Charles Albert

views updated May 11 2018


CHARLES ALBERT (1798–1849), ruled as king of Sardinia-Piedmont from 1831 to 1849.

The future king of Sardinia, Charles Albert, was born on 2 October 1798 into the Savoia-Carignano branch of the ruling house of Savoy, the son of Carlo Emanuele, Prince of Carignano, and Princess Maria Cristina Albertina of Saxony-Courland. His parents were known sympathizers of the French Revolution, hence politically suspect in court circles. They chose to remain in Turin when the court retreated to the island of Sardinia in 1798 after the French annexation of Piedmont. They soon moved to Paris with their infant son and lived there until 1812 on a French stipend of 100,000 francs per year after their assets were confiscated. The father died in 1800; in 1812, mother and son moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where Charles Albert was educated by a Protestant pastor and developed the habits of hard work and self-discipline that made him an austere and aloof figure.

Charles Albert's brief stint as an officer in the army of Napoleon I (r. 1804–1814/15) began and ended in 1814 with Napoleon's defeat. He returned to Turin in May 1814 as heir presumptive to the throne because his distant relatives, King Victor Emmanuel I (r. 1802–1821) and King Charles Felix (r. 1821–1831), had no male descendants. Charles Albert married Maria Teresa, daughter of the grand duke of Tuscany, in 1817. Their firstborn son ruled as Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia-Piedmont (r. 1849–1861) and as first king of the unified kingdom of Italy (r. 1861–1878).

Although Charles Albert was more at ease using the French language, after returning to Piedmont he openly favored the use of Italian at court and gravitated toward Italian literary figures, gestures that were interpreted as showing sympathy for the cause of Italian independence. During the Piedmontese uprising of 1821, while serving as regent after the abdication of Victor Emmanuel I and the temporary absence of Charles Felix, he acceded to the insurgents' demand for a constitution, but that decision was promptly revoked by Charles Felix. Charles Albert left Turin for a period of exile in Florence on his uncle's orders. To regain royal favor and the support of legitimists, Charles Albert volunteered to lead troops against liberal forces in Spain. His performance in Spain rehabilitated him in the eyes of conservatives, angered liberals, and gave rise to the image of Charles Albert as Re tentenna (King Waffle), the indecisive and untrustworthy figure that was the subject of political caricature. His equivocal conduct in 1821 can perhaps be interpreted charitably as an unsuccessful effort by an inexperienced young man to mediate between conservatives and liberals.

Charles Albert inherited the throne at the death of Charles Felix on 24 April 1831. In the first years of his reign, he went out of his way to allay lingering conservative suspicions and stay on Austria's good side. In the years 1833 and 1834, he cracked down hard on the Young Italy movement's network and disrupted its plans for revolution. But once the threat of revolution was past, he abolished feudal privileges in Sardinia, adopted uniform legal codes, introduced an advisory council of state, eliminated internals tolls, encouraged maritime trade, and negotiated commercial treaties with France and Great Britain.

A monarch jealous of his royal prerogatives and a devout Catholic, Charles Albert nevertheless gave secret encouragement to moderate liberals, hinting that he nurtured anti-Austrian feelings and favored Italian independence. When revolution broke out in Austrian-ruled Lombardy, Charles Albert granted a constitution and, on 23 March 1848, marched his army into Lombardy, thus starting Italy's first war of national independence. Desire for territorial aggrandizement played a role, but there were also other motives. Charles Albert was eager to lead the fight against Austria, champion the cause of Italian independence, and was determined to prevent Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872) and other republicans from gaining control of the national movement. Austria's victory over Sardinia-Piedmont and its Italian allies forced Charles Albert to abdicate in favor of his son Victor Emmanuel II on 23 March 1849. He went into exile in Portugal, where he died on 28 July 1849. His most important legacy was the Statuto, the only one of the constitutions granted by Italian monarchs in 1848 that survived the defeat of revolution. It served as the constitution of the Kingdom of Italy from 1861, when the country was unified, to 1946, when a popular vote abolished the monarchy and made Italy a republic.

See alsoCavour, Count (Camillo Benso); Italy; Mazzini, Giuseppe; Piedmont-Savoy; Revolutions of 1820; Revolutions of 1848.


Hearder, Harry. Italy in the Age of the Risorgimento, 1790–1870. London, 1983.

Roland Sarti

Charles Albert, King of Sardinia

views updated May 29 2018

Charles Albert, King of Sardinia

Charles Albert (1798-1849) was king of Sardinia (Piedmont) from 1831 to 1849. He played an important part in liberalizing the institutions of the Piedmont and in starting it on its path as the leader of Italian unification.

Born on Oct. 12, 1798, Charles Albert was the son of Prince Charles of Savoy-Carignano and Princess Albertine of Saxe-Courland, and the cousin of the Piedmontese king Charles Emmanuel IV. In October 1798 the French seized Piedmont, and the entire court took refuge in Sardinia, where Charles Albert spent the first 16 years of his life. In 1802 Charles Emmanuel abdicated in favor of his brother Victor Emmanuel I. On Napoleon's defeat in 1814, the family returned to Turin, the capital of Piedmont, where Charles Albert was given rigorous training to prepare him for the throne.

On Oct. 1, 1817, Charles Albert married the archduchess Maria Theresa of Tuscany. In early 1821 he refused a request by the liberals to participate in a revolt against the reactionary government. On March 10, 1821, however, Turin was taken by the revolutionaries. Their aims were to establish constitutional government in Piedmont and to drive Austrian rule from Italy.

Victor Emmanuel abdicated at once in favor of his brother Charles Felix and named Charles Albert regent. Charles Albert then granted a constitution, but it was revoked when he was forced into exile by Austrian troops, who quickly put down the revolutionary movement. He was allowed to return to Turin, however, after promising to uphold the principles of absolute monarchy.

On the death of Charles Felix in 1831, Charles Albert became king of Piedmont. He promptly manifested considerable administrative ability in reforming the financial system and the army. In 1846, when the apparently liberal Pope Pius IX assumed office, Charles Albert became convinced that a government of broader freedom was needed and issued a decree to that effect. On Feb. 8, 1848, he finally granted the eagerly awaited constitution.

When Milan revolted in March 1848 against its Austrian rulers, Charles Albert also declared war on Austria. But Austrian power was too great, and by 1849 Piedmont was soundly defeated. Forced to accept bitter terms from the victors, Charles Albert believed he could be of no further help to his country and abdicated in favor of his son Victor Emmanuel II. Charles Albert died in a monastery in Oporto, Portugal, on July 28, 1849. The day of Italian liberation was not yet at hand, but it had been brought nearer by his work.

Further Reading

There is almost nothing specific in English on Charles Albert. The most thorough general treatment is in Bolton King, A History of Italian Unity (2 vols., 1899; rev. ed. 1924). The most complete account of the Risorgimento in English is George Martin, The Red Shirt and the Cross of Savoy: The Story of Italy's Risorgimento, 1748-1871 (1969). □

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