The Sicilian Uprising of January 12th, 1848

Ian Fitzgerald wrote in History Today Volume 48 Issue 1 (January 1998):

The Sicilian Uprising of January 12th, 1848 was the first of several European revolutions.

…On January 9th, an unsigned manifesto issued by a ‘revolutionary committee’ was circulated in Palermo announcing a revolt for Sicilian freedom to take place at the king’s birthday festivities. ‘Dawn on January 12th, 1848, will mark the glorious epoch of universal regeneration,’ it proclaimed, promising that those that met in the main piazza on the day would be given arms. In a bid not to alienate the well-off, property would be respected. Surprised that a genuine revolution would be announced three days in advance, the authorities hastily arrested eleven suspects.

On the morning of the 12th, however, people began to enter the piazza in larger numbers than usual and arms were distributed. Although there appeared to have been no organised leadership, a popular preacher whipped up the crowds in the Fieravecchia – the poorest quarter of the city – and clashes soon broke out. Initially those that fought were a small and motley crew, including some women. They looked no match for the 5,000-strong royal army whose cavalry and artillery they faced, and there were certainly casualties. But it was guerrilla warfare and, as barricades were erected and shops boarded-up, the medieval maze of streets in Palermo and the hostility towards the Bourbon troops from the townsfolk worked to the revolutionaries’ advantage.

News spread, and by the following day peasants from the countryside arrived to join the fray. For them, the revolution was not about articulate political demands, but rather the chance to express frustration over their many hardships. The popular ranks were swelled during the course of the disruption by brigand bands, as outlaws capitalised on the breakdown of government. In the villages and towns outside Palermo, records of land deeds and tax payments were burned and officials murdered. Sheep were killed and woodlands destroyed as land was cleared for cultivation…”

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