150 years of annexation – No reason to celebrate


This year, 2010 the City of Nice is “celebrating” 150 years of annexation by the French.

This annexation and the plebescite were preceded by, and accompanied with, violence, threats to imprison all the “non” voters, years of intimidation and indoctrination, replacement of pro-Italy mayors and priests by pro-France ones, all for the sake of political power. Never ever did the people of Nice want to be part of France! 


The County of Nice is a historical region of France, located in the south-eastern part, around the city of Nice. For some time it was a part of the ancient County of Provence, then in 1388 it became a part of the Duchy of Savoy (that became the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1720). After being integrated into Savoy, during the fifteenth century, the region received the name County of Nice. From 1388 to 1860 the history of the County of Nice was fully integrated with the history of Italy.

The Contea di Nizza (as the area of Nice had been called in Italian since medieval times) was populated by Ligurian tribes up to the occupation by the Romans.

Before the year 1000 the area of Nice was part of the Ligurian League, under the Republic of Genoa, and the population spoke the dialect common to western Liguria that today is called Intemelio. The medieval writer Dante Alighieri wrote, in his Divine Comedy, that the river Var, near Nice, was the western limit of the Italian Liguria.

 The Franks conquered the region after the fall of Rome, and the local Romance populations became integrated within the County of Provence, with a period of independence as a maritime republic (1108–1176). Around the twelfth century Nice came under the French House of Anjou, who favoured the immigratrion of peasants from Provence who brought their Occitan language. In those years, the people of the mountainous areas of the upper Var valley started to lose their Ligurian linguistic characteristics and began to adopt Provençal influences.

From 1388 to 1860 the County of Nice was under the Savoyard rule and remained connected to the Italian dialects and peninsula. In those centuries the local dialect of Nice, known as Niçard, was similar to Monégasque (of the Principality of Monaco) but with more Occitan influences. Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, abolished the use of Latin and established the Italian language as the official language of Nice in 1561.

Installed by Rudolph III, King of Burgundy, officially in 1003, the House of Savoy became the longest surviving royal house in Europe. It ruled the County of Savoy to 1416 and then the Duchy of Savoy from 1416 to 1714. The County and Duchy of Savoy incorporated Turin and other territories in Piedmont, a region in northwestern Italy that borders Savoy, which were also possessions of the House of Savoy. The capital of the Duchy remained at the traditional Savoyard capital of Chambéry until 1563, when it was moved to Turin. In the 18th century, the Duchy of Savoy was linked with the Kingdom of Sardinia. While the heads of the House of Savoy were known as the Kings of Sardinia, Turin remained their capital. The original territory of Savoy was absorbed into France in 1860, as part of the political agreement with Napoleon III that brought about the unification of Italy, but the House of Savoy retained its Italian lands and its heads became the Kings of Italy.

Conquered in 1792 by the armies of the First French Republic, the County of Nice was part of France until 1814; but after that year it was placed under the protection of the Kingdom of Sardinia by the Congress of Vienna.

France attempted first to annex Savoy in 1848. Corps were dispatched from Lyon and invaded the capital of Savoy [Chambéry] and proclaimed the annexation to France. On learning about the invasion countrymen rushed to Chambéry. The corps were chased away by the local population and many were massacred.

After successfully seeking British support and ingratiating himself with France and Napoleon III at the Congress of Paris in 1856 at the end of the war, the Sardinian Prime Minister arranged a secret meeting with the French emperor. In 1858, they met at Plombières-les-Bains (in Lorraine), where they agreed that if the French were to help Piedmont combat Austria, which still occupied Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in northern Italy, France would be awarded Nice and Savoy. And Victor Emmanuel wanted Venice more than he wanted Nice and Savoy. During the discussion, the Arrondissement of Nice and Duchy of Savoy were promised to France in exchange for its military support. This agreement was kept secret for several decades in an attempt to hide to the Great Powers of Europe the fact that the annexation of Savoy and Nice was not the result of a popular movement but of a machiavellian trade.

The deception did not totally succeed as the United Kingdom early learned about the stratagem.

The French annexed Nice in 1860, during the Italian Wars of Independence, in exchange for French military help against Austria. Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was born in Nice, strongly opposed the cession of the Nizzardo to France, arguing that was not done with “universal” vote; in 1866 there were popular riots in the city, promoted by “Garibaldini” in favour of the unification of Nice with Italy. More than 11,000 Nizzardo Italians refused to be French and moved to Italy (mainly Turin and Genoa) after 1861. The French government closed the Italian language newspapersDiritto di Nizza and Voce di Nizza in 1861, and Il Pensiero di Nizza in 1895. The dimension of the “exodus” can be deducted by the fact that in the Savoy census of 1858, Nice had only 44,000 inhabitants. In 1881 the New York Times wrote that before the French annexation the Nizzards were quite as much Italians as the Genoese, and their dialect was, if anything, nearer the Tuscan than is the harsh dialect of Genoa.

In twenty years the Nizzardo Italians were reduced to a small minority and even Niçard was increasingly assimilated by Occitan, with many French loanwords. (Modern-day linguists usually hold that Niçard is an Occitan dialect.)

Giuseppe Garibaldi defined his “Nizzardo” as an Italian dialect, albeit with strong similarities to Occitan and with some French influences, and for this reason promoted the union of Nice to the Kingdom of Italy.

Victor Emmanuel II, the King of Piedmont, Savoy, and Sardinia from 1849 to 1861, assumed the title King of Italy on 17 March 1861, to become the first king of a united Italy. Giving up the County of Nice payed off.

Since 1861 the County has matched with the Arrondissement of Nice,  that is the biggest part of the Alpes-Maritimes department, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

Nizzardo Italians were the Italian (and Ligurian) speaking populations of the County of Nice (Nizza), who formed the majority of the county’s population until the mid-19th century. The term was coined by Italian Irredentists who sought the unification of all Italian peoples within the Kingdom of Italy. During the Risorgimento, in 1860, the Savoy government allowed France to annexe the region of Nice from the Kingdom of Sardinia in exchange for French support of its quest to unify Italy, by a treaty concluded in 1860 between the Sardinian king and Napoleon III. Consequently, the Nizzardo Italians were shunned from the Italian unification movement and the region has since become primarily French-speaking after a sustained process of Francization conducted since 1861. Only along the coast around Menton and in the mountains around Tende there are still some native Italian speakers of the original Intemelio (ligurian dialect).

In the century of nationalism between 1850 and 1950, the Nizzardo Italians were reduced from the 70% majority of the 125,000 living in the County of Nice at the time of the French annexation to the actual minority of nearly two thousand (in the area of Tende and Menton) today.

Actually Nizzardo Italians are fluent in French, but a few of them still speak the original ligurian-influenced language of Nissa La Bella.

A Bloody Lie: “The 14th June celebrates the referendum held on the 15-16th June 1860, where 86% of the Nicois voted to unite with France.”

The Plebiscite

The treaty annexing Nice and Savoy to France was signed in Turin on March 24, 1860 (Treaty of Turin). The treaty was followed on April 22/23 by a plebiscite in which voters were offered the option of approving the treaty and joining France or rejecting the treaty under certain conditions; the disallowed options of either joining Switzerland (with which the region had close ties), remaining with Italy, or regaining its independence, were the source of some opposition. With a 99.8% vote in favour of joining France, there were allegations of vote-rigging. The correspondent of The Times in Savoy who was in Bonneville on the 22nd of April called the vote “the lowest and most immoral farce which was ever played in the history of nations”. He finished his letter with those words:

“I leave you to draw your own conclusions from this trip, which will show clearly what the vote was in this part of Savoy. The vote was the bitterest irony ever made on popular suffrage. The ballot-box in the hands of those very authorities who issued the proclamations; no control possible; even travellers suspected and dogged lest they should pry into the matter; all opposition put down by intimidation, and all liberty of action completely taken away. One can really scarcely reproach the Opposition with having given up the game; there was too great force used against them. As for the result of the vote, therefore, no one need trouble himself about it; it will be just as brilliant as that in Nice. The only danger is lest the Savoy authorities in their zeal should fare as some of the French did in the vote of 1852, finding to their surprise rather more votes than voters inscribed on the list.” (1860: In Bogève, 171 ballot papers YES for 163 registered voters; in Bonneville 2600 voters… for 2500 inhabitants!)

In his letter to the ambassador of Vienna Lord A. Loftus, the then Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell said “Voting in Savoy and Nice a farce … we are neither entertained or edified”.

By the treaty it was agreed between France and Italy that Savoy and Nice, after the population had been consulted, should be ceded to France, and that Tuscany and the Romagna should also, after a similar consultation, be annexed to Sardinia. By the terms of the treaty the annexation of these respective territories was made no less advantageous to Victor Emmanuel than to Napoleon. With Austria vindictive and powerful, and in a threatening strategical position; with the Pope outraged and desperate, and in control of an army which attached to itself a large share of the fanaticism of Europe, there was no hope for struggling Italy but in a firmer alliance with France. In this fact alone is to be found an explanation of the willingness of the Sardinian government to part with so considerable a portion of its territory. Reasons enough existed why King and Emperor were equally anxious that the people should vote for annexation.

The fifth article of the Sardinian Constitution provides that treaties which shall make any alteration in the territories of the State shall not take effect until after they have obtained the consent of the Chamber. In view of this provision, it was manifestly the duty of the government to submit the treaty to the Chamber for ratification before the popular vote should be taken, inasmuch as it was only by virtue of the treaty that the people would be entitled to vote at all. But there were dangers in this method of procedure which the Sardinian government did not fail to foresee. The project of annexation was not popular in Parliament, indeed, it was likely to fail. Garibaldi did not hesitate to raise his voice, in season and out of season, against it; and, what was of the greatest importance, as showing the untrammelled desires of the people most affected, every one of the delegates from Nice and Savoy  to Parliament had been elected with the express understanding that they were to protest against such a transfer to another power. In the short time that allowed of effort, thirteen thousand signatures were obtained to a protest against annexation. In view of these inconvenient facts, it was determined to postpone a ratification by Parliament until a popular vote, unanimous or nearly unanimous, had been secured. It seems to have been of no consequence that the treaty, according to which the vote was to be taken, really had no existence until it was ratified by the Chamber; it was determined to proceed as though it had been ratified, and then to use the advantage gained by this procedure to secure its ratification.

Accordingly, measures were instituted to secure such a popular vote as was desired. First of all, the Sardinian troops were withdrawn, and their places were filled by French garrisons. The opposition of the inhabitants of Nice to becoming French was indicated by the fact that the troops, on first entering the city, were received so roughly that they were obliged to resort to the use of the bayonet. The municipal junta sent a vote of thanks to those members of the English Parliament who had spoken in opposition to French annexation. The French Consul wrote to his government, that, if a French man-of-war did not come to Villa Franca (Villefranche), his own life and that of his family would not be secure. After the said ship arrived, the editor of the newly established French organ, L’Avenir de Nice, was besieged in his house, and obliged to rush down to Villa Franca for refuge.

Such were some of the indications of public sentiment at the time when the French garrisons were taking their places. It was evident that the people were not to be easily overawed.

But the efforts of the government had only just begun. Immediately after the occupation of the country by French troops, there was published an order transferring the civil government of the provinces to France. The French provisional governor, Lubonis, made haste to use the power thus placed in his hands for the advantage of his imperial master, and his example was speedily followed by Lachinal. Many of the mayors and local authorities were utterly opposed to the idea of French annexation, and without their co-operation it was felt that a vote of the people in favour of the measure could not be insured. So even before the plebiscite, an important purification of the administrative staff was done by the two provisional governors appointed by France : all suspicious syndics (city mayors) who did not resign by themselves were fired; the new poll lists were elaborated by the pro-France commitee; a strong propaganda campaign was launched, saying, in particular, that “it is impossible to be against the annexation; anybody who would do it would be send to the convict prison of Cayenne, without even a trial: it should only be necessary, for that, to use the exception law, valid in France“.

A proclamation in favour of French rule was issued by Malaussena, Mayor of Nice; and finally, as if to crown all, the Bishop came forward in the same interest, appealing to all loyal members of the Church to vote for annexation. Nor, indeed, was this all. The French Committee sent to all the officials a circular bearing the government seal, and appealing for support to all the authorities in town and country.

 The “necessary measures” to which the committee alluded were amply provided for. A sum of money had been placed at their disposal by the French government; and of this it is stated on good authority that 3,000,000 francs were used in the direct work of bribery, exclusive of the expenses of the government on the day of voting. Drinking booths and cafés were erected especially for the purpose by the officials, and a tri-colored cockade or a voting ticket with “oui” upon it entitled the bearer to the gratuitous enjoyment of all their privileges.

Another device which appealed to the religious zeal of the people was that of blessing the standards of the imperial party. This official blessing of the French flags was calculated to work an immense effect upon the ignorant and somewhat superstitious population.

In addition to all the other pressure, the local police authorities openly declared that lists of the proscrits would be made out, and that those who abstained from voting would be punished as soon as they became French subjects. The same authorities received orders from head-quarters at Nice to collect the peasants on the day of voting and march them into town, with drums beating, and French flags floating at their head. An Englishman, who was at Nice at the time of the election, thus describes what he saw:—

“The first object which met my view, as I entered Nice on the morning of the 15th, was a procession of country people marching into town. At the head of the procession was a fat curé, arm-in-arm with the village syndic and another functionary; behind were thirty or forty rustics, some of them extremely drunk, although early in the morning, carrying flags, beating drums, and cheering in a maudlin, irregular manner. The streets were crowded with persons wearing tri-colored cockades and carrying the oui voting-ticket in their hats. French soldiers, of whom there was a plentiful sprinkling, mingled freely with the crowd, although one battalion had been marched to Villa Franca, to give the authorities an opportunity of saying that, in order not to influence the vote, part of the French troops had left the town. The urns were placed in the National College, and thither I repaired to watch the process of voting. The people crowded in and voted with scarcely a challenge; lists of those registered were posted up outside; but at first the votes were given too rapidly to enable the scrutineers to exercise any check. The oui ticket was distributed freely in the streets; men stood at the corners as if they were advertising quack medicines, and gave you any number of “ouis”, but I endeavored both in the shops and in the streets to procure a “non” without success. One boor I saw just about to vote two tickets. I asked him if such was his intention, and he naively answered, ‘Why not?’ ‘0,’ I said, ‘it won’t be fair’; give me one,—which he most good-naturedly did at once. Another man to whom I spoke told me that he was strongly opposed to becoming French,—that he had two sons in the Sardinian service, one in the army and the other in the navy, that he himself was a poor boatman, and that he had voted oui against his inclination, because the police had told him that if he did not he would be imprisoned, that the King whom he loved wanted it,—that England and all the powers wanted it,—and that as for his voting in the opposite sense he would simply get himself into a scrape and do no good. But he said promptly, ‘I have neither cheered, nor will I wear a cockade.’ As all the scrutineers were the nominees of Pietri (the French Agent of Police), and, as they held the keys of the urns, there was, of course, no security against any number of oui tickets being put into them in private.”

Such were the means by which the hostility of Nice and Savoy to French annexation was converted into an almost unanimous declaration in its favour. Under any circumstances whatever such a spectacle of organized trickery would be a painful thing to contemplate. It is possible to imagine a situation in which the ruler of the nation, for political reasons, might submit a question that had already been decided to the ratification of his people with no other evil result than that which might chance to be inflicted upon the people themselves. But in the case of Savoy and Nice there was an element in the transaction which made it an outrage upon the liberal sentiment of Europe and of the world. We refer to the repeated declarations that the votation would be perfectly free. The first article of the treaty declared that “it is understood between their Majesties that this re-union shall be effected without any constraint upon the will of the people, and that the government of the King of Sardinia and that of the Emperor of the French will agree as soon as possible upon the best means of arriving at and of confirming the manifestation of this will.” Not long after the Treaty was formed, a deputation from Nice waited upon Victor Emmanuel, when he assured them “that he had stipulated as a condition of this cession a votation free from any external pressure, and promised that, if a military occupation took place, or if the condition was violated in any manner, he would protest”; and again, in the proclamation by which he released his subjects in Nice and Savoy from their allegiance, he gave them this assurance: “Under no circumstances will this great change in your destiny be imposed upon you; it must be the result of your free consent. Such is my firm determination; such also is the intention of the Emperor of the French.”

Finally, in the Chamber of Deputies, when the vigorous protest of Garibaldi seemed likely to put an end to the whole transaction, confidence was restored only when Count Cavour assured the deputies that the vote should be absolutely free (pienamente libero). And yet, in view of all these most solemn assurances, what have we seen? Italian troops removed and French troops put in their places; all the important civil offices filled with Frenchmen, or men committed to the support of the French cause; official circulars and placards advocating annexation scattered everywhere, while no publication of an opposing sentiment was anywhere allowed; ballot-boxes in exclusive control of French officers; ballots in favour of annexation distributed everywhere by the police, while ballots opposed to annexation could be procured only by sending to Geneva; priests blessing the flags presented by the Emperor, and appealing to the consciences of their people in behalf of France; money, as well as general free living and drinking, furnished by the imperial agents; and, finally, the people, with French music sounding and French banners flying, marched up en masse to the ballot-box, with priest and mayor arm-in-arm at their head. Such was the boasted free vote with the sanction and help of which Nice and Savoy were annexed to France.


In 2010, 150 years after the annexation and after a long campaign lead by the Savoyan League and other secessionists, the local authorities and elite in Savoy partially acknowledge the irregularities and undemocratic nature of the plebiscite of the 22nd and 23rd of March 1860.

The Republic of France, however, and the Mayor of Nice with it, don’t mention the irregularities and the undemocratic nature of the plebiscite. They tell the ignorant world that the people of the County of Nice had a real choice, and that they only wanted one thing: to be part of France.

Which is, as you can read here, a bloody lie.

Yet, French nationalism prevails, and the (French) people of Nice and Savoy choose to believe in that lie.


Think about that when you see people celebrating this annexation, this disguised occupation, called “attachment” and even “rattachement” by the French.

Why would a modern democratic European state seek pride in such an undemocratic past, why would it keep lying about that past?


Jack Vanderwyk

(source: Wikipedia and several other websites)



About Jack Vanderwyk

Hey! What am I like! :-)
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