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The Great Italian Biscuit Bake-off: Garibaldi v Bourbon

By on September 17, 2012

RUTH ALLEN savours an historic tale with a little-known Glasgow twist.

Pic: Victor Emmanuel II Monument, Rome. By Ruth Allen.

A long time ago in a land far away – well hidden from the critical tongues of Paul Hollywood and Mary Baker – a crucial ‘battle of the biscuits’ was taking place, between Garibaldi and the Bourbons. In the Italy of 1860, the Garibaldi in question was Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of Italian unification. In a bid to join the south of Italy to the newly unified north, he had daringly invaded the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with his legendary ‘thousand red-shirts’ The largely mercenary troops of the young Bourbon King Francis II just melted away after initial resistance, allowing Garibaldi free entry to the capital Naples, from where he handed the south to King Victor Emmanuel II, the soon-to-be king of unified Italy.

But what is the Scottish connection to these events – apart from the (disputed) claim both biscuits were created by Scot John Carr? Two other Scotsmen provide the link, one our national hero William Wallace and the other the largely unknown Glasgow radical businessman John McAdam (1806-83), who worked tirelessly for political reform at home and nationalist aspirations abroad. It was McAdam who was at the centre of a network of organisations in Glasgow and beyond which provided financial support and practical assistance to Garibaldi’s cause.

Of a total of £15,000 raised nationally for Garibaldi, a quarter came from Glasgow and Edinburgh alone, much of it gathered at fund-raising concerts in City Hall as well as donations from well-off sympathisers. Glasgow workers, who had been active in organisations such as the Friends of Italy and the Committee for Emancipation of Italy from 1851, gave up their Saturday half-day holiday to make munitions for the cause.

Recruiting offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow were overwhelmed after a newspaper advert appealed for volunteers for a ‘Scotch Company’ to fight with Garibaldi.  In Glasgow 400 volunteers were whittled down to 50 ‘tartan-shirts’, who set off for Italy in September 1860 financed by the Garibaldi Fund Committee.

McAdam made frequent trips to Italy to meet Garibaldi, negotiating the return of the surviving volunteers in February 1861. His close relationship with the ‘Italian William Wallace’ paid off soon after, when McAdam canvassed the great liberation fighters of Europe for letters of support, which were used to raise cash to build the Wallace Monument in Stirling between 1861 and 1869. Garibaldi’s thanks to the people of Scotland and tribute to his fellow freedom fighter can be seen in Stirling’s Smith Art Gallery and Museum. The relationship ended in disappointment when Garibaldi’s grand tour of Britain in 1864 was cut short before his planned visit to Glasgow – either on medical or government advice, no-one can be sure which.

The full story of Garibaldi and Italian Unification can be followed at the Museum of the Risorgimento in Rome’s Victor Emmanuel II Monument – for free. From the dozens of hotels within a stone’s throw of the Monument, our choice was the Duca d’Alba,  named after the 1839 Donizetti opera about the oppressive 16th century Spanish Viceroy, with its ‘Hymn to Liberty’ chorus which echoed the aspirations of the Italian unifiers.


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