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The Pulitzer winning author of The Pope and Mussolini takes on a central untold story of the Papacy the revolution that stripped the Pope of political power and signaled the birth of modern EuropeThe longest reigning pope Pope Pius IX also oversaw one of the greatest periods of tumult and transition in Church history When Pius IX was elected the pope was s This is a well researched well written and unexpectedly gripping account of the reign of Pius IX the last pope to govern central Italy as a secular and absolute monarch The narrative mostly focuses on the first tumultuous years of his papacy from his election in 1846 through his well meaning beginnings amid an antiuated government of reactionary cardinals to the chaos of 1848 That revolutionary year much as the Arab Spring was in our time shook government after government across Europe and it would arrive in Rome in the form of a Roman Republic and a people sick of theocratic rule and Pius IX would dither and then flee to the Kingdom of NaplesIt s an exciting story mainly about the momentous and violent period 1848 49 mostly in Rome and the revolution and siege of the Eternal City The book no spoiler does sketch his subseuent reign and his being chased into the Vatican for good in 1870 by an army of reunified ItalyPius IX to be fair had a weak hand to play with few resources in the Papal States and a weak army with the surrounding powers Kingdom of Naples Austrian Empire the Kingdom of Sardinia and the new post revolutionary French Second Republic themselves feeling compelled to intervene to save or capture the papacy to suit their own interests as much as the Catholic cause Nonetheless Pius IX Pio Nono comes off at times as conflicted feckless even irrelevant his first move in exile in Gaeta is not to rally an army but to draft an encyclical about the Immaculate ConceptionOther vivid characters come into the story his villainous secretary of state Cardinal Antonelli the operatic Kings Ferdinand in Naples and Charles Albert of Sardinia the heroic tragic revolutionaries Mazzini Garibaldi Ugo Bassi and Ciceruacchio We see the leaders of another 1848 vintage republic the French president Louis Napoleon his ambassador de Lesseps and his foreign minister Alexis de Tocueville yes the author of Democracy in America intervene and find themselves at war with the Roman Republic We see a fledgling democracy go down under a war between Sardinia and Austria herself beset by revolution in the north and under bloody siege in Rome itself It s a vast canvas and a compelling story played out over less than two years in the 1848 1850 period It shows a pivotal time that established that if the pope had no divine right to govern a state then neither as the author points out did kings Highest recommendation

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The Pope Who Would Be King

Till a king as well as a spiritual leader welcomed by the citizens of the Papal States who hoped he might bring in modern reforms such as a constitutional government after the repressive rule of Pope Gregory XVI In the first year of his rule Pius IX tried to please his subjects with incremental changes while holding onto absolute authority he believed was This is a very fine piece of tradional narrative history writing Clearly a huge amount of research has gone into it but Kertzer does the job of sifting it for us and putting it in narrative form If there is any problem it s that you sometimes feel he add touches he couldn t have known people panting or dropping their shoulders as they do this or that But in the main you feel you re getting the facts from the archives And the story is fascinating if sometimes depressing for the sheer muddle and stupidity of it all If anyone believes that Italy was better off before unification this book is a fine corrective It was one humiliation after another for the Italians

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Divinely ordained But as the revolutionary spirit of 1848 swept through Europe the Pope found he could not have it both ways By the end of his rule the Papacy and Europe had completely transformed In The Pope Who Would Be King David Kertzer tells the story of the revolution that spelled the end of the papacy as an earthly rule and the birth of modern Europ I have a friend who is militantly anti Catholic who once observed how odd he found it that every single Pope since Pius IX has either been canonized or is in the pipeline for it The only exceptions are the Benedicts one of whom isn t dead Benedict XV s lack of promotion is odd since he was arguably both holy and a good steward of the papal throneBut I digress It is certainly true that Popes have been less exciting in the post Pio Nono reigns To say nothing of less political which may be the direct result of the loss of the Papal States Kertzer s well written book focuses upon the beginning of the divestiture of the papal patrimony ie the removal of the Pope to Gaeta in the face of Roman uprisings during the troubles of 1848 An actual republic was declared and Pius IX invited the Catholic powers of Europe France Austria Spain and the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples to suppress it and restore him to his secular authority The republicans were perfectly happy to have the Pope reside in Rome and continue his role as spiritual leader of the Roman Church but Pius wasn t interested His early liberalism after his election in 1846 seems to have been a misguided attempt to curry favor with the citizens of the Papal States rather than any deep seated convictions Once it became apparent that the genie of democracy was out of the bottle the Pope fled the Eternal City The damndest people keep showing up in this story Alexis de Tocueville yes that guy actually winds up being the French Foreign Minister who sends troops against the Roman Republic Rome is bombarded and people die although the French wring their hands a bit over the prospect of damaging the center of Western civilization Pius sits it all out in Gaeta whining non stop about how unfair his people are being to him The net result is to turn a not very bright man into a hardened tyrant no other real word will do when he is restored The Pope has people guillotined In the 1850s Which is not something I knew before Kertzer bends over backwards to be personally kind about Pius character flaws but a modern pontiff who has people beheaded should be disualified for sainthood Apparently not he was declared Venerable in 1985 and Blessed in 2000 by St Pope John Paul II During the previous century three other attempts to advance his cause had failedThe book is a good read Kertzer writes in such a way that one can keep track of the characters and clearly understand what the major players considered to be at stake during Pius early regnal years As for the emergence of Modern Europe subtitle it is less effective That probably had to do with the revolutions that swept the Austrian Empire and the emerging nationalisms in Italy Germany Hungary and the Russian Empire But Pius rejection of the Modern certainly didn t help the cause of the ancien regimeRecommended


10 thoughts on “The Pope Who Would Be King

  1. says:

    Netgalley #28Many thanks to David Kertzer Random House and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased reviewI knew nothing about this period in history and I'm Catholic so now I feel guilty which isn't really anything new since I'm Catholic This took place in Italy around the same time as the first World's Fair Indian territory is evacuated the Republican Party is founded and the Dred

  2. says:

    The Pope who would be King is tremendously entertaining and highly informative for a reader possessing a modest knowledge of the history of Italian Unification The subject is the Roman Republic which was proclaimed on February 9 1849 and suppressed by the French Army on July 2 1849 The goal of the author is to show how the experi

  3. says:

    This is a well researched well written and unexpectedly gripping account of the reign of Pius IX the last pope to govern central Italy as a secular and absolute monarch The narrative mostly focuses on the first tumultuous years of his papacy from his election in 1846 through his well meaning beginnings amid an antiuated government of reactionary cardinals to the chaos of 1848 That revolutionary year much as the Arab S

  4. says:

    The tumultuous life of Pope Pius IX Here is an opportunity to study the life of Pope Pius IX and take a journey through the history of Roman Catholic Church that paved the way for modern Europe Following the death of Pope Gregory XVI 1831–46 the political climate within Italy was turning its tide against Catholic Church’s autocracy The church was steeped in a factional division between conservatives and l

  5. says:

    Through the description of the early years of Pope Pius IX’s administration the general reader comes to understand the passions people and events that lead to the unification of Italy David Kertzer makes the complex issues easy for the lay reader to understandPius IX was an unlikely candidate to emerge as Pope from the 1846 con

  6. says:

    This is a very fine piece of tradional narrative history writing Clearly a huge amount of research has gone into it but Kertzer does the job of sifting it for us and putting it in narrative form If there is any problem it's that you sometimes feel he add touches he couldn't have known people panting or dropping their shoulders as they do this or that But in the main you feel you're getting the facts from the

  7. says:

    I have a friend who is militantly anti Catholic who once observed how odd he found it that every single Pope since Pius IX h

  8. says:

    forgetting the maxim that one must never have for enemies either women or priests

  9. says:

    In the 100 pages of the book that I could force myself to read Pius IX is portrayed as an unimaginative and unskilled leader with no fixed ideas and no ability to move forward with the few ideas he did haveIt would

  10. says:

    The title of this book suggests some of the historical significance of Pope Pius IX who occupied the papacy in the middle of the 19th century We think of the pope as occupying the tiny space of the Vatican City in Rome and being cautious about involvement in the political affairs of the world but a century and