Antiqua Print Gallery Treaty of Turin
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Treaty of Turin

A secret meeting took place at Plombières-les-Bains on July 21, 1858 between the French emperor, Napoleon III and Prime Minister Cavour of Piedmont. The outcome of the meeting was an agreement whereby the emperor agreed to support the unification of Italy by Piedmont provided that Papacy should retain control of Rome: France would be rewarded with the lands of the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice. In April 1859, Austria, complaining that Piedmont had been supplying armaments to Lombard separatists, declared war on Piedmont. Early on, the Austrians were beaten in battle at Palestro and Montebello. More substantial battles took place in June at Magenta and Solferino. These battles also resulted in victory for the Franco-Piedmontese side, but the French emperor, who had taken personal command of his army, professed himself horrified by the extent of the bloodshed involved and resolved to end the war: this was achieved with the signing of an armistice at Villafranca on July 12, 1859 which would form the basis for the Treaty of Zurich of November 1859. Italian unification was deferred, though as matters turned out, not for long.
Charles Albert, the Duke of Savoy and king of Sardinia till 1849, had been an active partisan for Italian nationalism. Among the liberal elites in francophone Savoy, the idea had grown up that the ruling house based in Turin had little concern for their province beyond Mont Blanc. In practical terms, at a time when the extent of state activity was increasing across Europe, this was manifest in a perceived discrimination against French speakers when making government appointments. On July 25, 1859 about 30 leading citizens of Chambéry presented an address to the emperor in which they called for the Duchy of Savoy to be annexed to France.
Elsewhere in Savoy, especially in the north, opposition to the idea of French annexation began to mobilise. The formerly Savoyard province of Carouge, adjacent to Geneva had been transferred to Switzerland in 1816 under the terms of an earlier Treaty of Turin, as part of the unbundling of Napoleon I's empire. Scenarios now under discussion included continuing with Savoy as a province of Piedmont, or joining more or even all of the territory with Switzerland, an outcome favoured by Great Britain. There was very little support for the idea of a totally autonomous Savoy, the vulnerability of small quasi-autonomous territories having been vividly demonstrated within living memory by the First French Empire.

The Treaty

Faced with the uncertainties implicit in the conflicting scenarios, and unwilling to countenance any further expansion of Switzerland, French and Sardinian diplomats swung into action. The 1860 Treaty of Turin, signed on July 24 1860, was the outcome. Savoy and Nice found themselves annexed to France as agreed back in 1858 at Plombières-les-Bains, but subject to certain conditions. At the insistence of the Swiss and the British, the requirement that the population should consent to the arrangement was included in the treaty. Piedmontese troops evacuated Savoy during March 1860. On April 1 the King of Piedmont released his Savoyard subjects from their oaths of loyalty to the Kingdom of Sardinia and Piedmont and a suitably crafted plebiscite (restricted to adult males, following the pattern already established in France by Napoleon III) was held later during the same month to provide popular endorsement of The Treaty. In order to deflect anticipated resistance from the north of Savoy, where the Swiss solution had its strongest appeal, the creation was confirmed of a form of duty free zone north of a line defined by Saint-Genix-sur-Guiers, Le Châtelard, Faverges and Les Contamines-Montjoie. The effect of this provision was that Savoy's northern frontier posts, now to become a part of the French frontier, would be located a significant distance away from the actual frontier with Switzerland. The Treaty of Turin restated the political neutrality of the strip of Savoy north of the frontier posts but south of Switzerland, the neutrality of this land, along with that of Switzerland itself, having already been agreed in 1815 under the terms of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna.
The outcome of the plebiscite held on 22 April was an overwhelming ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Does Savoy wish to be unified with France’? A similar public vote of support for French annexation had been achieved by plebiscite one week earlier in the County of Nice. Logically, it should have been necessary for the outcome of the plebiscite to be known before the treaty could be signed off by the respective monarchs. The fact that the treaty was actually signed off a month before the plebiscite took place, the size of the majority supporting the treaty, and the wording of the question used for the plebiscite were some of the factors giving rise to subsequent doubts about the conduct of this 'popular consultation'.

(Source Wikipedia)