Garibaldi

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Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) - both names pronounced with the stress on the penultimate syllable, dju-ZEP-pe ga-ri-BAL-di IPA: /dʒu ˈzɛp e gar i ˈbɔːld i/, where the second '-a-' has the sound of the vowel in 'bald', 'call' and 'fall', or, in his own language, and for affected English speakers, /gar i ˈbald i/, with the '-a-' of 'shall' and 'can' - was an Italian patriot and a leading figure in the Risorgimento, the nineteenth century movement for the political unification of Italy. In 1860, at the head of a force of about 1000 volunteers, he invaded Sicily, drove out the army of the Bourbon rulers, and then, crossing to the Italian mainland and marching north, captured the Bourbon capital Naples - events which precipitated the unification of Italy under the Piedmontese king Victor Emmanuel II (1820-1878).

Garibaldi was born in Nice and under the influence of the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), whom he first met in 1833, became a committed nationalist himself. He spent much of the two decades after 1833 outside Italy, first as a merchant seaman in the Mediterranean and then in South America, where he received military training and, among much else, played a part in the formation of the modern state of Uruguay.

In 1848, when a wave of revolutions spread across Europe and there were insurrections in a number of Italian cities, Garibaldi returned to Italy and took command of the garrison of the short-lived Roman Republic (February-July 1849), which had been established under the leadership of Mazzini. When the Republic fell, he went back to South America, but in 1854 returned to Italy to serve in the Piedmontese army, where he held the rank of major-general and led a successful Alpine campaign in the war against Austria.

In 1860, angered that the Piedmontese king Victor Emmanuel II had agreed to cede Nice to the French emperor Napoleon III, Garibaldi began to recruit an army of volunteers to thwart the annexation of his native city by the French. However, peasant uprisings having in the meantime broken out in Sicily, he abandoned this plan and decided to use the volunteer force he had assembled and which now numbered rather over a thousand - in Italian this force is usually referred to as I mille ('The Thousand') - to support the rebellion in Sicily. He landed at Marsala on the west coast of Sicily on 11th May, by the end of the month had taken the capital Palermo, permitting the Bourbon viceroy to negotiate the evacuation of his Spanish troops from the city, and after the battle of Milazzo on 20th July and the capture of Messina in the east, was in complete control of the island. (These events provide the setting for Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel Il gattopardo ('The Leopard').) As there had also been insurrections in Calabria and Basilicata on the Italian mainland, Garibaldi decided, against the wishes of the Piedmontese prime minister Cavour, to continue his campaign against the Bourbons by taking his army across to the mainland. The crossing was completed by 21st August, and Garibaldi advanced virtually unopposed as far as the city of Naples, forcing the Bourbon king Francis II to flee.

Cavour, who had not initially been in favour of Italian unification but was keen to regain the initiative from Garibaldi, found a pretext for invading the Papal States (i.e., roughly the modern Italian regions of Lazio, Umbria, Marche, and the southern half of Emilia-Romagna) and defeated the Papal forces at the battle of Castelfidardo on 18th September. Victor Emmanuel joined his victorious army and on 20th October at Teano, near Capua, met Garibaldi, who ceded all the Bourbon territory he had conquered to the king, thus bringing the greater part of the peninsula under Piedmontese rule and effecting the virtual unification of the country. In January 1861 there were elections for the first Italian parliament, and on 17th March Victor Emmanuel was proclaimed king of Italy. The territory of Venice (the Veneto) and the city of Rome were not at this point part of the new Italian state. Garibaldi himself, in 1862 and 1867, raised volunteer forces to take Rome, but neither expedition was successful. The Veneto was eventually ceded to Italy in 1866, and Rome was finally annexed in 1870, thus completing the process of unification. (Since 1929, the Vatican has been an independent city-state under the rule of the Pope wholly within the boundary of Rome.)

Garibaldi was a charismatic figure and his military exploits in Sicily and southern Italy earned him celebrity status throughout Europe - when he visited England in 1864 crowds filled Trafalgar Square to see him. However, he soon became unhappy at the unified state of Italy which he had helped to create. In 1880 he wrote: 'It was a very different Italy which I spent my life dreaming of; not the impoverished and humiliated country which we now see ruled by the dregs of the nation.'

  • Garibaldi's name survives in English as a common noun. A garibaldi - note the lower-case initial letter - may be either
    • a woman's loose blouse with long sleeves. This type of blouse, which became popular in the 1860s, was modelled on the red flannel shirts worn by Garibaldi's volunteers, who for this reason were sometimes known as Red Shirts.
    • a large, oblong-shaped biscuit with a layer of currants in the centre. Biscuits of this type, which formed part of the rations of Garibaldi's volunteers in 1860, were first manufactured in England by Peek Freans in Bermondsey in 1861. They are known colloquially in the UK as 'squashed [or squashy] flies'.
  • There are also two cannon mounted on shipboard carriages in Queen Victoria Square in Hull, outside the Maritime Museum which are known as 'the Garibaldi cannon'. They came from a vessel called the 'Richard and Harriet'. They were lent to Garibaldi by Joseph Armytage Wade (1837-1896), a Hull shipowner and timber merchant, and returned to him when Garibaldi visited Britain in 1864 during his tour of Europe to thank his supporters. (There is no evidence that the cannon were ever actually used on campaign.) They stood in the Pickering Park Museum from its opening in 1912 until 1975, when they were transferred to Queen Victoria Square. (Detail from Hull Museums.)