The Napoleonic Empire in Italy, 1796–1814: Cultural by Michael Broers (auth.)

By Michael Broers (auth.)

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The question remains, to what extent these learned, civilised men, whether of enlightened outlook or not, were actually able to rule, and this is the prism through which the achievements of the Napoleonic state in Italy acquire their true magnitude. The two great reforming impetuses of the Italian ancien régime were enlightened reform and, before it, the moral, spiritual zeal of the Catholic Reformation. The latter exerted far more influence on Italian life than the former, but neither could move mountains, and neither acculturated the hinterlands, still less were the highland peripheries reduced to direct control by the public institutions of the centre.

There was a strong current of thought in the conservative Enlightenment that the law should, and usually did, embody the collective history and character of the society it served, views expressed most clearly by Montesquieu and Jovellanos. Ancien Introduction: Never the Twain Shall Meet 19 régime Italy reflects this judgement, in that its states offer a bewildering range of legal codes and traditions. The harsh nature of the Piedmontese Costituzioni contrasted with the progressive criminal legislation, strongly influenced by Beccaria, in Tuscany and Habsburg Lombardy.

Thus, the impact of the triennio, as habitually enshrined in the classic historiography, was, in fact, a highly regionalised phenomenon, engaging only Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, at least in the all-embracing, 31 32 The Napoleonic Empire in Italy, 1796–1814 earth-shattering manner so often assigned it. Elsewhere, beyond Bonaparte’s personal fief, the triennio seldom lived up to its title; French occupation was often shorter than three years, and the moment of patriot rule even more fleeting, or absent altogether.

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