Like most people, I remember Garibaldi as the man who unified Italy and for whom the biscuits were named. Oh yes, the Garibaldi biscuit was indeed named after Giuseppe Garibaldi following his visit to Tynemouth in 1854. It was developed at a time when produce was limited; hence the simple raisin filled biscuit. It was first manufactured by the Bermondsey biscuit company Peek Freans in 1861 following
the recruitment of one of the great Scottish biscuit makers, John Carr. And you just thought he made water biscuits!
I don’t recall spending too much time in school history lessons on either the unification of Italy or its key military figure who I’ve discovered turns out to have led a fairly wild and interesting life while devoting himself to fighting oppression. For most of Garibaldi’s lifetime, Italy, as we now know it, was controlled by foreign forces. The north was largely held by Austria. In the south, both the Papal States, and the kingdom of Naples, were in the hands of the Bourbons (can’t get away from biscuits).
Garibaldi was born on 4 July, 1807, in Nice, which at the time was a French town. His father was a humble fisherman and aged 17 Garibaldi became a merchant seaman. He subsequently entered the Piedmont navy and in 1833 joined Young Italy, the revolutionary organization of Giuseppe Mazzini, another Italian patriot. As part of a larger republican Mazzini-led plot, Garibaldi organised a mutiny, attempting to seize his ship and take over the arsenal of Genoa. The plan failed and Garibaldi fled, taking refuge in Marseilles. He was condemned to death by default in June, 1834.
In 1836 Garibaldi sailed to Rio de Janeiro and for the next four years fought for the province of Rio Grande in its attempt to free itself from Brazil. It was here he met his first wife, Anna Maria Ribiera de Silva (aka Anita), whom he married (after her divorce) in 1842. He then entered the service of Uruguay, becoming commander of the new Italian Legion at Montevideo in 1843. His victories at Cerro and Sant’Antonio in 1846 did much to ensure the liberty of Uruguay. Garibaldi’s years in South America taught him the skills of war and steeled him for the tasks to come.
When he learnt of the uprising against Austria, Garibaldi returned to Nice (now part of Piedmont) in June 1848 and offered his services to Charles Albert, King of the Piedmont, and was put in command of a volunteer army at Milan. The following year, when the war was going badly for the revolutionaries and the Pope was away from Rome, Garibaldi was elected deputy of the Roman Assembly and worked for the creation of a Roman republic. Garibaldi laboured over the next few months, inflicting defeats on Neapolitan and French armies. Only when it became
clear that the revolutionary movement was doomed, he retreated through central Italy and escaped to Piedmont.
Following the death of his beloved “Anita”, he went to America in 1850, where he took an interim job making candles before leaving for Peru, as captain of a Peruvian ship. In 1855 he returned to Italy and bought part of the island of Caprera, north of Sardinia, where he built a home. In 1858 a fateful meeting took place in Turin between Garibaldi and Camillo di Cavour, the prime minister of the Piedmont. The count, looking forward eagerly to another war with Austria, asked the now-renowned soldier to form an army of volunteers to help break Austria’s domination. Garibaldi was made a general in the Piedmont army and formed his corps, the Cacciatori delle Alpi. A rapid series of victories drove the Austrians out of northern Italy, all the way back to the Tyrol.
When the French, this time allies of Piedmont, pulled out of the war in July 1859, Garibaldi shared Cavour’s disappointment. But soldier and statesman were soon at odds with each other. Garibaldi was not permitted to attack the Papal States and so returned to civil life. He was quickly elected to the Piedmont Parliament, and in April 1860, he publicly attacked Cavour for ceding Nice to France. Meanwhile he was planning, with British encouragement, the invasion of Sicily. Neither he nor Cavour had given up on the national movement, even though Piedmont had felt compelled to follow the lead of France and sign an armistice with Austria.
In May, 1860, Garibaldi’s forces crushed an undisciplined Neapolitan army at Calatafimi and seized control of Palermo, the capital of Sicily. His forces then crossed the Straits of Messina, slipping past a formidable Neapolitan navy. In September, Garibaldi triumphantly entered
Naples and proclaimed himself dictator of the Two Sicilies. A final major battle was fought a month later on the Volturno to put an end to Bourbon resistance. Garibaldi’s victories in the south found their echo in the rest of Italy, as the foundations of tyranny were undermined. It was with jubilation that Italians greeted Victor Emmanuel, King of Piedmont, as he travelled south through the country to meet Garibaldi near Naples. In November 1860, Garibaldi formally handed over all of southern Italy to Victor Emmanuel and proclaimed him king of a united land.
Not all of the problems had been solved. Austria still possessed Trentino, and the Church’s territory was protected by the French. Nonetheless, Garibaldi withdrew to Caprera and once again entered politics. By this time his fame had spread so far and wide that Abraham Lincoln offered him a command in the American Civil War. This he politely declined, preferring to remain as close as possible to events in Italy.
In the summer of 1862, at odds with the official position of the Italian government, Garibaldi began a march on Rome, only to be wounded in Calabria and taken prisoner. Moved by the general sympathy for the soldier, and by the magnitude of his contribution to his country, the King granted him an amnesty. Garibaldi then returned to Caprera and in the following year resigned from Parliament over the issue of martial
law in Sicily.
In 1864, Garibaldi formed another volunteer army to do battle again with the Austrians. Once more his army seemed invincible. He won battle after battle until, when about to attack Trentino, he was advised that Austria, because of Prussian pressure, could not under any
circumstances yield Trentino to Italy. Therefore no matter what his soldiers achieved, they would eventually be forced to withdraw for diplomacy’s sake. The brief war ended with the cession of Venice to the new Italian kingdom.
Following an agreement in 1864 between the French and Italian governments, French troops had been removed from Rome so Garibaldi thought the time was now right for another attack on the papal territory. But, before he could put his plan into operation, he was once again arrested by the Italian government and brought back to Caprera.
In spite of the government’s official unwillingness to seize Rome by force, some members were sympathetic to Garibaldi’s goals and they supported a second military effort. He was once again stopped, however, shortly after entering papal territory in October. It was ironic that when, in 1870, the Italian kingdom finally absorbed the remainder of the States of the Church, the great condottiere was not directly involved. He spent that year fighting for the French in the Franco-Prussian War.
The last decade of Garibaldi’s life was no less stormy than the earlier years. After the final humiliation of France by the Prussians, he was elected to the Versailles Assembly; but he felt insulted by the French, mostly because they seemed unwilling to recognize the extent of
his contribution to their war effort. He had, after all, won victories over the Germans at Châtillon and Dijon. He resigned his position in anger and returned to Caprera.
In 1874 he was elected to Parliament as deputy for Rome. Garibaldi relished his position but was generally unhappy with the conservative cast of the government. When the ministry sought to confer upon him a large gift of money and an annual pension, he refused. It is revealing that when a government more oriented to the left took over and made the same offer, he accepted it gratefully. The generous gift was in recognition of the enormous debt owed by the new Italian kingdom to its greatest soldier. In 1880, he retired from public life and married Francesca Anmasina, the mother of his three children. He passed away on 2 June 1882 at home in Caprera after a bout of bronchitis.
Garibaldi may be gone but neither he nor his family are forgotten, at least not in Nice. There’s a statue of him in the centre of the wide, yellow arcaded, Place Garibaldi, the former Piazzo Vittorio while his mother is buried in the Italian cemetery atop the Colline du Chateau. however, I’ve never seen any Garibaldi biscuits on sale in the supermarkets, perhaps Geoffrey’s of London, the British foods supermarket in Antibes, stocks them. I’ll let you know.
Postscript: A packet of Crawford’s Garibaldi biscuits were sighted in the English Foods section of Galerie Lafayette in Cap 3000. I wasn’t tempted.