The importance of foreign intervention


Austrian policy in Italy

  • In 1815, at the Congress of Vienna, the Austrian Empire could claim to be the dominant European power. The Chancellor, Metternich, managed to achieve most of his aims: Presidency of the German Confederation and important new Italian provinces
  • The Austrian Empire was made up of a vast number of different peoples, including Hungarians, Poles, Czech, Slovaks, a dozen or so different nationalities in the Balkans and now a large number of Italians. 
  • Austrian policy in Italy was very simple. They wanted to keep Italy divided and to crush any signs of nationalism. This was Austrian policy throughout the Empire and remained so until 1914. 
  • From 1815, Austria intervened whenever it felt threatened in whatever state appeared to be a threat. The only state that was not invaded by Austrian troops was Piedmont. 

Relations: At first Piedmont seemed to offer no threat to Austria largely because Charles Albert generally sought Austrian support against France. After the 1848 defeat of the Piedmontese forces by the Austrians at Custozza and Novara there was no punitive settlement because he was busy "with the Duchies". 

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Effect of events of 1848-9

By 1851 all revolutions in Italy had been crushed and the Pope had returned to Rome. 

The situation had changed irreversibly. Piedmont was under the pragmatic leadership of Cavour and the increasing Austrian influence over Italy gave Italian liberals and nationalists a new focus.

Support for Mazzini and republicanism waned and the Piedmontese monarchy and its army became increasingly attractive to all. 

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Strengths and weaknesses of Austria in Italy

Strengths of Austria in Italy in the 1850s:

  • The army was larger and more experienced than anything that could be put in the field by Italian forces.
  • Italy was divided. People in different states sought different outcomes. 
  • Militarily the Austrians could always retreat and regroup on the Quadrilateral (four fortresses on the border of Lombardy and Venetia) 


  • They depended that there would be no significant changes within Italy. 
  • The emergence of Cavour completely changed the situation 
  • Seizure of power by Napoleon III changed international relations. He was very anti-Austrian and looking for international successes that would enhance his prestige at home 
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French policy in the 1850s and 1860s was completely in the hands of Napoleon III. He was elected president in 1848 and had then appointed himself president for life and then emperor. 

He wanted to recapture the glory days of France and aimed to do this by rebuilding Paris and adopting a expansionist foreign policy. 

Napoleon's promise to do something for Italy was only one of a series of foreign excursions which were largely unsuccesful. 

-In 1854, along with Britain, he declared war on the Russians in the Crimean War.

-In 1863, he sent French forces to invade Mexico and create a empire but this failed disastrously

-In 1870 he declared war on Prussia and was overwhelmingly defeated and forced to flee to Britain. 

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Why did Napoleon want to do something?

  • He wanted this dramatic foreign policy with successes that would enhance his standing in France. 
  • Cavour's speech  at the Paris Peace Conference in 1856 had been well recieved in France
  • He wanted to strike a blow at Austria and upset the balance of power 
  • He wanted to create a strong Northern Italian state which could prvent Austrian expansion
  • He wanted the return of Nice and Savoy which had been taken from France in 1815
  • He did not want to create a united Italy and did not want Piedmont interfering in the affairs of other Italian states. 
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What went wrong?

Initially he was outwitted by Cavour who only wanted French manpower but not to become dependant on Napoleon. 

France thought that it would be a short, sharp and comparitively bloodless campaign.

French support for Piedmont led to protests from Britain. The British government was concerned at what appeared to be French agreession. 

Cavour was also sending secret agents into the Duchies and the Papal states to prepare for the annexation of Central Italy. 

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