The letter to King Victor Emmanuel written by Count of Cavour, the Prime Minister of the northern Italian Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, produces a full and direct insight into historical circumstances of the 1859 Second Italian War of Independence. It is a personal letter, written in a highly confidential manner and concerning major political issues of the time.
In the middle of the XIX century most of the Italian peninsula was ruled by Austrian empire. The experience from previous efforts for Italian unification proved that the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia could not succeed in opposition to such a powerful competitor as the empire of Austria without convenient allies. Thus, Conte di Cavour initiated a secret meeting with a French emperor, Napoleon III, aiming to secure aid and support of the French empire. Hence, the document I presently subject to analysis is a letter, in which Cavour informs his King Victor Emmanuel of the results of the meeting and the agreements arranged.
Concluding from the letter, Napoleon III was sympathetic to the idea of Italian unification. He was interested in avoiding the possible series of revolutionary activities which were likely to occur on the segregated peninsula, not to mention the chance of discrediting prestige and reducing the strength of the French empire’s primordial rival, the empire of Austria. Furthermore, in return for support and guidance in the war, King Victor Emmanuel would cede to the French empire Savoy and the County of Nice. Obviously, Cavour was authorized to make such arrangements autonomously on behalf of His Majesty. The benefit for the Kingdom from this secret concord was evident: Italian lands would finally unite under the ancient House of Savoy. Furthermore, Napoleon III agreed to supply munitions for the war and assist in negotiating a necessary financial loan in Paris. Albeit the emperor suggested that other Italian provinces’ contributions in supply and material were cautiously insisted upon as well.
In his letter, Cavour briefly relates to the King all major issues which were discussed and agreed upon during the secret meeting at Plombières. One of the most crucial matters was to decide how the war should be initiated and organized. It was very important for Napoleon to gain more prestige on the international arena. Thus, the significance of provoking Austria to act as an initial aggressor was hard to be overvalued. It would bout contribute to the French emperor’s gaining much credit for liberating Venice and Lombardy, and Austria’s isolation from receiving military assistance from other countries. This effect was achieved by inventing a series of skillful political maneuvers and simulations, based on the critical situation at Massa and Carrara. According to the plan, the citizens of this province would be stimulated to petition King Victor Emmanuel, seeking his protection and annexation of the Duchies to Piedmont. The King was to decline this petition, as if illustrating tolerance and suggesting policy of negotiations. Thus, he would address the Duke of Modena an impertinent and intimidating note on his oppressive policy, provoking him to produce an immediate daring response. Upon this response, the Sardinian King would occupy Massa, thus successfully initiating the war.
Another crucial issue which was discussed by Napoleon III and Conte di Cavour was that of a subsequent organization of Italy. Eventually, the Austrians would abandon territory south of the Alps and west of the Isonzo. It was agreed that Italy would form a confederation consisting of four states. The formal presidency of the states would be given to the Pope, aiming to maintain sympathetic relationship with the church. The practical dominance and authority on the entire peninsula would belong to Kind Viktor Emanuel, who would also remain legal sovereign of the most prosperous and influential part of Italy.
The analyzed letter by Conte di Cavour is a valuable historical document. It is a direct reliable source of accurate and firsthand information about one of the most crucial moments in the history of Italy and Europe. The outcome of Austro-Sardinian war was a key event in the process of Italian unification and has had a great impact on the course of European history in general. It initiated a whole new stage of development for the Europe’s most influential countries. The spheres of influence on international arena had undergone considerable metamorphosis.