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Charles Albert

CHARLES ALBERT, KING OF SARDINIA (1798-1849). Born of liberal parents who welcomed the Napoleonic annexation of Piedmont, Charles Albert was educated in France and accepted a commission in Napoleon's army. With the restoration of 1814 he returned to Piedmont, where he made friends with the young liberal aristocrats who planned the May 1821 revolution. He was surely aware of the plot, but it remains unclear how far he was involved in it. When King Victor Emmanuel abdicated in face of the revolt, Charles Albert as regent granted a liberal constitution; but his action was disowned by the new king, Charles Felix, who repressed the revolt and bani shed Charles Albert from the court. He was never thereafter trusted by conservatives, though he regained some credit with them by joining the French army that suppressed the liberal Spanish government in 1823. Upon becoming king in 1831, he continued in this conservative path, signing a military alliance with Austria, showing great enthusiasm for legitimist causes, and harshly repressing liberal plots. After 1840 he gradually resumed contact with moderate liberals and his foreign policy became inc reasingly anti-Austrian; his motive, however, was not liberal conviction, but expansionist ambitions and resentment of Austrian hegemony in Italy. Caution and an innate conservatism long held him back from commitment to the Risorgimento, until the election of Pope IX and the resulting massive growth of national sentiment made a successful challenge to Austria seem possible. On March 4, 1848, he granted the Statuto, a conservative constitution, and, after the outbreak of r evolt in Lombardy, he declared war on Austria on March 23. Initial Piedmontese victories were followed by a crushing defeat at Custozza on July 23-25, 1848, and an armistice with Austria. He was much criticized for this debacle, and with some justice, not only did he display a notable lack of military ability, but, in his preoccupation with assuring the annexation of Lombardy-Venetia to his kingdom, he neglected the chance to inflict a decisive defeat on the Austrians while they were weak and demora lized during the spring. The criticism aroused by his defeat and the rapid rise of radical sentiment in Piedmont, led to resume the war in March 1849, less from any hope of victory, than as the only means to save the prestige of the dynasty and avert a radical revolution. After suffering an even more decisive defeat at Novara on March 23, 1849, he abdicated his throne in favor of his son, Victor Emmanuel II, who might secure better terms from Austria. He went into exile in Portugal, where he died on July 29, 1849. This final sacrifice did much to wipe away the memory of his ineffective conduct of the war and the indecision and legitimist views that had marked his earlier policy, and to establish him as a hero in the eyes of any Italians. Indeed, whatever the weaknesses and ulterior motives of his policy, he had played a decisive role in promoting the Risorgimento and in placing the Kingdom of Sardinia in a position to lead it.
Alan Reinerman

Biblio graphy

Nicolo Rodolico. Carlo Alberto negli anni 1843-1849. (Florence, 1943), is the most thorough treatment of Charles Albert during the revolution, though at times excessively admiring; a more balanced though briefer account is Rosario Romeo. Dal Piemonte sabaudo all'Italia liberale. (Turin, 1963).

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