Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour

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This article is about the 19th-century Italian statesman. For ships bearing his name, see Italian battleship Conte di Cavour and Italian aircraft carrier Cavour (550).
Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour
Camillo Benso Cavour di Ciseri.jpg
1st Prime Minister of Italy
In office
March 23, 1861 – June 6, 1861
Monarch Victor Emmanuel II
Succeeded by Bettino Ricasoli
Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
March 23, 1861 – June 6, 1861
Prime Minister Himself
Preceded by Position created
Succeeded by Bettino Ricasoli
Italian Minister of Navy
In office
March 23, 1861 – June 6, 1861
Prime Minister Himself
Preceded by Position created
Succeeded by Federico Luigi, Conte Menabrea
9th
Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia
In office
4 November 1852 – 19 July 1859
Preceded by Massimo d'Azeglio
Succeeded by Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora
11th
Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia
In office
21 January 1860 – 23 March 1861
Preceded by Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora
Succeeded by Office abolished
Personal details
Born (1810-08-10)August 10, 1810
Turin, First French Empire
Died June 6, 1861(1861-06-06) (aged 50)
Turin, Kingdom of Italy
Nationality Italian
Political party Liberal (Historical Right)
Religion Roman Catholic
Signature

Camillo Paolo Filippo Giulio Benso, Count of Cavour, of Isolabella and of Leri (August 10, 1810 – June 6, 1861), generally known as Cavour (Italian: [kaˈvur]) was an Italian statesman and a leading figure in the movement toward Italian unification.[1] He was the founder of the original Liberal Party and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, a position he maintained (except for a six-month resignation) throughout the Second Italian War of Independence and Garibaldi's campaigns to unite Italy. After the declaration of a united Kingdom of Italy, Cavour took office as Italy's first Prime Minister; he died after only three months in office, and thus did not live to see Venetia or Rome as part of the new Italian nation.

Cavour put forth several economic reforms in his native region of Piedmont in his earlier years, and founded the political newspaper Il Risorgimento. After being elected to the Chamber of Deputies, he quickly rose in rank through the Piedmontese government, coming to dominate the Chamber of Deputies through a union of left-center and right-center politicians. After a large rail system expansion program, Cavour became prime minister in 1852. As prime minister, Cavour successfully negotiated Piedmont's way through the Crimean War, Second Italian War of Independence, and Garibaldi's expeditions, managing to maneuver Piedmont diplomatically to become a new great power in Europe, controlling a nearly united Italy that was five times as large as Piedmont had been before he came to power.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Camillo Benso was born in Turin during Napoleonic rule, into a family that had gained a fair amount of land during the French occupation. He was the second of two sons of Michele Giuseppe Francesco Antonio Benso, 4th Marquess of Cavour and Count of Isolabella,[2] Baron of the French Empire (1781 – 1850) and his wife Adélaïde (Adèle) Suzanne, Marchioness of Sellon (1780 – 1846), herself of French origin.

Cavour's castle in Grinzane Cavour, in what is now the Province of Cuneo

Cavour was sent to the Turin Military Academy when he was only ten years old. Cavour frequently ran afoul of the authorities in the academy, as he was too headstrong to deal with the rigid military discipline. He was once forced to live three days on bread and water because he had been caught with books that the academy had banned. He was found to be apt at the mathematical disciplines, and was therefore enlisted in the Engineer Corps in the Piedmontese-Sardinian army in 1827. While in the army, he studied the English language as well as the works of Jeremy Bentham and Benjamin Constant, developing liberal tendencies which made him suspect to police forces at the time.[3] He resigned his commission in the army in November 1831, both because of boredom with military life and because of his dislike of the reactionary policies of the new ruler of Piedmont, Charles Albert.

Coat of arms of the Count of Cavour: Argent on a chief gules three scallop shells or.

Cavour then spent his time in Switzerland, along with his Protestant relatives in Geneva. He grew acquainted with Calvinist teachings, and for a short while he converted from a form of unorthodox Catholicism, only to go back later. A Reformed pastor, Alexandre Vinet, impressed upon Cavour the need for the separation of church and state, a doctrine Cavour followed for the remainder of his life. He then traveled to Paris where he was impressed by parliamentary debates, especially those of François Guizot and Adolphe Thiers, confirming his devotion to a political career. Afterwards, he left for London, where he was much more disappointed by English politics, though continuing to tour the country, heading to Oxford, Liverpool, Birmingham, Chester, Nottingham, and Manchester. A quicker tour through the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland (German part and Lake of Geneva) eventually landed him back in Turin.

Between 1838 and 1842 Cavour began several initiatives in attempts to solve economic problems in his area. Firstly he experimented with different agricultural techniques on his estate, such as the use of sugar beet, and was one of the first Italian landowners to use chemical fertilizers.[4] He also founded the Piedmontese Agricultural Society. Cavour was a heavy supporter of transportation by steam engine, sponsoring the building of many railroads and canals. In his spare time, he again traveled extensively, mostly in France and the United Kingdom.

Political career[edit]

An early portrait of Cavour.

The first apparently "liberal" moves of Pope Pius IX and the political upheavals of 1848 spawned a new movement of Italian liberalism, allowing Cavour to enter the political arena, no longer in fear of the police. He then gave a speech in front of numerous journalists in favor of a constitution for Piedmont, which was eventually granted. Cavour, unlike several other political thinkers, was not at first offered a position in the new Chamber of Deputies, as he was still a somewhat suspicious character to the nation.

Cavour never planned for the establishment of a united country, and even later during his Premiership his objective was to expand Piedmont with the annexation of Lombardy and Venetia, rather than a unified Italy. For example, during the conservative period, he gained a reputation as a non-revolutionary progressive. He had trouble publicly speaking as he tended to speak French privately but preferred to attempt speaking in Italian in Parliament. Cavour then lost the next election, while the Piedmontese army was destroyed at the Battle of Novara, leading Charles Albert to abdicate, leaving his son, Victor Emmanuel II in charge.

Cavour was then brought back into Parliament by the voters, where he was much more successful. His knowledge of European markets and modern economy earned him the position as Minister of Agriculture, Commerce and the Navy in 1850. Cavour soon came to dominate the cabinet and united the Right Center and the Left Center in the chamber to show dominance there as well. In 1851, Cavour gained a Cabinet promotion to Minister of Finance by working against his colleague from inside the Cabinet in a somewhat disreputable takeover, though it was to Piedmont's advantage through his many economic reforms. This allowed Cavour to begin his vast railway expansion program, giving Piedmont 800 kilometres of track by the year 1860, one third of the railways in Italy at the time.

Prime minister of Piedmont-Sardinia[edit]

Cavour formed a coalition with Urbano Rattazzi known as the connubio; i.e., the union of the moderate men of the Right and of the Left, and brought about the fall of the d'Azeglio cabinet in November 1852. The King reluctantly accepted Cavour as prime minister as the most conservative possible choice, but their relationship was never an easy one.[5]

Cavour as Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia (1850s).

Cavour was generally liberal and believed in free trade, public right of opinion, and secular rule, but he was an enemy of republicans and revolutionaries, whom he feared as disorganized radicals who would upset the social order. Cavour dominated debate in Parliament, but is criticised for a number of controversial methods he used while prime minister, including excessive use of emergency powers, employing friends, bribing newspapers while suppressing others, and rigging elections, though these things were fairly common for the time. Still, Cavour's career as prime minister can be considered one of the most successful of all time, given that when he took up the post, Piedmont had just suffered a horrible loss to Austria, but when he died, Victor Emmanuel II ruled a state five times as large, which dominated Italy and ranked among Europe's great powers.

The allied powers of Britain and France asked Piedmont to enter the Crimean War, partially to encourage Austria to enter, which it would not do unless it was certain that Piedmontese troops were not available to attack Austrian positions in Italy. Cavour, who hoped that the allies would support Piedmont's expansion in Italy, agreed as soon as his colleagues' support would allow, and entered the war on January 10, 1855. This was too late to truly distinguish themselves militarily, but the 18,000 man contingent earned Piedmont a position at the Congress of Paris, which ended the war.

In January 1858, the Italian Felice Orsini's attempted assassination of Napoleon III paradoxically opened an avenue of diplomacy between France and Piedmont. While in jail awaiting trial, Orsini wrote a public letter to the Emperor of the French, ending with, "Remember that, so long as Italy is not independent, the peace of Europe and Your Majesty is but an empty dream... Set my country free, and the blessings of twenty-five million people will follow you everywhere and forever."[6] Orsini was still executed, but Napoleon III began to explore the possibility of joint operation with Piedmont against Austria. Cavour and Napoleon met in July 1858 at Plombières-les-Bains, and the two agreed that Piedmont would attempt to provoke war with the Duchy of Modena, obliging Austria to enter, and France would then aid Piedmont. In return, Cavour reluctantly agreed to cede Savoy (the seat of the Piedmontese royal family) and County of Nice to France, and also arranged a royal marriage between Princess Clotilde and Prince Napoleon, surprisingly without Victor Emmanuel's consent.[7] In the same year, Cavour sent his cousin, the famous beauty, photographic artist and secret agent Virginia Oldoïni, to further the interests of Italian unification with the emperor by whatever means possible, and by all accounts she succeeded.

Both France and Piedmont began to prepare for war, but diplomatic support diminished rapidly. Napoleon III quickly soured on the plot, and Britain, Prussia, and Russia proposed an international congress, with one likely goal to be the disarmament of Piedmont. Piedmont was saved from this situation by Austria's sending an ultimatum on April 23, demanding that Piedmont disarm itself, thus casting Austria as an aggressor. France mobilised and slowly began to enter Italy, but Piedmont would need to defend itself for a short period. Fortunately, rainstorms and Austrian indecision under Ferencz Graf Gyulai gave time for France to arrive in force.

Cavour's desk in the Château de Thorens, Savoy.

The battles of Magenta and Solferino left Franco-Piedmontese forces in control of Lombardy, but the Austrians remained confident of defending their "fortress quadrilateral" area, with four fortresses in Verona, Legnano, Peschiera, and Mantua. These defenses, the horrors of the Battle of Solferino, the possibility of Prussian entry into the war, and the potential for an over-strong Piedmontese state convinced Napoleon to sign a separate peace with Austria in the Treaty of Villafranca on July 11, 1859, ending the Second Italian War of Independence. Victor Emmanuel accepted the peace, but Cavour was so infuriated after reading the terms of the treaty that he tendered his resignation. He soon regained his optimism, however, as several of the terms, such as the restoration to power of the rulers of Tuscany and Modena, and the establishment of an Italian Confederation including Austria, would not actually be carried out.

Meanwhile, General La Marmora succeeded to Cavour's post and insisted on following the treaty terms, even sending a letter to Tuscany asking that they restore their Grand Duke. (Bettino Ricasoli, virtual dictator of Tuscany at the time, wrote about this appeal to his brother, saying "Tell General La Marmora that I have torn his letter into a thousand pieces."[8]) France continued direct talks with Piedmont on the destiny of the central Italian states, all of whose autocrats supported unification with Piedmont but were restrained by the treaty, which called for the restoration of their old governments.

Cavour had retired to his estate at Leri, out of politics but concerned about the King’s alliance with Garibaldi’s revolutionaries, and his desire to renew the war with Austria without allied support.[9] When the weak La Marmora cabinet resigned, Victor Emmanuel was reluctant to have Cavour as premier again, due both to their quarrel over Villafranca and Cavour's success in preventing the king from marrying his mistress after the queen's death. But Cavour was sent for on January 20, 1860.

Garibaldi and Cavour making Italy in a satirical cartoon of 1861.

Cavour agreed with Napoleon to finally cede Savoy and Nice to France, in order to annex Tuscany and Emilia to Piedmont. Plebiscites were arranged with huge majorities in all these provinces to approve the changes.[10] Cavour managed to convince most that uniting Italy would make up for these territorial losses. With this, the first stage of unification was completed, and it would be Garibaldi's turn to bring southern Italy into Piedmont's control.

Garibaldi was furious that his birthplace, Nice, had become a French city, and wished to recapture the city, but a popular insurrection in Palermo on April 4, 1860 diverted him southward. He requested a brigade of Piedmontese to take Sicily from the Bourbon Neapolitans, but Cavour refused. Instead, a band of volunteers was brought together, who would come to be known as I Mille, or the Thousand. This small group of redshirts landed at Marsala in Sicily on May 11, later to fight the battles of Calatafimi and Milazzo, consolidating Sicily under Garibaldi's control. Cavour attempted to annex Sicily to Piedmont, but Garibaldi and his accomplice Francesco Crispi would not allow it.

Cavour persuaded Victor Emmanuel to write a letter to Garibaldi, requesting that he not invade the mainland; the letter was indeed sent, but the King secretly wished for Garibaldi to invade and wrote another letter asking him to go ahead, but this was apparently never sent.[11] Cavour meanwhile attempted to stir up a liberal revolution in Naples, but the populace was unreceptive. Garibaldi invaded, attempting to reach Naples quickly before Cavour found a way to stop him. On September 7, he entered Naples, at that time the largest city in Italy, and unilaterally declared Victor Emmanuel the King of Italy.[12] Garibaldi was now military dictator of southern Italy and Sicily, and he imposed the Piedmontese constitution but publicly demanded that Cavour be removed, which alienated him slightly from Victor Emmanuel.

Garibaldi was unwilling to stop at this point, and planned an immediate invasion of the Papal States. Cavour feared France in that case would declare war to defend the Pope, and would successfully stop Garibaldi from initiating his attack. Garibaldi had been weakened by the Battle of Volturno, so Cavour quickly invaded the Papal regions of Umbria and the Marches. This linked the territories conquered by Piedmont with those taken by Garibaldi. The King met Garibaldi halfway at Naples, where Garibaldi handed over control of southern Italy and Sicily, thus uniting Italy.

The relationship between Cavour and Garibaldi was always fractious: Cavour likened Garibaldi to "a savage" while Garibaldi memorably called Cavour "a low intriguer".[13]

Prime Minister of Italy[edit]

Cavour from a carte de visite by Mayer & Pierson, published in 1861.

In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II declared the Kingdom of Italy, making Cavour officially prime minister of Italy. Cavour had many stressful topics that all needed consideration, including how to create a national military, which legal institutions should be kept for where, the future of Rome, which most still believed must be capital of a united Italy, and any number of other concerns. Cavour believed that Rome should remain "a free church in a free state", allowed to maintain its independence though forced to give up temporal power.[14] Still Austrian Venetia was also a problem. Cavour recognized that Venice must be an integral part of Italy, but refused to take a stance on how to achieve it, saying "Will the deliverance of Venice come by arms or diplomacy? I do not know. It is the secret of providence."[15] A motion approving of his foreign policy passed by a huge majority, basically only opposed by both left and right-wing extremist groups.

Creating Italy was no easy task, but ruling it proved a worse strain on the Prime Minister. In 1861, at the peak of his career, months of long days coupled with insomnia and constant worry took their toll on Cavour. He fell ill, presumably of malaria, and to make matters worse, insisted upon being bled. His regular doctor would have refused, but he was not available, so Cavour was bled several times until it was nearly impossible to draw any blood from him.

After his death, Italy would gain Venice in 1866 in the course of the Third Italian War of Independence, connected to the Austro-Prussian War. The Capture of Rome completed the unification of Italy (aside from Trentino) in 1870.

Legacy[edit]

Today, many Italian cities like Turin, Trieste, Rome, Florence and Naples have important streets or squares named for him. The new Marina Militare aircraft carrier Cavour is also named in his honour. This unit was preceded by the famous battleship Conte di Cavour, which fought both in World War I and World War II, and a clipper ship, Camille Cavour.

In 1865 a leading Liceo classico in Turin, the oldest high school in the city (founded 1568) and one among the oldest and most prominent ones in Italy, was named after him, and became Liceo classico Cavour. The whole (actual) name is Liceo Ginnasio statale "Camillo Benso di Cavour". It was formerly the College of Nobility, and the Royal College of Education of the Duchy of Savoy and of the Kingdom of Sardinia.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Camillo Benso, Conte di Cavour (Italian statesman). biography.yourdictionary.com
  2. ^ Michele Giuseppe Benso was also Lord of Corveglia, Dusino, Mondonio, Ottiglio and Ponticelli, Co-Lord of Castagnole, Cellarengo, and Menabi, Cereaglio, Chieri, San Salvatore Monferrato, Santena e Valfenera.
  3. ^ Beales and Biagini, The Risorgimento and the Unification of Italy, p. 106.
  4. ^ Beales & Biagini, The Risorgimento and the Unification of Italy, p.108.
  5. ^ Mack Smith, Cavour, pp. 61-67.
  6. ^ Norwich, The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean, p.523.
  7. ^ Norwich, The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean p.524.
  8. ^ Holt, The Making of Italy: 1815-1870, p.221.
  9. ^ Mack Smith, Cavour, pp. 180-183.
  10. ^ Mack Smith, Cavour, p. 203, 206.
  11. ^ Norwich, The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean, p. 530; The letter was allegedly still sealed when found
  12. ^ Mack Smith, Cavour, p. 222.
  13. ^ http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wCRllpy87ucC&pg=PA82&lpg=PA82&dq=%22low+intriguer%22&source=bl&ots=78XSF5F-it&sig=2vbTvt1mte1UsEQAyHZi1__FoYA&hl=en&ei=wMI2SoKQBtLMjAeyvvifCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1
  14. ^ Holt, The Making of Italy: 1815-1870, p.266;Beales & Biagini, The Risorgimento and Unification of Italy, p.154.
  15. ^ Holt, The Making of Italy: 1815-1870, p.265.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Massimo d'Azeglio
Prime Minister of Sardinia-Piedmont
1852-1859
Succeeded by
Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora
Preceded by
Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora
Prime Minister of Sardinia-Piedmont
1860-1861
Succeeded by
Sardinia-Piedmont absorbed into Kingdom of Italy
Preceded by
None
Prime Minister of Italy
1861
Succeeded by
Bettino Ricasoli
Preceded by
None
Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
1861
Succeeded by
Bettino Ricasoli
Preceded by
None
Italian Minister of Navy
1861
Succeeded by
Federico Luigi, Conte Menabrea