(Camillo Benso)


Camillo Benso, Conte di Cavour, known simply to history as ‘Cavour’, was the Prime Minister of Sardinia-Piedmont, and the first Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy. Although he did not favor the idealism of a united Italy, his efforts towards expanding the influence of Piedmont-Sardinia directly affected the outcome of Italian Unification.

Cavour entered the military at an extremely young age, and rapidly discovered it wasn’t going to work. His authority issues and quick mind made him unsuited for military discipline. After resigning his commission with the army, Cavour made a tour of Europe, where he gleaned many new innovative and liberal ideas. Upon his return to Italy, Cavour entered the political theater armed with his new and improved ideas. Through fair means or foul, he made his way to the post of Prime Minister, the premier spot to influence the future of Piedmont-Sardinia. Ironically enough, Cavour did not get along with Victor Emmanuel II, king of Sardinia, or with Mazzini or Garibaldi, the driving forces behind Italian Unification. Cavour viewed the revolutionaries as dangerous to the social order, and they viewed him as a ‘low intriguer’, an insult directly attributed to Garibaldi, with whom Cavour was most in conflict.

Through collaboration with Napoleon III of France, Cavour got Austria to declare war, thereby hoping to rid Italy of Austrian control, and not so incidentally increase Piedmont’s sphere of influence. The attempt at war failed miserably, and Cavour resigned in protest at Victor Emmanuel’s acceptance of Austria’s terms. A year later, he was back as Prime Minister when his replacement resigned.

Garibaldi’s March of a Thousand and attempts to retake Rome and unite Italy caused Cavour no end of headaches. He and Garibaldi played a snatching game, where one attempted to upstage the other; Garibaldi in the name of Italian Unity, and Cavour looking out for the political future and influence of Piedmont-Sardinia. Although Cavour died before he could see the final result of United Italy, he is widely viewed to be a central reason behind the final unification of Italy, regardless of his reasons.

Key events during the life of Conte di Cavour:

Born in Turin during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. Second son of Michele Giuseppe Francesco Antonio Benso, 4th Marquess of Cavour and Count of Isolabella, Baron of the French Empire and his wife Adélaïde (Adèle) Suzanne, Marchioness of Sellon.
Sent to Turin Military Academy. Encountered authority issues.
Enlisted in the Engineer Corps in the Piedmontese-Sardinian army. Studied English, developed liberal tendencies.
Resigned his commission in the army because of boredom and dislike of the new ruler of Piedmont, Charles Albert.
Travelled to Switzerland and spent time among relatives in Geneva. Toured England and Europe before returning to Turin.
Began several initiatives in attempts to solve economic problems in his area. Founded the Piedmontese Agricultural Society.
Revolution in the Sicilies, Cavour enters the political arena, no longer fearing the police.
Earned position as Minister of Agriculture, Commerce and the Navy.
Gained a Cabinet promotion to Minister of Finance by somewhat disreputable means.
Forms coalition with Urbano Rattazzi, brings about fall of the d'Azeglio cabinet in November. King reluctantly accepts him as Prime Minister.
Enters Crimean War alongside Britain and France, in hope of later support of Piedmont's expansion.
Felice Orsini attempts to assasinate Napoleon III of France. Napoleon III begins to explore the possibility of joint operation with Piedmont against Austria.
Napoleon III and Cavour meet in July at Plombières-les-Bains. It is agreed that Piedmont will provoke war with Austria and France will aid. Cavour cedes Nice and Savoy to France, and arranges marriage between Princess Maria Clotilde of Savoy and Napoleon, Prince Imperial of France, without the consent of Victor Emmanuel.
Austria demands Piedmont disarm, causing declaration of war. France mobilizes and comes to Piedmont's assistance.
Napoleon III signs Treaty of Villafranca on July 11th, ending Second War of Italian Unification. Cavour resigns his post in protest.
Cavour reinstated as Prime Minister in January, after the resignation of the La Marmora cabinet.
Cavour's reforms grant Piedmont 800 kilometres of railway track, a third of the total railways in Italy at the time.
Garibaldi leads the March of A Thousand. Cavour attempts to annex Sicily to Piedmont, but Garibaldi won't allow it.
Victor Emmanuel declares the Kingdom of Italy.
Cavour dies of malaria caused by overwork and stress.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
The Liberation of Italy  in  The History of Prussia  by  John S.C. Abbott

Short Biography
Mazzini Italian journalist and political activist who worked for the Unification of Italy and advocated popular democracy throughout Europe.
Garibaldi Led several campaigns in the Wars of Italian Unification. Renowned as a hero patriot of Italy.
Victor Emmanuel II Became first king of a United Italy after Garibaldi handed over control of Naples. Previously Savoyard King of Sardinia.
Pope Pius IX Long serving pope who reigned during the unification of Italy. Famous for Vatican I, papal infallibility doctrine, and Syllabus of Errors.
Napoleon III Nephew of Napoleon, elected emperor of France after revolution of 1848. Deposed after disastrous Franco-Prussian War.