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On paper the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies appears much stronger with about twice the land and population. So how come it was Victor Emmanuel II who became King of Italy and not Francis II Bourbon?

Was it a combination of luck and skill through Cavour's deals with the French, or did the Northern kingdom also possess a much better economy, institutions and army?

  • Suggest you do a review of the Italian politics from about 1970 to the 2000. The North South split was (and perhaps remains) alive and well, which is why in the 1990's Umberto Bossi got a lot of support running on a political platform that included perhaps sundering Southern Italy (more or less what was south of Rome) from the more organized, and prosperous Northern Half. The Lega Nord did not arise out of nothing. – KorvinStarmast Apr 28 '17 at 3:34
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There was no stronger state. Kingdom of the Two Sicilies at the time was ruled by a cadet branch of the House of Bourbon. These were foreigners, Spaniards in particular. There was no affection for their rule locally, and they owed their position to the fact that foreign powers had placed them there, and continued to replace them after various revolts and conquests during the Napoleonic wars.

So they had no interest, (or likely capability), in engaging in establishing a nation of Italians. If anything, such a nation would most likely result in their eventual ouster as foreign rulers, and certainly wouldn't please their foreign patrons.

In fact, part of what made the reunification work was that the people of The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies held no affection for their rulers, and were quite anxious to switch sides to an Italian ruler when presented the slightest opportunity. This is what allowed Garabaldi to "liberate" the entire country with (initially) only 1,000 supporters.

  • But were there no stronger Italian state throughout history? Say, Venice in the 1500's or Duchy of Tuscany? – Evil Washing Machine Apr 25 '17 at 21:43
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    @EvilWashingMachine - I kind of assumed we were restricting this to the era of Nationalisim (essentially French Revolution or later). In the 1500's the non-geographical concept of "Italy" didn't really exist. – T.E.D. Apr 25 '17 at 22:24
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The Piedmont was the strongest Italian state in Italy in the 19th century. Other states like Venice or Lombardy was under Austrian rule, the Papal States were controlled by the "country" that we now know as the Vatican, the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, though technically Italian, were ruled by a French-Spanish monarch and tied to Spain. So Italian revolutionaries like Garibaldi rallied to the Piedmont, and not to the Vatican or Naples-Sicily.

One very important advantage of the Piedmont was its proximity to France, and its ability to get French help, when the French ruler, Napoleon III would rather have a united but weak and friendly Italian "buffer state" than divide "Italy" with the Hapbburgs. For the price of Savoy and Nice, Piedmont got all of Italy. Other, previous, French leaders had opposed Italian unification and allied with other great powers to keep Italy divided.

It's like asking, why did Prussia unite Germany even though Austria was (initially) stronger. The answer was that Austria had so many non-German commitments that Prussia was seen as a more natural leader. Ditto for Piedmont versus the others.

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