In this episode, we cover the Napoleonic Wars and the ruinous effect they had on the entire European continent. Colin Oliver joins as guest.
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Tags: Austria, empire, expansion, France, Germany, HI101, history, Holy Roman Empire, monarchy, moscow, Napoleon, politics, Prussia, russia, Spain
I’m glad Colin brought up The Count of Monte Cristo, because that’s pretty much the entirety of my exposure to Napoleon before this episode 😛
You mention that Napoleon came from Italian heritage, but Italy wasn’t a thing yet. What state was “Italy” in at that point?
The Italian city-states that you’d think of from the Renaissance era (Venice, Naples, etc) were all taken over first by the Spanish and then the Austrians (transition was due to the two branches of the Hapsburg dynasty). This was still the case when Napoleon was born, but he made his name in the French army essentially taking these states from the Austrians. The campaign is interesting – he didn’t really have much authorization to do it, but he went for it anyway and told his superiors after it had been conquered. When he became emperor he consolidated the peninsula into a few client kingdoms. They fell into disarray after Napoleon’s defeat, but were out from under foreign influence and would start working toward unification.
Was there a concept of Italian identity across these city-states at the time of Napoleon’s birth?
Not particularly. Centuries before there had been something called the Italic League (15th century) that lasted about 50 years, but that was more a treaty of convenience than friendship and if anything probably prevented earlier unification and left them vulnerable to the Spanish. There was the odd forward-thinking person who was talking about the idea of a unified Italy in the mid-18th century, but they were outliers, not part of a popular movement. The city-states had been the dominant cultural and political institution for so long that people identified with their traditional feudal leaders rather than the peninsula as a whole. The idea of independence was for an independent Milan or an independent Sicily, not a unified Italy. It took the destruction of that system during Napoleon’s campaign to tear down that affinity to a point where most people would identify as Italian rather than of their region, and nearly another century to realize that unification.
Corsica was particularly independent as it was an island and didn’t share any borders, in addition to being swapped between France and Austria. When your overlords keep changing but your neighbors stay the same, you don’t feel Italian; you feel Corsican. Napoleon obviously chose to embrace his French citizenship with zeal, but his neighbors would not have felt particularly Italian – that was just another region off the island where powers wanted to subjugate Corsicans for their own gain.
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