‘Police “Outrages” against British Residents and Travellers in Liberal Italy, 1867-77’

Owain Wright

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    Much has been written about British political and cultural relations with Italy before the country’s unification, while little attention has been paid to Liberal Italy, the unified kingdom which emerged from the Risorgimento in 1861. This article examines a number of incidents which involved innocent and not-so-innocent British residents and travellers in the country between 1867 and 1877. In most of these cases British nationals were detained by the Carabinieri, Italy’s militarised police force, for being unable or for refusing to provide evidence of their identity. Although British subjects were not required to carry passports in Italy, all persons – including Italians – were expected to be in possession of some form of identity document. The Britons concerned were in almost every case ignorant of this regulation, and many of them exacerbated their predicament through obstructive or provocative behaviour. These episodes caused considerable aggravation between the governments of the two countries concerned, creating some friction in an otherwise amicable relationship. This study reveals that British nationals could not claim compensation from the Italian government even if they were deemed to have been mistreated by its agents. Its findings are also consistent with the theory that Victorian notions of supremacy were based very much upon ‘values’; in this case, a fervent belief in the right of private individuals to go about their legitimate business free from encumbrance or intrusive surveillance by the authorities. Finally, besides confirming the suggestion that the Victorians were unaccustomed to carrying identity documents about their person, this examination shows that they felt considerable resentment at having to do so.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)51-72
    JournalCrime History and Societies
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2010


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