|Alfonso La Marmora|
the perseverance the knowledge the loyalty The commitment to the State
Alfonso Ferrero della Marmora (1804-1878)
Biography and Military career
His career in the Piedmontese army began at the age of 12 at the Military Academy of Turin in 1816, rising through all the ranks of promotion until he went into battle at the age of 44 in the campaigns of 1848-1849, when he was appointed lieutenant general. During the First War of Independence (1848)in the role of major he was in command of the artillery of the Federici division and contributed decisively to the victory of Pastrengo. In August of the same year in command of a battalion of the Piedmont Brigade and a company of Bersaglieri, Alfonso La Marmora protected King Carlo Alberto during the siege of Milan, following the battle of Custoza. In February 1849 he took command of the sixth division and, after the armistice with Austria, he was sent to Parma.
In 1849, at the age of 49, Alfonso la Marmora had reached the highest rank in the Savoy army in the space of ten months, after having spent 22 years in the lowest ranks of the military hierarchy. In March 1849 he was sent to Genoa with the task of restoring order after the anti- monarchy revolt; an operation that led to great loss of life and which earned him the reputation of “ bombarder of the people” for the rest of his life. La Marmora’s operations in Genoa were rewarded with a gold medal of Military Valour and promotion to commander of the 2nd army. However, Alfonso la Marmora was primarily , together with Camillo Benso Count of Cavour , a hero of the Crimean War in which he took part aged 51, in 1855, as commander-in-chief of a contingent of 18,000 men. Alfonso had worked energetically on a diplomatic level before the conflict , going to London to meet Queen Victoria and weaving a network of contacts who proved to be of vital support to Cavour’s plans.
His return to Turin in June 1856 was triumphant and La Marmora received from the king the Collar of the Highest Order of the Santissima Annunziata and appointment to army general. The Chamber of Deputies also awarded him a piece of land along what was to become via Cernaia in Turin where Alfonso built a house with an English garden in which he erected a monument to his brother Alessandro, who died of cholera in the Crimea in 1855. In 1860, with Cavour once again in power, Alfonso was given command of the Army of Milan and the following year, 1861, he was sent to Naples as prefect and commander general of the troops stationed in the south of Italy; he was occupied there for three years in the struggle against civil revolts and the repression of brigandage.
Although the First War of Independence ended in defeat for Piedmont , Alfonso la Marmora left evidence of episodes of great patriotic courage in that conflict. He had the idea of sending the young painter Stanislao Grimaldi to Paris to study engraving and then entrusted him with the execution of tablets depicting acts of valour. In June 1866 he was appointed Chief of Staff of the army of Mincio.
After the defeat in the Third War of Independence (1866) a violent dispute arose and Alfonso la Marmora was widely blamed for the negative outcome of the conflict. The general persistently defended his position in numerous publications but he abandoned his military career the same year , resigning as Chief of Staff. He agreed to lead the military department of Florence for a year before definitively retiring to private life. His only other offices were as Lieutenant of Rome and the Roman provinces after 20th September 1870, then he devoted the rest of his life to charitable works.
He was tormented by an eye infection during the last years of his life . Alfonso la Marmora died at his home in Florence on 5th January 1878, in the presence of his nephew Tommaso, son of his brother Carlo Emanuele and by Paolo Crespi, faithful aide-de-camp in the Crimea. His remains were taken to Biella to the church of San Sebastiano and laid with those of his brothers Carlo Emanuele and Alberto (Alessandro’s body was transferred from Russia to Biella in 1911).
Army corps: the Voloire cavalry brigade
Like his brother Alessandro, founder of the Bersaglieri, Alfonso Ferrero della Marmora was a reformer of the Savoy army. After numerous trips in Europe, Alfonso introduced a new cavalry brigade , the Voloire, on “ the lines of the gun carriages of the Gribeauval type”, a kind of easily manoeuvrable cannon perfected at the end of the eighteenth century by Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval. The new corps was instituted on 8th April 1831 with the Royal Patents of Queen Maria Cristina, although the first two units had already been prepared in 1828 while Alfonso was still lieutenant. The Voloire took part in the Risorgimento campaigns for the unification and independence of Italy and distinguished themselves by their courage and skill.
Today the corps founded by General La Marmora still exists and has its headquarters in Milan at the Santa Barbara barracks; the corps has conserved the historic nineteenth century equipment, which is often used in parades.
Following the same philosophy which guided his brother Alessandro in the foundation of the Bersaglieri, Alfonso aimed to change the rigid schemes of eighteenth century warfare which used complicated machinery and hierarchical structures . It had always been difficult to introduce changes in the military world , in fact, carts with wooden wheels pulled by oxen were still used to move the cannons and the transport of pieces of artillery, vitally important in battle, was entrusted to inexperienced labourers. The new cavalry units , thought up by Alfonso La Marmora ,were innovative and quickly and easily moved. Alfonso gave competent officers the responsibility of moving artillery, making it a “professional” task.
As Minister of War, from 1849 to 1859, Alfonso la Marmora was the mind behind a complete reform of the Savoy army; a reorganization which was rewarded by success in the Crimean War and prepared the way for the success of the Second War of Independence . The reform was based on the French model which focused on the professionalism of the military apparatus rather than on sheer numbers. In particular, Alfonso La Marmora proposed an extension of the term of service (in France it was 5-8 years) so as to create an army of dedicated professionals. This measure was presented to parliament in 1851 and became law in 1854, in spite of considerable opposition. La Marmora’s reform tackled in detail every aspect of the organization of the army: from the system of promotion to the structure of the army, from the soldiers’ training to the improvement of weapons. The Savoy army which arrived on the battle fields in 1859 operated with an efficiency that had been unthinkable in the campaigns of 1848-1849. Without this vital contribution of Alfonso La Marmora to the improvement of Piedmontese military apparatus the attempt to unify Italy would probably have had a different outcome and at a later time.
Civilian and political work
For the first time in 1848 and for three times in succession Alfonso, who was then 44, held the office of Minister for War and Naval Affairs of the Kingdom of Sardinia after being Member of Parliament since the first legislature. On 3rd November 1849 he became Minister of War and held this office for the next ten years under the various governments of Cavour.
In 1859, at the age of 55, he was for the first time Prime Minister for a year. In 1864 the king asked him to govern again with the triple offices of Prime Minister, Minister of the Navy and Minister of Foreign Affairs and it was while La Marmora was in power that the capital of the new kingdom was transferred to Rome. Interestingly, the Bersaglieri, founded by his brother Alessandro Ferrero della Marmora, were involved in the capture of Rome (Breach of Porta Pia, 20 September 1870).
In 1865, at the age of 61, while he was in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs , he negotiated an alliance with Prussia until the opening of hostilities with Austria in 1866. In the same year he left the government and took up arms again to go into war as Chief of Staff but suffered heavy defeats at Custoza (23rd June 1866).
A widower at the age of 72, in 1876 the general decided to allocate part of his and his wife’s considerable estate to social works , on the advice of his friend Quintino Sella, and he set up numerous charitable enterprises in Biella, in the Biellese area and in Turin, funding a hospital where the Museum of Natural History stands today. Alfonso donated to the Town Council of Biella a sum of 10 thousand lire a year in aid of workers who were victims of accidents at work; the fund helped to establish the Opera Pia La Marmora in favour of workers and poor artesans. The general also assigned a sum for the construction of the covered market and the waterworks in the district of Biella Piazzo. Alfonso’s nephew and niece, Tommaso and Maria Luisa, continued to finance the waterworks after his death in 1878. The public fountains were inaugurated on 24th December 1882.
For the repression of the anti- monarchy revolts in Genoa in 1848, Alfonso Ferrero della Marmora was awarded a gold medal of Military Valour. After the Crimean campaign in 1855 he received the Collar of the Order of Our Holy Lady of the Annunciation. He was also made Knight of the Cross of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazzarus and Knight of the Cross of the Military Order of Savoy. He obtained the Médaille militaire , the Médaille Commémorative de la Campagne de L’Italie de 1859 and the English medal for the Crimean war.
Among the documents that the general brought back to Piedmont form the Crimea are thirty original photographs taken by the English photographer James Robertson on the battle fields; this is the first war reportage of which there is any record. Today the pictures are kept in the archives at Palazzo La Marmora in Biella.
Although he was intensely involved in public life Alfonso maintained close relationships with his many brothers , sisters, nieces and nephews, as can be seen from his correspondence.
At the age of 45 in 1849 he married an English gentlewoman Giovanna Bertie Mathew who gave him a son, Carlo, who died at birth. Giovanna followed her husband, brother-in-law Alessandro and nephew Vittorio, son of Carlo Emanuele, to the Crimea in 1855. She made a series of valuable drawings of the battle fields which are an important record for experts in the subject. With his brother Edoardo, Alfonso played an important role in arranging the marriage between Maria Luisa d’Harcourt (1847-1927) and her uncle Tommaso Ferrero della Marmora, son of Alfonso’s brother, Carlo Emanuele. The marriage between uncle and niece was arranged after Tommaso was widowed without children and the lineage was at risk of dying out. Tommaso-Maria Luisa and Alfonso remained close all their lives and in fact the couple bought a house in Turin that was spacious enough to accommodate the elderly general.
After the unification of Italy Alfonso settled with his wife Giovanna Bertie Mathew in Florence, where they both died, Giovanna in 1876 and Alfonso in 1878.
Light and shade
Alessandro may have been the most popular and beloved of the La Marmora brothers , but there is no doubt that Alfonso became the most famous on account of the important positions that he held and his many political and military achievements. Precocious and many-sided, Alfonso was cosmopolitan from his youth , a great soldier and a statesman at the same time. He was the key interlocutor for Vittorio Emanuele II and for Cavour in the complex management of events of the Risorgimento years. In his position of responsibility top he always had a great sense of state , readily accepting difficult and unpopular tasks: even today in Genoa his name provokes criticism for his repression of the anti-monarchical riots in 1849.
Particularly important was his reform of the army that he directed as Minister of War, between 1849 and 1859 and which was handled with farsightedness and a talent for mediation: a forward-looking reform which tackled sensitive subjects like military health or justice in a constructive rather than conservative manner.
The success of the Crimean expedition in 1855-1856 was recognised as a great triumph but a few years later, having been appointed prefect of Naples , Alfonso was aware that he had come in for further criticism. There is no doubt that even today in many books Alfonso la Marmora is remembered , rather than for his successes, for his involvement in the Third War of Independence and his defeat at Custoza in 1866: so serious was that event that it cast a shadow over his entire life.
After the unification of Italy he settled in Florence with his English wife but the couple had no offspring. Alfonso had a strong social conscience and worked hard and efficiently as a benefactor of charitable institutions in Turin and Biella.
The twelfth male in a family of sixteen brothers and sisters, Alfonso was close to his family as can be seen from his proliferous correspondence with his brothers and sisters, most of whom he survived.
The House of Savoy never lost their faith in him and Vittorio Emanuele II asked him to be his first lieutenant in Rome in 1870.
The La Marmora crypt in the Basilica of San Sebastiano, Biella
Alfonso la Marmora helped in the task, which had been begun by his brothers Edoardo and Carlo Emanuele , of transforming the San Sebastiano complex in Biella into the family mausoleum. Alone after the death of his wife and his fifteen siblings, he devoted himself to completing the work and preparing the crypt where he himself would also be buried. In particular , he commissioned the sculptor Odoardo Tabacchi to create a statue of his wife Giovanna Bertie Mathew kneeling in devotion; the work was placed in front of the crypt where the remains of the family were buried. Alfonso la Marmora died in Florence in 1878 and his remains were transferred to Biella . The news of his death and his funeral received scarce mention in the newspapers of the day on account of an unusual coincidence. Alfonso la Marmora died on 5th January. When King Vittorio Emanuele II learnt of the general’s death, he sent a telegram with condolences to the family which turned out to be one of the last things he ever wrote: in fact the king fell ill shortly afterwards and died on the 9th January. The great national sorrow over the death of the king overshadowed the general’s and therefore his passing was not accorded the same ceremony as it would have been in different circumstances.