Lord William Bentinck & the British Occupation of Sicily, 1811-1814

Lord William Bentinck & the British Occupation of Sicily, 1811-1814

Lord William Bentinck & the British Occupation of Sicily, 1811-1814

Lord William Bentinck & the British Occupation of Sicily, 1811-1814

Excerpt

When a Great Power defends a small one in time of war the Great Power often finds it hard not to meddle in the domestic concerns of the small Power. At the same time the Great Power is often less interested in these domestic concerns than the small Power (or the later historian) imagines. The British occupation of Sicily between 1806 and 1815 illustrates both these truths. What is surprising is not that Britain interfered, but that her Governments twice decided to interfere in full and deliberate strength. The first attempt, in 180, came to nothing. The second, in 1811, the Government entrusted to Lord William Bentinck to carry out as Minister to the Sicilian Court and Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. This time the consequences were far beyond what anybody -- Government or envoy -- had had in mind at first.

At the end of 1805 the Court of Naples, for the second time in seven years, abandoned their continental possessions to the French and fled to Sicily. From then on British Governments provided money, troops, and ships to keep the island -- but for Sardinia the only piece of Italian soil outside French control -- in friendly hands. For most of the next six years this was all they cared for. It was a negative policy: the highest stakes lay elsewhere. To people in Sicily, of course, things looked very different, and in particular to the British agents there. A month's voyage separated them from home and left them mostly to their own devices. The problems they faced were thorny and seemed urgent. They distrusted the Court and the Court distrusted them. As the years wore on relations became steadily worse. By 1811, when the British Government made up its mind to intervene, and stuck to its decision, a succession of Ministers and Commanders had long been urging, it to do so.

What made this intervention notable was that it became inextricably mixed with a crisis in the domestic politics of Sicily. The internal struggle that led to the revolution of 1812 could not have taken the course it did without British help; nor could . . .

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