|CAVOUR, from Baden-Baden, to Victor Emanuel, July 24,
The ciphered letter which I sent Your Majesty from Plombières could give only a very incomplete idea of the long conversations I had with the Emperor. I believe you will be impatient to receive an exact and detailed narration. That is what I hasten to do having just left France, and I send it in a letter via M. Tosi, attaché at our legation in Berne.
As soon as I entered the Emperor's study, he raised the question which was the purpose of my journey. He began by saying that he had decided to support Piedmont with all his power in a war against Austria, provided that the war was undertaken for a non-revolutionary end which could be justified in the eyes of diplomatic circles—and still more in the eyes of French and European public opinion.
Since the search for a plausible excuse presented our main problem before we could agree, I felt obliged to treat that question before any others. First I suggested that we could use the grievances occasioned by Austria's bad faith in not carrying out her commercial treaty. To this the Emperor answered that a petty commercial question could not be made the occasion for a great war designed to change the map of Europe. Then I proposed to revive the objections we had made at the Congress of Paris against the illegitimate extension of Austrian power in Italy: for instance, the treaty of 1847 between Austria and the Dukes of Parma and Modena; the prolonged Austrian occupation of the Romagna and the Legations; the new fortifications at Piacenza.
The Emperor did not like these pretexts. He observed that the grievances we put forward in 1856 [in Paris, in the conference ending the Crimean War] had not been sufficient to make France and England intervene in our favour, and they would still not appear to justify an appeal to arms. “Besides,” he added, “inasmuch as French troops are in Rome, I can hardly demand that Austria withdraw hers from Ancona and Bologna.” This was a reasonable objection, and I therefore had to give up my second proposition; this was a pity, for it had a frankness and boldness which went perfectly with the noble and generous character of Your Majesty and the people you govern.
My position now became embarrassing because I had no other precise proposal to make. The Emperor came to my aid, and together we set ourselves to discussing each state in Italy, seeking grounds for war. It was very hard to find any. After we had gone over the whole peninsula without success, we arrived at Massa and Carrara [two small duchies owned by the Duke of Modena; under martial law imposed by Austrian troops] , and there we discovered what we had been so ardently seeking. After I had given the Emperor a description of that unhappy country, of which he already had a clear enough idea anyway, we agreed on instigating the inhabitants to petition Your Majesty [i.e. Victor Emanuel] , asking protection and even demanding the annexation of the Duchies to Piedmont. This Your Majesty would decline, but you would take note of the Duke of Modena’s oppressive policy and would address him a haughty and menacing note. The Duke, confident of Austrian support, would reply impertinently. Thereupon Your Majesty would occupy Massa, and the war could begin.
As it would be the Duke of Modena who would look responsible, the Emperor believes the war would be popular not only in France, but in England and the rest of Europe, because the Duke is considered, rightly or wrongly, the scapegoat of despotism. Besides, since he has not recognized any sovereign who has ruled in France since 1830, the Emperor need have less regard toward him than any other ruler.
Once we had settled this first question, the Emperor said: “Before going further we must consider two grave difficulties in Italy: the Pope and the King of Naples. I must treat both of them with some circumspection: the first, so as not to stir up French Catholics against me, the second so as to keep the sympathies of Russia, who makes it a point of honour to protect King Ferdinand.”
I answered that, as for the Pope, it would be easy to keep him in possession of Rome by means of the French garrison there, while letting the provinces of the Romagna revolt. Since the Pope had been unwilling to follow advice over the Romagna, he could not complain if these provinces took the first occasion to free themselves from a detestable form of government which the Pope had stubbornly refused to reform. As for the King of Naples, there was no need to worry about him unless he took up the cause of Austria; but his subjects would be free to get rid of his paternal rule if the occasion offered.
This reply satisfied the Emperor, and we went on to the main question: what would be the objective of the war?
The Emperor readily agreed that it was necessary to drive the Austrians out of Italy once and for all, and to leave them without an inch of territory south of the Alps or west of the Isonzo [River which now forms part of the border between Italy and Croatia]. But how was Italy to be organized after that? After a long discussion, which I spare Your Majesty, we agreed more or less to the following principles, recognizing that they were subject to modification as the course of the war might determine. The valley of the Po, the Romagna, and the Legations would form a kingdom of Upper Italy under the House of Savoy. Rome and its immediate surroundings would be left to the Pope. The rest of the Papal States, together with Tuscany, would form a kingdom of central Italy. The Neapolitan frontier would be left unchanged. These four Italian states would form a confederation on the pattern of the German Bund [Confederation], the presidency of which would be given to the Pope to console him for losing the best part of his States.
This arrangement seems to me fully acceptable. Your Majesty would be legal sovereign of the richest and most powerful half of Italy, and hence would in practice dominate the whole peninsula.
The question of what rulers would be bestowed on Florence [Leopoldo II (1824-1859)] and Naples [Ferdinando II (1830-1859)] was left open, assuming that the present incumbents, Your Majesty's uncle and cousin, would be wise enough to retire to Austria. Nevertheless the Emperor did not disguise the fact that he would like to see Murat return to the throne of his father; and, for my part, I suggested that the Duchess of Parma, at least for the time being, might take Florence. This last idea pleased the Emperor immensely. He appeared very anxious not to be accused of persecuting the Duchess of Parma just because she is a Bourbon princess.
After we had settled the fate of Italy, the Emperor asked me what France would get, and whether Your Majesty would cede Savoy and the County of Nice. I answered that Your Majesty believed in the principle of nationalities and realized accordingly that Savoy ought to be reunited with France; and that consequently you were ready to make this sacrifice, even though it would be extremely painful to renounce the country which had been the cradle of your family and whose people had given your ancestors so many proofs of affection and devotion. The question of Nice was different, because the people of Nice, by origin, language, and customs, were closer to Piedmont than France, and consequently their incorporation into the Empire would be contrary to that very principle for which we were taking up arms. The Emperor stroked his moustache several times, and merely remarked that these were for him quite secondary questions which we could discuss later.
Then we proceeded to examine how the war could be won, and the Emperor observed that we would have to isolate Austria so that she would be our sole opponent. That was why he deemed it so important that the grounds for war be such as would not alarm the other continental powers. Better still if they were also popular in England. He seemed convinced that what we had decided would fulfil this double purpose. The Emperor counts positively on England's neutrality; he advised me to make every effort to influence opinion in that country to compel the government (which is a slave to public opinion) not to side with Austria. He counts, too, on the antipathy of the Prince of Prussia toward the Austrians to keep Prussia from deciding against us. As for Russia, Alexander [II] has repeatedly promised not to oppose Napoleon's Italian projects. Unless the Emperor is deluding himself, which I am not inclined to believe after all he told me, it would simply be a matter of a war between France and ourselves on one side and Austria on the other.
The Emperor nevertheless believes that, even reduced to these proportions, there remain formidable difficulties. There is no denying that Austria is very strong. The wars of the first Empire were proof of that. Napoleon Bonaparte had to fight her for fifteen years in Italy and Germany; he had to destroy many of her armies, take away provinces and subject her to crushing indemnities. But always he found her back on the battlefield ready to take up the fight. And one is bound to recognize that, in the last of the wars of the Empire, at the terrible battle of Leipzig [Oct. 16-19, 1813], it was the Austrian battalions, which contributed most to the defeat of the French army. It will therefore take more than two or three victorious battles in the valleys of the Po or Tagliamento before Austria will evacuate Italy. We will have to penetrate to the heart of the Empire and threaten Vienna itself before Austria will make peace on our terms.
Success will thus require very considerable forces. The Emperor's estimate is at least 300,000 men, and I think he is right. With 100,000 men we could surround the fortified places on the Mincio and Adige [rivers] and close the Tyrolean passes; 200,000 more will be needed to march on Vienna by way of Carinthia and Styria. France would provide 200,000 men, Piedmont and the other Italian provinces 100,000. The Italian contingent may seem little, but you must remember that 100,000 effective frontline soldiers will mean 150,000 under arms.
The Emperor seemed to me to have well-considered ideas on how to make war, and on the role of each country. He recognized that France must have its chief base at La Spezia and must concentrate on the right bank of the Po, until we command the whole of the river and can force the Austrians into their fortresses. There would be two grand armies, one commanded by Your Majesty, the other by the Emperor.
Once agreed on military matters, we equally agreed on the financial question, and I must inform Your Majesty that this is what chiefly preoccupies the Emperor. Nevertheless he is ready to provide us with whatever munitions we need, and to help us negotiate a loan in Paris. As for contributions from other Italian provinces in money and material, the Emperor believes we should insist on something, but use great caution. All these questions which I here relate to you as briefly as possible were discussed with the Emperor from eleven o'clock in the morning to three o'clock in the afternoon. At three the Emperor dismissed me but gave me another appointment at four o'clock to take a drive with him.
At the agreed hour we got into an elegant phaeton [carriage] drawn by American horses. The Emperor personally took the reins, and we were followed by a single servant. For three hours he took me through the valleys and forests which make the Vosges one of the most picturesque parts of France.
Hardly had we left the streets of Plombières when the Emperor broached the subject of the marriage of Prince Napoleon [Prince Napoléon-Jérôme (b. Sept. 9, 1822, Trieste--d. March 17, 1891, Rome), cousin of Napoleon III] and asked what Your Majesty might think of it. I answered that you had been placed in a most embarrassing position when I communicated to Your Majesty the overtures made me by Bixio, because of doubts regarding the importance that he, the Emperor, attached to this matter. I reminded him of a conversation between Your Majesty and him in Paris in 1855 on the subject of Prince Napoleon and his project of marriage to the Duchess of Genoa, so that the whole issue was somewhat perplexing. I added that this uncertainty had increased as a consequence of Your Majesty's interview with Dr Conneau [trusted confidant of Napoleon III], who, when pressed by Your Majesty and myself, had declared not only that he had no instructions, but did not even know what the Emperor thought. I further added that, while wanting to do everything possible, you had a considerable repugnance to giving your daughter in marriage, because she was young and you could not impose an unwelcome choice upon her. If the Emperor strongly desired it, I added, you would not have irremovable objections to the marriage, but still wished to leave your daughter entirely free to choose.
The Emperor answered that he was very eager for the marriage of his cousin with Princess Clotilde, since an alliance with the House of Savoy was what he wanted more than anything else. If he had not instructed Conneau to discuss it, that was because he wanted first to know if such a proposal would be agreeable. As for the conversation with Your Majesty which I had cited, the Emperor first seemed not to remember it, and then after a while he said to me: “I remember quite clearly having said to the King that my cousin had been wrong to ask the hand of the Duchess of Genoa; it seemed wrong that he should speak to her of marriage only a few months after her husband's death.”
The Emperor came back several times to the question of the marriage. Laughingly he said that he might sometimes have spoken ill of his cousin to you, for often he had been angry with him; but that at bottom he loved him tenderly since he possessed excellent qualities and for some time had been behaving in such a way as to earn the esteem and affection of France. “Prince Napoleon,” he added, “is much better than his reputation… he loves to be contrary, but he is witty as well as sensible, and he is warmhearted.” All this is true. That the Prince has intelligence you can judge for yourself, and I can confirm after many conversations I have had with him. That he has judgement is proved by his management of the Great Exhibition [Prince Napoléon-Jérôme had been in charge of the French exhibition at the International Exhibition held in Paris in 1855]. Finally, that his heart is good is irrefutably proved by his constancy toward both friends and mistresses. A man without heart would not have left Paris amid the pleasures of carnival time to make a last visit to Rachel who was dying at Cannes, especially when they had separated four years earlier.
When answering the Emperor I tried not to offend him, yet I took pains to make no commitment. At the day's end when we separated, the Emperor said to me: “I understand the King's repugnance at marrying his daughter so young; nor need the marriage be immediate; I am quite willing to wait a year or more if necessary. All I want is to have some kind of an answer. So please ask the King if he will consult his daughter, and let me know his intentions in a positive manner. If he consents to the marriage let him fix the date. I ask no undertaking except our word, given and received.” With that we parted. Shaking my hand the Emperor dismissed me, saying: “Have the same confidence in me that I have in you.”
Your Majesty will see that I have faithfully followed your instructions. As the Emperor did not make Princess Clotilde's marriage a sine qua non of the alliance, I did not assume the least engagement or obligation. But I beg you to let me express my frank opinion on a question upon which may depend the success of the most glorious enterprise which anyone has attempted for many years.
The Emperor did not make the marriage of Princess Clotilde with his cousin a sine qua non condition, but he showed clearly that it was of the greatest importance to him. If the marriage does not take place, if you reject the Emperor's proposal without good reason, what will happen? Will the alliance be broken? That is possible, but I do not believe it. The alliance will be made. But the Emperor will bring to it a quite different spirit from the one which he would have brought if, in exchange for the crown of Italy which he offers Your Majesty, you had granted him your daughter's hand for his nearest relative. If there is one quality which characterizes the Emperor, it is the permanence of his likes and his dislikes. He never forgets a service, just as he never forgives an injury. The rejection to which he has now laid himself open would be a blood insult, let there be no mistake about it. Refusal would have another disadvantage. We should then have an implacable enemy in the inner counsels of the Emperor. Prince Napoleon, even more Corsican than his cousin, would mortally hate us; the position he occupies, to say nothing of that to which he may aspire, as well as the affection and I would almost say the weakness the Emperor has for him, all this would give him many ways of satisfying his hatred.
Let us not deceive ourselves: in accepting the proposed alliance, Your Majesty and your kingdom bind themselves indissolubly to the Emperor and to France. If the war which follows is successful, the Napoleonic dynasty will be consolidated for one or two generations; if it fails, Your Majesty and your family run the same grave dangers as their powerful neighbour. But what is certain is that the success of the war and its glorious consequences for Your Majesty and your subjects depend in large part on the good will and friendship of the Emperor. If he is embittered against us, the most deplorable consequences could follow. I do not hesitate to declare my most profound conviction that to accept the alliance but refuse the marriage would be an immense political error which could bring grave misfortunes upon Your Majesty and our country.
But I know well that Your Majesty is a father as well as a King; and that it is as a father that you may hesitate to consent to a marriage which does not seem right and which is not of a kind to assure the happiness of your daughter.
Will Your Majesty let me consider this question not with the impassiveness of the diplomat but with the profound affection and absolute devotion in which I hold you?
I do not think people can say that the marriage of Princess Clotilde to Prince Napoleon is unsuitable. He is not a King, to be sure, but he is the first prince of the blood of the first Empire of the world. He is separated from the throne only by a two-year-old child [the Prince Imperial, born to Napoleon III in 1853]. Your Majesty may well have to content yourself with a mere Prince for your daughter anyway, because there are not enough available Kings and hereditary princes in Europe. Prince Napoleon does not belong to an ancient sovereign family, but his father endowed him with the most glorious name of modern times; and through his mother, the Princess of Wurtemberg, he is connected with the most illustrious princely houses of Europe. The nephew of the doyen of Kings, the cousin of the Emperor of Russia, is by no means a parvenu with whom it is shameful to be connected.
But the chief objections which can be made to this marriage lie perhaps in the personal character of the Prince and the reputation which he generally carries. On that subject I repeat with complete conviction what the Emperor said: he is better than his reputation. Thrown very young into the whirlpool of revolutions, the Prince was allowed to develop some very advanced opinions, and this fact, about which there is nothing extraordinary, has made him many enemies. The Prince has since then become quite moderate; but what does him great honour is that he remains faithful to the liberal principles of his youth while renouncing the application of them in any unreasonable or dangerous fashion, and that he has kept his old friends even when they were in disgrace. Sire, a man who when he attains the pinnacle of honour and fortune does not disavow those who were his companions in misfortune, and does not forswear the friendships he had among the defeated, such a man is not heartless. The Prince has braved the anger of his cousin to keep his old loves. He has never given in on this point, nor does he give in now. His generous words at the distribution of prizes at the Poitiers Exhibition are the proof of it. His conduct in the Crimea was regrettable [his nick-name, Plon-Plon, may have referred to his cowardice in that war]. But if he could not stand the boredom and privations of a long siege, still he showed courage and coolness at the battle of Alma. Besides, he will make good on the battlefields of Italy the harm he did himself under the ramparts of Sebastopol.
The private life of the Prince may have sometimes been unsteady, but it has never given occasion for serious reproach. He was always a good son, and though he has angered his cousin more than once, still in serious matters he has always remained faithful and close.
Despite all this, I realize that Your Majesty may still hesitate and fear to compromise the future of your beloved daughter. But would she be more tranquil tied to an ancient princely family? History shows that princesses may be condemned to a sad life when they marry in accordance with propriety and ancient custom. To prove this I need not look far for an example, as I could instance what has happened recently in your own family.
Your Majesty's predecessor, Victor Emanuel I, had four daughters, models of grace and virtue. What became of their marriages? The first, the luckiest, married the Duke of Modena [Francis IV], a Prince who is universally detested. Surely you would not consent to a similar marriage for your daughter. The second married the Duke of Lucca. I need not remind you of the result of that marriage. The Duchess of Lucca was and is as unhappy as it is possible to be in this world. The third daughter, it is true, mounted the imperial throne [Maria Anna married Ferdinand I of Austria], but that was for a husband who was impotent and imbecile, and who was obliged ignominiously to abdicate after a few years. Finally the fourth, the charming and perfect Princess Christine, married the King of Naples. Your Majesty certainly knows the gross treatment which she experienced, and the griefs which brought her to the tomb with the reputation of being a saint and martyr. In the reign of your father, another Princess of Savoy was married, your cousin Philiberte. Is she happier than the others, and would you wish the same fate for your daughter?
These examples show that in consenting to the marriage of your daughter to Prince Napoleon you would have a better chance of making her happy than if, like your cousin or your father, you married her to a prince of Lorraine or Bourbon.
But permit me a last reflection. If you do not agree to this marriage to Prince Napoleon, whom do you want her to marry? The Almanach de Gotha [list of noble families in Europe] will show, as one might have expected, that there are no suitable princes. Religious differences prevent any alliance with most families who reign in countries with similar institutions to our own. Our struggle against Austria, our sympathy for France, makes impossible any marriage with families connected with the Houses of Lorraine or Bourbon. This reduces the choice to Portugal and a few …petty German principalities.
If Your Majesty will deign to meditate on these considerations, I dare flatter myself that you will recognize that as a father you can consent to this particular marriage, and that the supreme interest of the state, the future of your dynasty, of Piedmont, and of all Italy, advise its acceptance.
I beg your pardon for the liberty and the length of this report. In so important a question I could not be more reserved or more brief. The sentiments which inspire me and my motives will be enough to excuse my conduct.
Having had to write this endless epistle on a table at an inn without any time to copy it, nor even to reread it, I beg Your Majesty to be indulgent and forgive what disorder there may be in its ideas and the incoherence of its style. Despite these shortcomings, and because this letter contains a faithful and exact description of the communications which the Emperor made to me, I beg you to preserve it so that on return to Turin I can take notes from it which may serve in subsequent negotiations.
In the hope of being able, at the end of next week, to place at Your Majesty's feet the homage of my profound and respectful devotion, I have the honour to be Your Majesty's very humble and obedient servant and subject.
(Denis Mack Smith, The Making of Italy, pp. 238-247), from
(Il carteggio Cavour-Nigra, Vol. I, pp. 103-110).