Britain fetes Garibaldi
The Italian nationalist’s conquest of Sicily made him the toast of polite society
On 11 May 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi landed at the Sicilian port of Marsala with 1,000 troops. His aim was to liberate Sicily from its Spanish Bourbon rulers in the name of the Sardinian king Victor Emmanuel II, and to kick-start the unification of Italy. Garibaldi was no stranger to guerrilla warfare: he had fought in Brazil and Uruguay, as well as in Italy, and was used to having huge odds stacked against him. Within a month he had taken Palermo and in little over a year he had driven the Bourbons out of Sicily. Not for nothing is he known as one of the fathers of Italy.
The story of Garibaldi’s great crusade made headlines in the US, in Russia and, perhaps most notably, in Britain. The idea of freeing Sicily from the Spanish Bourbons inspired Britons not only to follow the news of Garibaldi’s invasion, but to actively support it, raising money for his cause. We know that figures as illustrious as Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale donated.
His conquest of Sicily complete, next Garibaldi launched an attack on the other great Bourbon kingdom of southern Italy, Naples, having hitched a lift across the straits of Messina with the support of the British Royal Navy. And as he entered the fray, Britain honoured him with perhaps the ultimate accolade: the invention of a biscuit. The creation of the ‘Garibaldi’ launched the ultimate teatime showdown: Bourbons v Garibaldis.
British troops are welcomed by Sicilian children after driving German and Italian forces from the island
Britons helped fund Garibaldi’s push to end the Bourbons’ centuries-long rule of Sicily