Monday, May 27, 2013

Pope Alexander III

During the period when the papacy and the German emperor (officially the Emperor-Elect of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) were in a state of near constant struggle, one of the most vociferous in defending the rights of the Pope and opposing the Emperor was Pope Alexander III, and it was no easy task as rarely has the Catholic Church been so divided as in his time. He was born Orlando Bandinelli around the year 1100 in Sienna. Originally a law professor, he was called to Rome in 1150 by Pope Eugene III. After that, he rose quite rapidly in the Church, being first created Cardinal Deacon and then the Cardinal Priest of St Mark and Papal Chancellor. As an advisor to Pope Hadrian IV he was prominent among the faction of cardinals who opposed the imperial-German influence on the Italian peninsula and favored an alliance with the Normans in Naples to free Italy from the German grip. In 1157 at the Diet of Besancon he earned the long-lasting wrath of the Germans for saying that the rank and title of emperor was a favor of the pope, a “papal beneficium” rather than something that came to the German rulers automatically or directly from God. Otto von Wittelsbach nearly separated his head from his shoulders then and there but Emperor Frederick I (the famous “Frederick Barbarossa”) prevented any bloodshed.

The stage was set for a showdown between pope and emperor as, in the final stage of his reign, Hadrian IV broke with the Hohenstaufen monarch and, as Cardinal Bandinelli had suggested, allied with the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. This prompted Emperor Frederick to clamp down and extend his imperial claim across northern Italy just before Hadrian IV died. When the cardinals met to elect a successor, the German Emperor dispatched two reliable figures to influence the Sacred College in his favor. They were not entirely successful. On September 7, 1159 Orlando Cardinal Bandinelli was elected to the See of Peter by a considerable margin, however, the atmosphere was extremely divided and hostile. Cardinal Octavian snatched the red mantle from Bandinelli and a scuffle ensued in which the garment was torn to pieces. However, finding another, Cardinal Octavian announced himself as pope to some priests gathered elsewhere in the Basilica of St Peter and the doors were flung open to let in a mob, hired with imperial funds, cheered him as the Bishop of Rome. The actual Pontiff, taking the name of Pope Alexander III, had to isolated himself for a time before escaping to the safety of Norman-held southern Italy. Meanwhile, Cardinal Octavian declared himself “Pope Victor IV” (though he was not the first “Victor IV”) and was consecrated at Farfa monastery on October 7. Alexander III had, by that time, already been crowned on September 20 in Nympha.

With Pope and anti-Pope opposing each other, Emperor Frederick had the perfect opportunity to intervene as the good imperial defender of the Church, rescuing it from division and disorder. However, the meeting he called at Pavia came to nothing as when he addressed the rivals as “Pope Victor IV” and “Cardinal Orlando” it was pretty clear that he was not an impartial or fair mediator. Pope Alexander III refused to recognize the gathering as having any validity which dutifully declared the anti-Pope Victor IV as the legitimate Successor of St Peter just as the Emperor wished. In the aftermath, Pope Alexander III excommunicated Emperor Frederick I and absolved all of his subjects of their allegiance to him. This led to open warfare between the Pope and the Emperor who had the support of some monarchs and the opposition of others depending on their situation while Pope Alexander III was in an extremely difficult position as all of Christendom was divided as to whether or not he was the legitimate pope. During his reign there appeared on the scene no less than three anti-popes to oppose him (Victor IV, Paschal III, Callistus III and Innocent III) which complicated the situation to no end.

However, ultimately, the schism did not work out to the benefit of the Emperor Frederick I who came marching down the Italian peninsula with an army of German knights. Pope Alexander III called for a pious and patriotic unity of Italians to oppose this invasion and the result was the formation of the Lombard League which included most of the cities of northern Italy, banding together to resist the German onslaught. This was certainly significant, even simply as an act of courage given the might and proven military abilities of the famous Frederick Barbarossa. The idea that an embattled Pontiff and a few Italian city-states would stand in defiance to one of the greatest German conquerors of all time must have astounded a great many people. Even more astonishing is that the German emperor was defeated. At the battle of Legnano in 1176 the forces of the Lombard League won one of the greatest victories in Italian military history. The Emperor himself was believed to have been killed for a time but, though wounded, he did survive and afterwards was obliged to withdraw from Italy and recognize Alexander III as the legitimate, validly elected Pontiff. In the early days of Lutheran Protestantism, it was popular to show Pope Alexander III putting his foot on the neck of a prostrate Frederick Barbarossa as a way to inflame popular opinion against the papacy for the defeat of a great German hero. In fact, of course, nothing of the sort ever happened.

In fact, Alexander III had gained some support in Germany. In his effort to get Christendom united behind him he tried to enlist the support of the Byzantine Empire but was turned away. Even after his triumph over Frederick Barbarossa there were plenty of troublesome heresies to deal with and the lingering tension over Church-State relations. With the Waldensians (the holier than thou crowd) and the Albigensians (the world is evil and everyone should die crowd) spreading their influence, Pope Alexander III called the Third Lateran Council where his immense talent as a canon lawyer was on full display. The council condemned the new rising heresies and called for a greater emphasis on education as a way to ensure that such unorthodox beliefs never develop and are rejected when they appear. He also always asserted Church independence from the secular powers and papal authority over the kings of Europe. Aside from his dramatic struggle with the German emperor this was seen in his support for St Thomas Becket in England in opposition to another great monarch; King Henry II. There were no invasions or bloody battles but, like Frederick, King Henry II did finally come around to accept the position of the Pope, doing penance and asking forgiveness for his part in the murder of Becket.

Arms of the Lombard League
and the House of Savoy
The prestige of the papacy rose somewhat during the time Alexander III was exiled to France and locked in combat with the German emperor. It often seems the papacy is never so popular as when under direct attack. Still, Alexander III attracted plenty of criticism, both for his determination in asserting the rights of the Church as being apart and above those of the state but also because of his cautious nature and his willingness to hear out both sides of an argument. Because of this, there were those, then as now, who accused the pontiff of being “shifty” and simply putting off taking a side until the victor was clear. He was not always the best diplomat but he was an unwavering defender of the rights of the Church. He died on August 30, 1181 at Civita Castellana after reigning for 21 years. At his burial a stone-throwing angry mob attacked his funeral procession which should be kept in context with the tumultuous and divisive events of his reign and only puts him in the lofty company of someone like Pope Pius IX. The odd difference being that Alexander III had struggled to keep the Germans out of Italy while Pius IX had struggled to keep them in.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Italy Goes to War

It was on this day in 1915 that the Kingdom of Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, officially entering the First World War.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

MM Movie Review: The Battle of El Alamein

“La battaglia di El Alamein” is a 1969 Franco-Italian movie about one of the most famous and pivotal battles of the Second World War with an emphasis on the heroic stand of the Italian Folgore airborne division. Directed by Giorgio Ferroni and written by Remigio Del Grosso and Ernesto Gastaldi it starred Frederick Stafford, George Hilton and Michael Rennie. Actually there were other actors who had larger roles but, for whatever reason, those three received top billing. The film wastes no time in getting to the action, the only background being a brief prologue text which states, “June 1942. As Gen. Erwin Rommel swept toward the Nile, the fall of Egypt and the capture of the Suez Canal seemed inevitable. Italian and German advance units raced toward Alexandria. Benito Mussolini had given explicit orders: The Italians must arrive first!” With that we take up with a column of trucks carrying a troop of Bersaglieri as they race across Egypt to make a junction with the Germans. While trying to pass through a gap in a minefield the convoy is attacked by the British. Despite some daring and heroic efforts by Sergeant Major Claudio Borri (played by Enrico Maria Salerno) they are thwarted by the superior firepower of the British after taking heavy losses. This opening scene, as well as introducing us to Sgt.Maj. Borri, lets the audience know what we are in for; action, heroism and tragedy which will mark the rest of the movie.
Michael Rennie as Field Marshal Montgomery

That scene over, we jump to El Alamein where General Bernard Law Montgomery (played by Michael Rennie) arrives to take command of the British Eighth Army, full of confidence and a determination to never retreat. He emphasizes to his officers that there will be no more retreated, that all such plans are to be burned and that they will stand fast until victory. A great deal of credit has to go Michael Rennie who plays the part to perfection. It is not an extremely large part, serving mostly to give the audience an overview of the battle from the Allied perspective, but Rennie plays it well and bears an uncanny resemblance to the real Marshal Montgomery. In fact, at first glance, I thought the picture on the DVD cover was an historical photo of the actual Montgomery when, on closer inspection, it is actually a still of Michael Rennie from the movie. A little less convincing is French actor Robert Hossein as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel but only because he seems a bit too young and a bit overly-romanticized, Hossein still does a good job with the part. Rommel is complaining of his supply difficulties to Italian Marshal Bastico who, in turn, points out the Allied attacks on their convoys in spite of promised German protection. Rommel is portrayed in the best possible way but, as is usual with these types of movies, there is always one, troublesome officer who is a dedicated Nazi and here that is General Schwartz who plots to have Rommel invalided out of Egypt when he refuses to launch an attack on the British.
Marshal Bastico and Marshal Rommel confer

It is made known to the audience that the southern end of the Axis line will be a key point and it will be held (in part) by the unit we meet next, the Italian Folgore Division. Sgt. Borri shows up at the Folgore camp to meet his brother Lt. Giorgio Borri (played by Frederick Stafford) who is portrayed as being rather arrogant and who is anxious to be a war hero. However, his stubborn nature gets a man killed when he refuses to listen to his veteran brother and have his men dig in. Because of this, the men start to dislike the lieutenant, viewing him as caring more for glory and his career than their lives. Moving on, the British discover a German ruse; dummies and fake guns giving the impression of a fortified line. Despite taking brutal measures against a German party that shows up, the Axis forces learn that the British are on to their trick. So, when the British advance on the area they run right into the Folgore Division rather than a collection of dummies. The Italians decimate them and Lt. Borri captures a British general, earning an Iron Cross from the Germans but the bitterness of his men as one of their comrades was killed saving the lieutenant while he had his moment of glory.
Claudio and Giorgio Borri, two brothers at the front

Later on Sgt. Borri and a few of his Bersaglieri join the Folgore Division and the two brothers take part in a joint patrol with the Germans. One German is wounded and left by his comrades, however, the Italian brothers go back for him. Giorgio (the lieutenant) is wounded and captured making a stand so that Claudio and the injured German can escape. While in captivity he meets the humane British lieutenant Graham who impresses him, but he does finally escape and it seems the ordeal was rather good for him. He brings some captured food back to his men and from that time on becomes a much more selfless and sympathetic character. Meanwhile the British launch a suicidal attack to get a false map of the minefields into enemy hands. Lt. Graham (played by George Hilton) volunteers to lead the mission and is killed in the process which distressed Lt. Borri. The ruse, however, works. Despite the skepticism of some, General Georg Stumme (played by Giuseppe Addobbati) commanding in the absence of Rommel, orders an attack based on this false information and the tanks of the Afrika Korps roll right into a trap and are decimated by British artillery fire. While this is going on we get an odd interlude of Rommel, on sick leave, talking with the anti-Nazi head of military intelligence Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Both agree that Hitler needs to go before Rommel learns of the disaster in Egypt and is recalled to Africa.
Folgore troopers holding off the British

British guns launch a massive barrage to weaken the Axis defenses prior to their final attack. While under heavy fire, Claudio has a bugler play a tune (mirroring a scene in the opening of the movie) and gets the men to sing to boost morale and get their minds off impending death. Meanwhile, Rommel returns to HQ and, contrary to orders from Hitler, decides to retreat, using the Ramcke battle group, along with the Italian units of the Folgore Division and the Ariete Armored Division to stand fast and cover the retreat of the rest of the army, though it is mentioned that the other Italian units have no transportation and will surely be lost in the process. Sgt. Maj. Borri is ordered to pull out with his Bersaglieri, which he does reluctantly as his brother and the rest of the Folgore troopers prepare for their last stand. This takes up the climax of the movie as the British launch their final attack, which is held off by the men of the Folgore Division with desperate courage. Italian tanks arrive to give support but are hopelessly outmatched at which point the Folgore men, having literally fought to the last bullet, attack the British tanks with Molotov cocktails.
Attacking a British tank with a land mine

Finally, after wiping out all armored opposition, a sandstorm prompts Montgomery to recall his forces. Lt. Borri and his company are still hanging on but there are practically alone. So, he gives his men the choice to stay and fight with him or to surrender. He and those with him collect land mines and some dynamite to hold out as long as possible. His brother Claudio, learns that the rest of the army has retreated or been wiped out and rushes back by motorcycle to tell his brother and presumably persuade him to leave. So, he is there when the remnants of the Folgore Division fight to the last, taking out several more British tanks with little more than their bare hands. The lieutenant will not leave of course and is killed in one of the last poignant scenes. His brother and a handful of survivors are taken prisoner by the British and each salute each other out of mutual respect for their fighting ability. The End.
Montgomery and the British top brass

That last little bit of gallantry was actually true to life. The British and other Allied witnesses noted the extreme heroism of the Italian forces in holding out against impossible odds. “The Battle of El Alamein” is a pretty simple but effective war movie, especially showcasing the courage of the Italian airborne troops. It gives a good and mostly accurate overview of the whole battle while focusing on the sector of the Folgore Division. The centrality of the two brothers helps to humanize the struggle going on and, as far as history goes, it is pretty accurate aside from some mistakes like British armored vehicles that are clearly not of World War II vintage and some uniforms that are not precisely correct but nothing major. Although it had a limited budget, probably thanks to help from the Italian army, the movie still has an epic feel to it with major, large-scale battle scenes featuring many infantrymen and lots of tanks. The actors all do a pretty good job, some even giving excellent performances. The only complaint I have is that a better transfer is not available for this classic. The DVD I have is really ‘bare bones’ with no extras, no scene selection and looks to be just a transfer from VHS. The one I have is dubbed in English and there is no option for subtitles but that was not an issue for me. This movie should have a better DVD release with the picture quality cleaned up and refined with modern methods. Still, it is not the worst transfer I have ever seen and for anyone interested in the Italian army or World War II in North Africa it is definitely worth a look.
Two enemies salute

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Controversial Monarchist

It was on this day in 1898 that the thinker and writer Julius Evola was born; a staunch monarchist, ultra-traditionalist, anti-egalitarian and ardent believer in a great deal of hocus pocus. He is often credited with introducing the concept of the "radical traditionalist" or (contradictory as this may sound) the "conservative revolutionary". However, he is not so controversial because of any of that, most people having never read any of his books and of those who have, few have probably been able to grasp their meaning -especially when he started getting into all of his mystical mumbo-jumbo. No, what makes Evola controversial today is his association with Fascism and even National Socialism (especially the dreaded SS). That, however, is unfair and could probably have been put to rest long ago were it not for the neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis constantly quoting and citing Evola to try to provide something that sounds intellectual for their political agenda which usually lacks any real agenda anyway besides, "we want what we want" and can never be consistent. The fact is that Evola was never a member of the National Fascist Party nor the Nazi Party with whom he had some very major disagreements. In fact, he often described himself as an anti-Fascist at a time when that was not popular.

Evola was a very complex and somewhat odd man but if one were to label him as one thing more than any other in political terms it would have been "monarchist". In fact, one of his problems with the Fascists was the division created between the Duce and the King. Eventually, of course, the King was ejected by the Italian Social Republic. Evola wrote that, "We can reasonably affirm that a true Right without the monarchy ends up deprived of its natural centre of gravity and crystallisation, because in almost all traditional states the principal reference point for realizing the independent and stable principle of pure political authority has been the crown." Despite his name being used these days by people calling themselves the advocates of a "third way" or "third position" Evola was nothing of the sort. He was never trying to be something other than "left" or "right" but rather much more "right" than most people had become used to in the post-revolutionary world.

Both the Fascists and the National Socialists were originally republican. The Fascists dropped republicanism (only to re-embrace it in their twilight) while the Nazis remained devoted to it. Evola had a big problem, not only with this but with the mentality that brought it about. His idea of leadership was based on a spiritual sort of authority, not the leadership of a champion of the great mass of the public, advanced by popularity. He said, concerning his ideal of leadership that, "This ideal implies the affirmation not only of the concept and right of the nobility, but also of the monarchy. [...] It must be renewed, strengthened and dynamized as an organic, central, absolution function that embodies the might of power and the light of the spirit in a single being; then the monarchy is truly the act of a whole race, and at the same time the point that leads beyond all that is bound by blood and soil. Only then is one justified to speak of an Imperium." This was, of course, contrary to what ultimately came about with the efforts to compartmentalize and diminish the monarchy whenever the higher, ancient, sacred institution became inconvenient for the government. At most, Evola can be said to have viewed the Fascists as the least objectionable alternative and a movement which could be purified or adjusted to become something better than it started out as. He was never happy with it as it was nor did he ever even view it as complete.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Maria Cristina of Savoy, Queen of The Two-Sicilies

Her Royal Highness Princess Maria Cristina Carlotta Giuseppina Gaetana Elisa of Savoy was born on November 14, 1812 to HM King Vittorio Emanuele I of Piedmont-Sardinia and HM Queen Maria Teresa of Austria-Este in Cagliari on the island of Sardinia. The youngest of seven children, Princess Maria Cristina was born during a difficult period for the House of Savoy. The French Revolution, following by wars of expansion, had forced the family out of their ancestral homeland and the traditional citadel of Turin, which was occupied by French troops, to the island of Sardinia. As her very conservative and traditional parents refused to have anything to do with the revolutionaries or the Bonaparte regime, they had to wait until the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo before the Savoy family was able to return to Turin to fully restore the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to what it had been before the invasion. A little girl by that time, Princess Maria Cristina was educated privately at court and from an early age she had it impressed upon her that there was no greater duty than to God. She had an extensive religious education (her father had restored education to the clergy after it had been secularized by the French) and she was also taught about the long and illustrious history of the House of Savoy and her responsibilities to her family as a princess.

Of course, during this time, part of the duty of any royal princess was to be the source of a marriage alliance advantageous to her own country and dynasty. King Vittorio Emanuele I had aspirations to remove the Austrian presence in Lombardy and consolidate northern Italy under the House of Savoy. Ultimately this would be done but not by Vittorio Emanuele I and the marriage of Maria Cristina would have nothing to do with it at all. Nonetheless, it was thought practical to arrange a marriage between the princess and the King of the Two-Sicilies in Naples in an effort to keep southern Italy on friendly terms. So, while his second-to-the-youngest daughter was married to the heir to the Hapsburg throne (she would one day become Empress of Austria), it was decided that Maria Cristina would be married to King Ferdinando II and become Queen of the Two-Sicilies. She was still a teenager when the engagement was agreed to in 1830 and the local aristocracy in Turin held a magnificent engagement party for her. Onlookers remarked on how lovely the young princess of Savoy looked with her large deep eyes, light complexion and thick dark hair, charmingly shy and reserved. The princess had to be a little nervous about the marriage, not only because she was leaving her family for the first time but also because there was not a great deal she had in common with her husband-to-be.

However, it was ever “duty first” in the House of Savoy and Princess Maria Cristina was married a couple of years later with the wedding being celebrated in Genoa on November 21, 1832. Maria Cristina became Queen of the Two-Sicilies and began her married life in Naples. Sometimes such arranged marriages resulted in devotion and true romance but, sadly, this was not the case for the new Queen Maria Cristina. King Ferdinando II was rather crude where his Queen was refined, abusive where she was gentle, outgoing and bombastic where she was modest and reserved. The Queen was disturbed by the morals of the court at Naples and rather shocked by the oppressive policies of her husband who, to be fair, certainly had a great deal of malice and treachery among his people but who is most known for dealing with it by means of violent retaliation. Queen Maria Cristina was quite lonely as the King had little patience for her shy nature. The only close companion she had was her younger sister-in-law Princess Maria Antoinette (named after the ill-fated Queen of France Marie Antoinette) but even that relationship was short-lived as not long after her arrival in Naples the princess left for Florence to be married to Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany.

Yet, though she had almost no one close to her for company, Queen Maria Cristina was greatly loved by the ordinary people of the Two-Sicilies who were charmed by her demure beauty, kindness and sympathized with her for the way she was treated by her seemingly cold and indifferent husband. In fact, at times he seemed to delight in offending her, whether by his vulgar language or having dancers perform in their underwear. Originally quite popular as a “man of the people” the public reputation of Ferdinando II suffered both by the perception of how he treated his wife as well as the violent suppression of any calls for constitutional government (hence his eventual nickname of ‘King Bomb’). But Queen Maria Cristina was always adored because of the care and compassion she showed toward her adopted country and because of how she endured her less than ideal life, with patience and pious devotion.

Maria Cristina had always been a devout Catholic and she came to rely on her faith ever more in times of trial. Her commitment to God and the Church, serene detachment and beautiful appearance caused many people to see her as an almost angelic figure and even then many began to refer to her as a saint. Tragically, her life was not to be a long one. She had not yet celebrated her twenty-fourth birthday when she gave birth to her one and only child, the future King Francesco II, and complications soon set in. Her condition deteriorated rapidly and only five days later she passed away on January 21, 1836. She was buried in the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Naples, the King married again in less than a year and his new wife would be the major influence on the life of little Francesco II. Nonetheless, as a boy he was always taught to honor the memory of his late mother, who had died bringing him into the world, as the ‘saintly queen’ or ‘holy queen’. He would be the last King of the Two-Sicilies and after he had lost his throne and was living in exile he began to push for the Church to take up the cause of his late mother. Her pious reputation was such that there was great support for it and in 1872 Pope Pius IX recognized her status as a Servant of God. The cause continued to progress and on May 6, 1937 Pope Pius XI recognized the Queen as a Venerable Servant of God and, most recently, on May 3, 2013 Pope Francis recognized a miracle attributed to her intercession, opening the way for her to be beatified, the last step on the road to canonization as a saint.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Thousand Lands in Sicily

It was on May 11, 1860 that Giuseppe Garibaldi and his “Thousand” red shirts landed at Marsala on the island of Sicily to instigate the uprising against the Bourbon rule of King Francesco II. Although an independent operation, Garibaldi was certainly not without outside support or sympathy. Elements within the government in Turin certainly supported him (as did pan-Italian nationalists in general but this was a stateless group) and beyond the Italian peninsula there were numerous sympathetic governments, one of the most prominent being that of Great Britain (and not just because they appreciated the fashion-sense of his army). It helps to explain how such a seemingly hopeless and even farcical operation turned out to be such a stunning success. After all, it seems incredible that an invasion force of a thousand men could end up bringing down the entire Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies; that long-time Spanish bastion in the south of Italy. Actually, “The Thousand” were probably not even that numerous and they consisted, for the most part, of volunteers drawn from across northern Italy, unfamiliar with Sicily and unaccustomed to the harsher climate of the south. Some were not even Italians at all such as the Hungarian Legion of Italia which fought enthusiastically for the famous Garibaldi after having their own nationalist movement thwarted. How could such a rag-tag group be victorious?

The Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies certainly has the reputation of being a place one would not expect to find much sympathy for a revolutionary like Garibaldi. It has long been known as a very conservative, Catholic, absolute monarchy in traditional Spanish style. However, that proved to be part of the downfall of the kingdom and part of the reason for the lack of international support for the status quo and a pro-Garibaldi attitude from the British in particular. Ever since the Congress of Vienna the “Great Powers” had been most concerned with peace and stability, keeping rebellion from ever breaking out anywhere for fear of it spreading as in the past. The British (and most other northern European monarchies such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and even Prussia to a degree) firmly believed that the best way to ensure stability as through a constitutional monarchy that provided for some level of popular representation. Effectively, to give the people enough of a voice that they would feel they had some control over the national destiny but never enough to actually determine policy. This, the accepted thinking went, would make the public less susceptible to the arguments of the revolutionaries who wanted the people to rise up and overthrow the monarchy. This is why, in Spain, for example, the French and the British supported the liberal monarchists of the Queen mother rather than the absolute monarchists of Don Carlos. Or at least it was one reason.

King Ferdinando II of the Two-Sicilies, part of the Spanish Royal Family, annoyed the British by siding with Don Carlos. They were also concerned by the growing discontent in the Two-Sicilies and the increasing support for a republican revolution. Why were the British or French concerned at all? What was Sicily to them? The answer, of course, was that Sicily was right next to the British naval bastion of Malta and straddled the main seaway to the Suez Canal which was just starting to be built the year before Garibaldi and his men landed at Marsala. The French and British were therefore greatly concerned about any unrest that might disturb this enterprise upon which so much of global commerce was to depend. The British even sent warships to encourage the Neapolitan navy to stay away while Garibaldi and his men were landing (once the troops had disembarked the Neapolitans destroyed one ship and captured the other).

When Garibaldi landed, his forces were not opposed at all. The Neapolitan army, while not exactly having the best reputation in the world, should have been able to swamp such a tiny group with their massive numerical superiority if nothing else. However, King Francesco II inexplicably failed to take decisive action such as leading the army himself. Compounding the problem was the fact that his forces often did more to turn the local population against the monarchy than stopping the invaders. On May 14 Garibaldi declared himself ‘Duce’ of Sicily in the name of King Vittorio Emanuele II of Piedmont-Sardinia and the following day met the Neapolitan army for their first battle. The result was the unimpressive battle of Calatafimi which amounted to a victory for Garibaldi despite being outnumbered 2-to-1. It helped that the Neapolitan commanders seemed to be equal parts incompetent and vindictive. Previously, the one, reliable hardcore of the Bourbon forces had been the Swiss mercenary guard. However, they had earlier gone on strike for better pay and King Francesco II responded by having them all massacred; which was probably not the best idea.

Garibaldi captured Palermo and his ranks slowly grew as locals volunteered to join him. The Neapolitan army also had a problem with desertion. A key element was the local aristocracy who responded in various ways to the crisis, none of them very helpful to Francesco II. Some fled the island immediately as soon as Garibaldi landed and these were those most supportive of the Bourbon monarchy. Obviously, they would be no help. Most, however, considered the cause of Francesco II lost and decided to make common cause with Garibaldi who promised to respect their rights and privileges. This would later cause a degree of rebellion and banditry by those peasants who felt Garibaldi had sold them out by not tearing down the aristocracy completely and redistributing their lands. King Ferdinando II had shown that he would do whatever was necessary to maintain his rule, be it promising a constitution only to revoke it later or shooting down rebels and shelling entire cities to rubble. If he had still been around things might have been different but few had confidence that Francesco II was made of such tough stuff. The pragmatic types looked at the situation and reasoned that the Bourbons were doomed and their only options for the future would be a united Italy ruled by Giuseppe Mazzini and his radical republicans or a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Vittorio Emanuele II. Mazzini was unthinkable so these invariably suppressed their distaste for Garibaldi and supported his red shirt army to maintain the existing social order.

Rebel forces soon besieged Palermo, with disastrous consequences for the Neapolitan side. Political prisoners were broken out of jail, causing panic in the rear and the commanding Neapolitan general seemingly lost his nerve and ordered a retreat only to then order his artillery to shell the city indiscriminately, killing hundreds of civilians, many of whom must have been loyal to the Bourbon monarchy. Naturally, this made the cause of the King in Naples all the more unpopular (though he, of course, had nothing to do with it). Still, more Neapolitan troops arrived and the city might have been retaken but the commanding general, whether due to befuddled panic or simply corruption, decided to surrender. The Neapolitan troops began withdrawing from the island, even where they held the upper hand, and in their absence several peasant rebellions broke out. These were then suppressed by Garibaldi’s red shirts which, again, bewildered many of the locals who had envisioned him as their liberator. These rebels, however, were typical of the types who would have seized power and set up a revolutionary republic if not for the presence of Garibaldi who was moderating his more radical inclinations to win the support of powers like Piedmont-Sardinia and Great Britain.

In a last, desperate effort to avoid disaster and win back popular support, King Francesco II issued a constitution in June but it was to no avail. After the “now you see it, now you don’t” constitutions of his father, very few people were prepared to believe that the King was serious about constitutional government and simply ignored him. More volunteers joined Garibaldi though the Neapolitan army still had some sizeable garrisons on the island. In July Garibaldi captured Milazzo with 5,000 men after the overall Neapolitan commander refused to reinforce the garrison there. His caution did him no good and a few days later he surrendered Messina to Garibaldi by which time it was the rebels who held a significant numerical advantage and the remaining garrisons surrendered quickly. Throwing caution to the wind (and alarming the government in Turin) Garibaldi wasted no time and transferred his forces over to the mainland at Calabria. After that, a string of victories ensued as many Neapolitan forces deserted, some even joining the red shirts and most of those who did offer resistance did so with little support or coordination. The army and navy seemed to melt away, King Francesco II fled Naples and made his last stand at Gaeta.

The Neapolitans were still able to slightly outnumber the forces of Garibaldi and might have defeated him, at least temporarily, were it not for the arrival of the Piedmontese army under King Vittorio Emanuele II who was alarmed at how fast and far the red shirts were advancing and just a little concerned about how genuine their newfound monarchist sympathy was. Between them, Gaeta was doomed (though it would hold out until early the following year) and at the bridge of Teano on October 26, 1860 General Garibaldi and King Vittorio Emanuele II met, bringing their forces together and joining, from that time ever since, the north and the south of Italy together for the first time since the days of the old Roman Empire. In March of 1861 the unified Kingdom of Italy was officially proclaimed. It was not something that either the new King of Italy or even his first minister Cavour had planned for in advance. Even his royal predecessor, King Carlo Alberto, had only ever had ambitions to unite northern Italy. However, just as in those days, the drive to end foreign rule and unite the Italian people was such that it became a race between the republicans of Mazzini and the monarchists of the King of Piedmont to see who would accomplish the act and establish the first real Italian government since Roman times. There was plenty of tragedy along the way, but between those two competing ideologies, it is fortunate that it was the King who reached the goal first.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Umberto II Becomes King

It was on this day in 1946 that HM Umberto II officially became King of Italy upon the abdication of his father King Vittorio Emanuele III. He had, however, been acting in the capacity of head of state since 1944 due to the war situation and the efforts by Italy to come to terms with the Allies and break with Germany. A loyal and dedicated man, he had all the qualities to make a successful monarch yet, thanks to subversion at home and Allied opposition abroad, was never given the chance to prove himself and Italy has never recovered from his loss.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Thousand Departs for Sicily

It was on this day in 1860 that Giuseppe Garibaldi and his famous redshirts of "The Thousand" set sail from Genoa to make their landing in Sicily, calling for a revolution against the Spanish Bourbon dynasty and eventually taking power, handing it over later to HM King Vittorio Emanuele II of Piedmont-Sardinia. The expedition is still controversial centuries after the fact, and there are plenty of good reasons for that, but there can be no denying that it was a major step in the elimination of the last remaining foreign influences on the Italian peninsula and toward the unification of the country into a single Kingdom of Italy governed from Rome, something not seen since the end of the original Roman Empire. W il Re Galantuomo! Viva Italia!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Queen Maria Cristina of Savoy, new Servant of God

On Friday, at the Vatican, His Holiness Pope Francis officially endorsed a miracle attributed to the intercession of Her Majesty Queen Maria Cristina of Savoy, consort of King Ferdinando II and mother of King Francesco II of the Two-Sicilies. Queen Maria Cristina was the daughter of HM King Vittorio Emanuele I of Piedmont-Sardinia, sister of Duchess Maria Beatrice of Modena ("Queen Mary" to British Jacobites) and Empress Maria Anna (consort to Kaiser Ferdinand I of Austria). Queen Maria Cristina died when she was only 23-years old, a few days after giving birth to the last King of the Two Sicilies but who already had a reputation for great faith and piety. In 1859 her cause for canonization was opened and 13 years later she was declared venerable. With the recognition of this miracle by the Pope the late queen is on the way to being beatified, the final step before sainthood. Religious devotion is nothing new for the House of Savoy, especially among the female members, and Queen Maria Cristina is in good company with Princess Maria Clotilde of Savoy (daughter of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy), wife of Napoleon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte, who has been declared a ‘Servant of God’ and also has a cause for canonization open. Princess Maria Felicita of Savoy (daughter of King Charles Emmanuel III) had such a reputation for faith that if she has no cause open she probably should have, Queen Elena of Montenegro (wife of King Victor Emmanuel III) has a cause being considered and among the male members of the family there have been cases such as Blessed Amadeus IX and Blessed Umberto III to point to and, I would say, the case of King Charles Emmanuel IV would be worth investigating.