FRANCE, ITALY, AND SAVOY.
" NO Sovereign ever succeeded to a grander tradition than Victor Emanuel ; the history of the House of Savoy is the history of grand military achievements and noble illustra- tions; every mountain-side and glen of this picturesque prin- cipality has been associated with the gallant deeds and glories of their race ; and all this, for the sake of vaulting ambition, was to be forgotten,—all the population, whose love and admiration of the princely House had grown with their growth, was to be transferred to a foreign Power?)
Thus writes Lord Lamington, in the August number of the Nineteenth Century, and as the views he expresses touching the relations of Savoy to its present and ancient rulers are shared by many others, it may serve a useful purpose to bring them to the test of history, and show how little foundation they have in fact. The Dukes of Savoy, it is true, were always a strong race ; they have played a noble part in the redemp- tion of Italy, produced many successful warriors and astute politicians, and their history has been illustrated by gallant deeds and great military achievements. It has also been illustrated by disaster and disgrace, bigotry and oppression. Out of Russia, it would be difficult to find a royal House to which, np to the first half of this century, liberty and civilisation owed less than to the descendants of Humbert the White-Handed. Until Charles Albert began the era of reform, and raised the standard of revolt against the ascendency of Austria, the Dukes of Savoy and the Kings of Sardinia were relentless persecutors of Protestantism, enemies of progress and misrulers of their people. It was a Duke of Savoy who, on April 29th, 1539, ordered John Lambert, a citizen of Geneva, to be burnt at the stake for selling heretical tracts. It was a Duke of Savoy (Emanuel Philibert) who, in 1555, caused to be burnt alive, at Chambery, Jean Vernon, Antoine Laborie, Jean Trigallet, Bertrand Bataille, and Jean Girod, for having in their possession "wicked little Bibles in French," and a letter from Calvin, which Vernon had hidden in his stockings. Two years later, the priest Sanguyprivert, convicted of scandal and heresy, was condemned to be sus- pended over a fire for two hours, care being taken that he_ was not burnt to death, and to be • delivered thereafter
to the Inquisition. And these are not a hundredth part of the cruelties which were either ordered, or sanctioned, by a Prince for whom Lord Lamington expresses unbounded admiration. His hideous persecutions were the occasion of Milton's magnificent sonnet, " On the Late Massacre Piedmont," and provoked Cromwell's famous threat that "unless favour were shown to the poor people of God, the English guns should be heard at the Castle of St. Angelo." Even so recently, as forty years ago, the laws of Savoy and Sardinia, if less. atrociously cruel, were no less intolerant than in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In 1840, M. Pache, a Svviss pastor from Morges, in Canton Vaud, while lying on a sick bed at Aix-les-Bains, gave a Protestant tract to his Savoyard nurse, and for this offence he was sentenced to twelve months' imprison- ment and a heavy fine An appeal to the King (Charles Albert), to whom M. Pache was personally known, produced the cold response that the law must take its course. But M. Pache's treatment was merciful compared with that of an unfortunate peasant who, about the same time, was condemned. to two years at the galleys for speaking disrespectfully of the Virgin Mary.
Up to the French Revolution of 1789, and for some time after the restoration, the Kings of Sardinia ruled despotically. But forms of governments are of secondary importance ; the true measure of their quality is the welfare of the governed. Judged by this test, few rules have been worse than that of the Kings of Sardinia in their Cisalpine States. They wasted the substance of their people in foreign wars, and whether their masters gained victories or sustained defeats, the lot of the com- monalty was equally unfortunate. When the King won, they had to support his armies; when he lost, they had to keep his enemies ; and the tax-gatherer was always with them. In the eighteenth century the peasants of Savoy were almost in as evil plight as the peasants of France. They were crushed with tithes, corvees, gabelles, and feudal burdens of every sort. Personal servitude was only abolished in 1751. Even after the reforms introduced by Victor Amadeus II., the condition of the country was wretched almost beyond belief. "In 1781," says Victor de St. Genis, in his "History of Savoy," " the year in which the King abolished custom-houses on bridges and highways, and imposed on meat a tax of two deniers a pound for their maintenance, he introduced into Savoy that Italian pest, the lottery, and so, by offering induce- ments to dissipation, counteracted the favours he had granted to industry. Most of the King's other reforms, being based on monopoly, despotism, and privilege, made ten people discon- tented for every person they satisfied." In addition to their legal burdens, the peasants had to support the exactions of swarms of vagabonds and brigands. The evil grew to such a• pitch that, in January, 1781, the Governor of Savoy organised a general battue in the whole of the seven provinces of the Duchy; "for the pursuit and extirpation of the malefactors who infest the country and trouble the public peace." All the valid men in every parish were armed, placed under the command of old soldiers, and told to seize every vagabond, beggar, and pedlar they could find, as well as every other person " whose appearance they might deem suspicious." Five years later the operation had to be repeated, from which it may be inferred that general battnes are not the most efficient means of preserving public order: The sanitary, social, and religious condition of the country.at this time may be judged from the facts that, in 1790, the Duchy, with a population of hardly 400,000, had 8,800-cretins, 3,000 nobles possessing feudal rights, and 1,300 monks and priests, who were supported by tithes and taxes, and exercised; in religions matters, almost despotic power. No wonder that the first mutterings of the French Revolution were received in Savoy with a thrill of joy. The news of the resistance of the Parliament of Paris to the despotic measures of Brienne 'spread from valley to valley like a train of gunpowder. Bonfires were lit, joy bells rang, and the peasantry were only restrained by fear of the consequences from breaking into open revolt. In June, 1791, there was a conflict between the people and a number of Emigrant French nobles in the streets of Chambery ; and at Thonon, Dr. Desaix (father of General Desaix), and several others,, forced the prison and. freed all the political prisoners whom it contained, a proceed* ing for which they were afterwards hanged in effigy. In September of the following year, when a slender force of French troops entered the Duchy, the Piedmontese retired before them; almost without firing a shot, while the invaders were • every-
where received with transports of enthusiasm. " We are not a conquered people," said the Syndic of Chambery to General Montesquiou, " but a people delivered ;" and when the Assembly of the Allobroges, formed of the Deputies of the six hundred and fifty-eight communes of the principality, met at the capital, they demanded, by an almost unanimous vote, annexation to France, a request which, it is hardly necessary to say, was promptly granted.
The yoke of Napoleon was not light ; the abolition of feudal and ecclesiastical privileges, and the institution of a rational civil code had to be bought by a blood-tax which may well have made the Savoyards regret at times the rule of their ancient Princes. But any lingering sense of loyalty was speedily extin- guished by the proceedings of the restored Victor Emanuel I., who had learnt less even than his friends the Bourbons. He sup- pressed the Code Napoleon by a stroke of the pen, re-established entails and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, restored all the institutions of the ancien regime, and filled every office of importance with Piedmontese employes. Some of the punishments sanctioned by the King were of barbaric severity. In June, 1824, a parricide of the name of Dumontet had his hand amputated, was then led through the streets of Verney, the stump still bleeding, after which he was hanged and his body burnt. The fiscal regulations were even more absurd than the criminal penalties. The King's simple order was sufficient to cancel any debt or abrogate any contract, and orders to this effect were not difficult to obtain. A labourer who worked for a Genevan -employer even for a single day was punished by imprisonment. The export and import of farm produce was subject to a variety • of vexatious regulations. In 1816, when Savoy was suffering from a terrible dearth, the King laid an embargo on the im- portation of corn from Piedmont into the principality, and the inhabitants of the Chablais were saved from absolute starva- tion only by the efforts and benevolence of the citizens
• of Geneva. The Savoyards were made to feel at every turn that their interests were sacrificed to the interests of their Italian fellow-subjects. The only subjects allowed to be taught in the public schools were reading, writing, and arithmetic, the Catholic religion and the Italian language- This was, perhaps, the unkindest-out of all, for Savoy had con- quered Piedmont, not Piedmont Savoy. It was as if one of our Norman Kings had tried to make his Norman subjects learn the English tongue. In the next reign, most of these abuses were swept away, and Charles Albert, under the influence of Cavour, -granted his people a liberal constitution. Nevertheless, the King, by placing himself at the head of the Italian Revolution, forfeited for his successor, if not for himself, the Dukedom of Savoy. The Savoyards were Italians neither by race, language, nor sympathy ; they detested the Piedmontese, and disliked being governed from Turin. Italian unity was nothing to them, and they strenuously objected to sacrificing blood and treasure in order that Italy might be free, and their Prince reign at Rome. The principle of nationalities, evoked in justification of the war against Austria, began to be openly pleaded in support of the annexation of Savoy to France. In 1859, a numerously-signed petition, the first paragraph of which ran as follows, was pre- sented to King Victor Emanuel :—" Sire, the great events which have shed so much lustre on your Majesty's reign are signifi- cant of the new destinies in store for the Italian people. The acts of your Government, the terms of peace which have just been signed, proclaim the foundation of an Italian nationality, limited by the Alps and defined by the language and manners of the races by whom it will be constituted. These definitions, Sire, exclude Savoy. Savoy is not Italian, and never can be. What, then, is the future, reserved for her ?"
• As an argument, this was unanswerable. The Savoyards claimed for themselves no more than the King was claiming for Unredeemed Italy,—the right to choose their own rulers. An attempt was made to suppress the agitation of which the petition in question was an ominous sign, and if the demand for annexa- tion had not been warmly supported by the Government of France, it would probably have been refused by the Government of Sardinia; but the double pressure was irresistible, and the -King and Cavour agreed that Savoy should be left free to choose her own destiny. As to what that choice was likely to be there could be little doubt. Savoy, as we have shown, owed scant gratitude to the royal race by whom she had so long been ruled; and though we may question the taste which pre- ferred a hardly-veiled despotism to a constitutional monarchy, the material interests of the principality pointed impera- tively to union with France. France is the natural and nearest market for Savoyard produce. The Emperor, moreover, promised, if the annexation should take place, to convert High Savoy into a zone franche, a boon which would render the trade of the Department with Switzerland absolutely free. In these cir- cumstances, it is •not surprising that the people, by a large majority, decided to become French. The vote was almost unanimous. Of 135,000 electors, 130,000 voted for annexation, 235 against, and the abstentions were something less than 5,000. In England, this vote was looked upon as either a juggle or a fraud, and Lord Lamington calls it " a mock plebiscite." The imputation is one which cannot be sustained. The Savoyards managed the plebiscitum themselves ; when it took place, there were in the principality neither Italian syndics nor French prefects. The voting was by ballot and by commune, and the scrutiny was conducted by the Court of Appeal, the highest tribunal in the realm. Whatever influence Sardinia possessed was exercised against annexation. At Turin, the result of the voting caused a painful surprise. It could be no pleasure to Victor Emanuel to know that among a people who had been ruled by his ancestors for eight centuries, his dynasty had so few friends. Even among the higher classes there were only two—General Menabrea and the Marquis Leon Costa-- who " opted " for Sardinia. It is much to be regretted that a part, at least, of High Savoy was not annexed to Switzer- land, instead of to France, and a suggestion in this sense was actually made by Louis Napoleon to England ; but the proposal was summarily rejected by Lord Palmerston and the Prince Consort, as implying approval of a proceeding to which they strongly objected.
There is every reason to believe that Savoy is well satis- fied with the French connection, and that another plebis- ciium would give a result identical with that of 1860. The material progress of the ancient principality since the annexa- tion has been immense. Marshes have been reclaimed, bridges built, roads and railways made, and numerous schools and public buildings constructed. In Chambery and several other towns, property has trebled in value ; and though the Savoyards had to pay for their new privileges by submission to ten years of imperial rule, the Government under which they now live is probably much more to their liking than that which prevails on the other side of the Alps.