Napoleon's Italy: Desmond Gregory

Napoleon's Italy: Desmond Gregory

Napoleon's Italy: Desmond Gregory

Napoleon's Italy: Desmond Gregory


"This history of Italy under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte draws on primary sources - and a large number of secondary ones - and seeks to present a balanced summary to the conclusions reached by historians. The questions that it aims to answer are, first, what was Napoleon's interest in Italy (he described it as a mistress he would share with no one), and why did it continue to command his special attention until the end of his career? Second, what were his apparent intentions for the future of Italy? Third, what was the impact on Italy of fifteen years of Napoleonic rule?" "This book examines how Napoleon played the democratic and national cards purely to serve his military ends during his brilliant campaign in north Italy in 1796-97. It traces chronologically the history of the Cisalpine republics, the Italian republic, and the kingdom of Italy, for whose creation Napoleon was responsible. Once Napoleon assumed the title of emperor, Italy became for him a forward bastion against Austrian aggression, a colony to be exploited for its rich resources in men and material, a launching pad for the destruction of British power in the Mediterranean and for an assault on the Turkish empire. Italy also opened the path to the resurrection of the empire of Charlemagne, with Rome and second city of it." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


This is largely a work of synthesis and makes no pretensions to originality, though I have not neglected primary sources, mostly printed in the nineteenth century. My reason for writing Napoleon’s Italy is the lack of any book in the English language that deals exclusively with this subject.

There are, of course, numerous books in English about the empire of Napoleon as a whole, about the state of Italy in the Age of the Risorgimento, and about the various men and women whom Napoleon appointed to govern Italy. There are lives of Joseph Bonaparte, Joachim Murat, and Eugène Beauharnais, and of Elisa, Napoleon’s sister. But in French and Italian, there are innumerable books, as well as learned articles on Napoleon’s dealings with Italy, and his special relationship with that country.

I have tried to draw extensively on all these sources and produce a balanced summary of the conclusions reached by historians in answer to the following questions: what was Napoleon’s interest in Italy, and why did it continue to command his special attention to the end? What were his apparent intentions in regard to the future of Italy? They were not consistent and were complex, not simple. and what was the impact on Italy of fifteen years of Napoleonic rule?

The French historian Paul Fleuriot de l’Angle wrote in 1938 that “of all the countries subjected to French rule, Italy remains even today, in the effect it had, the richest and most interesting field of study to explore.… Following on conquest, innovations were made which, more than anywhere else perhaps, modified the political structure of the country”. Another French historian, Fernand Braudel, writing half a century later, joined de l’Angle in his encomium. “Wherever the Napoleonic regime was established [he wrote] laws, customs and minds will retain their mark, notwithstanding [all] the bitterness and hatred aroused by the occupation.”

Not all British historians of modern Italy agree with these claims. the degree and extent of Napoleon’s impact on Italy give ground for discussion. What is, however, beyond dispute is that that impact remains a topic that will continue to fascinate any student of Italy’s history.

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