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Count Cavour (1811-61)
Count Camillo Benso di Cavour was born in 1811 to a rich
noble family in Piedmont. His father was an intelligent
business man and was a minister in the government of Victor
Emmanuel I. When Cavour was ten, he was sent away to the
Royal Military Academy, where he was classified as a
rebellious student. After this, he was for a short time in the
service of Charles Albert, then becoming an officer in the
army, again gaining the reputation as a rebel. After being
sent to the frontier post, boredom beset him and developed
an interest in books; he then went on to study economics and
politics. At the time he had no intention of going into politics,
although imagined himself to be the Prime Minister of a
unified Italy an unrealistic ambition in 1832.
Cavour went to visit Paris and London. Whilst in Britain Cavour
visited the industrial cities of the north, and was impressed
by the factories and the mills. He also enjoyed the
Liverpool-Manchester railway, having only opened five years later was the first passenger
line in the world. Railways remained an important interest for Cavour for the rest of his life.
In 1835 Cavour returned to Piedmont. In England as well as looking at the railways he also
investigated the way the London banks operated. It was his idea that the Bank of Turin
should be set up in 1847, him being one of its first directors.
After Charles Albert freed press from censorship in 1847 Cavour founded his publication Il
Risorgimento, using it to publish his future political ideas. One of its first proposals was for a
more moderate constitution; therefore he welcomed the constitution granted by Charles
Albert in 1848. Once elected he became well-known as a non-revolutionary, liberal politician,
in October 1850 he was appointed as Minister of Agriculture, Commerce and the Navy. He
made free-trade treaties with France, Britain and Belgium and even Austria, which allowed
Piedmontese wines and other goods to be exported from Lombardy. He became minister of
finance in 1851, and was able to obtain better terms for a government loan to build a
In 1852 made an alliance with a moderately radical party in Parliament to form a new centre
party. He was encouraged to do so by D'Azeglio's decision to reduce freedom of press
slightly, and Cavour feared this might lead to a press censorship and a absolute government.
At the end of May 1852 Cavour resigned from government. Cavour went abroad visiting
Paris and meeting with Louis Napoleon. After D'Azeglio resigned Cavour became Prime
Minister in November 1852.
Soon after taking office an international crisis led to the start of the Crimean War. It is argued
Cavour joined the war against Russia to gain friendship with Britain and France, gain spoils and
get a seat at the eventual peace conference. Although it's also argued he was pressured by
Britain and France, additional troops were need and Austria needed to be reassured if she
allied against Russia then Piedmont would not take advantage and interfere in Lombardy.
Cavour gained a seat at the Peace Conference held in Paris in 1856. He negotiated on equal
terms with the Great Powers and made further acquaintance of Louis Napoleon. They kept in
touch over the next two years, and in July 1858 Cavour was invited to a secret meeting at
On 24 July, Cavour wrote the details of this meeting in a letter to Victor Emmanuel.
The arrangements reached were largely incorporated into a secret treaty in January 1859,
with few changes. Nice was added to Napoleon's proposed award along with Savoy, and the
idea of an Italian confederation headed by the Pope was abandoned.
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To help provoke Austria into war Cavour wrote an anti-Austrian speech for Victor Emmanuel
to give at the opening of Parliament in January 1859.
In April 1859 Austria demanded Piedmont demobilise her army as they could not afford
keeping their army at the ready for war. Cavour refused and Austria responded by declaring
war on 29 April 1859.
This was a short and violent conflict as on both sides the armies were unprepared.…read more