numerous concessions to the Protestants but the wars continued. This is what is sometimes known as the war of the three Henrys; King Henri III, Henri of Guise for the Catholics and Henri Navarre of the Protestants. King Henri III had Hanri of Guise killed and Queen Catherine was horrified and died on January 5, 1589 sorrowful and asking for prayers for her misguided son. She could not have a traditional royal burial as Paris was in the hands of her enemies and later, during the French Revolution, her remains were tossed in a mass grave with other royals. She had been called the most powerful woman in the world of her time and her time in power has been called the ‘Age of Catherine de’ Medici’ yet few, then or now, have a kind word for her.


This was a rather difficult profile to do. No matter the subject, I generally try to find something positive to say about the person in question, partly out of habit and partly because there is no shortage of those quick to condemn any royal figure, good or bad, and that library of work does not need added to. However, in the case of Catherine de’ Medici, this was a difficult task and, perhaps surprisingly, Catholic sources tended to be more critical of her than Protestant ones. The Protestant historians were no less condemnatory, castigating her as the author of their misfortunes and the butcher of St Bartholomew’s Day but it was the Catholic sources which accused her of extorting protection money from the Church and being a devil worshiper -not an everyday accusation. Her entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, describes her as, “Dictatorial, unscrupulous, calculating, and crafty” as well as being superstitious, egotistical and who even when serving the interests of the Church and malicious motives, putting the survival of the Crown before the cause of the Catholic forces. However, if she truly was as terrible as virtually everyone says she was, Catherine certainly paid considerably for her misdeeds even before what awaited her in the afterlife.

Forced into a loveless marriage she did not want, she was constantly being ridiculed, pushed aside and truly treated as nothing more than a ‘baby machine’ and not a terribly reliable one at that. She was faced with a divided country and a 3-way division which is the worst kind as no faction is hardly ever strong enough to defeat the other two. She also grew up in a time and place where political survival was a cut-throat business. Her earliest years were spent in a ‘kill or be killed’ environment where you got the other guy before the other guy got you. She had a husband who never loved her, traumatic pregnancies and children which were a constant source of sorrow and seemed all to have been ill-fated. Francis was dead at 16, Isabel (consort to Philip II of Spain) died in her early 20’s, Claude who was born crippled and died at 27, Louis, Jean and Victor all dead within a year of their birth, Charles, mentally unwell and dead at 24, Hercule who was deformed at died at 30, Marguerite who was said to have been the most beautiful woman in the world but who lived a rather immoral life and was never able to have children and finally Henri who caused such grief who was assassinated at age 38.

Certainly then, Catherine endured a great deal of anguish herself. There is no doubt, based on the evidence of her own hand, that she was capable of dealing mercilessly with any enemies, real or perceived. Yet, she was also thrust into a situation not of her own making, at least initially, and few doubt that without her, the House of Valois would have come to an earlier end. Especially today it seems odd to find so many who are critical of a queen whose overriding policy was always one of negotiating a peace, yet it is hard to dispute that those efforts prolonged the conflict by granting concessions in return for bad behavior and never hesitating to resort to underhanded measures when negotiating proved fruitless. Given her patronage of the arts, to glorify the monarchy and solidify the shaky House of Valois, she may have had good intentions and there should be no doubt that she was obsessed with securing the position and future success of her children, even if they often disappointed her. However, if she was only self-serving and utterly malicious through and through, it seems that God saw to her punishment and her children with her. Usually I feel almost compelled to sympathize with anyone who is disliked by everyone else, but in this case …

Friday, September 21, 2012

Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio, 1st Duke of Addis Abeba and 1st Marquess of Sabotino

Marshal Badoglio, a significant figure in the military history of the Kingdom of Italy from the time of World War I until the end of World War II. His shifting loyalties have left him reviled by Communists as well as Fascists, by Italian patriots and the enemies of Italy and by republicans as well as monarchists. Certainly, others in history have been known for changing allegiance, fighting for one side and then later opposing it, but usually they were being loyal to some greater cause, some noble principle, even if evident only to themselves. In the case of Marshal Badoglio however, it is hard to see any motivation other than a self-serving effort to shift blame, avoid responsibility and survive the consequences of what were often his own mistakes. It is hard to imagine anyone rising so high in the military while being to a considerable extent responsible for one of the worst defeats in Italian history and then rising to the top political position in the country despite being out of favor with all the major parties and distrusted by the King.

Pietro Badoglio was born in Grazzano Montferrat (later renamed Grazzano Badoglio) in Asti, Piedmont. He attended the military academy in Turin and joined the Royal Italian Army in 1892 as a lieutenant in the artillery, serving in Eritrea in 1896 and Libya in 1912. It was there that he first attracted the notice of his superiors for his meritorious service at the battle of Zanzur. He received a decoration for his service and a promotion to major. By the time Italy entered the First World War, Badoglio was a lieutenant colonel serving on the general staff of the Second Army with the Fourth Division. That unit was stationed in the Monte Sabotino sector, a bleak region that had been strongly fortified by the Austrians. Badoglio urged his superiors that Monte Sabotino be taken even though most considered the Austrian position impregnable. Badoglio, however, thought he had a better way. A frontal assault would have been all but suicidal so, instead, he proposed digging a network of tunnels underneath the Austrian lines and exploding them to disrupt their defensive line.

His plan approved, Badoglio was promoted to colonel while the engineers worked at digging the extensive tunnels as near as possible to the Austrian lines. In April of 1916, with Colonel Badoglio then serving as Chief of Staff of the Sixth Army Corps, the attack was made and was a stunning success with Monte Sabotino being taken by the Italians with only minimal losses. Because of this, by August he had been promoted to major general and he was later made Vice-Chief of Staff, widely believed to be because of the favor of General Luigi Capello who, like Badoglio, was a member of the Freemasons. By that time, Italian forces had suffered their worst defeat of the war at the Battle of Caporetto. The role that Badoglio played in this disaster is still a matter of some controversy, however, there is hardly any dispute that the commission charged with looking into the defeat after the war, to determine how such a thing could have happened, laid no small amount of blame at the feet of Badoglio. However, by the time the report was done, Mussolini was in charge and did not want any bad press for a top commander in the army and so mention of Badoglio was removed before the report was released.

In the end, this only served to tarnish his reputation further, perhaps even further than he deserved since most historians state that Badoglio was, otherwise, a competent staff officer. Still, it would not be the last time that his war record would be stained by controversy. He participated in the Italian delegation to the peace talks and served as Chief of Staff of the army from 1919 to 1921. Like some other officers, he tried to avoid politics in the turbulent years after the war and was not very supportive of the rising National Fascist Party. This stands out as there were many veterans in the ranks of the Black shirts and the Fascist message was tailor-made for many military veterans, decrying how, despite the sacrifice and heroism of the Italian soldiers, the promises Britain and France had made to them were not kept and that a stronger military was needed. Badoglio, however, tried to stay out of the turmoil and, at his request, was made Italian ambassador to Brazil until Mussolini requested his return to the post of Chief of Staff in 1925. He went along with the new government comfortably enough and the following year he was promoted to Marshal of Italy.

From 1928 to 1934 Badoglio served as Governor of Libya, taking harsh measures when necessary but requiring additional help to finally end rebellion in the colony. His greatest moment of triumph, but later more controversy, came when he was given command of the primary front in the war against Ethiopia. Mussolini had, at first, wanted the war to be a “Fascist war” with the bulk of the troops coming from his Black shirt militia and his senior Black shirt general, Emilio De Bono, in overall command. However, when De Bono proved too cautious and slow for Mussolini, he was promoted off the front line and Marshal Badoglio was called in to replace him. The Italian forces launched a renewed and more vigorous offensive which in 1936 culminated in the capture of the Ethiopian capital. Marshal Badoglio made a triumphant entry into the city and was quickly named the first Viceroy of Italian East Africa. Later, however, accusations of cruelty were made against the Marshal over the use of chemical weapons (poison gas) against the Ethiopians, in violation of the Geneva Convention. Blame for this is usually reserved for Mussolini but, according to some documents, Badoglio ordered the use of poison gas even before Mussolini himself had authorized it.

Mussolini grew to despise Badoglio more and more. He disliked having to share credit with him for the east African victory and he bristled when Badoglio advised against entering World War II, saying that the Italian army was not prepared for such a conflict, yet, at the same time, assuring the government that the Italian munitions industry was more advanced than that of the Germans. This prevarication, combined with hesitation over military policy while refusing to resign (he received the highest salary of any official at his level) earned him the wrath of Mussolini who still did not hesitate to blame Badoglio for never informing him of the true state of affairs after he plunged Italy into war while seldom seeking and never taking the advice of his Chief of Staff. Yet, there is evidence that it was Badoglio himself who proposed Mussolini being given direct command of the armed forces, perhaps in an effort to wash his hands of any responsibility. Similarly, Badoglio claimed that he advised against the invasion of Greece while other evidence indicates that he endorsed the decision with no objections. When things went wrong, Badoglio disavowed any connection with the campaign and after Fascist papers began to blame the Chief of Staff for the numerous setbacks, he finally resigned his position.

Marshal Badoglio remained quiet for a time until things began to go badly for Italy and many, even in the upper ranks of the Fascist Party, began to talk about the need to get rid of Mussolini and extricate Italy from a losing war. Badoglio began to involve himself in these talks and did not always show a great deal of loyalty, once boasting that at any given time he could overthrow Mussolini and even the monarchy if he so desired. In 1943 a majority of the leaders on the Fascist Grand Council decided that Mussolini had to go and the King was able to move against the doomed dictator. It retrospect, it is easy to wonder why Badoglio ended up being the man to replace the Duce when he was so disliked by the Fascist hierarchy and somewhat distrusted at court. The simple answer is that there seemed to be no better possible options. Badoglio had the reputation to command the army while not being tainted by recent setbacks. As a Piedmontese officer, royalists expected him to be loyal and he had distanced himself enough from the Fascists that the Allies could be expected to deal with him.

On July 25, 1943 the King dismissed Mussolini and Marshal Badoglio was appointed Prime Minister. However, there was immediate confusion as the Marshal addressed the people by telling them that the war would go on and that nothing had really changed. He told the Germans that Italy was still totally committed to the Axis while opening secret negotiations with the Allies at the same time. In September Badoglio signed an armistice with the Allies but failed to give any prior notice of this to the Italian armed forces, leaving many wondering if the news was genuine and many more cut off on foreign battlefields at the mercy of the Germans. Italy was forced to surrender unconditionally, a sore point for the King who had hoped that Italy would retain her colonies acquired prior to 1922 and maintain her territorial integrity. That would not be the case nor would the Allies commit to the maintenance of the monarchy. Even after Italy joined the Allied war effort under Badoglio this remained a point of contention. Some suggested that the King and Prince Umberto of Piedmont should abdicate their rights in favor of the young Prince Victor Emmanuel whom Badoglio would act for as regent. Badoglio, of course, favored this option but the King regarded this as almost an act of betrayal. He was also very displeased with the radical political figures Badoglio was dealing with to form a post-war government after the end of martial law.

The whole affair was badly handled and ended with the King and Badoglio being forced to leave Rome which was thereafter occupied by the Germans while the Allies fought their way up the Italian peninsula. In 1944 the increased opposition finally forced Badoglio to step aside in favor of a more leftist government. Some, particularly the Ethiopians, wished to see him tried for war crimes but by shifting to the Allied side Badoglio had ensured that he would be saved such a fate. He died on November 1, 1956 in Grazzano Badoglio at the age of 85.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Roman Legacy in Royal Italy

Today, Italy is so familiar to people all around the world (being one of the most easily recognizable countries anywhere) that it is easy to forget that before the unification of the Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy, the Italian peninsula had not known unity under a single government since the time of the Roman Empire. Given that fact, it is perfectly natural that the glory days of ancient Rome were at the forefront of the mind of every Italian patriot from the time of unification throughout the life of the Kingdom of Italy. At the time, many countries were quick to ridicule this fascination with ancient Rome and treat the Italians with condescension, as if this newborn country was wrong to aspire to the Roman legacy. Yet, this was arrogance of the worst kind; unjustifiable arrogance. After all, many other countries had already tried to lay claim to the old Roman legacy. The Germans had with their Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which lasted, in name at least, for quite some time. More recently there had been the French Empire of Napoleon which had adopted the Roman eagle, the laurel crown, even Roman styles of fashion and furnishings. Even the British were not immune from portraying their empire as ancient Rome reborn and then surpassed. From the Iberian peninsula to Russia others had been claiming the Roman legacy as their own for centuries and with unification the Italians finally came together to reclaim their own history.

That was one thing which all of the otherwise diverse factions among Italian nationalists had in common. Even at a time when they were often at odds, it was what drove Giuseppe Garibaldi and King Vittorio Emanuele II to agree that Italy must be one and must be united from Rome. Turin or Florence, lovely as they might be, simply could not take the place of the “Eternal City” which had been the seat of power for the Caesars. Even the republican Giuseppe Mazzini who tried to claim the Roman legacy while at the same time deriding the history of the great Roman Empire, saying that the world had seen the Rome of the Caesar’s and the Rome of the Pope’s but he would bring about the people’s Rome. That, of course, put him squarely at odds with the most prominent living relic of ancient Rome; the Roman Catholic Church whose organization, titles and even vestments and language were all Roman in origin. When Mazzini drove the Pope out of Rome and established his short-lived Roman Republic he won only a temporary victory against the Church which was soon back and in control thanks to the French army sent by another man trying to reclaim an imperial legacy; Louis Napoleon Bonaparte.

The ideal of Cavour of a “free Church in a free State” was moderate enough to attract a large following even if it still mean a stand-off with the Church since, unlike the situation in the old Roman Empire, the Pope was intent on filling the role of Caesar as well as Vicar of Christ, at least as far as Rome and central Italy was concerned. Fortunately, it was a standoff that was ultimately resolved, though it robbed the early years of the Kingdom of Italy, the formative years, of much Catholic influence which most would have expected as being only natural. However, in every walk of life, memories of ancient Rome and the Roman Empire permeated all levels of society in the Kingdom of Italy. It was seen in very grand, impressive ways such as the architecture of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument down to small ways such as in certain office titles, ranks and military insignia. During World War I, for example, the Arditi, the elite trench-raiding units of the Italian army displayed as their unit badge a wreathed roman short sword bearing the motto of the House of Savoy.

It is also no surprise that Imperial Rome was on the mind of every Italian when it came to the subject of colonial expansion. The first Italian overseas colony, Eritrea, received its name from the old Roman term for the Red Sea. Likewise, when Italy gained the north African provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan from the Ottoman Empire they revived the old Roman name for the region; Libya. And, even before the colonial period, King Vittorio Emanuele II had envisioned the House of Savoy presiding over a revived Roman Empire by providing monarchs for formerly Roman countries such Greece and Spain, though nothing came of the first effort and the second did not last for long. When the first King of Italy departed this life he was laid to rest in one of the most visible remnants of Imperial Rome; the Church of St Mary and the Martyrs, also known as the Pantheon, which had originally been built by Marcus Agrippa as a pagan temple and later rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian. When the King was entombed a large Imperial Roman eagle was used to decorate the resting place.

The areas of “Unredeemed Italy” were, for the most part, the lands of Venice which had been taken by France during the Napoleonic Wars and then handed over to Austria, however, all had also been originally Roman and that fact was never lost on zealous Italian nationalists. Even Albania was an area that had been settled by the Romans even before the northern extremes of the Italian peninsula had been. The Roman legacy was never far from the thoughts of those advocating expansion and this was tied in with the former territories of the maritime republics such as Genoa and Venice. During World War I, in 1915, when expansion into Ottoman Turkey by the Allies seemed a real possibility, Luigi Medici del Vascello famously said, “Remember, gentlemen, that Constantinople was built by a Roman Caesar on the gorgeous banks of the Bosphorus, … and, while the call of the Muezzin rocks the Turk in his fatal torpor, the Galata tower sighs imploringly still to its Genoa: come back Italy!” Such stirring words were fairly common in bridging the gaps between the Roman Empire, Renaissance Italy and the Kingdom of Italy which was still making a place for itself in the world.

Of course, and this is somewhat unfortunate, the memory of Imperial Rome was never greater or more emphasized than during the Fascist era. This was rather different than what had gone before though in that this was somewhat artificial, it was not a natural expression but something imposed from the top down. Mussolini wanted to mimic ancient Rome as much as possible and so there was the symbol of the fasces everywhere, the Roman salute, Roman style flags, the Fascist militia was organized into legions, centuries, cohorts, maniples and so on. Mussolini liked to portray himself as a new Caesar and many propaganda pieces of art did this, sometimes including the King but more often than not the Fascists tried to ignore him as much as possible. Latin inscriptions began to appear on the walls and buildings of Rome, Roman relics were excavated and Roman styles began to influence architecture again, though in a more simplified, modernist fashion more in keeping with the Fascist conceit of being the ‘way of the future’. Mussolini also, of course, boasted that he would restore the “glory that was Rome” by dominating the Mediterranean basin and forging the Second (or Third) Roman Empire.

There actually was some very beneficial archaeological and historical preservation work done during the Fascist era because of the fascination Mussolini had with recapturing Roman glory. However, it was also extremely unfortunate in that, for the post-war generations, it has to a large extent tainted the Roman legacy because so many now associate anything Roman with the misdeeds and bad reputation of the National Fascist Party and the actions of other parties in other countries which were influenced by the Fascists of Italy. That is too bad as the Roman legacy is something every Italian should be proud of. It represented the peak of civilization in the ancient world and it established the foundation upon which almost everything in all of subsequent European history has been built.

Friday, September 7, 2012

General Ettore Perrone di San Martino

Ettore Perrone conte di San Martino was born in Turin on January 12, 1789 to a prominent aristocratic family of Canavese. He began his military career in the service of France when the French dominated northern Italy. In 1806 he volunteered for the “Legion du Midi”, graduated from Saint-Cyr military academy and then served as an infantry junior officer in the campaigns of 1807 to 1809. He earned the Legion of Honor for gallantry at the battle of Wagram where he was wounded. From 1810 to 1811 he fought in Spain as an officer in the Young Guard, in the summer of 1811 becoming a member of the prestigious Old Guard grenadiers. Despite being wounded, he hobbled off on crutches to serve in the invasion of Russia. As an infantry captain he fought at Luetzen and Bautzen in 1813, was stabbed by a bayonet and was wounded no less than three times at the battle of Montmirail. The following year Napoleon promoted him to command of the 24th Infantry Battalion and during the famous Hundred Days campaign he served as adjutant to General Gerard.

Perrone stayed in France after the Bourbon restoration and was recalled to the army in 1817. After his service he returned to Turin after a stopover in England. When the House of Savoy restored the monarchy to its pre-Revolutionary form he tried to enlist the support of other nobles against it, advocating instead for a constitutional monarchy. This coincided with the Carbonari uprising in Piedmont-Sardinia and a resulting crackdown by government forces. He was arrested and condemned to death for revolutionary activity, however, he managed to escape to France and rejoined the army there, rising to the rank of general. Back home he was hanged in effigy by the authorities. In France, Perrone married a relative of the famous Marquis de Lafayette but took his family out of Paris during the uprising that brought down King Charles X. Perrone stayed with the army, rising to command the Loire Department command. However, his homeland was never far from his thoughts, nor was he from their own and in the revolutionary year of 1848 22,330 people voted for him in elections for the Constituent Assembly, despite his still being in France. That month, after the proclamation of March 23 by King Carlo Alberto, after 27 years in exile, he left France and wrote to his old friend, Cesare Balbo, offering his sword for the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

It was also in March of 1848, in the famous “Five Days” that Italian nationalists in Milan rose up and expelled the Austrian garrison. Afterwards, the Provisional Government of Milan gave him the post of Inspector General of the Army of Lombardy and the city of Ivrea nominated him to be their Deputy in the recently formed Subalpine Parliament in Turin. However, General Perrone dismissed all praise for himself, claiming all the time to be nothing more than a humble farmer and foot soldier. Nonetheless, the government in Turin named him Minister of Foreign Affairs though at the same time others cast aspersions on him for his long stay in France and his handling of the army. From October 11 to December 16 he held the post of Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, though his enemies still tried to spread opposition to him. Not allowed to stand for elections, King Carlo Alberto stepped in and appointed him to the rank of general in his army, giving him command of the Third Infantry Division consisting of 12,027 men and 16 canon. It was in this capacity that, the following year, he took part in the pivotal battle of Novara in the First Italian War of Independence.

The Austrians under Field Marshal Graf Radetzky had marched into Lombardy and seized Mortara and the Piedmontese army under the Polish Napoleonic veteran General Wojciech Chrzanowski (who was ignorant of the ground, the situation and did not even speak Italian) rushed to meet them at Novara. Lt. General Ettore Perrone commanded the left wing of the Piedmontese forces. A key portion of the army was cut off (whether by treachery or incompetence remains debated but the general in charge was shot) and the whole Austrian army fell on the Piedmontese at Novara. The Austrians were experienced, well trained and disciplined and with a veteran and skillful commander very familiar with northern Italy. The Piedmontese had a slight numerical advantage but were disadvantaged in every other way. The Austrians launched a heavy attack on his sector and he at least held firm but he was cut down in a heavy fusillade, being shot in the head and knocked from his horse, dislocating his shoulder in the process. He lingered for several hours in great pain before passing away.

His funeral services were large affairs attended by many people and his family went on after him. His great-great granddaughter is HM Queen Paola of the Belgians.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The End of the Western Empire

It was on this day in 476 AD that Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by Odoacer, bringing the Western Roman Empire to an end. Odoacer would go on to become, effectively, King of Italy (as he was hailed by his troops) and the course of history would become quite terrible until the struggle to restore civilization reached the heights of the High Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Italians in the Battle of Britain

The Kingdom of Italy was a pioneer in aerial warfare, the first to use aircraft in combat and the first to theorize on the strategic use of aircraft for large-scale bombing. However, a lack of industrial development as compared to other powers and a shortage of resources meant that the Kingdom of Italy lagged behind some of the other European powers in the deployment of modern aircraft. When Mussolini and his Fascist Party came to power he made many promises about devoting greater attention to the Regia Aeronautica but delivered very little. When the Duce entered World War II by declaring war on France and Britain, most Italian aircraft were still out of date. Nonetheless, Italy had the experience, the talent and the determination to make a respectable fight for the air over the battlefields and soon after war began, received a new incentive to take to the skies. Only days after Italy entered the conflict a group of British Wellington bombers attacked Turin, intending on striking the headquarters of Fiat and the manufacturing center. They missed, however, in spite of encountering absolutely no resistance. There were no air raid alarms, no ground fire and no Italian planes to intercept them. Their attack missed its intended target but killed fourteen civilian men, women and children, and wounded thirty more before returning to France.

BR.20 Cicogna
The British also struck at Milan but with similar results. The Breda airplane factory, Pirelli tire factory and the steel mill were all undamaged but five bombs had hit a Catholic children’s home. Churchill had hoped that by getting in the first blow he would break the Italian will to fight but he could not have made a greater miscalculation. The Italian press labeled the raid as a “terrorist” attack since only civilians had been killed and injured and the whole public was outraged and support for the war skyrocketed as the people called out for revenge against the British. A retaliatory raid was launched on France within 24 hours but retribution against the British would have to wait until the conquest of France and the launching of the “Battle of Britain” by the German Luftwaffe. In September of 1940 the Corpo Aereo Italiano was dispatched to German-occupied Belgium for participation in the air war against Britain under the command of Air Marshal Rino Corso-Fougier. The force consisted of three Stormi of 87 fighters, 5 reconnaissance planes and 78 bombers. Later this was reinforced to include another Squadriglia of CANT Z.1007bi long-range triple-motor reconnaissance planes, a number of Caproni Ca.164 communication planes and one Savoia-Marchetti S.M.75 transport. They were based out of Melsbroek.

A great deal of nonsense has been written about the Italian participation in the Battle of Britain, mostly that it was of no consequence and that the Italians in their antique-looking planes were easily dealt with. In fact, they proved quite capable of holding their own and gave as good as they got. Of course, it was a modest contribution and no one was under any illusions as to the disadvantages Italy faced. However, because of that, their mission was a limited one and within the confines of that mission they were successful, overall, in accomplishing their goals. The aim of the Italian Air Corps was simply to bomb the harbor and port installations at Folkstone, Harwich, Foulness, Ramsgate, Margate and other areas on the south coast of England because it was clear from the start that the naval war effort was what kept Britain in the fight. In damaging these areas there was also the secondary goal of attracting British air resources away from the major cities and airfields that were under attack by the Luftwaffe.

CR.42 Falco
The Germans were initially not too impressed with their Italian allies but changed their opinion after being invited to test fly a Fiat Falco biplane which, despite its outdated appearance, they found to be quick, sturdy and extremely maneuverable. Luftwaffe Field Marshal Albert Kesselring said that the plane was a “delight” to fly and quite capable of holding its own until Italian aircraft designers could produce something more modern. Still, there was no doubt that the Italians were at a great disadvantage. Their most dangerous enemy in the air was the Hawker Hurricane which was 102kph faster than the Falcos, more heavily armed and had a higher climbing rate. The British were able to intercept all Axis radio communications, alerting them when an attack was being launched and yet the Italian forces had trouble coordinating since the vast majority of their aircraft lacked radio equipment. However, by far, the biggest handicap suffered by the Italian fighters was their range and fuel capacity which often left them with as little as ten minutes of flying time over England before they had to turn back across the Channel to reach Belgium before exhausting their fuel. Nonetheless, they put up a hard fight in southern English skies though their first operation showed the effects of being unfamiliar with the area and lacking up-to-date navigational equipment.

After being prepared for action on October 22, Air Marshal Corso-Fougier launched the first Italian air attack three days later with eighteen Cicogna (Stork) bombers being sent to raid Felixtowne and Harwich just after dark. All the planes returned without suffering any losses and Italian newspapers trumpeted the success of their aircraft over Britain. A more serious attack was launched on October 29 in a daylight raid on Ramsgate. Fifteen BR.20 Cicogna bombers with fighter escort carried out the bombing attack successfully with only five Italian planes suffering damage from anti-aircraft fire. They flew very low in a tightly packed formation that amazed observers, especially as their Mediterranean paint jobs made them stand out against the dull sky of an English autumn. Later, on November 8, 22 G.50s on a patrol between Dungeness, Folkstone, Canterbury and Margate clashed with RAF fighters, putting up a spirited fight against veteran professionals so that neither side was able to claim any victories. However, that same day a flight of Hurricanes took a heavy toll on a group of Storks they picked up on radar approaching the coast.

On November 11 forty ‘Falcons’ escorted ten Storks in a daylight bombing raid on Harwich. However, there was bad weather which caused the force to be called off but they were still intercepted by the RAF. Three Falcons and three Storks were shot down with no losses for the British who were all veterans of heavy combat against the Germans. If there was any doubt about the sturdiness and reliability of the Italian aircraft these were disproved when a Canadian rammed a CR.42 with his propeller, beheading the pilot. In spite of this, the plane continued to fly straight back to Belgium to finally land in a field not far from its home base. On November 29, ten BR.20s took off for a daring nighttime raid on two critical British seaports, loaded with bombs and without a fighter escort. They avoided detection crossing the Channel and split up at the coast with half going to hit Lowestoft and the other half Great Yarmouth. At Lowestoft they hit Richards Shipyard and at Great Yarmouth they attacked the harbor works. All were under intense anti-aircraft fire but managed to score 61 hits on both installations, fighting off the belated RAF fighters sent to intercept them and all returned to Belgium without loss.

Air Marshal Corso-Fougier
By December the RAF was stretched to the limit and the Italian Air Corps returned to bomb Harwich almost without opposition though, as always, fire from the ground remained heavy. The British tried to counter-attack the Italian air base but had little effect. On January 2, 1941 Corso-Fougier sent a quartet of Stork bombers against Harwich for a nighttime raid but they ran into snow crossing the Channel, forcing two to turn back but the other two carried on, reached Harwich, catching the British completely off guard and delivering their bomb load, causing considerable damage to the port. That was to be the end though as only a few days later Italian air forces began pulling out of Belgium due to their being sorely needed in North Africa and other areas. Two squadrons still stayed behind until April 1941 but their mission was effectively over. They had dropped 54 tons of ordinance on the enemy, with 883 missions by the fighters alone and suffered a negligible 22% damage rate. Only 2 bombers had been lost to ground fire and only 10 Falcos had been shot down. In 1,800 hours of flying time with 1,076 operations carried out with a loss of only 21 airmen. For their total loss of 15 fighters and bombers they had taken down an equal number of superior British aircraft in the fight. In short, despite great disadvantages, they had done their duty and done it well.