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Papal States: Exiles and Political Prisoners

Papal States: Exiles and Political Prisoners The sharp conflict between various revolutionary cliques and the government of the Papal States forced many citizens into prison or exile for political motives. When Pius IX was elected pope in 1846, he granted amnesty to nearly a thousand of these unfortunates. The principal leaders of the 1831 revolution were still in exile, since they had been excluded by name from an earlier pardon. Most other prisoners and exiles, however, were veterans of the more recent revolts of 1843 and 1845.

The exiles (550) outnumbered the prisoners (433), due in part to the custom of periodically releasing prisoners to serve double their remaining sentences in exile. Some exiles had fled to avoid prosecution, and others merely felt alienated from the government, but had never been charged with specific crimes. As a general rule, the self-imposed exiles tended to be more prosperous and better educated than were the prisoners, probably because wealthier suspects simply had more ways to evade capture.

A very large number of prisoners and exiles were condemned by military commissions and other special courts, in particular the tribunal of Cardinal Rivarola. Although many revolutions had involved violent acts, few prisoners were condemned for murder or rioting. Most carried more general political charges, such as membership in illegal societies and spreading seditious literature. These less specific charges made it easier for them to receive the amnesty of 1846, which excluded violent crimes.

The Romagna at the far northern end of the Papal States had long been its most turbulent region. Over two-thirds of these prisoners and exiles came from there, and another 15% came from the northern Marches nearby, especially from Bologna, Faenza, Bagnacavallo, Rimini, and Ancona. The city of Rome produced several revolutionaries, but relatively few came from Umbria or the rest of Lazio. Nearly all of them came from cities or towns, and practically none from rural areas.

Among those with known professions, three-quarters were either bourgeoisie and artisans, with a handful of unskilled workers. Doctors, lawyers, and clerks were as active as were tailors and shoemakers. Not surprisingly, fewer than twenty clergy and peasants were involved. But nearly 15% of those pardoned were either titled nobility or untitled gentry. This discontent among many local leaders supports the theory that fewer opportunities were open to them than to landowners in other Italian states.

A very large number of the exiles (68%) took up residence in France, including Corsica and French Algeria. Not only did political refugees get a small pension from the French government, but they were also more likely to find employment in France than in any Italian state. Exiles in France tended to cluster near Paris and Marseilles, but also in several smaller cities in western France, such as Chateauroux, Saumur, Loches, and Limoges. Most other exiles tended to concentrate in southern Europe, with relatively few in America or elsewhere.

Organizers for Mazzini's Young Italy were especially active in the French cities. Subsequent evidence would show that exiles or prisoners were far more likely to continue their political activity in 1848 and afterward if they belonged to Young Italy or some other revolutionary society. The vast majority of the others abandoned revolutionary politics altogether, and remained virtually uninvolved in the events of 1848-9.
Leopold G. Glueckert


Demarco, Domenico. Il tramonto dello Stato Pontificio. Torino: Giulio Einaudi editore, 1949.

Glueckert, Leopold G.Between Two Amnesties: Former Political Prisoners and Exiles in the Roman Revolution of 1848. New York: Garland Press, 1991.

Martina, Giacomo, S.J. Pio IX (1846-1850). Roma: Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 1974.

Santoncini, Gabriella. Ordine pubblico e polizia nella crisi dello Stato Pontificio (1848- 1850). Milano: Giuffre, 1981.

Wicks, Margaret C.W. The Italian Exiles in London 1816-1848 .

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