CHARLES ALBERT [Carlo Alberto] (1798-1849), king of Sardinia (Piedmont), son of Prince Charles of Savoy-Carignano and Princess Albertine of Saxe-Courland, was born on the 2nd of October 1798, a few days before the French occupied Piedmont and forced his cousin King Charles Emmanuel to take refuge in Sardinia. Although Prince and Princess Carignano adhered to the French Republican régime, they soon fell under suspicion and were summoned to Paris. Prince Charles died in 1800, and his widow married a Count de Montléart and for some years led a wandering existence, chiefly in Switzerland, neglecting her son and giving him mere scraps of education, now under a devotee of J.J. Rousseau, now under a Genevan Calvinist. In 1802 King Charles Emmanuel abdicated in favour of his brother Victor Emmanuel I.; the latter's only son being dead, his brother Charles Felix was heir to the throne, and after him Charles Albert. On the fall of Napoleon in 1814 the Piedmontese court returned to Turin and the king was anxious to secure the succession for Charles Albert, knowing that Austria meditated excluding him from it in favour of an Austrian archduke, but at the same time he regarded him as an objectionable person on account of his revolutionary upbringing. Charles Albert was summoned to Turin, given tutors to instruct him in legitimist principles, and on the 1st of October 1817 married the archduchess Maria Theresa of Tuscany, who, on the 14th of March 1820, gave birth to Victor Emmanuel, afterwards king of Italy.
The Piedmontese government at this time was most reactionary, and had made a clean sweep of all French institutions. But there were strong Italian nationalists and anti-Austrian tendencies among the younger nobles and army officers, and the Carbonari and other revolutionary societies had made much progress.
Their hopes centred in the young Carignano, whose agreeable manners had endeared him to all, and who had many friends among the Liberals and Carbonari. Early in 1820 a revolutionary movement was set on foot, and vague plans of combined risings all over Italy and a war with Austria were talked of. Charles Albert no doubt was aware of this, but he never actually became a Carbonaro, and was surprised and startled when after the outbreak of the Neapolitan revolution of 1820 some of the leading conspirators in the Piedmontese army, including Count Santorre di Santarosa and Count San Marzano, informed him that a military rising was ready and that they counted on his help (2nd March 1821). He induced them to delay the outbreak and informed the king, requesting him, however, not to punish anyone. On the 10th the garrison of Alessandria mutinied, and two days later Turin was in the hands of the insurgents, the people demanding the Spanish constitution. The king at once abdicated and appointed Charles Albert regent. The latter, pressed by the revolutionists and abandoned by his ministers, granted the constitution and sent to inform Charles Felix, who was now king, of the occurrence. Charles Felix, who was then at Modena, repudiated the regent's acts, accepted Austrian military assistance, with which the rising was easily quelled, and exiled Charles Albert to Florence. The young prince found himself the most unpopular man in Italy, for while the Liberals looked on him as a traitor, to the king and the Conservatives he was a dangerous revolutionist. At the Congress of Verona (1822) the Austrian chancellor, Prince Metternich, tried to induce Charles Felix to set aside Charles Albert's rights of succession. But the king was piqued by Austria's interference, and as both the grand-duke of Tuscany and the duke of Wellington supported him, Charles Albert's claims were respected. France having decided to intervene in the Spanish revolution on the side of autocracy, Charles Albert asked permission to join the duc d'Angoulême's expedition. The king granted it and the young prince set out for Spain, where he fought with such gallantry at the storming of the Trocadero (1st of September 1823) that the French soldiers proclaimed him the "first Grenadier of France." But it was not until he had signed a secret undertaking binding himself, as soon as he ascended the throne, to place himself under the tutelage of a council composed of the higher clergy and the knights of the Annunziata, and to maintain the existing forms of the monarchy (D. Berti, Cesare Alfieri, xi. 77, Rome, 1871), that he was allowed to return to Turin and forgiven.
On the death of Charles Felix (27th of April 1831) Charles Albert succeeded; he inherited a kingdom without an army, with an empty treasury, a chaotic administration and medieval laws. His first task was to set his house in order; he reorganized the finances, created the army, and started Piedmont on a path which if not liberalism was at least progress. "He was," wrote his reactionary minister, Count della Margherita, "hostile to Austria from the depths of his soul and full of illusions as to the possibility of freeing Italy from dependence on her.... As for the revolutionaries, he detested them but feared them, and was convinced that sooner or later he would be their victim." In 1833 a conspiracy of the Giovane Italia Society, organized by Mazzini, was discovered, and a number of its members punished with ruthless severity. On the election in 1846 of Pius IX., who appeared to be a Liberal and an Italian patriot, the eyes of all Italy were turned on him as the heaven-born leader who was to rescue the country from the foreigner. This to some extent reconciled the king to the Liberal movement, for it accorded with his religious views. "I confess," he wrote to the marquis of Villamarina, in 1847, "that a war of national independence which should have for its object the defence of the pope would be the greatest happiness that could befall me." On the 30th of October he issued a decree granting wide reforms, and when risings broke out in other parts of Italy early in 1848 and further liberties were demanded, he was at last induced to grant the constitution (8th February).
When the news of the Milanese revolt against the Austrians reached Turin (19th of March) public opinion demanded that the Piedmontese should succour their struggling brothers; and after some hesitation the king declared war. But much time had been wasted and many precious opportunities lost. With an army of 60,000 Piedmontese troops and 30,000 men from other parts of Italy the king took the field, and after defeating the Austrians at Pastrengo on the 30th of April, and at Goito on the 30th of May, where he was himself slightly wounded, more time was wasted in useless operations. Radetzky, the Austrian general, having received reinforcements, drove the centre of the extended Italian line back across the Mincio (23rd of July), and in the two days' fighting at Custozza (24th and 25th of July) the Piedmontese were beaten, forced to retreat, and to ask for an armistice. On re-entering Milan Charles Albert was badly received and reviled as a traitor by the Republicans, and although he declared himself ready to die defending the city the municipality treated with Radetzky for a capitulation; the mob, urged on by the demagogues, made a savage demonstration against him at the Palazzo Greppi, whence he escaped in the night with difficulty and returned to Piedmont with his defeated army. The French Republic offered to intervene in the spring of 1848, but Charles Albert did not desire foreign aid, the more so as in this case it would have had to be paid for by the cession of Nice and Savoy. The revolutionary movement throughout Italy was breaking down, but Charles Albert felt that while he possessed an army he could not abandon the Lombards and Venetians, and determined to stake all on a last chance. On the 12th of March 1849 he denounced the armistice and took the field again with an army of 80,000 men, but gave the chief command to the Polish general Chrzanowski. General Ramorino commanding the Lombard division proved unable to prevent the Austrians from crossing the Ticino (20th of April), and Chrzanowski was completely out-generalled and defeated at La Bicocca near Novara on the 23rd. The Piedmontese fought with great bravery, and the unhappy king sought death in vain. After the battle he asked terms of Radetzky, who demanded the occupation by Austria of a large part of Piedmont and the heir to the throne as a hostage. Thereupon, feeling himself to be the obstacle to better conditions, Charles Albert abdicated in favour of his son Victor Emmanuel. That same night he departed alone and made his way to Oporto, where he retired into a monastery and died on the 28th of July 1849.
Charles Albert was not a man of first-rate ability; he was of a hopelessly vacillating character. Devout and mystical to an almost morbid degree, hating revolution and distrusting Liberalism, he was a confirmed pessimist, yet he had many noble qualities: he was brave to the verge of foolhardiness, devoted to his country, and ready to risk his crown to free Italy from the foreigner. To him the people of Italy owe a great debt, for if he failed in his object he at least materialized the idea of the Risorgimento in a practical shape, and the charges which the Republicans and demagogues brought against him were monstrously unjust.
Bibliography. - Besides the general works on modern Italy, see the Marquis Costa de Beauregard's interesting volumes La Jeunesse du roi Charles Albert (Paris, 1899) and Novare et Oporto (1890), based on the king's letters and the journal of Sylvain Costa, his faithful equerry, though the author's views are those of an old-fashioned Savoyard who dislikes the idea of Italian unity; Ernesto Masi's Il Segreto del Re Carlo Alberto (Bologna, 1891) is a very illuminating essay; Domenico Perrero, Gli Ultimi Reali di Savoia (Turin, 1889); L. Cappelletti, Storia di Carlo Alberto (Rome, 1891); Nicomede Bianchi, Storia della diplomazia europea in Italia (8 vols., Turin, 1865, etc.), a most important work of a general character, and the same author's Scritti e lettere di Carlo Alberto (Rome, 1879) and his Storia della monarchia piemontese (Turin, 1877); Count S. della Margherita, Memorandum storico-politico (Turin, 1851).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)