Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846-1851

By Saho Matsumoto-Best | Go to book overview

4

Britain and the 1848 Revolution in Rome

By the end of 1847 British foreign policy towards the papacy had a number of clear aims: to encourage further liberal reforms, to counter Austrian influence and to win papal approval of Britain's policy towards Ireland. All of this was to be achieved by the mission of Lord Minto. However, despite her good intentions, Britain's timing was to prove disastrous, for in 1848 revolutions broke out over almost the whole of continental Europe. This upsurge in revolutionary activity naturally affected the nature of political debate in the Papal States, for the growing demands and strength of the radicals made it far more difficult for Pius to continue with his incremental reform policy. This was not the only difficulty caused by the wave of agitation. In addition the spread of revolution over virtually the whole of the peninsula sparked a surge in Italian nationalism and opposition to the Austrian presence in Italy. This, added to Austria's brutal attempt to suppress rebellion in its Italian possessions, led to calls for a crusade to evict the Habsburgs in which Piedmont played the leading role. The war issue was to cause grave difficulties for the pope, for it raised the question of whether Pius, as head of the Catholic Church as well as an Italian sovereign, could sanction a war against Austria.

The question that faced Britain was how to deal with this changing situation and how in these circumstances to achieve the goals laid down in the autumn of 1847. It was not in British interests to see revolution in Rome, nor was there any wish to see a war in Italy that might lead to an Austro-French confrontation. Therefore British policy was to encourage the pope to pursue constitutional reform, and to attempt to force mediation between Piedmont and Austria. In addition, in order to show support for the pope and to forward British interests in Ireland it was decided to push forward with the diplomatic bill. The problem that arose with this policy was that in the revolutionary atmosphere of the Italian peninsula it proved impossible for Britain to control the course of events.


Pius IX and political reform

As Lord Minto made his way to Rome in the autumn of 1847 one of the key questions facing him and the papacy itself was how the political reform process in the Papal States could be carried forward safely without encouraging unrealistic hopes among the people. Due to the reforms implemented since the summer of 1846 political expectations within the Papal States had

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