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Mazzini and Ferrara

Written by  Luigi Davide Mantovani

A distant but special bond

Portrait of Malvina Mosti CostabiliNobody really knows whether Mazzini ever set foot in Ferrara. His political connections with the city have been described by Alessandro Levi and Costantino Panigada in their essay "L'elezione di Giuseppe Maz- zini a deputato di Ferrara alla Costituente romana del 1849" (The election of Giuseppe Mazzini, Ferrara Member of the Constituent Assembly of Rome 1849) (Ferrara, Zuffi, 1919).

Without doubt the most politically significant relationship he had was with Gioacchino Bonnet from Comacchio, his point of reference for the attempted insurrection in the Veneto region. However, those examining Mazzini's immense correspondence will find a special connection with Ferrara, starting with the young Tancredi Mosti, future com- mander of the 'Bersaglieri del Po'.

In September 1846, Countess Gianna Maffei Mosti, mother of Tancredi and widow of Ercole Mosti, went to Genoa with her twenty-year-old son in the hope of complet- ing his cultural education. Tancredi, however, was particularly anxious to carry out a European tour in order to follow in the footsteps of his father. He arrived in London at the start of November 1846, so contact must have been made with Mazzini shortly after, as Mazzini wrote to Giuseppe Lamberti, his most important ally in Paris, «I'm writing again to mention Count Mosti, a splendid young man from Ferrara, with some connections to the moderate party of Rome and Bologna but, at the same time, loyal to my opinions and therefore to be cultivated». A week later he wrote once more: «Dear Lamberti, first of all let me introduce you to a young Count Mosti from Ferrara, Italian in both soul and heart (...)».Two portraits of the Marquis Tancredi Trotti Mosti

At that time, Mazzini was in the process of creating a Fondo Nazionale (National Foundation), through which he hoped to subsidize patriotic action: the young man from Ferrara was immediately enlisted and began to travel between London and Paris. Mazzini wrote to Lamberti again: «You will have seen the young Mosti. Hold him dear, he will be my agent in Ferrara for the National Foundation».

At this point it would appear that Tancredi had become a trusted collaborator of Mazzini's political strategy. But after having met a young man from Ferrara, the city of Ferrara it- self must have entered the heart and thoughts of Mazzini. The election of Pius IX had alarmed Austria to the point of contemplating a plot against the pope. In Ferrara, on the 14th June 1847, Baron Flaminio Baratelli head of the Austrian spy service in the Papal States, was assassinated. Subsequently Radetsky ordered military contingents to enter the city.  This incident resounded across Europe as it threatened to upset the balance of the Treaty of Vienna.

Mazzini, realizing the possible consequences wrote to his mother: «The act will take place and then it will be the case to see what the Italians can do». The situation seemed to animate him – «I feel my blood boil when I hear of the events Ferrara». As it turned out, things went differently, and Austria gave up on the military operation.

Shortly after, however, Mazzini met Tancredi's sister, Malvina Mosti Costabili, who had ostentatiously married into another branch of the Ferrara nobility: Giovanni Costabili, heir of Giovan Battista, one of the most influential ministers of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy.

Giovanni was a moderate, but the flight of Pius IX had led him, with his family, to Rome, after having been elected to the Roman Constituent Assembly as Minister of Finance in the last few months of the Republic. During the fighting against the French, Malvina had been part of the group of women in the organization that assisted the wounded.

Forced into exile after the fall of the Roman Republic, she took refuge with her husband and children in Genoa, where she became a close friend of Mazzini's mother. Mazzini was responsible for finding a good tutor for Malvina's children, asking her information by means of his mother, and trying to involve her in the National Loan project. But the correspondence between Mazzini and Malvina must have also touched more political issues, since his mother sent and received "packages" of suspicious papers. Maria wrote to Malvina in 1850: «A few days after you left I received a letter from Emilia which included the missive that I was asked to send you». Maria's friend 'Emilia' was, in fact, none other than Giuseppe Mazzini.