Lucy Riall: La Rivolta - Bronte 1860

Lucy Riall
Ed. Laterza, Bari 2012
pp. 354

This essay arises from the discovery, by the author, professor of history at the European University Institute of Florence and at Birkbeck College of the University of London, of the Bronte archive conserved at the State Archives of Palermo. Several versions of the revolt of Bronte of 1860 have been over the years, the year that represented the culminating moment of the Risorgimento.

As the author herself states: "the main purpose of this volume is to reconstruct how Bronte has acquired his unenviable reputation and to help clarify whether or not the revolt deserves his questionable reputation." If, in fact, since the 1860, the violence occurred in Bronte in that year, "on the whole, what happened before and after them is substantially ignored." Yet the [...] 1860 revolt had complex origins. "

During the nineteenth century, the English helped to transform that area and "put it in communication with the outside world, but their presence means that the importance of the history of Bronte is not limited to the famous peasant revolt that occurred in the moment. culminating in the Risorgimento, it contributes to shedding light on the politics of Great Britain towards Italy, as well as on the expansion of the British Empire in the Mediterranean at the peak of its splendor, Bronte shows what happened when these two aspects of British power, among them very different, came to clash in a Sicilian city. "

Let's get to the facts. On 11 May 1860 Garibaldi, who left Genoa with a thousand soldiers, landed in Sicily. "With Garibaldi's actions, the future of Sicily was linked to that of Italy. Thanks to the arrival of the general, what had essentially been an internal revolt against the Bourbons, [...] turned into an event of Italian significance, capable of drastically change the balance of power on the island. " Garibaldi's march in Sicily was a triumphal one. But "the peasant revolt of Bronte spoiled the happy ending atmosphere." Arising from political struggles and social conflicts, on the night of 1 August 1860 there was an insurrection - fomented by the lawyer Nicolò Lombardo - "due to the new administration's failure to implement those agrarian and fiscal reforms that Garibaldi himself had promised to farmers." 10.000 were insurgents and 17 dead, "in what one historian called an orgy of terror" which lasted 6 days. On 6 August, in fact, Garibaldi sent General Nino Bixio to put down the revolt.

Gerolamo Bixio, known by all as Nino, at the time had 38 years, against the 52 of Garibaldi, of which he was considered the right arm. Half of his life had passed into the sea, in the Piedmont Navy and on merchant ships. He left Genoa with Garibaldi, with the "reputation of being a ferocious soldier and an unrivaled man of action," he commanded Lombard, one of the two ships that brought the thousand to Marsala. Reached, while he was near Messina, from the order to head towards Bronte, "from where, as he wrote Garibaldi, news of disturbances that threaten the English properties," he, with 400 men, reached the country the 6 August, early morning. Once there, "Bixio underwent Bronte to martial law." The 5 considered responsible for the uprising, including Nicolò Lombardo, were sentenced to death; a hundred rebels, however, were arrested. Although Bixio was blamed for the ruthlessness of that repression, "we must not forget that at that time the operation [...] was applauded." He, in effect, "found himself in a factional struggle that had escaped all control."

"The thesis of Benedetto Radice, the first historian of the uprising, was that all the problems of Bronte were caused by the presence of the English." In fact, at the time, "the largest landowner of Bronte, owner of about 16.000 hectares, was an Englishman, and the British representatives in Sicily had put pressure on the new government to contain the violence and disturbances in place on the island. more, this Englishman was not an ordinary landowner, but a nobleman, descendant of the greatest British naval hero, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, His was the Bronte duchy, which the Bourbon king had personally granted him in the 1799. " A gift, this, which represented the recognition of the supremacy of the British Navy. Bronte, as indeed Sicily, for the English was a means to achieve a purpose, a place that could serve British interests. "The island in fact, in addition to representing a profitable market for manufactured goods, especially textiles, which British industry produced, it also supplied vital goods for British industry.

In fact, as the author says, "Bronte was a tragedy, but the fault of what happened was neither Bixio nor the English." And though the uprising did not last more than six days, "her fame survived her for a long time."

Gianlorenzo Capano