Ricasoli, Bettino

   A wealthy Tuscan landowner who delighted in experimenting with modern techniques in agriculture, Ricasoli took an equally earnest interest in promoting Italian unification. His first venture in this direction was the publication of a newspaper, La Patria (The Motherland), in 1847. He was an active organizer of the Italian National Society in Tuscany and in 1859–1860 emerged as one of the leaders of the Florentine nationalists. Florence rose in support of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in April 1859, and Ricasoli was appointed minister of the interior for Tuscany by the representative of the Sardinian throne, Count Carlo Boncompagni, who was voted dictatorial powers for the duration of the war.
   After the peace of Villafranca in July 1859, Ricasoli took the lead in ensuring that ducal rule was not restored in Tuscany and guided the plebiscite in March 1860 by which Tuscany voted to join the Kingdom of Sardinia. His success in this endeavor made him a political figure of national standing, and when Camillo Benso di Cavourdied unexpectedly in June 1861, King VictorEmmanuel II turned to the energetic and dignified Ricasoli as a replacement. Ricasoli thus became prime minister on 12 June and reserved for himself the portfolios of foreign and interior minister. He soon won the nickname “the Iron Baron.” His government initiated a policy of fierce repression in southern Italy, where disgruntled peasants were in revolt, and established a highly centralized form of local government in October 1861. In February 1862, Ricasoli lost the confidence of the king and was replaced by Urbano Rattazzi. He was out of power until June 1866, when he became prime minister on the day of the outbreak of war with Austria. Ricasoli’s second premiership was dominated by the dismal performance of the Italian army and fleet, which were defeated at the battles of Custoza and Lissa, respectively, and by the decision to block Giuseppe Garibaldi’s advance in the Trentino for political reasons. Ricasoli also ordered the savage repression of a popular uprising against the monarchy in Palermo in September 1866. Hundreds of rebels were shot and thousands arrested, and much of Sicilywas put under martial law until December. In February 1867, Ricasoli’s government was defeated in Parliament over the question of relations with the Church. The king asked Ricasoli to form a new government, but after elections in March 1867, he resigned once more and never again held high office.
   See also Risorgimento.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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