Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Battle of Solferino-San Martino

On June 24, 1859 the Franco-Piedmontese/Sardinian forces defeated the Austrian army in a very bloody battle at Solferino and San Martino in the Second Italian War for Independence that secured northern Italy for the House of Savoy and prepared the way for the declaration of the Kingdom of Italy. In command were Emperor Napoleon III of the French, King Vittorio Emanuele II of Piedmont-Sardinia and Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, making it the last time in history that a battle was fought in which all the participating armies were led by their own monarchs on the battlefield.
King Vittorio Emanuele II leading his men in the field





Thursday, June 13, 2013

Italian Empire in America

Although little remembered today, in the XVII Century there was an Italian effort to establish a formal colony in the Americas by the famous House of Medici. At the time, North America still seemed to be no more than a wilderness but South America was considered the most promising region of the New World. Had Italy been unified at the time things would probably have developed quite differently but, as it was, the project had to be left to one of the great Renaissance city-states, in this case Florence. In 1608 Grand Duke Ferdinando I of Tuscany hired the English Captain Robert Thornton to lead an expedition to the northern coast of South America. This was not a formal effort at colonization itself but rather more of a scouting assignment, a preliminary voyage with more to come later. This initial expedition was simply to explore the unclaimed area of what is today northern Brazil from the coast down to the Amazon River. If Captain Thornton found conditions suitable, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany would then send over settlers to establish a colony in the region from which to export the valuable Brazil wood back to Italy; which was highly in demand with all of the building projects then underway. The area in question is today part of the overseas department of French Guyana but, at the time, it was unclaimed territory. France would not establish a colony there until 1630.

Captain Thornton set sail from Livorno in September of 1608 with two ships; a caravel and a smaller tartane, eventually reaching South America and exploring around the mouth of the Cayenne River. Their only means of finding the mouth of the Amazon was to sail south until the color of the water changed and began to grow less salty. However, they reached the general area they were aiming for, sailed along the coast and occasionally putting in to explore the land. During these expeditions they came across some South American natives but there does not seem to have been any major problems with them. Figuring that these people would be better able to attest to the quality of the region than he could, five or six natives were persuaded to accompany the Italian expedition back to Florence. Perhaps Captain Thornton felt some trepidation about what he would report to the Grand Duke about this land? For men used to the comfortable climate of Tuscany, the area around the Cayenne River must have felt like being in a broiler and, indeed, Spanish explorers had avoided the area because it was considered too hot and lacking in any obvious mineral wealth. When the great Italian explorer Christopher Columbus visited the area he dubbed it the “Land of pariahs”. Was this land promising as the future site of an Italian colonial empire in the Americas?

Certainly there was potential, even if it might not have been as obvious as in other areas. First and foremost, no other powers had yet claimed the region and, according to some sources, there was interest in perhaps laying claim to all the land between the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers for Tuscany which would have been a sizeable Italian land mass indeed. The climate, while not as comfortable as some would like, is certainly conducive to growing things and the river connections would have allowed for easy access to inland areas and facilitated in commerce. It would not have been easy but such ventures never are and there is no reason why it could not have been a success. Also, if the inland area could have been reached and Brazilian wood brought up via the river systems, there could have been an immediate return on investment just as the Grand Duke of Tuscany hoped. It also may have been good for the future stability of the region to have an Italian presence in South America rather than only the rival Spanish and Portuguese empires.

In any event, the voyage was a resounding success. After exploring the area, Captain Thornton returned to Tuscany with a report that listed the abundance of rosewood, wild sugar cane, white pepper, balsam, cotton and other valuable export items. Moreover the voyage was made from Italy to South America and back without the loss of a single man though, unfortunately, all but one of the natives brought back soon died of smallpox which they had never been exposed to. The natives did though attest to how rich and fertile the land was, making it sound as though they were trying to encourage colonization, even reporting that it was quite rich in silver and gold diposits. Everything seemed to be going great, the initial voyage was a success, all reports were glowing with promise and Captain Thornton was ready to sail back. According to the original plan, the next step was for a second voyage to establish the actual colony, somewhere between the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers, with Italian settlers from Livorno and Lucca which was to get underway in the summer of 1609. Unfortunately, despite everything going as planned and with every chance of success on the horizon, no follow-up voyage was to be made to establish an actual Italian colony.

By the time Captain Thornton returned to Florence, Grand Duke Ferdinando I had passed away and his son, Grand Duke Cosimo II, had no interest in pursuing the Italian colonization of America. It may seem to some that Cosimo II de’ Medici had little interest in any official duties at all, delegating most of his authority to his ministers to govern Tuscany on their own. However, to be fair, this was mostly due to his very poor health and he did considerably enlarge the Florentine navy so he was not without concern for the future. However, the voyage of Captain Thornton would not be followed up and there would be no Italian colonization of the New World, at least not by an Italian state, and a “New Tuscany” in South America would remain in the realm of the imagination.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Italy Declares War

It was on this day in 1940 that the Kingdom of Italy, or to be more precise, Benito Mussolini, declared war on Great Britain and France, officially bringing Italy into World War II. Generations since have remarked on what a grave mistake that decision proved to be. The result was defeat, division, the fall of the monarchy and the permanent reduction to second or third rate power status for Italy (at least before the EU in which no one country counts for much at all). It ended up costing Mussolini his life and many historians have speculated that, were it not for the declaration of war of June 10, 1940 the Duce and his Fascist Party might have remained in power for many more years, perhaps even decades to come. He might have at least lasted as long as Generalissimo Franco in Spain. However, the chance for Italian expansion across the Mediterranean and North Africa was too great a temptation for Mussolini who decided on war in spite of the misgivings of his monarch, King Vittorio Emanuele III, who never trusted Nazi Germany but who was also becoming increasingly ignored by the dictator who was, technically, his first minister. Yet, it would be wrong to think that there had been nothing on the part of the Allied nations to provoke a declaration of war from Italy.

One could go back to the first, ham-fisted effort by the Nazis to take over Austria with the assassination of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. On that occasion Italian troops had been rushed to the border as a warning directly from Rome to Berlin not to occupy Austria. The British and French had applauded the Italian action but at the same time did nothing to support the effort, leaving Italy to face Germany alone. Thankfully nothing came of it but it was something Mussolini would never forget. He was also further angered by the sanctions placed on Italy by the League of Nations over the war with Ethiopia, particularly irksome considering that France and Britain, who took such a self-righteous tone, already ruled almost the whole of Africa between them. This was what pushed Mussolini into the pact with Hitler, a man he had previously despised. Later, when the Allies belatedly recognized the danger that Hitler posed, they clumsily sought Italian assistance while the sanctions they imposed on the country and which were still dragging down the Italian economy were still in effect. Obviously, Mussolini was not likely to be receptive to their appeals given that.

When World War II broke out after the German invasion of Poland over the city of Danzig, Italy tried to arrange a cease-power and talks between the major powers but Britain and France ignored the offer. Unprepared for war, Italy at first remained on the sidelines, trying to maintain good relations with both sides. This was what King Vittorio Emanuele III thought best but the Allies became convinced that Mussolini would get into the war sooner or later and so determined to provoke him into entering the conflict before the Italian armed forces could be fully upgraded and prepared. Allied military buildup around Italy increased dramatically and in March the Allies ordered the seizure of all shipments of German coal headed for the industrial heartland of Italy in mid-Channel. This was particularly infuriating to public opinion in Italy and again brought to mind the earlier sanctions imposed on Italy by countries with whom Italy was at peace and toward whom Italy had done no harm. Mussolini denounced the action as piracy and, given that it was the forceful seizure of goods on the high seas by a neutral power with whom neither France or Britain was at war, he did have a point.

However, by June of 1940 most thought the outcome of the war to be a foregone conclusion and that the defeat of France and Britain was already inevitable. This was a major mistake but even though it seemed to the King that Franco-British resistance was about to collapse, he still wanted to avoid war if possible. Royalist members of the Fascist leadership like Balbo, De Bono and De Vecchi talked about the King revoking the military powers Mussolini had been granted but, in the wake of so many German victories, they backed down from calling the Fascist Grand Council to make a formal decision on the matter. Some also believed that Mussolini had been on the brink of forestalling such a move by abolishing the monarchy while he still thought he could, before the outbreak of the war forced him to put off the idea, at least until the war was over. Many believed, then and now, that Mussolini intended to abolish the monarchy all along once the war was over. Whether that would have happened, we will never know but, as unwise as joining the war was in retrospect, there were certainly reasons for it. Italian shipping had been seized, in violation of her neutrality, the Allies had been less than friendly or fair toward Italy from the end of the First World War to that time and with the British in control of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, Italy was at the mercy of another country to “bottle up” Italian commerce at any time.

Many have said since that if Mussolini had resigned and retired from politics after the Munich agreement he might still be remembered today as one of the great statesmen of the twentieth century and that the Fascist Party might have continued to hold power in Italy for many years, even decades to come. Would the monarchy have survived though? It never seemed to be secure in the hands of Mussolini and had he resigned from office all would have depended on who succeeded him. Many in the Fascist leadership had become more royalist in the years leading up to World War II as the deficiencies in Mussolini’s policies became more evident. What might have been, we will never know. We do know that what happened, starting on this day in 1940, ultimately proved disastrous for the Italian nation. There were reasons for it of course and, at times, it looked like Italy just might emerge victorious only to have such hopes dashed. In hindsight it was a doomed undertaking and while we can admire the courage and patriotic fervor of those who lifted the flag and marched to the front we also mourn the inevitable outcome and the fate that was to befall the Kingdom of Italy, the House of Savoy and the Italian people.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Queen Anne Marie d'Orleans

The first Queen consort of the Savoy reign over Piedmont-Sardinia was Anne Marie d’Orleans, a woman of impeccable pedigree whose bloodlines brought some interesting history and potential into the House of Savoy. She was born on August 27, 1669 at Chateau de Saint-Cloud in France, the daughter of Duke Philippe I of Orleans (younger brother the great King Louis XIV) and his wife the controversial Princess Henrietta of England (daughter of the martyred King Charles I). Less than a year after Princess Anne Marie was born her mother died (last rites being administered by the great Bishop Bossuet) but a year later the Duke of Orleans married Princess Palatine Elizabeth Charlotte who proved to be a good stepmother and Princess Anne Marie was very close to her. Even as a young girl Princess Anne Marie stood out for her kind and friendly nature as well as her virtue and firm principles. Of course, in those days, royal girls had to grow up fast and marriage tended to come quickly. Anne Marie was only fourteen-years-old when King Louis XIV decided to help maintain French influence in northern Italy by marrying his niece to Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy. A marriage contract was negotiated and signed by the two governments and a marriage ceremony by proxy was performed at Versailles on April 10, 1684 with Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, duc du Maine standing in for Vittorio Amedeo II.

In one of those odd twists that history often presents, this marriage was arranged in part by a countess who had been the mistress of Vittorio Amedeo II for about four years and who had given him two illegitimate children. Whether Anne Marie knew about this or cared she had little say in the matter with such royal marriages being a matter of state policy rather than personal preference. The Princess said her goodbyes, her father escorted her to the frontier and she finally met her husband at Chambery on May 6, 1684. The two were married in person by the Archbishop of Grenoble and later made their grand entrance into the Savoy citadel of Turin. She seemed a lovely but delicate girl, her fragility no doubt emphasized when next to a veteran soldier like Vittorio Amedeo II. Nonetheless, despite having a couple of years pass before she did her part for the succession and became pregnant, her first childbirth was a traumatic ordeal. She was only sixteen-years-old when she gave birth to her first child, Princess Maria Adelaide (later Dauphine of France) but it was so difficult that for a time she seemed close to death and even received the last rites before finally recovering from the ordeal. Ever dutiful though, she would go on to have five more children, a future queen and king among them. She was a good mother and also a devoted wife, patiently nursing Vittorio Amedeo II when he came down with smallpox, attending to every detail of his care.

In 1688 Anne Marie gave birth to another daughter, Maria Luisa of Savoy, who was eventually married to the Duke of Anjou, the new King Philip V of Spain. This set off the War of the Spanish Succession in which the Duke of Savoy took the side of the Austrians against France and Spain. It must have been a painful ordeal for Anne Marie with relatives on both sides of the conflict. She was herself half French and half British with France on one side and Britain on the other. Her husband was on the side of Austria and Britain while her daughter and half-siblings were on the side of Spain and France. The war began in 1701 and in 1706 Anne Marie had to take her young sons and flee Turin as it was besieged by French and Spanish forces led by her half-brother the Duke of Orleans and her son-in-law King Philip V of Spain while her husband stayed on to defend the city. It seemed hopeless but Vittorio Amedeo II was able to hold out long enough for the Austrians (under Prince Eugene of Savoy) and the Prussians to come to the rescue and win the battle. When it was all over in 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht rewarded Vittorio Amedeo II with a royal crown; the Kingdom of Sicily. However, he was later forced to trade that for the Kingdom of Sardinia. This was seen as a lesser prize, nonetheless, it brought recognized royal status to the House of Savoy and made Anne Marie Queen consort of Sardinia.

Yet, this was not the only royal connection to come along for Queen Anne Marie. The following year she became the heiress presumptive of the Jacobite legacy of the British Isles through the Stuart blood of her mother. With the death of Queen Anne of Great Britain in that year, she was the next closest relative of the “Old Chevalier” Prince James Francis Edward Stuart (“King James VIII & III to Jacobites) until the birth of his son Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1720. The Jacobite legacy would be carried on by Prince Charles (and come closest to effecting an actual Stuart restoration) and his brother the Cardinal Duke of York in turn. After that, however, the legacy would pass to the House of Savoy because of the marriage of Queen Anne Marie and King Vittorio Amedeo II. No one was happier than the Duchess of Orleans, the stepmother of Queen Anne Marie, that she had achieved such royal status. Despite their having been on opposite side of the Spanish war, the Duchess wrote that, “one thing I shall enjoy is to see our Duchess of Savoy become a queen, because I love her as though she were my own child” which is a testament to the good nature of both royal ladies.

Queen Anne Marie sadly died at her villa on August 26, 1728 of heart failure, one day before turning 59. She had already outlived all but two of her six children and was buried at the Basilica of Superga in Turin next to all but the two who had been married off to France and Spain.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Chibi Italia Goes to War (Part III)

From the early days of WW2, while the Russian bear staggers drunk in the background, little Italy, Germany and Japan are about to push over little Britain who holds the leash of his loyal pet Greece. A worried America looks on from overseas but takes no action.

Another WW2 morale-booster, this shows the defeat of the British Empire around the world at the hands of the Axis powers with Italy kicking Britain out of Africa, Germany kicking Britain out of Europe and Japan kicking Britain out of Asia (it didn't work out that way of course).

Here is a controversial one from the Second Italo-Abyssinian War showing Italian forces defeating Ethiopian chieftains who are misusing the emblem of the International Red Cross -a reference to the accusations that Ethiopian forces used the Red Cross to shield their military activities, making them a legitimate target.

Lastly, another WW2 card, this one showing Italy and Germany zooming down the road to victory in a car (driven by Italy) that resembles a large fasces with swastika wheels, leaving Britain and Greece behind.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Chibi Italia Goes to War (Part II)

Little Italians in a native village join with a new friend in singing "Little Black Face"

Two Blackshirts hand out food to tiny Ethiopians, putting a humanitarian face on the invasion.

Here, subdued native chieftains bow before the Italian flag.

World War II; while a beaten British Tommy sits nearby, little Japan holds the tail of the British lion while little Germany puts a muzzle on the beast and little Italy trims its claws.

Before a bombed out London, little Italy, Germany and Japan march triumphantly over a 'carpet' of defeated British soldiers in what was obviously meant to be a morale-booster.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Birthday of Queen Adelaide

On this day in 1822, Adelaide of Austria, Duchess of Savoy and Queen of Piedmont-Sardinia was born. Daughter of a Hapsburg father and Savoy mother she was the first wife and consort of King Vittorio Emanuele II and mother of King Umberto I










Chibi Italia Goes to War (Part I)

Here, little African natives salute an MVSN soldier carrying the Italian flag while in the distance a group of little Ethiopians come to surrender, some also waving the Italian flag. This was to convey the message that the war would be easy with most natives welcoming the Italians and eager for Italian liberation.

In this card, a group of Blackshirts kick out and send running a group of Ethiopian chieftains, conveying the message of an easy war, easily won by the Fascist regime.

Here, as an Italian plane flies overhead, showing how progress has come to Africa with Italian rule, a little Italian, holding the fasces, appears to give a civics lesson to the natives

With Italian flags flying over the native village, a well-to-do African lady looks on while Italian soldiers liberate her poor slave, breaking the shackles from his legs. This was to illustrate the ending of slavery in Ethiopia that came with Italian rule.

Here, a group of little Italians give the map of Ethiopia a new paint-job in the Italian colors of green, white and red, showing the total conquest of the Empire of Ethiopia by Italy.