Sample text for Prisoner of the Vatican : the popes' secret plot to capture Rome from the new Italian state / David I. Kertzer.

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Counter Introduction:

Italy"s Birth and Near Demise

Modern Italy, it could be said, was founded over the dead
body of Pope Pius IX. Although Italy had been a geographical label
since Roman times, the idea that a distinctive Italian people inhabited
the boot-shaped peninsula and its islands was more recent, and the notion
that they should have an independent state of their own more recent
still. Only with the French Revolution"s attack on the principles of
absolutism and divinely ordained hierarchy could such an idea gain
ground, and only with the rise of nationalism as the political creed of
the nineteenth century could "Italy for the Italians" become the new
watchword. But creating a sense of common Italian identity among the
people of the peninsula was no easy matter. Not only were they not
accustomed to being part of the same country, few of them spoke Italian,
97 percent speaking a kaleidoscope of dialects and languages that were
in good part mutually unintelligible.

In the aftermath of Napoleon"s defeat in 1814, the Italian nationalist
movement faced a peninsula that was divided into a patchwork of
states and duchies propped up by foreign forces, the Austrian empire
foremost among them. But the nationalists were not entirely discouraged,
for they knew that autocratic mini-states were vulnerable to the
wrath of their subjects from within and to armies from without. Assorted
dukes and kings had painfully learned the latter lesson when
Napoleon"s armies had, not many years earlier, swept through the peninsula
and deposed them all. For Italy"s nationalists, then, the most
daunting obstacle was not the Austrian occupation of northeastern It-
aly, nor the tottering Bourbon monarchy that ruled all of the South
and Sicily, nor the assorted dukes and their duchies. No, there was a far
greater power, a far more imposing foe, one that cut the peninsula
in two, blocking North from South, its capital the legendary city of
Romulus and Remus, the symbol of Italy"s ancient greatness.

For more than a thousand years the popes had ruled over these Papal
States, a swath of territory that extended from Rome northward
through Umbria and the Marches to Ferrara and Bologna. Deposing
the duke of Modena or the grandduke of Tuscany, or even driving the
Austrians out of Lombardy and Veneto, was one thing. Deposing the
pope from his thousand-year earthly reign was something very different,
for the pope, though having little in the way of military might, had
weapons that no other ruler could ever hope to wield.

What the pope had was the belief — enshrined in official Church
dogma and pronounced by parish priests throughout the land — that
he ruled over a divinely ordained kingdom as God"s representative on
earth. The creation of a unified Italian state, the pope insisted — and in
this he had centuries of Church teachings to back him up — was contrary
to God"s wishes. It could only be accomplished by force, and anyone
taking part in such an assault would be throwing in his lot with the
Devil himself. There could be no place in the Church, or in Heaven
above, for such agents of evil.

In some ways, the task that the pope faced in battling the Italian nationalists
was nothing new. True, modern nationalism was a recent development.
But ever since popes became kings in the early Middle
Ages, they had to fend off challenges from civil rulers who sought to reduce
their authority, if not to seize their land. In such cases, the pontiffs
inevitably cast their battle as a struggle pitting the forces of God
against those of the Devil, the forces of darkness against those of light.
But rarely did they limit themselves to such otherworldly arguments,
recognizing the benefits of marshaling more terrestrial forces to their
side as well. If the popes held on to their Italian lands over centuries in
which other regimes and other states rose and fell and other borders
shifted, it was also because they became masters of playing on the rivalries
of Europe"s secular rulers.

And here we get to one of the embarrassing facts of Italian unification:
it first came about, in 1859–1860, only through the assistance of a
foreign army, the French, who helped drive the Austrians from the
peninsula. It was completed, with the taking of Rome in 1870, only
when Pope Pius IX"s former foreign protectors — Europe"s two major
Catholic powers, the French and the Austrians — decided, for different
reasons, to abandon him to his fate. But still the newly unified Italy was
a tenuous creature, born not of a mass nationalist movement — for relatively
few Italians were involved, or even seemed to care(1)— but of a
fortunate coincidence of a small nationalist elite, an opportunistic
Savoyard monarchy based in Turin in the northwest of the peninsula, a
microscopic ragtag army under the command of a popular hero deeply
distrusted by the emerging Italian government, and a series of European
rivalries that prevented any of the continent"s powers from heeding
the pope"s desperate pleas.

Italians — but also others who learn about Italian history today —
are led to believe that the nation was securely established once Rome
was taken in 1870. But it is an illusion, the product of a natural tendency
to view history backward. In fact, in the first two decades of
Rome"s new position as capital of Italy, there was no certainty that the
end of the Papal States was any less fleeting than it had been several
decades earlier, when, in the course of ten years, Napoleon deposed
two popes and chased them from Rome. Nor did Catholics have to
look back even that far to find grounds for hope; little more than two
decades earlier, in 1848, popular revolts had driven Pius IX, then in the
first years of his papacy, into exile. Then, too, the usurpers had triumphantly
pronounced the permanent end of papal rule. Yet, once again,
the pope had shown how fleeting were the victories of the Church"s enemies,
returning to power behind the French and Austrian armies.
Why, loyal Catholics asked, should God"s cause not triumph once
more? Was He not still on the pope"s side?

When, on September 20, 1870, Italian troops finally broke through
Rome"s walls and claimed the city as part of the new Italian state, Pius
proclaimed himself a "prisoner of the Vatican." Denouncing the
"usurper" state, he retreated into the Vatican complex and, spurning
the government"s entreaties, refused to come out. Confident that God
would not long abandon His Church, Pius did all he could to help the
divine cause, from excommunicating Italy"s founders — the king, his
ministers, and his generals — to calling on Europe"s Catholic rulers to
come once again to his aid. Following the pope"s lead, the Catholic
press assured its readers that Rome"s sacrilegious conquerors would,
like their predecessors, soon meet an ignominious end. The Papal
States would return.

A dramatic battle unfolded, the drama punctuated by the death of
its two protagonists — Pius IX and Victor Emmanuel II — within a
month of each other in 1878. Yet, even with a new pope, Leo XIII, and a
new king, Umberto I, both dramatically different from their predecessors,
the battle continued, the stakes high, the outcome uncertain.

This is the story told in the pages that follow, a story of outrageous
accusations, mutual denunciations, terrible fears, and raucous public
demonstrations, a chronicle of frenetic diplomacy and secret dealings.
While the struggle was partly fought through symbols, ritual, and rhetoric,
rocks were hurled along with epithets. War throughout Europe
was prophesied, at the end of which, many in the Vatican hoped and
believed, Italy would once again be carved up by foreign powers into a
series of weak, dependent states and the pope returned to power in
Rome. This battle — almost entirely unknown today outside scholarly
circles — still leaves a deep mark on the Italian soul. Without understanding
this history, there is no way to understand the peculiarities of
Italy today.

The protagonists of this fateful conflict live on in statues of granite
and marble that dot town squares from Venice and Turin to Naples and
Palermo, in elaborate tombs, famous paintings, and obscure popular
art. Rome itself is filled with outsized monuments, statues big and
small, and a panoply of plaques commemorating the battles of unification.
But, oddly, the story that they tell, together with the sanitized accounts
found in the textbooks of every Italian schoolchild, has rather
little to do with what happened. The actual history is, today, too dangerous,
too embarrassing, still too raw for public view. The most basic
fact of the creation of modern Italy — that its greatest foe was the pope
himself — is one that cannot easily be mentioned, and certainly not to
children, whose understanding of how their country was founded contains
a hole at its center. The Italian or the foreigner visiting Rome today
can scarcely grasp what the battles for Italian unification were

It is too bad, because the true story of the birth of modern Italy, involving
the demise of the Papal States and the pope"s efforts to undo
Italian unification, offers a gripping tale of intrigue and pathos filled
with outsized characters and high drama. It features an Italian king,
Victor Emmanuel II, whose greatest passion in life was hunting and
who viewed his government ministers with disdain, but who somehow
rose to the challenge of unifying Italy. Although he had little love for
the Church or the clergy, the king never stopped dreaming of the day
that the pope would deign to receive him. It was a day that he would
never live to see.

For his part, Pius IX was without doubt the most important pontiff
in modern history. While deeply religious, he was politically inept.
Remarkably gregarious, he loved nothing more than hosting audiences
and, before Rome was taken, strolling through Rome"s streets and
chuckling at people"s startled reactions to the white-robed pope-king
in their midst. Yet, if he was a man of great charm and warmth, a man
with a famous smile, he also had a fearful temper and a short fuse. And,
as if from the cast of a twopenny melodrama, ever at the goodly pope"s
side was the dark figure of Giacomo Antonelli, long his secretary of
state, his right-hand man, who compensated for the pope"s lack of political
sophistication with his own diplomatic savvy. A cardinal without
ever having been ordained a priest, Antonelli fit the popular stereotype
of the goodly pope"s evil adviser, an image promulgated in this case not
only by Italy"s anticlericals and nationalists but by many of the Curia"s
cardinals as well, jealous of the stranglehold Antonelli seemed to have
over Pius.

Rounding out the cast of characters at the center of this dramatic
history as it began to unfold, and whose true role in the rise of modern
Italy is today obscured from popular view, is Giuseppe Garibaldi, a
man for whom "colorful" seems too weak a term. Condemned to death
as a young man for taking part in a nationalist uprising in Genoa,
he spent most of his early adult and middle-age years in exile as a
sailor, adventurer, and frequent participant in popular uprisings, including
a series of wars in South America, where he had taken refuge.

When, in the face of a popular revolt, Pius IX fled Rome in 1848 and
the end of papal rule was proclaimed, Garibaldi returned to Italy to
lead the makeshift army that defended the new Roman Republic. Yet
when the French responded to the pope"s plea and sent their troops to
retake Rome, Garibaldi, despite all his heroic efforts, could not long
hold them back and was forced into exile once again. Almost singlehandedly
responsible for the fact that the new Italian state that took
shape in 1860 included Sicily and the entire Italian South — not a part
of the peninsula in which Victor Emmanuel or his ministers had any
interest — Garibaldi lacked all political artifice. Yet he did have one
unshakable belief: he was convinced that the priests were a parasitic
scourge on the Italian nation, the papacy a cancer that had to be excised.

And then there were all the foreign rulers and diplomats whose decisions
would determine whether the pope would one day return to
power, whether Italy would remain united or soon crumble. There was
the massive, mustachioed Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor
who presided over what by late 1870 had emerged as the continent"s
leading power. Bismarck"s six-foot, four-inch frame and considerable
bulk would cast a large shadow over Europe in these years, inspiring a
mixture of respect, anger, and fear. With a huge head, a shrinking
fringe of whitening hair, a drooping mustache, bushy eyebrows, and
large protruding eyes, Bismarck carried himself with military bearing
and, indeed, always wore a white military uniform in Berlin as befitted
a member of the Prussian gentry who held the rank of major general.
Also, befitting his origins, he despised urban life, retreating as much as
possible to his rural estates. Known to sit down for a meal and eat what
would normally feed three men and to drink one or two bottles of
champagne at his midday meal alone, he was apt to smoke his way
through eight or ten Havana cigars a day and cap off his dinner with a
bottle or two of brandy.

Disdaining any crass appeal for popularity, in his nearly three decades
in power Bismarck confined his speeches almost entirely to parliament.
His voice came as a surprise to those who had never heard him,
for the big man spoke in something of a thin falsetto. Yet, when he was
spotted ordering a mug of beer from a parliamentary aide — a sure
sign that he was getting ready to mount the podium — word spread
quickly, and the deputies rushed in from the halls to hear him. Bismarck"s
speeches were typically witty, sardonic, sarcastic, and — although
he rarely used a prepared text — filled with rarefied literary allusions.
Of his subordinates he expected information but not advice,
still less criticism. If Pius IX"s angry outbursts were entirely spontaneous
and fleeting, Bismarck"s were more calculated. "It"s useful for the
entire mechanism if I get angry at times," he said. "It puts stronger
steam in the engine." Although he would soon lead Germany"s own
campaign against the Catholic Church, Bismarck — himself, like the
German emperor, a Protestant — was above all a political opportunist.
As we shall see, at one point he even toyed with the idea of providing a
German refuge for the pope and pronouncing Germany the world center
of Catholicism.(2)

Then there was Napoleon III, emperor of France. Born in 1808, seven
years before Bismarck, Louis Napoleon grew up in the wake of his uncle
and namesake"s bitter defeat. A participant in the Italian nationalist
uprisings in 1831, he was arrested nine years later in France for conspiring
to overthrow the monarchy there. Escaping from prison after six
years, he took part in the French revolt of 1848 and by the end of that
year was elected president of the new regime. Although he was a champion
of nationalism who viewed the pope-king as a regrettable relic of
the Middle Ages, his first priority on taking power was to solidify his
rule. And so, in an effort to attract domestic Catholic support, he dispatched
his army in 1849 to defeat Garibaldi and retake Rome for Pius;
three years later, he orchestrated a plebiscite that pronounced him
emperor of France. He was no longer Louis Napoleon but Napoleon
III. Meanwhile, the French troops remained in Rome, charged with
protecting the pontiff from revolt or invasion. There, but for brief periods,
they remained until the historic summer of 1870, when the declaration
of papal infallibility by the First Vatican Council, coinciding
with the outbreak of France"s war with Prussia, led Napoleon to withdraw
his troops. Only then — when the coast was clear — was Victor
Emmanuel willing to send in his own army and claim Rome as Italy"s
new capital.

We are about to enter a world that no longer exists, of a pope who
was a king, of a king ashamed to share his capital with the pope who
had excommunicated him, of nervous nobles, anticlericals bent on
seizing the Vatican, would-be assassins, and suspicions of conspiracies
everywhere. Some of its characters were eloquent, some playful, some
sober, and some grim; some were witty and urbane, some abusive and
inebriated. Some invoked the highest principles of Enlightenment morality,
some the sacred principles of revealed truth. Still others seemed
more intent on bellowing epithets as loudly as their voices would allow.
The result was the mixture of contradictory traits that is the hallmark
of modern Italy.

Many books deal with one aspect or another of this story, although
most were written a century or more ago, when none of the Vatican ar-
chives for the period were available. Books that try to tell the whole
story addressed in these pages, based on the original documents but
written for a broad audience, are few indeed. None, so far as I know, are
based on both the historical archives of the Vatican and the records of
the Italian state. Curiously, in fact, most of the great Italian historians
of national unification — reflecting their secular allegiances — felt
uncomfortable even setting foot in the Vatican. To a considerable extent,
this odd division of labor continues even today, with the historians of
Italian unification — identified with the proponents of a secular Italy
— generally avoiding research that would entail working in the Vatican
archives, leaving it to Church historians, some of the most illustrious
being priests themselves. Even among the latter, however, the great majority
who have written on our topic lacked access to the Vatican"s documents
from the period following Leo XIII"s ascendancy to the papacy
in 1878, for most wrote before 1979, when these archives were first
opened to researchers. It is, in part, the use of this rich trove of material
that allows us here to shed new light on the battle waged by the pope
and his Curia aimed at depriving the new Italian state of its capital.
Today, we all take for granted that the pope is forever on the move,
traveling thousands of miles at a time to minister to his far-flung flock.
How strange it is to be reminded that, for fifty-nine years after the taking
of Rome, no pope would set foot outside the Vatican, no pope
would even enter Rome"s own churches nor escape Rome"s summer
heat by retreating to the papal villa in the nearby hills at Castel Gandolfo.
To travel beyond the minuscule patch of land that remained under
his control would mean acknowledging that the pope was no
longer a prisoner of the Vatican. This, for almost six decades, no pope
was willing to do.

Chapter 1

Destroying the Papal States

Pius IX had not always been such a bitter enemy of progress, of
things modern. When he ascended to St. Peter"s throne in 1846, among
his first acts was the introduction of gas streetlights and railways to the
Papal States, an implicit rebuke to his predecessor, Gregory XVI, who
had viewed them as dangerous departures from the way God meant
things to be. The new pope also won popular favor in these first
months by freeing political prisoners and calling for the reform of the
Papal States" notoriously corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.

But, caught up in the intoxicating spirit of revolt that swept Europe
with shocking speed in 1848, people soon wanted — no, demanded —
more, much more. In April of that year, Pius rejected pleas that he support
efforts to drive the Austrians out of the Italian peninsula. In November,
amid increasing disorder, calls for a constitution, and demands
for an end to the papal dictatorship, his prime minister was
stabbed to death in the middle of Rome in broad daylight.

Fearing for his life and by then practically a prisoner in his Quirinal
Palace in central Rome, the pope decided to escape. Dressed as a simple
priest, his face partially concealed by tinted glasses, he furtively
boarded the carriage of the Bavarian ambassador and, with his help,
made his way south to the seaside fortress of Gaeta, north of Naples in
the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

The pope"s earthly realm was slipping from his grasp as revolts from
Bologna to Rome drove out the cardinal legates and ushered in local
governing committees that proudly proclaimed the end of papal rule.
In Rome, a Constituent Assembly elected by popular vote in January
1849 put power in the hands of a triumvirate that would soon include
Giuseppe Mazzini, Italy"s great theorist of nationalism, who was living
in exile in London. Article 1 of the constitution of the new Roman Republic
pronounced the pope"s temporal power forever ended. The people
were now free to say, think, write, and act as they liked; the Inquisition
was no more. The Jews were freed from their ghettoes, and even
Protestants could worship freely. From then on, the government was to
be elected by the people.

The new utopia did not last long before the French and Austrian
troops marched in and restored the pope to power. Any sympathies
that Pius had previously felt for offering more civil liberties or a measure
of democracy were now gone. As he saw it, God had intended the
pope to rule over the Papal States and, indeed, only by having such
temporal power could the pontiff enjoy the freedom that he needed to
perform his spiritual duties. The Inquisition was restored, as was the
Index of prohibited books; the Jews were forced back into their ghettoes;
all newspapers and books were again heavily censored. French
troops patrolled the streets of Rome, propping up papal rule.

The Kingdom of Sardinia quickly emerged as the best hope for those
who sought change. Despite its name, the kingdom"s capital was Turin,
in the northwestern region of Piedmont, and included the neighboring
region of Liguria as well as the kingdom"s namesake, the island of Sardinia.
Under the Savoyard dynasty it alone had preserved the reforms
introduced in 1848, which had turned an authoritarian state into a
constitutional, parliamentary monarchy. Church control of schools was
ended, freedom of religion proclaimed, and the Jesuit order, viewed as
the subversive agent of papal power abroad, banished.

By midcentury, most of the educated classes of central and northern
Italy had become alienated from the Church — or at least from its center
of power in Rome — and were hostile to the continued presence of
foreign troops in the peninsula. Resentment in Lombardy and Veneto
to the Austrians" rule kept tensions high, as did their troops, who patrolled
much of the Papal States, and the French soldiers who guarded

The king of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel II, whose penchant for
military adventure — and incompetence — was notorious, began to
glimpse his chance for greatness. What could be more glorious than
putting himself at the head of an army that would conquer much of Italy
and, in so doing, not only dramatically enlarge his realm but cast
him as a great Italian patriot? Yet his advisers, Prime Minister Count
Camillo Cavour chief among them, urged caution. To take on both the
French and the Austrians would, he knew, be suicidal.

The king"s big chance came in July 1858, when Napoleon III met secretly
with Cavour in France and hatched a plan to drive the Austrians
— their common enemy — from the Italian peninsula. The plan also
involved removing three-quarters of the Papal States from the pope"s
control, leaving only Rome and the region around it for the pontiff,
under French protection, a measure designed in part to placate French
Catholic opinion. There was no discussion at the time of attacking the
Kingdom of Naples in the South nor of unifying all of Italy under a
single government. In fact, Napoleon III seems to have envisioned
some kind of loose confederation of weak states taking shape in Italy,
possibly under the titular presidency of the pope himself. This would
have the virtue of weakening his chief rival, Austria, and creating
an ally to his south in the Kingdom of Sardinia while ensuring that
the fractionated Italian peninsula would never produce a state strong
enough to compete with the French for European influence.

War broke out near the Piedmontese border with Lombardy in May
1859 and quickly spread to the Papal States as Italian nationalists fueled
revolts that again sent the cardinal legates packing. Plebiscites demanding
uni.cation with the Kingdom of Sardinia quickly followed. Meanwhile,
responding to a plea from the Sicilian proponents of unification,
Garibaldi assembled a force of a thousand volunteers — wearing open
collared red shirts in place of regular uniforms — and set sail. Landing
near Palermo in May 1860, these poorly trained irregulars dispatched
the Bourbon army with embarrassing ease, so, after conquering Sicily,
they headed north, up the Italian boot, on their way to Rome.

Alarmed yet excited, Victor Emmanuel II could no longer merely
stand by. To do nothing while Garibaldi"s red shirts, in the name of
unifying Italy, marched into the Holy City would court disaster. Should
Garibaldi succeed in taking Rome, he would put Victor Emmanuel to
shame. In place of a large northern Italian state under the Savoyard
monarchy, the frightening specter of all Italy unified under a revolutionary
republic became all too real. And so the king sent his army
south, intercepting Garibaldi north of Naples before he could attack
Rome. There, a curious military ceremony took place, with Garibaldi
handing over control of the newly fallen Kingdom of Naples to the
Savoyard king. Rome — at least for the moment — remained in papal

A year later, the new Kingdom of Italy was officially inaugurated.
Technically, it was simply the continuation of the old Kingdom of Sardinia,
so no new constitution was thought necessary. Although the Italian
state was much larger than the king or his ministers had imagined
three years earlier, when they had hatched their plot with the French
emperor, two big holes remained. Rome and the region around it were
still in the pope"s hands and, in the Northeast, Veneto and its capital,
Venice, were still under Austrian control.

Faced with the demise of most of his earthly domain, Pius IX struck
back as best he could. Rebuffing Victor Emmanuel"s attempts to negotiate,
the pope, in an encyclical in January 1860, demanded the "pure
and simple restitution" of the Papal States, excommunicated all those
guilty of usurping the papal lands, and voiced his belief that God
would not long allow the outrage to stand. The days of a unified Italian
state, he was sure, were numbered.1

Yet the unification of Italy under the Savoyard king left many of Italy"s
most ardent nationalists unhappy. Mazzini, a principled opponent
of monarchy and a committed republican, had been willing to hold his
nose during the battle against the Austrians because he believed that
the first priority should be driving the foreigners out of the peninsula.
But the situation had changed. His already dim view of the monarchy
got even dimmer when it became clear that the new government had
no immediate plan to take Rome. For the nationalists, an Italian state
without Rome as its capital was inconceivable.

In 1862 Garibaldi, the peripatetic Hero of Two Worlds — so called
because of his exploits in South America — again tried to force the
king"s hand by summoning his motley army of red shirts for a march
on Rome. Gathering his forces in Sicily, the scene of his triumphs two
years earlier, he prepared for the march north into the Holy City, leaving
the Savoyard king and his ministers in a painful quandary. They
could hardly allow a private army to march across the country, nor
were they prepared to turn against the French, whose troops were
guarding the pope. Yet, realizing that Garibaldi was far more popular
than anyone in the government — more popular than the king himself
— they feared sending the army against him.

After much hand-wringing, the Italian leaders decided that they had
no choice. Garibaldi had to be stopped. A contingent of Italian troops
caught up with the red shirts at the edge of a mountain forest in southern
Calabria, at Aspromonte. Thinking that the approaching Italian
colonel had come to talk, Garibaldi told his men not to shoot. But the
Italian troops opened .re. In the resulting carnage, a bullet shattered
Garibaldi"s foot, a wound that plagued him for the rest of his life. Some
of his red shirts were killed, others injured, and not a few were seized
and then summarily executed, charged with having deserted the regular

Aspromonte sent shock waves through the peninsula. Italy"s greatest
hero had been shot and crippled by the Italian army, acting on the
king"s orders, and all because he had had the courage to risk his life in
an effort to claim Rome for Italy.

Meanwhile, in the Holy City, the pope tried hard to buck up his supporters"
sagging spirits. In February 1864, Odo Russell, Britain"s perceptive
— if sometimes acerbic — envoy to Rome, reported that Pius was
eager for the upcoming Carnival celebrations to be as successful as
ever. The partisans of Italianunification responded by calling for a
boycott. The Italianissimi, Russell wrote, "won"t attend the Carnival
and won"t dance, whilst the Papalini or neri ["blacks"; the Roman aristocrats
devoted to the pope were called the black nobility] dance frantically
to show their devotion to the Pope because His Holiness told
some old princesses that he wished the faithful to be gay and happy. In
consequence we saw this winter at the balls given by the pious Papalini
the oldest dowagers attempting to be frolicsome, and old Princess
Borghese, who has scarcely been able to walk for the last half century,
hobbled through a quadrille with Field Marshal Duke Saldanha who
had not danced since the Congress of Vienna, and all this in the name
of religion!"2

Desperate to get the French troops out of Rome — their presence in
the middle of the peninsula an affront to Italian nationalist sentiment
— the Italian government came up with a proposal that it hoped would
take care of the problem, at least in the short run. The resulting agreement,
signed on September 15, 1864, and subsequently dubbed the
Convention of September, called for all the French troops to leave
Rome within two years. In exchange, the Italian government made two
major concessions. It agreed to transfer its capital from Turin to Flor-
ence — a move that in fact did take place the following year — thus
apparently renouncing the nationalist dream of making Rome Italy"s capital.
3 And it promised not only not to attack papal territory, but to
prevent anyone else from threatening it. Napoleon III insisted on this
pledge, for he had to convince the conservative French Catholics that,
in withdrawing the French troops, he was not abandoning the pope.
The Italian government and the king clearly made the agreement in
bad faith. If they could get the French troops out of Rome, they
thought, they would eventually .nd some pretext to annex it.4

In all matters involving relations with other states, the pope relied
heavily on his secretary of state, the powerful and controversial Giacomo
Antonelli. Something of a lady"s man despite being rather ugly,
Antonelli was as arrogant and severe with his underlings as he was solicitous
and charming with foreign diplomats and aristocratic visitors.
One of Pius"s biographers, Adolph Mundt, described him in typically
un.attering terms: "Antonelli is a tall, thin man who wears on his dark,
yellowish face, a savage expression but one that is, at the same time,
demonically astute. His long head resting on his shoulders brings to mind
that of a bird of prey." Antonelli"s biographer, the American Frank
Coppa, while painting a much more positive picture, stresses his lack
of friends, his relentless self-control, and his insistence on formality,
having even his parents and brothers address him as "Monsignor" and
preferring them to refer to him as "His Eminence."5

Returning from a trip to London just after the Convention of September
was signed, Odo Russell was surprised to find that Antonelli
and others of the Curia remained optimistic about the future. The cardinals,
wrote the British envoy, "laugh in anybody"s face who mentions
the departure of the French troops from Rome." When Russell reminded
the prelates that they had, a few years earlier, been similarly
convinced that the Austrians would never leave Lombardy, nor that
Victor Emmanuel would ever dare seize any of the Papal States, they
stood their ground. Napoleon III, they insisted, could never leave the
pope "in a helpless condition to the Piedmontese and the tender mercies
of his subjects, the Catholics of France and of the whole world will
not stand it."6

Antonelli, it turned out, had some reason for his optimism, as Russell
discovered a week later when he again met the secretary of state. As
was often his custom, Antonelli took the British envoy by his arm for a
walk as they chatted. The French emperor, Antonelli told him, had recently
conveyed a message through the papal nuncio in Paris.

"Tell the Pope,"Napoleon had said, "to be calm, to trust in me and to
judge me by my deeds and not by my words."

From this conversation and from other sources in Paris, Antonelli
assured Russell, "it has become evident that the Convention of 15 September
has several meanings, one put upon it at Turin and the other at
Paris publicly and officially, whilst a third interpretation, and the only
correct one, exists in the Emperor Napoleon"s mind. Much as I have
thought about it, I know not what His Majesty"s ultimate plans may
be. . . . But one thing becomes clearer than it ever was before to my
mind, namely that he does not intend Italy to unite."

Russell remained skeptical. Was it really the French emperor"s intention
to see the new Italian state dismantled?

Antonelli tried to explain: "First of all the Convention contains in itself
the destruction of the unity of Italy, for it reserves the Temporal
Power to the Pope and deprives Italy of Rome, and Italy can never be a
united nation without Rome. Secondly, the Convention declares Florence
to be the future capital of Italy, that is, it forms the great political
center of Italy in the north. Now the North did not require any other
capital than Turin while it waited for Rome. The danger to unity is in
the south."7 Had Naples been declared the capital, Antonelli explained,
the South might have been placated. But by making Florence the new
capital, he argued, "the Convention leaves the South free to fall off, separate
and constitute a southern Kingdom." Clearly, said Antonelli, "Napoleon
imposed Florence on the Italians as their capital so that Naples
might be free to act for herself and Italy become a Confederation divided
into three, namely a northern and southern Kingdom and the
Holy See in the center." To make the plan palatable to Victor Emmanuel,
Antonelli added, Napoleon was willing to allow a Savoyard prince,
perhaps even one of the king"s own sons, to become king of Naples.

Antonelli then surveyed the hazards ahead. Napoleon"s true intentions,
he admitted, could not fully be known. But whatever Napoleon
had in mind, the pope would pursue the same path, for he could follow
no other.He would denounce those who sought to take the papal lands
from him, and he would insist on the return of the Papal States.
"In the coming struggle, we may be beaten and submerged," said
Antonelli. "I am the .rst to admit that it is possible, nay, I will say even
probable, but we will do our duty towards the Holy Church like honest
men knowing that when God in his mercy allows these trials to pass
His Church will rise again as she has ever done before and her enemies
will be dispersed and confounded."

On his way home, Russell ran into Prince Altomonte, a former minister
in the court of the deposed king of Naples. Asking the prince what
he thought of the new Italian treaty with France, Russell was surprised
to hear him parrot Antonelli"s view. Napoleon did not want Italy to
unite, he said, and the Convention, by securing the pope"s temporal
rule over Rome and imposing Florence, the capital of northern Italy,
on the Italians, had left Naples free to secede as long as its Bourbon
throne was occupied by a prince of the House of Savoy."8

Such optimism sprang from another source as well, for tensions in
Europe were high, pitting Prussia against Austria and both against
France. The one thing that all of these antagonists shared was an opposition
to the rise of a strong, united Italy that could compete with them
for influence. War seemed imminent, and for those in the Vatican there
was reason to believe — or, at least, to hope — that the belligerents
would see to it that the Italian kingdom was soon cut down to size.
In mid-January 1865, Antonelli discussed just such a prospect in a
conversation with the British envoy. "Like the Pope," Russell reported
in his dispatch to London, "Antonelli hopes in a European war to set
matters right again in the Holy See!"9

Yet, by the time of Russell"s New Year"s audience with the pope the
following year, he found the pontiff — known for his rapid mood
changes — despondent and frustrated.

"How is it," Pius asked him, "that the British can hang two thousand
Negroes to put down an uprising in Jamaica, and receive only universal
praise for it, while I cannot hang a single man in the Papal States without
provoking worldwide condemnation?"

"His Holiness," Russell recounted, "here burst out laughing and repeated
his last sentence several times holding up one finger as he alluded
to hanging one man, so as to render the idea still more impressive."
This and other aspects of their encounter left the British envoy uneasy.
While the seventy-three-year-old pope appeared to be in excellent
health, his conversation, Russell reported, "bore the unmistakable signs
of the approach of second childhood." The pontiff "s ministers feared
his growing irritability and were loath to say anything that might upset
him. And so, Russell concluded, "notwithstanding the proverbial goodness
and benevolence of Pius IX, he seems to inspire them with unreasonable
apprehension and inexplicable terror."10

A few months later the pope was in a better mood, having new reason
to believe that a European war would soon lead to the restoration
of the Papal States. Fighting had begun in June 1866, pitting Austrian
forces against Prussia and Italy. The Italians had joined Prussia in an
attempt to seize the disputed lands held by Austria on the northeast of
the Italian peninsula. But the war was not going well for them, and on
June 24 the Austrians pulverized the Italian army at Custoza, near Verona.
"The war absorbs every other interest," Russell reported from Rome,
"and the success of the Austrians at Custoza fills the Papal party with
unbounded joy."11

But the cardinals" delight was short-lived, for farther north the Prussians
soon overwhelmed Austria"s army. And, embarrassingly for
the Italian king, while Italy"s regular army and navy were both being
routed by the Austrians, Garibaldi, again leading his own army of irregulars,
was scoring a series of impressive victories against them.

On July 10 Russell chronicled the change of mood: Austria"s losses,
he wrote, have "destroyed the hopes entertained, but a few days ago, by
the Papal Government and the Legitimists in Rome. They had prayed
for and hailed the war as their only salvation and had never doubted
that Austrian troops would again occupy the lost provinces of the Pope
and would re-establish Francis II on the throne of Naples."

"I called again on Cardinal Antonelli this morning," Russell reported,
"and found His Eminence looking painfully ill and unusually
excited. "Good God," he exclaimed and struck his forehead with the
palms of his hands, "what is to become of us?" "12

With the Convention"s deadline for the departure of the French
troops from Rome rapidly approaching, some of Pius"s advisers were
urging that he escape from Rome while he could and take refuge in
Austria or Spain.

This was the situation in December 1866 as the French flag was taken
down from Rome"s Sant"Angelo Castle and the last French soldiers
boarded their ships in the papal port of Civitavecchia, bound for

With Rome no longer protected by foreign troops, Victor Emmanuel
and his ministers found themselves in an awkward position. The nationalist
movement had long insisted that Italian unification would be
complete only when Rome was made capital of Italy, and the lack of
popular support for papal rule inside the city was well known. Yet, in
signing the Convention of September, the Italian government had
made itself the guarantor of papal rule in Rome, the king"s honor at

The trick, from the king"s as well as his ministers" point of view, was
to find a way to provoke a "spontaneous" revolt in Rome, which they
could use as a pretext for sending in troops to restore order. To this
end, they were secretly financing a number of subversive groups in the
Holy City. Yet this tactic was proving to be not only frustrating but also
dangerous. It was frustrating because the Romans, disgruntled though
they may have been, seemed none too eager to put their lives at risk by
revolting against papal rule. The pope, after all, still had thousands of
his own military recruits — almost all foreigners — as well as a disreputable,
and greatly feared, force of irregulars that patrolled the streets.
But the government"s plotting was also dangerous, for plans could easily
go wrong. After all, the most likely candidates for the secret subsidies
were revolutionaries who would be pleased to see the Italian monarchy
fall along with the papacy.

In the government"s campaign of deceit and plotting, Garibaldi
came to play a central role. In some ways this was odd, for Garibaldi
despised dissimulation. Undeterred by the disastrous fate of his march
on Rome in 1862, he again deemed the time right for forcing the government"s
hand by leading his army on Rome. While careful to keep a
safe public distance, the king secretly encouraged him, for such an expedition
was exactly the excuse that he needed to justify sending in his
own troops.

Leaving his island retreat of Caprera, off the Sardinian coast, early in
1867, wearing his trademark red shirt and embroidered cap, the sixty-year-
old Garibaldi set off on a European tour to drum up support for
his crusade. He put one of his sons in charge of collecting funds from
wealthy donors while urging patriotic women to sew red shirts for his

In early September, speaking at an international conference in Geneva,
Garibaldi called on the Italian state, on taking Rome, to declare
the papacy "the most noxious of all sects," to end it, and to replace the
Catholic priesthood — an engine of ignorance in his view — "with the
priesthood of science and intelligence."14

Believing, with good reason, that he had the Italian government"s
tacit approval for his assault, Garibaldi returned to Italy and readied
his forces. But early on the morning of September 24, as he was about
to cross into papal territory, Italian troops seized him and escorted him
back to Caprera, where he was effectively placed under house arrest. Italy"s
leaders wanted to use Garibaldi"s capture to show other governments
their good faith in upholding the treaty with France while hoping
that Garibaldi"s bold call for an uprising would prompt a revolt in
Rome. They could then argue that, despite their best efforts, the pope
was not safe in Rome and so justify sending their troops into the Holy

Yet Rome remained embarrassingly quiet. Its people did not revolt.
True to form, Garibaldi soon made a dramatic escape from Caprera,
leaving a friend on his terrace dressed in his clothes and walking with
crutches to imitate him while he ran the naval blockade of his island in
a small boat, his gray beard stained black to help avoid detection. He
made his way to Florence, where, given his immense popularity — only
increased by his latest exploits — the government dared not arrest him
again. Garibaldi prepared his army for the final attack on Rome.

But, in Paris, Napoleon could take no more. Angered by the Italians"
double-dealing, he ordered French troops back into the Italian peninsula
and, on November 3, 1867, they caught up with Garibaldi"s irregulars
at Mentana, a few miles north of Rome. There the red shirts were
routed, 1,600 of them taken prisoner. Although Garibaldi escaped, he
was once again arrested by Italian police. Still afraid to put him on trial,
the government sent him back to Caprera, where he was kept as a virtual
prisoner for the next three years.15

The situation was now anything but stable. French troops were again
patrolling Rome"s streets. They had been gone less than a year.
In early 1868, Odo Russell described the new mood in Rome. The
presence of the French forces, he wrote, "tends to make of Rome a
fortified city and of the Pope a military despot." According to the British
envoy, "the clerical party who rejoice with great joy in their present
turn of fortune and believe in their future triumph, pray devoutly
that general European war may soon divide and break up Italy." The
pope, Russell reported, had himself become almost giddy at the turn of

On March 26 the British envoy had an audience with the pope. With
the return of the French troops, along with his own expanded papal
army, Pius told him, he now had, in proportion to his population, the
largest army in the world. He chuckled at the thought: "If the interests
of the Church ever required it," Russell recalled the elderly pontiff telling
him, "he would even buckle on a sword, mount a horse, and take
command of his army himself like Julius II."16

From the pope"s perspective, the situation was now looking better,
much better. But Pius was by nature an optimist, a disposition that
would be sorely challenged by the events to follow.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Pius IX, Pope, 1792-1878, Leo XIII, Pope, 1810-1903, Garibaldi, Giuseppe, 1807-1882, Roman question, Popes Temporal power, Church and state Italy, Rome (Italy) Annexation to Italy, 1870, Rome (Italy) History 1870-1945