Before the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848 in France, the rulers of the states of Naples, Tuscany, Piedmont and Rome had granted liberal constitutions to the people. In 1846, Pope Pius IX became the ruler of Rome.
He was liberal in his political ideas. He accepted the demands of the people and introduced many reforms in the administration. He declared that Austria had no right to have her army in the Papal States.
The rulers of other states like Naples, Tuscany and Piedmont also followed the policy of Pope. When the Revolution broke out in France in 1848, it made a tremendous impact upon the political condition of Italian states.
The patriots of Italy were highly elated at the downfall of Metternich and were very encouraged. First of all Lombardy and Venetia rose in revolt against Austria. The people of Venice established a republic.
The rulers of Naples, Tuscany, Piedmont and the Papal States had already granted liberal constitutions to their peoples. In this way, almost all states of Italy had practically declared their independence.
The people of Italian states demanded that their rulers should fight untidily against Austria to drive her out of Italy once for all. At last, the Italian states declared war against Austria under the leadership of Charles Albert, the king of Piedmont-Sardinia.
In the beginning, he was fully supported by the rulers of almost all states of Italy. It seemed that Italy would achieve her unity. It was the first war of independence that was fought on the national basis. Austrian army was badly defeated at many places.
But the proper time for the national unity of Italy had not yet come. The unity of the Italian rulers soon began to dissolve. The Pope was the first to withdraw his army from the battlefield.
The rulers of Naples, Tuscany and some other states also followed in the footsteps of Pope. The result was that Charles Albert found himself alone in the war against Austria.
He could not stand for a long period and was defeated by Austria at Novara on March 23, 1849. He was so much disappointed with the treacherous attitude of Italian rulers, that he abdicated the throne in favour of his son, Victor Emmanuel II. But he played a significant and heroic role in the unification of Italy. C. D. Hazen has rightly remarked:
“He (Charles Albert) had rendered, however, a great service to his House and to Italy; for he had shown that there was one Italian prince who was willing to risk everything for the national cause.
He had enlisted the interest and the faith of the Italians in the government of Piedmont, in the House of Savoy. He was looked upon as a martyr to the national cause.”