Charles Albert, King of Sardinia

Charles Albert (1798-1849) was king of Sardinia (Piedmont) from 1831 to 1849. He played an important part in liberalizing the institutions of the Piedmont and in starting it on its path as the leader of Italian unification.

Born on Oct. 12, 1798, Charles Albert was the son of Prince Charles of Savoy-Carignano and Princess Albertine of Saxe-Courland, and the cousin of the Piedmontese king Charles Emmanuel IV. In October 1798 the French seized Piedmont, and the entire court took refuge in Sardinia, where Charles Albert spent the first 16 years of his life. In 1802 Charles Emmanuel abdicated in favor of his brother Victor Emmanuel I. On Napoleon's defeat in 1814, the family returned to Turin, the capital of Piedmont, where Charles Albert was given rigorous training to prepare him for the throne.

On Oct. 1, 1817, Charles Albert married the archduchess Maria Theresa of Tuscany. In early 1821 he refused a request by the liberals to participate in a revolt against the reactionary government. On March 10, 1821, however, Turin was taken by the revolutionaries. Their aims were to establish constitutional government in Piedmont and to drive Austrian rule from Italy.

Victor Emmanuel abdicated at once in favor of his brother Charles Felix and named Charles Albert regent. Charles Albert then granted a constitution, but it was revoked when he was forced into exile by Austrian troops, who quickly put down the revolutionary movement. He was allowed to return to Turin, however, after promising to uphold the principles of absolute monarchy.

On the death of Charles Felix in 1831, Charles Albert became king of Piedmont. He promptly manifested considerable administrative ability in reforming the financial system and the army. In 1846, when the apparently liberal Pope Pius IX assumed office, Charles Albert became convinced that a government of broader freedom was needed and issued a decree to that effect. On Feb. 8, 1848, he finally granted the eagerly awaited constitution.

When Milan revolted in March 1848 against its Austrian rulers, Charles Albert also declared war on Austria. But Austrian power was too great, and by 1849 Piedmont was soundly defeated. Forced to accept bitter terms from the victors, Charles Albert believed he could be of no further help to his country and abdicated in favor of his son Victor Emmanuel II. Charles Albert died in a monastery in Oporto, Portugal, on July 28, 1849. The day of Italian liberation was not yet at hand, but it had been brought nearer by his work.

Further Reading on Charles Albert, King of Sardinia

There is almost nothing specific in English on Charles Albert. The most thorough general treatment is in Bolton King, A History of Italian Unity (2 vols., 1899; rev. ed. 1924). The most complete account of the Risorgimento in English is George Martin, The Red Shirt and the Cross of Savoy: The Story of Italy's Risorgimento, 1748-1871 (1969).