The Pope Who Would Be King The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe

Review :

Through the description of the early years of Pope Pius IX's administration, the general reader comes to understand the passions, people and events that lead to the unification of Italy. David Kertzer makes the complex issues easy for the lay reader to understand.

Pius IX was an unlikely candidate to emerge as Pope from the 1846 conclave. He had a low profile and uncertain views. As revolutions toppled entrenched powers in Europe, the realization settled in throughout the peninsula that foreign powers supported the pope who kept the corrupt clergy in place. Along with this came the vision of the Italian people as a nation.

Pius began his administration with hints that he would make much needed reforms. He spoke of Italians (previous popes would not utter the word) in a patriotic ways that suggested that he opposed foreign (Austrian) influence. He relaxed censorship, freed political prisoners, supported railroads and allowed Jews to leave their ghetto. The people showed him their love and he basked in it. Dismayed conservatives got Pius's ear and the resulting contrary actions alienated the once enthralled people. Within two years, not much goodwill remained and the pope sought refuge outside of Rome.

Kertzer takes the reader through the politics of the day's superpowers vying to provide the pope a new base of operations, convince him to act in their interest, and worst of all, to lay siege to Rome and the peninsula to take back his reforms by force. You learn of the difficult position of Alexis Tocqueville's (of Democracy in America fame) service as the Foreign Minister under Louis Napoleon. You learn of the Pope's intransigency and bitterness to those whom he believes he has served well.

The book ends with the Pope's return to Rome. An epilogue summarizes the pope's later life and the final unification of Italy years hence.

The text is enhanced by portraits that are well selected for not only facial expressions, but also how they look in the total design of the book. While I did not consult the maps much they are very good, showing all the places pertinent to the story. I did not consult the list of characters since Kertzer writes of them so well that they stay with you; the same is true of the index no need to flip back.

This was a fascinating read. For me, it helped put some of the pieces of the Risorgimento together. I recommend it for anyone interested in this time in Italian or church history.


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