• O. J. Wright
Part of the Britain and the World book series (BAW)


This book has sought to reveal the extent to which the British leaders of the 1860s and their overseas representatives looked upon the unifying of Italy as an opportunity to forge a ‘special relationship’ with the newly formed state. In an age when British naval power dominated the Mediterranean region—and when their principal rival in that region was France—the prospect of a united Italy was a most welcome strategic boon to British strategists. Moreover, the creation of the Kingdom of Italy as a constitutional monarchy, open to free trade and committed to secularisation, presented the possibility that such a country would look towards Great Britain for guidance as well as friendship. Although there is little evidence that Italian leaders sought British advice, and plenty of evidence that they did not appreciate it when it was forced upon them unsolicited, it is clear that British politicians and diplomatic figures took a keen interest in the Italian state’s development during the difficult decade following the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy. It is also well established that British politicians, and on occasion their representatives in Italy, took it upon themselves to seek to influence that country’s direction. While the British cannot claim to have had any military impact upon either the unifying of Italy between 1859 and 1861, or the preservation of the new state during the extremely challenging events of the 1860s, there was surely a considerable degree to which Britain assisted Italy in establishing itself as ‘the least of the Great Powers’. The fact that the British foreign secretary had offered his country’s endorsement to the unification of northern and southern Italy in 1860, before providing official recognition of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, was significant. From that point onwards, Italy was known in international relations to be the friend of the country which was then not only the world’s wealthiest power but also the dominant naval power in the Mediterranean. The fact that the Italian kingdom was looked upon by the British as one which existed within such an important sphere of British influence can have done it no harm. Neither can the new state be considered to have suffered from the fact that so many people in Britain—from leading politicians to members of the general public—were so enthusiastic about the dramatic events that had come to pass in Italy.

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • O. J. Wright
    • 1
  1. 1.Leeds Beckett UniversityLeedsUK

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