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

By Saho Matsumoto-Best | Go to book overview

5

Britain and the Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic

The establishment of the Roman republic on 9 February 1849 presented Britain with a dilemma. How should she respond to this new regime? The preferred policy was to attempt to find some way of reconciling the pope with the Roman people by restoring him to power, but at the same time insisting upon the necessity of constitutional government. However it was not easy to achieve this goal because a matter as important as the future of the head of the Catholic Church was clearly not an issue that would be settled simply through negotiations between the pope and his former subjects; it had international ramifications. Due to Pius' request for foreign assistance, the British government was under pressure from the Catholic powers to intervene in Rome in some way in order to restore the pope and to ensure social and political order in the Papal States. Britain however was uncertain about the whole issue of intervention, whether diplomatic or military. Traditionally in this period Britain always hesitated between choosing a policy aimed at encouraging social tranquillity through reform, or one of intervening to suppress internal insurrection in order to avoid a general war in Europe. 1 In this case the British government's choice was even more difficult than usual, for this crisis raised the very real prospect of military confrontation between France and Austria.

The other major issue raised by the establishment of the Roman republic was how to deal with the consequences of the loss of the pope's temporal power. In particular, after Mazzini entered the city of Rome on 6 March, his political, social, financial and religious reforms, based on anti-clericalism, brought forward a number of controversial issues, such as the nationalisation of the property of the Catholic Church. The problem for the British government was not just how to react to these policies but also whether it should take account of the sympathy for the Roman republic's anti-clerical policy of a significant section of the British public.

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1
K. Bourne, The foreign policy of Victorian England, 1830—1902, Oxford 1970.

-111-

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