At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

The murder of Pellegrino Rossi

Political assassination opened way to creation of Roman Republic


A magazine illustration depicting the murder of  Pellegrino Rossi at the Palazzo della Cancelleria
A magazine illustration depicting the murder of
Pellegrino Rossi at the Palazzo della Cancelleria
One of the key events during the revolutionary upheaval of 1848 in Italy took place on this day in that year when the politician Count Pellegrino Rossi was murdered at the Palazzo della Cancelleria, the seat of the government of the Papal States in Rome.

The event precipitated turmoil in Rome and led eventually to the formation of the short-lived Roman Republic.

Rossi was the Minister of the Interior in the government of Pope Pius XI and as such was responsible for a programme of unpopular reforms, underpinned by his conservative liberal stance, which gave only the well-off the right to vote and did nothing to address the economic and social disruption created by industrialisation.

Street violence, stirred up by secret societies such as Giuseppe Mazzini’s Young Italy movement, had been going on for weeks in Rome and Rossi had been declared an enemy of the people in meetings as far away as Turin and Florence.

Rossi's reforms had failed to address the social and economic problems besetting Rome
Rossi's reforms had failed to address the social
and economic problems besetting Rome
There was also anger in Rome at Pius XI’s decision to withdraw the support of the Papal Army from the First Italian War of Independence, being fought between the the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont) and the Austrian Empire.

On November 15, 1848, Rossi arrived at the Palazzo della Cancelleria to present his plan for a new constitutional order to the legislative assembly. He was warned ahead of the meeting that an attempt would be made on his life but he defied the threat with the words: “I defend the cause of the pope, and the cause of the pope is the cause of God. I must and will go.”

However, as he climbed the stairs leading to the assembly hall, an individual stepped forward and struck him with a cane. Rossi turned towards his attacker and as he did so was set upon by another assailant, who drove a dagger into his neck.

The murderer was said to be Luigi Brunetti, the elder son of Angelo Brunetti, a fervent democrat, acting on the instigation of Pietro Sterbini, a journalist and revolutionary who was a friend of Mazzini. Though members of the Civic Guard were in the courtyard when the attack took place, no one attempted to arrest the count’s killer and when crowds gathered later at the house of Rossi's widow, they chanted ‘Blessed is the hand that stabbed Rossi’.

Giuseppe Mazzini was one of the leaders of the Roman Republic
Giuseppe Mazzini was one of the
leaders of the Roman Republic
The murder spurred the secret societies to foment an uprising against the papal government. The following day, Pius XI was besieged inside the Palazzo del Quirinale by an unruly mob. The pope’s Swiss Guard was able to hold back the mob for a time but when it seemed the crowd was about to disperse, up to 1,000 members of the Civic Guard, the police, and other soldiers marched into the palace’s piazza and opened fire on the palace, including with cannons. Knowing resistance was useless, Pius XI agreed to negotiate with revolutionaries.

Demands were made for a democratic government, social reforms and a declaration of war against the Empire of Austria.  Pius XI had little option but to appoint a liberal ministry, but he refused to abdicate and forbade the government to pass any laws in his name.

In the event, on the evening of November 24, with the help of close allies and his personal attendant, Pius XI escaped from the Palazzo del Quirinale disguised as an ordinary priest, slipping through one of the gates of the city and boarding a carriage that was to take him to Gaeta, a city 120km (75 miles) south of Rome, where the King of the Two Sicilies had promised him a refuge.

Rossi was commemorated with a statue in his native Carrara in Tuscany
Rossi was commemorated with a statue
in his native Carrara in Tuscany
It meant that, for the first time in history, Rome was without a government. Into the void stepped Mazzini, his supporter Aurelio Saffi and the popular Roman activist Carlo Armellini, who formed a triumvirate at the head of a Roman Republic, which was declared officially on February 9, 1849.

The republic put forward some progressive ideas, including religious tolerance and an end to capital punishment, but in the event it was a short-lived revolution. Ironically, it was crushed by a former ally, Napoleon III of France, who had once participated in an uprising against the Papal States but who now, under pressure from the Catholic Church in France, felt compelled to send an army to restore Pius XI to power.

The Romans put up a fight, aided by a Republican army led by Garibaldi, but the city fell in late June and with it the Republic.

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, built between 1489 and 1513, is thought to be the oldest Renaissance palace in Rome
The Palazzo della Cancelleria, built between 1489 and
1513, is thought to be the oldest Renaissance palace in Rome
Travel tip:

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, which is situated between Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Campo de' Fiori, is a Renaissance palace, probably the earliest Renaissance palace to be built in Rome. It is the work of the architect Donato Bramante between 1489 and 1513, initially as a residence for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, who was the Camerlengo - treasurer - of the Holy Roman Church under Pope Sixtus V. It evolved as the seat of the Chancellery of the Papal States.  The Roman Republic used it as their parliament building.

The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the residence in Rome of 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents
The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the residence in Rome
of 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents
Travel tip:

The Palazzo del Quirinale was built in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII as a summer residence and served both as a papal residence and the offices responsible for the civil government of the Papal States until 1870. When, in 1871, Rome became the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy, the palace became the official residence of the kings of Italy, although some monarchs, notably King Victor Emmanuel III (1900–1946), lived in a private residence elsewhere. When the monarchy was abolished in 1946, the Palazzo del Quirinale became the official residence and workplace for the presidents of the Italian Republic. So far, it has housed 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents.

More reading:

Why Mazzini was seen as the hero of the Risorgimento

Garibaldi's Expedition of the Thousand

How Aurelio Saffi became Mazzini's trusted ally

Also on this day:

1905: The birth of band leader Mantovani

1922: The birth of neorealist film director Francesco Rosi

1940: The birth of fashion designer Roberto Cavalli



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