Papal State

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the french domination
restoration and reaction
tensions and unrest
pius ix

The States of the Church (or Papal State from 1815) were the temporal domain of the papacy. They covered a large wedge of central Italy, basically the area of the modern provinces of Lazio, Umbria, Marche, and Emilia-Romagna, which roughly correspond to the old administrative areas of the Patrimonium Petri (Patrimony of Peter), closest to Rome, and of the Legations; Bologna was virtually a second capital after Rome. Although the papacy had held title to much of this area in the Middle Ages, in real terms the States of the Church were a creation of the period between the mid-fifteenth and late sixteenth centuries, as the papacy absorbed essentially independent fiefs, extended the boundary northward, and established administrative control over this formerly anarchic region. Cities, Rome included, had retained their municipal councils dominated by local elites, but these were subject to the control of papal governors, who, from the mid-sixteenth century, were always churchmen. The whole administration of these territories, indeed, became strongly clericalized (that is, run by clergy) from this time. From the mid-sixteenth century the State soft he Church were exploited as a major source of revenue for the papacy. By the eighteenth century, however, the area was increasingly appearing as economically backward, in relative terms, and by the nineteenth century the papacy was in serious financial difficulties.

the french domination

In the summer of 1796, French troops entered the States of the Church and, by the peace of Tolentino of 19 February 1797, the northern regions were ceded to French control, being annexed to the Cisalpine Republic. In January 1798 a French army moved south and received the capitulation of Rome on 10 February. On 15 January a movement of Roman citizens proclaimed the Roman Republic and the fall of the papal monarchy. The Republic lasted until the summer of 1799 under French auspices. The new pope, Pius VII (r. 1800–1823), elected in Venice in 1800, was installed in Rome by the Austrians. The French had withdrawn from Italy in late 1799, but reentered in 1800. In early 1808 they occupied Rome, and the States of the Church were annexed to the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. In July the uncooperative pope was arrested and taken into exile. The northern and Adriatic regions of the states of the church were annexed to the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy, while Umbria, the Patrimonium Petri, and also eventually Rome were annexed to the empire. With the crumbling of the Napoleonic kingdom in northern and central Italy in 1814, Napoleon's brother-in-law Joachim Murat, ruler of the Kingdom of Naples since 1808, attempted to take over the States of the Church as part of an independent policy of political survival. Napoleon riposted by restoring Pius VII to Rome in 1814. The Congress of Vienna in 1815 recognized the papal dominion in its old form, but with a more clearly monarchic title, due in part to the able diplomacy of Pius VII's secretary of state Cardinal Ercole Consalvi (1757–1824). Austria became an overweening protector of the restored regime.

restoration and reaction

The papacy of Pius VII, like the Habsburg governments in Italy, recognized the value of the administrative and legal reforms of the Kingdom of Italy and sought to build on them. Consalvi embarked on a program to modernize and render more uniform the patchwork institutions of the Papal State and, with limited success, to stimulate its commerce and agriculture. The papacy, which in general followed a policy of moderation toward former supporters of the Napoleonic regime, appointed many of its administrators to such posts as were not reserved for churchmen.

Consalvi faced opposition from reactionary "zealots" within the Curia. The elections of Leo XII (1823), Pius VIII (1829), and Gregory XVI (1831), were victories for the zealot party, and Consalvi was dismissed on Leo's accession. Gregory XVI was impelled into reactionary and vindictive policies by the revolts of 1831–1832. From Leo XII's pontificate there was a clericalization of the upper levels of the administration of the Papal State, but, particularly under Gregory XVI, there was also an expansion of officialdom, not least on the technical side, which brought in many laymen from families of a developing commercial bourgeoisie.

tensions and unrest

There was a growing resentment of Roman central control in the northern region of the state, particularly in the more economically advanced Emilia with its capital Bologna, where the old elites, on whom the papal administration relied, were being challenged by social newcomers. The administrative centralization and standardization, pursued especially under Pius VII and Gregory XVI, were alienating factors. Unrest was particularly marked in Emilia and Romagna. In the state more generally, an expanding educated middle class that included officials was intolerant of papal autocracy and of the political and administrative dominance of clergy. From the 1830s public opinion was being formed by a developing press, primarily in Rome and Bologna. The pressure of growing population on resources that were only slowly expanding made for popular misery. There were acute problems of administrative control and policing in the Papal State. After grumbling unrest in the 1820s, the wave of revolutions that swept western Europe from 1830 broke in the Papal State in 1831–1832. An autonomous republic was declared in Bologna, while the Romagna descended into anarchy. There were less serious outbreaks in the south of the state.

pius ix

There were great expectations of change when Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, the former bishop of Imola, was elected to succeed Gregory XVI as

Pius IX in 1846. In 1847 the process of political liberalization began with the initiatives of Pius IX in the Papal State, perhaps precisely because of the exceptional problems of police control there. The early Pius IX should be seen less as a benign liberal than as a hesitant pragmatist seeking to canalize a movement for change that he certainly regarded as threatening. In March 1848 the pope conceded a constitution providing for a lower Chamber elected on an ill-defined but narrow franchise and for an upper house, the Council of State, nominated by the pope. These chambers were responsible for drafting legislation, while ultimate authority lay with the College of Cardinals as a senate. The Chamber that first met in April was composed mainly of liberal moderates with a sprinkling of radical democrats. Censorship of publications other than religious ones was relaxed and entrusted to boards of laymen.

Pius IX lost much of his popular support when he refused in the papal allocution of 29 April to commit the papal army to a nationalist war against Austria. This was exploited by radical-democrat agitators. Following the assassination of the prime minister Pellegrino Rossi on 15 November 1848, the pope fled to Neapolitan territory on 24 November. In Rome, radical democrats took control of the political process and proclaimed a Roman Republic on 9 February 1849.

The papal regime was restored by joint Austrian, Neapolitan, and French intervention in July 1849. The France of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte now became the regime's main protector. Notwithstanding French, Piedmontese, and British urgings to continue liberalization, the pope abrogated the constitution of 1848. The decree of 12 September 1849 instituted an absolutist central government, while allowing significant autonomy to local administrative bodies. The restored regime became a by-word for obscurantism.

In 1859, following the defeat of the Austrian army by the Piedmontese at Magenta in June and the withdrawal of Austrian garrisons from the north of the state, cities there came out in revolt. Provisional governments handed control over to Piedmontese commissioners. In 1860, in order to block the advances of the Italian nationalist leader Giuseppe Garibaldi's Red-Shirt army, the Piedmontese army took over most of the remaining area of the Papal State, leaving to the papacy only Rome and part of the Patrimonium Petri. Notwithstanding the verdict of popular plebiscites, Pius IX refused to accept the annexation of his dominions to the new Kingdom of Italy and became increasingly intransigent. The papal enclave was protected by French garrisons, while the papacy recruited a supposedly international, but mainly French, army of volunteers, the Zouaves, to protect it.

Italian governments of the Right were initially concerned not so much to round off the unification process by annexing the remaining papal territory as to secure the removal of the French garrisons, whose presence gave Napoleon III an unwelcome leverage over Italian affairs. This objective was temporarily achieved by an Italo-French accord of 15 September 1864, but the invasion of the Patrimonium Petri by Garibaldian volunteers in 1867 provoked the embarkation of a new French force. In 1864 governing circles in Italy had hoped that the issue of the papal temporal power would be resolved with time: that the papacy would voluntarily liberalize its regime and bring the institutions of its residual state into line with those of the Italian kingdom, making some sort of fusion possible.

It was largely the papacy's refusal to modify its regime that made a radical solution inevitable. Ultimately, it was pressure from the opposition liberal Left and the growing weight of public opinion that impelled the government toward the final annexation. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the French garrisons were withdrawn. Italian troops invaded the Patrimonium Petri and on 20 September conducted a ritual storming of the walls at Porta Pia, subsequently occupying the city. The papacy's temporal dominion was finally ended, to the joy of the strong liberal movement that had developed in Rome.

See alsoItaly; Pius IX; Risorgimento (Italian Unification); Rome.


Caravale, Mario, and Alberto Caracciolo. Lo Stato Pontificio da Martino V a Pio IX. Turin, 1978. Fundamental.

Coppa, Frank J. Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli and Papal Politics in European Affairs. Albany, N.Y., 1990. A particularly useful study of the reign of Pius IX.

——. The Modern Papacy since 1789. London, 1998.

Kertzer, David I. Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes' Secret Plot to Capture Rome from the New Italian State. Boston, Mass., 2004.

Oliver Logan

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