The Fallen Eagle

The Orsini Affair

The Orsini Affair

Excerpt from The unexpected heir: the life of Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte
by Leonardo Ferrari

By 1858 the emperor Napoleon III had completely consolidated his power. In his ten years in charge of France he had managed to eliminate most of the internal opposition through new reforms aimed at satisfying the various social classes or more simply with more violent solutions such as exile or imprisonment. His foreign policy (although recent studies tend to underline a certain indecision or ambiguity in some of his decisions, especially regarding the so-called Italian question) had managed to establish good relationships with England and Austria, the two great European powers that had the most reasons to fear the return of Bonaparte family to the throne of France.

The birth of his heir Louis-Napoléon two years earlier had then secured the future of his dynasty and eliminated any risk of a dynastic struggle between the various members of Bonaparte family after his death.


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Propaganda image of the Bonaparte dynasty's continuation with the Emperor, Empress, two Ladies-in-Waiting,
and the infant Prince Imperial in Eugenie's lap

Here is when Felice Orsini enters in the scene. He was an Italian expatriate and by 1858 he had become an extremist among extremists. A former member of the so-called Mazziniani (followers of the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini), his revolutionary activity began during the revolutions of 1848 in the Papal States and in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

At the beginning of 1849 Orsini was elected deputy in the Constituent Assembly of the Roman Republic, in the college of the province of Forlì and he was commissioned to face difficult situations in various cities that were part of the young republic. However his new political career was quickly ended when the intervention of the French army in support of the Pope forced him to flee near the end of the same year.

Even after this failure, Orsini continued with his revolutionary activities in territories under the Habsburg dominion, especially Lombardy and Tuscany. The turning point came in 1854, when he was arrested in Hungary. Although the exact details of the mission for which he was sent there are still unclear, what really matters was his almost immediate arrest and his escape to England after his evasion from the prisons of the castle of San Giorgio with the help of the wealthy Emma Siegmund.

Soon his escape made him a small celebrity in the English political environment, with far-left circles praising him as a hero and revolutionary fighter. The release of his bibliographic works Adventures of Felice Orsini in 1856 and The Austrian Dungeons in 1857 increased his popularity even more but at the same time marked the end of his relationship with Mazzini who suspected Orsini was more interested to his own personal glory than to the liberation of Italy.

It is difficult to say how exactly this fallout influenced Orsini’s subsequent decisions, as this was the same time period when he met Simon François Bernard, a French fourierist [1] who had fled to England after having supported the failed socialist revolution in Paris of June 1848.

These two individuals shared a reputation as dangerous radicals among the most dangerous radicals and a firm belief that moderation was wholly useless in pursuing a revolutionary purpose (in Orsini's case this may also have been partly caused by the refusal of the prime minister of Piedmont Cavour to meet him after his escape from the Austrian authorities) and their meeting was therefore inevitable.

We don’t know exactly what they discussed or how much influence Bernard really had on Orsini's decisions, as neither of them kept any written records of their private meetings and conversations and the confessions obtained during the Paris Trials are of dubious quality, often full of contradictions and probably the result of torture and coercion.

What we know for sure is that between 1857 and 1858 these two individuals met in London and began to identify Napoleon III as their main enemy. As a socialist, Bernard despised the general idea of a monarchy and hated the new emperor for having put an end to the second French Republic in 1852, while Orsini still resented Napoleon III for having crushed the Roman Republic in 1849. He also believed that the ambiguity of the monarch towards Italy was just a deception to take time and to restore the alliance of the first Napoleon with the Habsburgs

It was clear that something needed to be done and soon, especially after the birth of the future Napoleon IV.

Bernard was still in contact with some of his supporters who had managed to escape the crackdowns of the previous years, but he was unable to return to France since he was too well known for his revolutionary activities and opposition to Napoleon III even before he became emperor. He offered his network of contacts to Orsini and to other Italian radicals (Carlo Di Rudio, Antonio Gomez and Giovanni Andrea Pieri) who were unknown or at least not considered a danger by the French authorities.

The four conspirators, having secretly arrived in France towards the end of 1857 with forged British passports, had only to wait for the right opportunity to strike the emperor.

On January 14, 1858, it was announced that Napoleon III and empress Eugenie would have gone that evening to the Opera Le Peletier to attend Gioacchino Rossini's William Tell. It was the perfect occasion for an assassination attempt on the monarch.

The plan of the four conspirators for that evening was to take advantage of the crowd wings around the imperial carriage and to attempt to kill its occupants by throwing bombs against it.

This uncomplicated plan almost immediately encountered obstacles that evening when Pieri couldn’t even get close to the carriage or throw his bomb because he stopped by a guard who recognised him as a man he had arrested years before and was suspicious of his nervous attitude. .

The execution of the plan itself suffered numerous unforeseen events, mainly due to the poor organization of the conspirators. The first bomb was almost completely useless against the steel plates of the carriage. The following two bombs damaged heavily the carriage, but the occupants suffered no harm. For a brief moment, it seemed that the most hurt member of the imperial family would have been the empress who had been thrown unharmed on the sidewalk, albeit covered with the blood of the people outside the carriage who had been collateral victims of the explosions.

For Orsini, it would have been logical to flee since he had been wounded in his cheek by one of his own bombs and the whole city was now well aware of what was happening. [2] Unfortunately, he still had a bomb to throw. The other three explosives had damaged the windows of the carriage enough to allow this last bomb to break the right glass and explode inside the carriage.

The power of the explosion, combined with the presence of nails and other pieces of iron inside the explosive, gave Napoleon III no chance and killed him instantly.

Orsini had just committed the first regicide in France since 1793. Although his plan was successful, Orsini's dream of a third French Revolution would not come true.

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Artistic depiction of the attack against the imperial carriage

*********************************

Excerpt from The rise of the Second Empire by Marc Dubois​


Pure chaos. This is the best definition for the situation of the French government in the morning of January 15, 1858. Orsini's attack had beheaded the French government. The emperor was dead and the empress was in critical conditions after having been hit by the shrapnels caused by the last explosion.

The most immediate consequences of Orsini's actions were the beginning of a series of anti-Italian riots in Paris and in other parts of France by supporters of the late emperor and the immediate order by Justice Minister Ernest de Royer of a series of arrests of all the people who may have supported Orsini [3] or more simply could have taken advantage of the situation, including former president Adolphe Thiers who was arrested in the early hours of January 15, 1858. While this type of purge had already taken place under Napoleon III, especially after 1852, it is indicative of the terror that the French political class felt for the risk of a new revolution. Both the Left and the Right were victims of this crackdown: supporters of the Bourbon monarchy, republicans, socialists and anyone who had been critical of the government in the past could be investigated for any reason at best and arrested for no apparent cause at worst.

Since the heir to the throne was a less than two years old child, it was necessary to name a regent that would have ruled France in his name until he would have reached the major age. With the emperess in a coma and thus unable to take care of her duties, the French succession laws clearly stated that the role should have been fulfilled by one of Napoleon III’s closest relatives: either Jerome Bonaparte, the last living brother of the first Napoleon and former king of Westphalia, or Joseph Bonaparte, son of Jerome and cousin of the late emperor.

In reality, neither of the two options was particularly attractive to the various ministers. Joseph, 74 years old, was considered simply too old and the general belief was that he would have died in a few years, thus restarting the crisis. On the other hand, Jerome was extremely unpopular for his anti- clerical views and for the accusations of cowardice that hung over his head since the Crimean War. [4]

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Jerome Bonaparte and Joseph Bonaparte

There was another reason: the cabinet needed to quickly find a regent for Napoleon IV because the government could not function without it. One of Napoleon III's first actions after his appointment as emperor had been to nominate himself both head of government and head of state of France. Every single minister had to report to him and they needed his approval for every decision. In normal times, Royer's decision to order such a large number of arrests without consulting the rest of the cabinet would have been seen as an attack to the imperial authority and likely would have caused his dismissal. This expecially because the various ministers were only briefed during the emergency meeting following the assassination of Napoleon III after the arrests had already started.

With the emperor being placed in a closed coffin in the Notre Dame Cathedral, this total crackdown was welcomed with widespread approval by the rest of the cabinet.

It is important to note that we do not have any documentation about that reunion, a unique case since the various ministers often took notes during the various meetings. This fact could be easily understood because the content of such conversations could have been considered treason by Joseph Bonaparte and his few supporters. This could also have started a civil war if the cabinet’s decision had been discovered before the ministers had found enough support.

A thing was clear for all of the members of the cabinet: it was a better option having a regent who was a woman and possibly braindead for the rest of her life rather than having Jerome anywhere close to the imperial palace.



[1] Fourierism is the systematic set of economic, political, and social beliefs first espoused by French intellectual Charles Fourier (1772–1837). Based upon a belief in the inevitability of communal associations of people who worked and lived together as part of the human future, Fourier's committed supporters referred to his doctrines as Associationism.

[2] This is the POD. In OTL he decided to flee, leaving behind his last bomb and his gun. He was arrested the following day.

[3] The same happened in OTL before Napoleon III put an end to the riots. ITTL he is dead so both the riots and the crackdowns are worse than OTL.

[4] Indeed his own soldiers nicknamed him "Plon Plon" ( "Fear Lead") for his alleged cowardice in battle and his early return to France turned the public opinion against him.
 

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Since the heir to the throne was a less than two years old child, it was necessary to name a regent that would have ruled France in his name until he would have reached the major age. With the emperess in a coma and thus unable to take care of her duties, the French succession laws clearly stated that the role should have been fulfilled by one of Napoleon III’s closest relatives: either Jerome Bonaparte, the last living brother of the first Napoleon and former king of Westphalia, or Joseph Bonaparte, cousin of the late emperor.
Ok, you are confused:

Joseph Bonaparte will be the last living brother of Napoleon. He was King of Naples and King of Spain but He was not King of Westphalia.

Jerome Bonaparte will be a dead brother of Napoleon and father of Plon-Plon. Also King of Westphalia.

Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte will be Plon-Plon /Napoleon III's cousin /son of Jerome Bonaparte /Prince Jerome or Prince Napoleon or Prince Jerome Napoleon.
 
Curious, this was one of the ideas I was toying with for an Alternate Italian unification. Interesting start, watched!
 
The death of Napoleon III
The death of Napoleon III
The Bourbon Palace,
night of January 14, 1858.


A survivor. If anyone had asked Alexandre Florian Joseph what he saw when he looked in the mirror, this would have been his answer. Granted most of those asking this question were probably hoping for a different answer like "Bastard, who is here only thanks to his father", "Traitor of Poland" (because staying in Warsaw and getting killed by the Russians would have clearly made a difference) or "Man in need of a diet" (mainly his wife), but that was still his opinion about himself.

He had survived the Russians twice. He had survived Algeria. They could make jokes about his mother as much as they wanted, but the emperor, regardless all his flaws, tended to value professional ability more than noble origins. You did not go from Polish exile to Frebch Minister Of Foreign Affairs without knowing how to do your job, and obviously without being able to anticipate and satisfy the wishes of your monarch (even when they didn't make much sense, like his love for Italy or Poland).

So yes, he considered himself a survivor. He had tried to be a patriot as a young man, but after 1830 he had learned a simple lesson: idealism and revolutionary spirit were useless if you were not part of the faction with more guns. The Russians had been excellent teachers in this.

He silently prayed that his survival spirit would have not abandoned him in that moment.

"The emperor is dead." The sentence had been spoken by Achille Fould, minister of state. Or better, Royer had whispered the news into Fould's ear, who had repeated what he had heard with an extremely pale face.

"I mean, are we sure he's dead?". This question came from Jean-Martial Bineau, Minister of Finance

"Please tell me you're talking about the Italian" was Royer's dry reply. "We don't even know where the emperor's nose went. Unless someone wants to proceed with cutting off his head, I don't think we can be more sure that Napoleon III is dead. "

This was the news that no one wanted to hear. Certainly expected and utterly predictable, but anyway terrifying for anyone linked to the current government, like all those present in the room at the moment.

Joseph retraced in his mind the series of events that had brought him to the current situation: from being awakened and taken away from his home by a group of soldiers in the middle of the night, arriving at the Bourbon Palace [1] where he had seen all the members of the cabinet confused like him and finally the arrival of Royer and the announcement of what had happened to the emperor. For a brief moment, he wondered how much Royer had planned his entry simply to make an impression. Obviously this opened the question if he had organised the meeting simply to make sure no one would have learned of the emperor's death and above all no one started acting before him.

"What happened?" He heard himself ask. The sooner he understood what was happening, the better.

Royer looked happy for a second becasue someone had asked that question. After all, it was another opportunity to further control what was happening.

He pulled a piece of paper out of his left pocket with a theatrical gesture, read what appeared to be foreign names (Spanish perhaps?) and then looked up at the other members of the cabinet as if that explained everything. The confusion on the faces of those present led him to continue, perhaps a little embarrassed: “These four individuals are Italian terrorists. By the investigations we have discovered that they are apparently part of an international network of spies who want to end the imperial rule. "

"What?"

“Felice Orsini, Carlo Di Rudio, Antonio Gomez and Giovanni Andrea Pieri. These four individuals are responsible for the death of the emperor. While Orsini was killed in the explosion that ended the emperor's life, the other three men were promptly arrested. Pieri in particular was cooperative, admitting everything we wanted to know, "He seemed particularly proud about what he had just said. “He admitted that he and the other three men arrived here from England a few weeks ago and they managed to hide themselves thanks to a network of agents who report directly to Simon Francois Bernand. I have already ordered to investigate the suspected members of this network ... "

"Arrest you mean?" Adolphe Billault, minister of the Interior, asked angrily

"Well, I imagined it was necessary to act, unless you preferred doing nothing against these radicals."

“I should have been consulted. As minister of the Interior, I must be informed of these kind of decisions, you should have asked for my approval…”

Hearing those words, Jean-Baptiste Philibert Vaillant, minister of war, angrily retorted that his approval was even more important than Billault’s , if Royer had used members of the French army for his arrests and the army was needed anyway to control the situation.

This started a furious discussion among the person attending the meeting regarding who had the authority to decide to approve and whether Royer had really acted in the interests of the empire or not.

Joseph had stopped listening when he realized that Meyer hadn't said anything about the empress. If she was still alive, he would have said this immediately in order to strengthen his position and to show he was still in control of the situation.

Shortly after his heir was born, Napoleon III had got drunk and wasted more than an hour of his time explaining in detail to Joseph how the imperial succession would have worked now that he had finally a son, either to mock him or to help him.

After the emperor’s death (this had caused a chuckle from the emperor and the assurance that he intended to live at least for other twenty years), the law stated that the throne should have passed to his son. If the son had not yet reached the age of majority, it was necessary to form a regency. If the empress was really dead, then the role of regent should have gone to .......

"Oh fuck," he heard himself say, "Not Plon-Plon, God no."

This seemed to put an end to the discussion as several of those present turned their gaze to him. Some seemed were coming to the same conclusions as him, considering the expressions on their faces, but others looked confused.

" Joseph Charles is the only one who can fill the role of regent right now" Joseph began to explain, deciding to ignore that the old decrepit Jerome Bonaparte was another possible option. "We can't let him do that. His ideas will be our end. Considering his support for Italian unification and his anti-Russian policy, we will end up in the war in less than three years. "

Everything he ... the emperor had worked for would have been destroyed in a few years by a liberal coward who was more obsessed with Poland than he had been in 1830.

No, he wouldn't have allowed this.

Royer didn't seem particularly happy he had come to those conclusions. So either he had reached the same conclusions in that moment or he had been already thinking about it since he had seen what was left of the emperor and now he saw before his eyes an obstacle to his plans.

"How is the empress?" The question had come from Eugène Rouher, Minister Of Public Works .

"Well, she's alive." Royer seemed to utter those words with extreme reluctance. "I mean she wasn't in the carriage when it exploded." At that point Royer stopped as if he had said too much.

"Complete the phrase, Royer!" Fauld's anger surprised a little the audience, but most of their attention was focused on the increasingly reluctant Royer.

"She is alive, but not in good conditions. The explosion .... She was too close to the carriage. The left eye is gone. Burns on various parts of the body. The doctors had just started observing her before I had to leave, they said something about her legs but I had more urgent duties…. "

"SHE'S ALIVE!"

“We don't know if she will ever wake up or how she will wake up. It would already be too difficult for a man and the laws clearly state ... "

"We make the laws!" The sudden interruption had come from Fauld, who seemed to have suddenly remembered he was in the leading position among those present in the room. "Where is the Empress? How many guards did you leave there? We have to send more. We have to…"

"We need to make a statement on what happened." This came from Interior Minister Adolphe Billault "We have to take for granted by now that everyone in Paris knows what happened, not to mention neighboring governments. We can control the situation here, but Royer has no way of controlling what is happening in London or Berlin. Am I right Florian? "

Florian just nodded, with the intention to let his colleague speak and see where all this discussion was going to end.

An increasingly irritated Royer quickly replied, “Why do you think I ordered the arrests? "

“Oh, I didn't know your power extended to England as well. " He continued imperturbably “What are you going to do? Surround every embassy in Paris with policemen and prevent anyone getting in and out? Hide the emperor's body and pretend it is still alive? "

"Wait until the situation is suitable to spread the news ..."

Florian decided it was a good moment to act. “It will never be suitable. If you think you can arrest within tomorrow everyone in Paris who has reason to celebrate the death of the emperor, you are deluding yourself. No matter how much you fill the prisons or how much intimidation you use, the rumors will start spreading soon, if they haven't already started. We are like soldiers caught in an ambush. We can't stay forever on the defensive, we have to fight back sooner or later. "

The careful and flattered look he saw on the face of Vaillant made him extremely happy to have chosen those words for the conclusion of his argument.

"Well, this leaves one simple question: why are we still here and we are not doing our job?" Billault said rising from his chair.


*********************************
Somewhere around Paris,
the early morning of January 15,1858

His cousin Pierre. If they had asked Philip to accuse someone, he would have accused him. He had never liked him that much anyway.

"But", he thought while his scared breaths went against the canvas bag they had put on his head, "what if they want to know something about the rest of the hospital?" Perhaps they suspected that they had not done enough to save the emperor (not that much could be done, apart from ascertaining the time of death and wondering where his nose had gone). Maybe it was because there were too many Jews in his hospital, which was actually understandable.

Hey, maybe he could accuse Bernstein, the new anesthetist. Apart from the fact that he considered his work completely useless, he was pretty sure the man was probably a traitor considered the group he belonged to ...

His thoughts were interrupted when he heard stop the carriage on which they had loaded him twenty minutes earlier and the two soldiers who had taken him from his hospital stand up and grab him agai by his arms.

He walked, or rather was pushed, along what he imagined was a corridor, for about ten minutes before they forced him to stop and sit down.

"My cousin Pierre.”, he exclaimed as soon as the sack was removed.

"What?"

Philip turned his gaze towards the direction of the voice, seeing almost nothing. This was probably because the only source of light was a set of candles on the table. He couldn't see much, apart from a table in front of him and the shape of the candlestick in the center. He seemed to see some figures on the other side of the table and perhaps on the sides of the room.

Unable to control himself, Philip continued to speak "Horrible person, he still owes me ten francs since last Christmas, such a person does not respect family duties, let alone national duties ...."

“Is Pierre a colleague of yours? We would need information on your colleagues… ”Said the same voice, suddenly interrupting him.

“Gabriel Bernstein,” he replied without hesitation. “He has been working with me for too long. He is clearly planning something. Maybe it is an international network, I bet it has many contacts with other individuals of his kind throughout Europe, all over the world ... "

"We need another name."

"Eh?"

“Another colleague. Maybe more than one.They don’t even need to work here at the Val-de-Grâce hospital. Specialized in desperate cases. Like being hit by bombs or pieces of carriage .. "

Philip was silent for a second listening to that question. This is because he needed a couple of minutes to compile a short list of his colleagues he didn't particularly like.

And from there, it became more confusing, with many, too many questions about his colleagues and their medical knowledge.

"Well, I'd say it's time to let you meet your next patient." Finally the voice said.

At those words Philip saw the figures on both sides of the room move and the light flooded the room. After a few seconds of disorientation he realized two things: he was in the basement of his hospital and the man he imagined had asked him the questions up to that moment had got up and was approaching him.

“Well, I really appreciate your help. I'm sure you won't let us down. "

Philip was again picked up from his chair by the two guards. To his horror they did not take him from where he had come, but they began to take him in the opposite direction towards the inside of the hospital. His interrogator proceeded before them, talking about what the empire had done for Philip's hospital and now it was time for Philip to show his gratitude.

Philip had no idea what was going on, but he imagined he wouldn't like it.

When they let him into one of the rooms, his worst fears weren’t simply confirmed. No, this was something he hadn't even contemplated as a worst case scenario.

Even with the blankets pulled up to the shoulders and with part of the face covered by bandages, he could recognize the face of the empress, lying on a bed surrounded by other doctors.

"Well," the interrogator said patting him on the shoulder, "I'm sure you have already an idea of what happened to our empress and you also assured me that you have the necessary knowledge and skills to ensure her health. I hope that neither you nor your colleagues will disappoint France. " Having said that he went away.

Philip saw a man moving away from the group around the bed and coming towards him. He recognized him immediately. He was Gabriel.

"Well," his colleague said, approaching him "I would say I was right to give them your name, Philip."

*********************************

Excerpt from In our time of need by Achille Fauld
The heart of France has been hit. What else coul be said? The pain that has now wrapped the entire nation has no end. It is the pain a son feels at the loss of his beloved father and the wife feels when her beloved husband dies. But as any family suffering such a loss, France must remain united and not let stupid divisions and petty rivalries cause conflicts between its members.

The empire will survive this storm despite how many radicals want to hurt this family and how many of our own members prefer to act as traitors rather than to help. The Bonaparte dynasty lives with Napoleon IV, who thanks to the good guidance of his teachers and his family will soon become the new worthy and wise head of the family. Empress Eugenie is now no longer just the mother of the future emperor, but the mother of the entire nation and she will guide all her children to a better future with her wisdom and love.

We must stand together for the sake of France and reject the hateful message of all those who want to use the tragic death of our emperor to destroy our nation and what has been built by our beloved Napoleon III.


*************************

Excerpt from Blood and Iron: The history of Europe in the second half of the 19th Cenury
by Edward Connors
Before the panic, the most common feeling among members of the British government was embarrassment. The news that had begun to leak out of Paris in the morning of January 16 were throwing an ever more critical light on the government of Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston. The fact that not only the perpetrators of the attack had resided for years in London, but also the planning of the attack had been possible in the first place and British citizens [2] had assisted Orsini and his accomplices was a source of considerable embarrassment and political danger for the prime minister.

One of the men who wanted to use this situation for his advantage was Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservatives. The man had a huge advantage compared to the Prime Minister: by pure luck, Ralph Earle, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Disraeli's ally, had been sent to Paris shortly before Orsini attack, in an attempt to influence French politics towards Italy. As soon as it was discovered that an attempt had been made against the French monarch, Earle immediately began sending a series of telegrams to London to inform Disraeli about what was happening.[3]

While the rest of the country woke up with the death of the emperor in the front pages of every newspaper, Disraeli already knew what to do to exploit the situation. In the following weeks, many conservative newspapers like The Standard and The Morning Post began publishing a series of extremely critical articles, where every single aspect of the Prime Minister's politics was in one way or another linked to Orsini’s attack, with particular emphasis on his previous support for the political unification of the Italian peninsula. At the same time, Conservative Party members used every opportunity to attack the government for letting such a conspiracy happen under its nose.

The situation in London did not help Palmerston’s position. After the discovery that an Italian had killed their emperor, many French people resided in London or were there for business reasons had started to cause unrest, with many of them required the British government to imitate Minister Royer and begin to prosecute all suspected terrorists in London. In some cases they began attacking members of the Italian community suspected to have revolutionary sympathies or even buildings that were believed to be meeting places for these revolutionaries. Consequently, members of this community had begun in turn to cause unrest in many cases to defend their properties rather than out of sympathy for Orsini and other revolutionary movements.

Astor_Place_Opera-House_riots_crop.jpg

Depiction of one of the many riots that engulfed London after Napoleon III's death

Clerkenwell, the place of residence for a large part of the Italian community in England, was the site of most of the clashes but in reality no part of the city was safe as many members of the Italian community often organized punitive expeditions in the districts of Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham, where most of London's French residents lived.

Although the prime minister had almost immediately ordered the city police to organize patrols in these areas both to defend them from possible attacks and to stop any punitive expeditions from these areas, this had simply led to a shift of these clashes to other areas of the city.

Palmerston’s refusal to call the army or at least to declare a curfew in the afflicted areas was another reason for criticism from both his political opponents and members of his own party.

The discontent about his inability to manage the crisis was spreading among a large part of the city population, who in many cases interpreted his refusal to apply drastic decisions as a refusal to protect his constituents against radicals and other useless foreigners.

The situation completely worsened with the Sabloinere Hotel's [4] fire around the end of January. While today it has been understood the fire was not of malicious origin, but probably caused by a stove in the kitchens, at that time many believed it was simply another attack against the Italian comunity in London.

After weeks of chaos and violence, the idea of a violent reaction by the italian comunity was not only feared but explicity expected, to the point the ambassadors of France and the various states of the italian peninsula in England decided to hide to avoid falling victims of such reaction.

The fatal error of the government was to overestimate the catholic faith of the italian community. While the government was expecting a violent reaction to the fire, the police had been put in place to protect buildings linked to the Paris government, such as the French embassy.

For this reason the attack to the St Joseph's Church in Highate caught the government completely unprepared. On the morning of 1th February 1858, a group of a dozen of Italians began to attack a group of French churchgoers exiting the church, causing another riot in the middle of the city.

In the end, the slowness of the police to intervene was the cause of the fall of the Earle government rather than the crash itself. The police force could not immediately intervene since most of its members were busy to control other riots in other parts of the city and the policemen in the area were simply not enought to change the situation.

It took nearly an hour for enough policemen to arrive and two more hours for the riots in the area to stop.

This was the determining factor behind the fall of the government. On February 3, 1858 , the prime minister was informed that Thomas Milner Gibson was about to ask for a vote of no confidence against the government and it was more than likely that this vote would have succeded.

Abandoned by his own party and with rumors that Queen Victoria herself was planning to demand his resignation as she feared he was unable to protect her and the rest of the royal family, Palmerson resigned as prime minister on February 5, 1858 [5]. In his place Queen Victoria, who had long distrusted Lord Palmerston, preferred to entrust the task of forming a new government to George William Frederick Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Palmerson’s government.

Ironically, Prussia had the opposite problem: the lack of significant unrest deprived the government of a meaningful pretext to get rid of those individuals who were considered dangerous to the established order.

In Prussia the decision was in the hands of Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig, who had become the unofficial regent of the kingdom following the increasingly poor health of his brother Frederick William IV. Although many members of the Landtag had hoped his short stay in London and his marriage to Princess Augusta could have lead him to take more liberal positions than those of his youth, this hope was almost immediately shattered upon his arrival in Berlin and his proposal of the "Security code of 1858" to protect Prussia's internal security. Although it was introduced in the name of William IV, most of the parliament rightly suspected that his brother was the real mastermind behind the new law.

The content of the security code was so repressive that for years it has been speculated that Ludwig had no intention of actually using it and it was simply a bluff to persuade the parliament to pass other bills of authoritarian nature.

The document not only enstablished the king's right to impose martial law without consulting the parliament, but also his right to dissolve the government if it was unable to guarantee the safety of the monarch. The law also established a suspension of the Habeus Corpus for at least three months in all Prussia and the right of the government to close newspapers whose contents could inspire unrest in the cities of Prussia.

Even accepting the idea the law had been conceived with the idea it wouldn’t be approved, it is unlikely that Friedrick expected such resistance to his proposal. Prussian democracy had been one of the few significant achievements of the revolutions of 1848 and anyone hardly intended to give it up. The bill was fiercely rejected by both houses: most members of the House of Representatives saw the law as an attack to their own rights, and the House of the Lords, where Friedrick perhaps expected to find more support, adopted a similar position with some members afraid that the law would have eventually caused the riots it was intended to prevent. Prime Minister Prince Charles Anthony of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a well-known conservative, went so far to threaten to resign unless the project was abandoned altogether.

austro-prussian-war1866-caricature-prime-minister-otto-von-bismarck-reading-to-king-william-it...jpg

A British political carton, mocking Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig as a cruel tyrant leading his subjects to slaughter

This obviously does not mean that they were opposed to take an iron fist against the radicals. After almost a week of discussion, the two chambers approved a new bill, which did not assign new powers to the royal authority but at least partially restored the right of censorship by establishing that newspapers and personalities supporting radical ideas could be fined for disturbing public peace (often with such exorbitant figures that a possible fine would have bankrupted them). At the same time, those few organizations in favor of a republican regime in Prussia were outlawed.

In the midst of this repressive wave, Russia stood out as the only nation whose government seemed hesitant to embrace this kind of politics. While Tsar Alexander II had already professed interest in reforming the economy and the Russian army following the humiliation of the defeat during the Crimean War, he had nevertheless maintained a certain ambiguity about the idea of a possible liberalization of imperial politics. The death of Napoleon III led him to abandon this ambiguity and to embrace the idea that political reforms were also needed in Russia. The chaos caused in France by the death of the emperor had persuaded the Tsar that an absolute monarchy in the long run was a disadvantage for any state as it left too many social groups dissatisfied and therefore prone to rebellion. The effectiveness of such rebellions could also be easily amplified by the lack in an absolute monarchy of government institutions that could guarantee the functionality of the state in case something would have happened to the monarch.

Unfortunately, the fact that Napoleon III died by the hands of a foreign radical driven by nationalistic ideals, also persuaded the Tsar the reforms should have not included those groups within the empire that still refused to integrate or were simply considered unable to integrate in Russian society and culture.

For this reason, the Tsarist government, often considered one of the most repressive in Europe, limited itself to condemn the incident and to increase the security service for the Tsar.

It is interesting to note that the nation that had the most reason to fear the reaction of the French government was also the one with the calmest reaction. Once informed of what had happened, Camillo Benso di Cavour in fact moved immediately to protect the kingdom of Sardinia from any repercussions for Orsini's actions. The Turin government was one of the first European states to send condolences to Paris for what had happened and to offer full cooperation to capture any accomplices of Orsini in Piedmont.

Even the partial mobilization of the army to prevent unrest similar to those occurring in England, proved to be an unnecessary precaution, given the small number of French in the kingdom.

However, having ensured the internal order of Piedmont was only one of the many problems that the death of Napoleon III would have caused to Cavour. Although it has been confirmed only in the second half of the twentieth century, there were rumors already at the time that Paris and Turin were discussing a possible alliance against Austria. In reality, the emperor was the only one in the French government in favor of this alliance: most members of his government and his own family considered this idea a political suicide as it would cause an irremediable rift with the Habsburg Empire or even a crime against God himself as it placed the Papal State, symbol of the earthly power of the Catholic Church, in danger.

With the emperor dead by the hands of an Italian nationalist, any possibility of this alliance collapsed. In a letter sent by the Prime Minister to King Victor Emmanuel II, it is clear that he himself realized this almost immediately and now he considered the new French government a potential enemy rather than a potential ally. Now with his original project gone up in smoke, Cavour needed a new ally that shared Turin’s rivalry with Vienna and possibly with Paris as well.


[1] In spite of the name, even after the creation of the Second Empire it served as meeting place for The Assembly
[2] From Wikipedia : "He learned about the chemistry of explosives from William Mattieu Williams, whom he met in 1857. More centrally involved were Thomas Allsop and George Jacob Holyoake. Thomas Durell Powell Hodge, a disciple of Orsini to whom he entrusted the care of one of his children, was also implicated".
[3] This happened in OTL.
[4]The Sabloniere was the first place where most Italians used to go as soon as they arrived in London. Almost all of them, in fact, knew no English, and that was one of the few places where they were sure to eat and speak Italian. Giovanni Mazzini was among its guests after he had been forced to flee Italy
[5] In OTL he resigned on 19th february 1858
 
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