The Place of Italy in Victorian Foreign Policy, 1851–61
The emergence of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 coincided with the point at which Great Britain’s influence as a global power reached its zenith. If the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had seen the English, Scots, and Welsh combine to exert their political, economic, and cultural influence far beyond the tiny island of Great Britain, the nineteenth century saw the British preside over the largest empire the world has ever seen. As the globe’s richest and most powerful state, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland constructed the largest military and mercantile navies, possessed the most progressive agriculture, and boasted the most developed manufacturing industry. The British economy was the strongest and most diverse in Europe, while London occupied a uniquely important position in international commerce as the financial capital of the world. Therefore, as a truly global power, Britain commanded more authority and respect in international affairs than any other country. As a result of this international prestige and influence, the British were able to play a significant role in the unifying of Italy throughout the 1850s and 1860s. This chapter places both the geographical entity of Italy and Italian nationalism within the wider context of British foreign policy. It explores the motives behind British sympathy for the Italian national cause, before surveying the role played by Britain during the Italian crisis that led to the formation of a united kingdom in Italy by 1861.