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Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes' Secret Plot to Capture Rome from the New Italian State Hardcover – November 15, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
"Modern Italy was founded... over the dead body of Pope Pius IX," writes Kertzer, author of the National Jewish Book Award–winning The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (also a National Book Award finalist), in this riveting and fast-paced chronicle of the rise of the Italian state and the Vatican's forgotten battle against the nationalists to retain power over Rome. In 1870, Victor Emmanuel II, king of a newly united Italy, sought an agreement with Pius IX in which the pope would rule the Tiber's right bank while the king would govern the left bank. When the pope rejected this arrangement, Italian troops seized power in Rome and Pius IX sought refuge in the Vatican palaces, declaring himself a prisoner. Led by Garibaldi and aided by Catholic France, the nationalists gained control in 1878, and so angered were nationalists at Pius IX that in 1881 protesters almost succeeded in dumping his corpse into the Tiber. The animosity between the pope and the state continued until 1929, when Mussolini and the Vatican signed a concordat in which the Vatican recognized the legitimacy of the Italian state and the Vatican was granted the rights of a sovereign state. Kertzer, given access to newly opened Vatican archives, tells a first-rate tale of the political intrigues and corrupt characters of a newly emerging nation, offers history writing at its best, and provides insight into a little-known chapter in religious and political history. 16 pages of b&w photos, 5 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Another illuminating papal chronicle from the author of The Popes against the Jews (2001).When the Papal States were conquered and Italy was first unified as a nation in 1861, the pope, and consequently the Roman Catholic Church, lost land, influence, and power. Basing his research on recently recovered Vatican documents, Kertzer recounts how both Pope Pius IX and his successor, Pope Leo XIII, colluded with other members of the clergy and with rival European powers in an unsuccessful effort to dismantle the new Italian State and seize Rome. Proclaiming himself a "prisoner of the Vatican" in 1870, Pius IX undertook what would become for himself and subsequent pontiffs a 59-year exile within the confines of the Vatican. Populated with a colorful cast of authentic historical figures, this fascinating slice of papal and Italian history will intrigue and enlighten both scholars and the merely curious. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
David I. Kertzer is Paul Dupee, Jr. University Professor of Social Science at Brown University and is the author of ten books on various aspects of Italian 19th- and 20th-century history. Two of his books, "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara" and "The Popes Against the Jews," treat relationships between Italian Catholics and Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. This work, "Prisoner of the Vatican," recounts the acrimonious relationship between the Holy See and the newly unified kingdom of Italy during the period from Italy's annexation of the Papal States in 1870 until the two adversaries settled their differences in Mussolini's Lateran Treaty of 1929, establishing Vatican City as an independent state.
Contrary to the popular conception of history, the Middle Ages didn't end with the Renaissance in Italy. They lasted until September 20, 1870, when according to Professor Kertzer "Europe's last theocratic government was ended." Kertzer writes that "Modern Italy was founded... over the dead body of Pope Pius IX."
Much has been written of Italian history but very little has been accessible in English dealing with the history of the Italian state. Professor Kertzer, given entry to freshly opened Vatican archives, tells a riveting tale of the political intrigues, international back-room deals, skullduggery and corrupt characters operating on both sides of the conflict.
"Prisoner of the Vatican," based on a copious amount of support documentation, is an historian's account of the Roman Catholic Church's covert attempts to subvert the unification of Italy and retain control of its medieval fiefdom known as the "Papal States," not in ancient times but in the final decades of the nineteenth century. For the fifty years following the seizure of Rome and its adjacent territories (that is, nearly all of central Italy as far north as Bologna) by the newborn Italian state, the Supreme Pontiff was a self-sequestered prisoner within the malarial fog of Vatican City, planning to flee Italy and with foreign military help return as the restored ruler of a full third of the Italian peninsula.
During this time, a fragile Kingdom of Italy was besieged from within and without. At the same time Italian, European and Church history changed forever when the pope had himself declared infallible by a Vatican Council. "Prisoner of the Vatican" takes a penetrating look deep into the workings of the Church in its final failure to reestablish the pope's territorial authority.
In 1870, recognizing the pivotal role played by Catholicism in Italian life and anxious to reach an honorable accommodation with the pontiff, Victor Emmanuel II sought an agreement with Pius IX in which the pope would rule the Tiber's right bank ("the Leonine City") while the king would govern the left bank from what was to become the Italian capital. When the senile, power-mad and apparently manic-depressive pope rejected this arrangement, Italian troops seized power in Rome and Pius IX sought refuge in the Vatican palaces, declaring himself a prisoner. Led by Giuseppe Garibaldi and his army of "Red Shirts" and aided by France, the nationalists finally gained complete control in 1878.
Pius IX repeatedly and publicly advertised his hatred for democracy, free speech and a free press, religious pluralism and other modernizing political forces sweeping Europe in the mid-19th century, and for good reason: a united secular Italy, the dream of Garibaldi and his legions, could only witness the end of papal power and Pius counted as a great blasphemy the modern notion that "Church and state should be separate." A Vatican-inspired and funded campaign of intrigues, assassination attempts on opposing leaders, and soliciting the intervention of France and Austria against the Italian government was initiated and even as such attempts invariably failed, the Vatican promulgated a new doctrine, one that in the end would contribute to its political undoing: that of "papal infallibility."
Vatican scheming against the Italian state continued well after Pius's death, and it was not until after the first World War that a pope lifted the ban against Catholics' serving in Italy's parliament or even voting: The animosity between the pope and the state continued until 1929, when Mussolini and the Vatican signed the Lateran Treaty in which the Vatican recognized the legitimacy of the fascist Italian state and was in turn granted the rights of sovereignty and the stipulation that Catholicism be Italy's sole and official religion.
Professor Kertzer sweeps readers along with a riveting, revelatory and very readable tale. No one who reads "Prisoner of the Vatican" will ever think of Italy, or the Vatican, in quite the same way again.
If the book has any fault at all, it is in the deprecating of the role of Giuseppe Garibaldi and his "Red Shirt" legions as agents of change. In Kertzer's view, the battle for Rome was a trifurcated one, with the sides comprising the King and government of Italy, the pope and his retinue led by a truly fiendish Cardinal Antonelli, and an unpredictable Garibaldi and his followers constituting a "loose cannon" on the field of battle. This reviewer would also liked to have seen more attention given to the role played by Italy's Freemasonry movement - which was very considerable - in the demise of papal dictatorship and the birth of the new unified Italian state. Moreover, Professor Kertzer ends his book with a peculiar couple of paragraphs so anomalous in light of the pattern of facts presented as to seem quite an odd and unreasonable conclusion.
Nonetheless, "Prisoner of the Vatican" is an excellent book, beautifully and engagingly written and very complete in both scope and depth. I strongly recommend it to all students of Italian and Catholic Church history.
But this book is not just another in a long list of Catholic bashers. It is the direct result of the honesty and foresight of John Paul II who flung open the doors to the Vatican library allowing historical researchers access to huge hordes of information hitherto only available to Church academics.
The author, Professor D. I. Kertzer is the provost of Brown University where he holds a distinguished chair in Social Sciences. He is one of the best English speaking authorities on Italian studies today. His initial renowned sprang from his book "The Kidnapping of Edguardo Mortara." Edguardo Mortara was the Elian Gonzales his day and the kidnapping of this 7 year old boy from his Jewish parents by officials of the Papal States in 1858 sparked an international incident, turned many against pope Pius IX and helped embolden the forces for Italian unity. This incident is mentioned only briefly in "Prisoner of the Vatican" but this latter book is obviously an ambitious extension of the former.
The book begins in the 1850s with what I think is far too little explanation of the political ferment that lead to Italian political and territorial unity, but perhaps such social analysis is beyond its scope. It then describes the intersticine conflict of pope Pius IX's Vatican Council (Vatican I) over papal infallibility, King Victor Immanuel's conquest of the Papal States following his unification of the rest of Italy, mostly through popular uprising, and then the military conquest of Rome itself in that year of war, 1870. It describes in great detail how Pius IX then holed-up in the Vatican and portrayed himself to the world as a prisoner despite sincere assurances of safety from Victor Immanuel. The book describes in detail the complex political dance of the major powers of Europe, particularly Austria, France and Germany, around the papal isolation. These powers cared little to liberate the pope from the center of this dance but cared greatly to advance their own position. The result 44 years later was World War I.
Much of the book is long quotes from letters, notes, newspaper articles and decrees of the time; it is very well researched and chronologically organized. Knowing the sensitivity of the subject, Professor Kertzer appears to have kept his interpretation intentionally sparse, allowing the people actually involved to tell the story. This makes the book a bit dry; it is a work for those few eager for doer, date, and detail. The style is straightforward with understated drama, little flourish and a freshman vocabulary. The ending is sudden and somewhat unsatisfying but the story had to stop somewhen.
One cannot understand the second half of the 19th century, the unification of Italy and Germany, pre-World War I France or the evolution of socialist and anarchist movements in Europe without understanding the significance of the pope's unsuccessful attempt to maintain temporal power in Europe. It would be difficult to find a better starting point for inquiry into this complex and until now obscure story than "Prisoner of the Vatican."