Le cinque giornate di Milano, Felice Donghi, 1848


The first war of independence was considered “peoples war”. It was determined by the spontaneous uprisings that broke out in various parts of Italy, to spread across Europe. This popular movement was called “spring of the peoples”. The first riots broke out in Sicily against the Bourbons on January 12, 1848, resulting in the division of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies in kingdom of Naples and Sicily.

The revolution in that island was intended to put an end to the rule of the Bourbons who were considered to be outside the island. After the unification of the two kingdoms took place in 1815, the state was represented exclusively by Neapolitan officials. Military control and police of Sicily were in the hands of Neapolitan plenipotentiaries. This situation had led to an increasingly violent rebellion, which then resulted in the riots of January ’48.

Since 1846 in Milan it began the discontent of citizens. The cause was the heavy hand of Josef Radetzky, commander of the troops manning the Lombardo-Veneto, and the presence of soldiers in the army of Croatian origin. In the territories of Croatia, bordering with Dalmatia and Istria, the coexistence of Italian origin populations with population of Slavic origin was somewhat difficult because of the different economic situations of the two ethnic groups, rich landowners and merchants the Italians, farmers and workers the Slavs. This situation gave rise to the movement “Popular Croatian Risorgimento” that was opposed to the Italian Dalmatians. These contrasts in the areas of origin were translated into antipathy and intolerance between the military, Croats of Slavic ethnicity, and civilians of the Lombardo-Veneto.

In 1847 Pope Pius IX appointed the new archbishop of Milan, Carlo Bartolomeo Romilli, Italian, successor of Archbishop Karl von Kaitan Gaisruck, of Austrian nationality. The Milanese interpreted the appointment as a support of the pope to the irredentist will of the majority of the population of Milan. The joy for the appointment of the new archbishop provoked street riots that were opposed by the Austrian troops. One demonstrator died and others were injured as a result of gunshots fired by the gendarmes.

Other clashes followed the so-called “tobacco strike”. The Milanese, wanting to harm the Austro-Hungarian finances, stopped smoking, depriving the treasury of revenue related to heavy imposts hanging over tobacco. Croatian soldiers were sent by Radetzky on the streets to smoke, blowing smoke provocatively in face of citizens. The resulting riots in this behavior caused deaths and injuries among civilians.

On the beginning of 1848 there were movements of rebellion even in major European capitals. In March, rioting broke out in Vienna, where citizens demanded the granting of the constitution, which was granted by Emperor Ferdinand I. Paris was in flames. February 24 King Louis Philippe abdicated allowing the birth of the Second French Republic. Barricades were erected in Berlin.

The Milanese encouraged by what was happening in the other Italian and European cities, counting on the fact that the Austrians were distracted by uprisings in Vienna, decided to rebel against the occupants of the Lombardo-Veneto. The Milanese patriots were divided into three irredentist parties: Republicans, who identified themselves in the patriotic vision of Mazzini, the reformists, against everyone and everything, also wanted a revolution against the King of Sardinia, the most moderate class, identifiable mainly in the nobility, which  would simply be added to the Kingdom of Sardinia.

The protagonists of the revolt were Luciano Manara and Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso representing the first group, Carlo Cattaneo who led the reformists and Gabrio Casati who was the exponent of the urban nobility.

Luciano Manara, a friend of Carlo Cattaneo, was born in Milan in 1825. He had completed his studies at the naval college in Venice. Still very young he had traveled around Europe, stopping in Germany and in Paris, where he met Cristina Trivulzio. He became a follower of Mazzini’s ideas. He had three children, had with his wife Carmelita Fè. Manara was one of the most active in the rebellion against the Austrian presence in Milan.

Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso was born in Milan in 1808. She belonged to one of the noblest families in Milan. She was introduced to the followers of Mazzini from Ernesta Bisi, who had been her drawing teacher, and she had remained friends. She had a great pain, still a teenager, because the father Alessandro Visconti d’Aragona (who had married the mother of Cristina after she was widowed of her first husband, the real child’s father) was jailed for two years after he had participated in the secret society of “Carboneria” motions of 1820-21.  Cristina was regretted the mother began a relationship with a Sicilian nobleman in the meantime that her husband was imprisoned. In 1824 Cristina married Prince Emilio Barbiano of Belgiojoso. The marriage was not happy because the prince, after marrying the rich heiress, spent his time in the arms of various mistress. In 1828 the couple was legally separated, but the prince and Cristina were linked by a deep friendship. Cristina moved to Genoa to escape the resulting chatter to her separation, where she was a guest in the entertainments held by Teresa Doria. After staying in Rome and Naples she stopped for some time in Florence where she attended the patriot Gian Pietro Vieusseux and his literary cabinet. The Austrian police had been informed of the revolutionary associates of Cristina Trivulzio, and therefore was prevented from returning to her native Milan. After a stay in Switzerland, fearing to be classified compulsory to Milan where she was waiting for a trial and possibly the prison, she left for France, passing through Genoa. She was accompanied in Nice, in the carriage, by a friend, shortly after she moved to Paris. Cristina Trivulzio lived for many years in the French capital, always in connection with Italians revolutionary circles. In 1938 she had a daughter, Mary, who officially was registerred as husband’s daughter with whom, despite the separation, she was often in contact. Most likely Maria was the daughter of Francois Mignet, a journalist and historian lover of Cristina. She was in Naples at the outbreak of the Milanese riot. Immediately she went to Milan. 200 Neapolitan patriots left with her to help the Lombard in struggle for Freedom.

Carlo Cattaneo was a member of the federalist current, he dreamed of a federal republic to join all Italians. He was born in 1801 in Milan, he graduated in Pisa and he performed activity of journalist. Cattaneo was a moderate idealist who wished the maximum freedom by Austria, then gradually move to an Italic federation. He collided with the maximalist of patriotic movements for these moderate ideas. He realized that the rebellion of Milan was now unstoppable, he adapted to the ideas of Luciano Manara and Cristina Trivulzio. It is said that one day, crossing a group of young rebels exclaimed: “When the boys are around, the men are home.”

Gabrio Casati was an exponent of the Milanese nobility. He sided with the expulsion of the Austrians peacefully or with the help of the army of Piedmont, and sided for the merger between Piedmont and Lombardy and Veneto under the Savoy crown. Casati was appointed mayor of Milan by the viceroy Ranieri Joseph of Habsburg-Lorraine, son of Leopold of Tuscany. In 1847 he was able to travel to Turin, where he made contact with the House of Savoy, urging the Piedmontese intervention in the matter of the Lombardo-Veneto. During the smoke strike openly he sided with the Milanese, against the provocations of the Austrian soldiers, resurrecting an old ordinance that banned smoking on the street.

The victory of the Paris insurgents with the constitution of the Second Republic and the news that arrived from Vienna of the resignation of Prime Minister Metternich persuaded the Milanese that it was time for an armed rebellion against the occupiers.

On March 18th a peaceful demonstration soon turned into an assault on the government palace. Radetzky was convinced that the threat of his guns was enough to take good the people. He was unprepared when happened the riots. Hastily he took refuge in Castello Sforzesco with all the troops present in Milan, a garrison of about 8,000 men who soon received reinforcements from the military detachments of Lombardy. There were in the castle about a hundred guns ready to fire on the city. Radetzky was anxious to regain the Government Palace, the Cathedral, the Archbishop and all public buildings.

On March 19 the situation for the Austrian troops appeared difficult because, despite that they had the freedom to travel in the various points of the city, the huge number of barricades that the Milanese citizens had built up during the night, around 1000, effectively prevented the circulation. The families had private with all the furnishings putting together such a large number of barricades. The Milanese, in order to move more safety, without the risk of being hit by the gunfire of the Austrians, had broken through the walls of the apartments between adjacent buildings, creating secret ways within blocks of downtown.

The rioters were in possession of very few weapons. They also served the Spanish muskets preserved in museums, halberds of the Scala opera house, sabers, swords, knives butcher. Built spears tying knives on wooden rods. Fabricated rudimentary grenades with gunpowder, nails and short fuses, all in the bags closed with a garter.

In the night between 19 and 20 March a large group of young and old Milanese noble ladies, headed by Princess Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso, arrived in great haste from Naples along with a group of Neapolitan patriots eager to participate in the fighting, climbed the barricades to give refreshment and encourage young rioters. The their contributed so generously gave young Milanese patriots the courage to go to fight in the streets.

On March 20 an emergency council was formed with Carlo Cattaneo, Enrico Cernuschi and Giorgio Clerici to equip the rebels scattered in the city of a coordination and control center. The Committee was the first nucleus of a city government. Balloons were built to transmit messages between the various rebel groups. “Martinitt”, the little guests of the orphanages of city, intervened in the battle as well as the messenger.

At the end of the day Radetzky, who had not seen a way out of the situation in which the troops found, safe at barracks but unable to move, presented a proposal for an armistice to the heads of the rioters.

In the night between 20 and 21 March there were heated discussions between those who wanted to accept the armistice and to request the intervention of Piedmont and who was against it and wanted to go to the bottom in the battle not liking the intrusion of the King of Sardinia.

On March 21, the war council decided to continue fighting until the liberation of the city. A group of insurgents, including Emilio Dandolo, Luciano Manara and Emilio Morosini, managed to conquer the military genius building due to the fire of its door caused by Pasquale Sottocorno. The conquest of the building convinced Radetzky that remain trapped in the city was useless and dangerous.

On March 22 the city was in the hands of the Milanese patriots while the Austrian troops were confined to barracks and in the Castello Sforzesco. The rioters were now armed sufficiently for the help they had received from fellow patriots of neighboring cities and weapons captured to the Austrians. Luciano Manara led an assault decisive in the conquest of one of the gates of the city, Porta Tosa, which was occupied by the rebels. After this episode was called Porta Vittoria. The council of war sent a message to the King of Sardinia Carlo Alberto asking to intervene as soon as possible with his troops. In the evening began the withdrawal of the military led by Marshal Radetzky. The Austrians made their way toward the fortresses of the Quadrilateral among Peschiera, Mantua, Verona and Legnago.

March 23 the end of “War of the people” was marked and the so-called “Royal War” began, with the intervention of the armies of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Papal States, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and Carlo Alberto, who came in Lombardy with his troops, declaring war on Austria. The first Italian war of independence officially began.

Carlo Alberto settled in Milan freed from Milanese people. His main concern was not to defeat the Austro-Hungarians, but to carry out a plebiscite in Milan for the annexation of Lombardy to the Kingdom of Sardinia. April 29, Pope Pius IX, regretting his initiative to bring help to the people of northern Italy under Austrian rule, made a statement against all wars with an ambiguous speech before the Consistory and, therefore, he recalled his troops marching towards Milan and Venice. Ferdinand II took advantage of this statement to queue at the pope’s decision, calling back the Bourbon troops commanded by General Guglielmo Pepe. At the time the expeditionary force was located in Emilia, ready to get to Venice to bring help to the revolutionaries of the city of San Marco. It was at this juncture that Guglielmo Pepe, the old patriot, refused to follow orders of the king, continuing, with soldiers and officers loyal to him, to Venice.

The Savoy troops meanwhile clashed with the soldiers of Radetzky in Peschiera del Garda, conquering the local fortress. The Radetzky reaction came in Curtatone and Montanara, where he defeated the Tuscan formations and in Goito where the same had a setback.

The hesitation of Carlo Alberto, that for these indecision was nicknamed “hesitating King (Re Tentenna)”, with his main interest to organize soon a plebiscite in Milan in favor of his person, made him neglect the military part of his mission. He had no desire to cross the Lombardy to oust the Austrians also from Veneto. On June 10, 1848 was proclaimed the result of plebiscite favorable for annexation to the state of Sardinia with 99% of votes.

The Savoy troops were defeated in battles with the Austrian troops who were in Custoza between 23 and 26 July. On July 29, the Radetzky army crossed the Oglio river and headed for Milan. On August 5, Carlo Alberto, demonstrating its decisiveness, hastened to sign a yield retreating with his army in Piedmont, Milan abandoning to its fate.

The Milanese formed a provisional government, in which Giuseppe Garibaldi played a role, and also formed a committee for the defense of the city to which Mazzini and Cattaneo belonged. The adventure of the Milanese people, betrayed by Carlo Alberto, ended with the Armistice of Salasco on August 9. The shrewd Radetzky allowed all those who wished to leave Milan, thus avoiding the most exposed and compromise people would suffer the inevitable processes of the Austrian Justice, which would end with harsh sentences and executions.

Luciano Manara took refuge in Piedmont where he was appointed Major of sharpshooters. He moved to Rome with his 600 sharpshooters, where he distinguished himself in the defense of the Roman Republic. For his merits he was promoted to colonel on the field. On June 30 he was seriously wounded in the defense of Villa Spada attacked by the French, he died shortly thereafter. His body was at first moved to Switzerland in Vezia, where he was buried in the tomb of the Morosini family. Only a few years later his mother was able to obtain authorization to transfer the mortal remains of his son in Barzanò in the province of Lecco, places of origin of his family.

Princess Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso, after leaving Milan, went to Rome where she participated in the defense of the Republic. She was commissioned to organize field hospitals to the rescue of republican forces engaged in the defense of the city from the attack of the French troops. After Rome she faced a journey that took her to Malta and then in a Turkish village of Asia Minor, near Ankara, where she stayed for five years along with other Italian exiles. In 1855, following an amnesty, she was able to return to his native Milan. He died in 1871, just 63 years, due to his poor health and an assassination attempt that had left serious consequences.

Carlo Cattaneo moved to Castagnola Switzerland. He became rector of the Lyceum of Lugano. He was elected several times member of the Italian parliament but he would never accept the position to not have to make an oath of allegiance to King Vittorio Emanuele II. He died in 1869, was buried in the Monumental Cemetery in Milan.

Gabrio Casati became Turin city and was named Senator of the Kingdom of Sardinia. He was also appointed Minister of Education of the Government La Marmora. He was president of the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy between 1865 and 1870. He died in Milan in 1873.