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Fighting the Risorgimento: foreign volunteers in southern Italy (1860-63)

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Between 1860 and 1863 hundreds of men from all over Europe volunteered for service in the wars of southern 'brigands' on behalf of the exiled King Francis II of Naples. In an attempt to correct the often biased interpretation of this involvement (that was attributed simply to a thirst for adventure, romanticism or even psychological disorder) that coloured the accounts by Italian patriots, this essay suggests the need for fresh consideration. It develops three lines of inquiry that focus respectively on the strong impact of Italian Unification on conservative and Catholic opinion and the ways in which these sources portrayed the struggles of the southern insurgents, the clumsy efforts made by the Neapolitan government-in-exile to recruit volunteers and organize armed expeditions against the former kingdom, and the so-called 'white international' in which the warriors of the counter-revolution were depicted as combatants in conflicts that were both civil wars and at the same time episodes in a much longer international ideological struggle. In this context, the significance of foreign involvement in defence of the Neapolitan Bourbons takes on a significance that goes far beyond its poor military outcome.
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Keywords: Francis II of Naples; Kingdom of the Two Sicilies; Risorgimento; Volunteers; brigandage; counter-revolution; legitimism; white international

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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