Historian Dr Michael Morrogh, our July speaker, brought clarity to a complicated series of events leading to a united Italy, writes Lionel Cartlidge
Although I studied history at university it was a long time ago and I had quite forgotten how complex the process of unifying a disparate collection of states, kingdoms and interests proved to be.
A few names emerged from my mental fog: Garibaldi, Cavour, Mazzini and King Victor Emmanuel. Luckily we had Dr Mike Morrogh to cast light in the darkness. I would not describe his presentation as the simplification of Italy but his exposition helped to clarify the roles of the competing interests.
Garibaldi was the determined and exotic character who, with his thousand redshirts, took control of the southern half of the country. The Austrians and the French had a stake in affairs, and local Italian players were represented by the Pope, Rome and the kingdom of Piedmont.
To me, the amazing thing was that with so many competing interests the country was unified at all. Success was achieved only by a combination of military force and compromise. Garibaldi saw off 25,000 Bourbon troops, and Napoleon III defeated the Austrians at Magenta and Solferino in 1859.
However, the real achievement was the ditching of ambitious localism and the aim of many players for a unitary or federal state in favour of a traditional monarchy, with Victor Emanuel of Piedmont crowned king of Italy in 1861.
All of these complexities were explained with clarity, grace and humour by Mike Morrogh, leaving his audience at least a little more knowledgeable than when he began.