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Pepe, Gugliemo

Italian patriot and Neapolitan general who led the army of the Venetian Republic against Austria from June 1848 to July 1849. Born in the Kingdom of Naples to a minor noble family of Calabria in 1783 his life would mirror the political upheavals of his country and his age. Having started at the military academy in Naples he dropped out at age sixteen to fight for the short-lived Parthenopean Republic. With the republic's fall in 1799 he went into exile in France, and rose to lieutenant in Napoleon's Legione Italiana. When the legion was dissolved in 1801, he returned to Italy as a revolutionary agitator and eventually landed in a Bourbon prison. After the French took over the Kingdom of Naples in 1806 he was released and joined the army of the new king, Joseph Bonaparte, as a major. He then rose to the rank of marshall (and baron) for faithful service to Joseph's successor, Joachim Murat, whose ill fated attempt to set up an independent Italy he wholeheartedly supported. Following the Restoration, Pepe became a general for the king of Naples and distinguished himself by his efficient organization of local provincial militias, attempting to fight the growing number of brigands in the southern provinces. Once again, however, politics intervened, and in 1820 he found himself joining the carbonari revolution to help impose a liberal constitution on King Ferdinand. With the defeat of the revolution by Austrian troops Pepe was forced into exile for over twenty years until the granting of a new constitution in February 1848 by Ferdinand II allowed him to return to a general's commission in the Neapolitan army. It was in this capacity that he would rise to fame in 1848 and 1849 and become a symbol of the pan-Italian nature of the struggle against Austria. Sent northward in May 1848 with a large Neapolitan army, Pepe became a national hero when he refused to obey his king's command to return to Naples before engaging the Austrians or even crossing the Po river. Choosing Italian patriotism over dynastic allegiance he persuaded some troops and tricked others into following him into the Veneto to join the fight. Arriving too late to help resist the Austrians at Vicenza, Pepe and his men moved on to Venice to help defend what remained of the republic. Once in the city, many of his rank and file troops claimed to have been misinformed of their sovereign's intentions and returned to Naples without seeing combat. Those who remained, however, proved to be highly motivated and well trained in both artillery and engineering; they organized Venice's defense under the direction of Pepe, who became commander in chief of the republic's army of twenty thousand men. Pepe was not a particularly brilliant strategist or tactician, but he was extremely popular and a master at organizing, disciplining, and inspiring volunteer troops - who constituted some ninety percent of his forces. Combining his talent and commitment with the political genius of Daniel Manin, the republic's president, Pepe and his fellow officers helped the Venetians hold off a vastly larger Austrian army for almost a year; and the siege of Venice became an important icon of Italian independence and military prowess. Indeed, the city was never breached and only surrendered in July of 1849 because of spreading starvation and cholera. Even then the Austrians, who had come to respect their republican opponents, granted immunity to the populace and allowed Pepe, Manin, and the other leaders to leave under safe conduct. Pepe emigrated first to Paris and then to Turin where he died in 1855. He left behind an important personal memoir of the revolutionary period.

Steven Hughes


Francesco Carrano. Vita di Guglielmo Pepe. Turin, 1857.

Gennaro Maria Monti. La difesa di Venezia nel 1848-1849 e Gulglielmo Pepe. Rome, 1933.

Ruggero Moscati. Guglielmo Pepe. I (1797-1831) Rome: 1838.

George T. Romani. The Neapolitan Revolution of 1820-1821. Evanston: 1950.

George Macaulay Trevelyan. Manin and the Venetian Revolution of 1848. London 1923.

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