Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso (28 June 1808, Lombardy, Italy – 5 July 1871, near Milan) was an Italian noblewoman who played a prominent part in Italy's struggle for independence from Austria. She is also notable as a writer and journalist.
Cristina Trivulzio was the daughter of Jerome Trivulzio and the Marquises Gherardini. Her father died soon after her birth and her mother remarried to Alessandro Visconti of Aragon; she had a stepbrother and three stepsisters through this second marriage. By her own account "I was as a child melancholy, serious, introverted, quiet, so shy that I often happen to burst into tears in the living room of my mother because I realized that I was being looked at or that they wanted me to talk."
She married at 16, at the Church of St. Fedele in Milan on 24 September 1824. She was considered the richest heiress in Italy, with a dowry of 400,000 francs. Her libertine husband, Prince Emilo Barbiano di Belgioioso, caused a separation soon after. They did not divorce and remained on cordial terms throughout their lives.
She had began associating with Mazzinian revolutionaries through her art teacher Ernesta Bisi and stepfather Marquis Alessandro Visonte d'Aragona. This brought her to the attention of the Austrian authorities and she fled penniless to France. Her husband sent her money, and she bought at apartment close to the Madeleine, although she lived in relative poverty. Eventually more money was sent, and she moved house and set up a salon. During the 1830s and 1840s her Paris salon became a meeting place for Italian revolutionaries such as Vincenzo Gioberti, Niccolò Tommaseo, and Camillo Cavour. She also associated with the European artistic intelligentsia, including Alexis de Tocqueville, Honoré de Balzac, Alfred de Musset, Victor Hugo, Heinrich Heine, and Franz Liszt. Other acquaintances were the historians Augustin Thierry and Francois Mignet who would play a major role in her life. It was at her salon that she hosted the famous March 31, 1837 duel between Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg to determine who was the greater pianist. Belgiojoso’s judgment was, "Thalberg is the greatest pianist, but there is only one Liszt."
In 1838, she had a daughter, Mary. The natural father was certainly not her estranged husband, It has been speculated that he may have been her friend Francois Mignet or her personal secretary Bolognini.
In the 1848 Italian revolutions, she organized and financed a troop of soldiers and fought in Milan against the Austrians for Italy's independence. After the insurrection failed, she returned to Paris and published articles in the influential magazine Revue des Deux Mondes describing the struggle in Italy.
In 1849 she returned to Italy to support the Roman Republic formed in the Papal States by Mazzini and others. She became a hospital director during the brief life of the republic until it was suppressed by French troops.
Cristina fled, accompanied by her daughter, first to Malta and then to Constantinople, from where she published an account of the republic and its fall in the French magazine Le National in 1850. She brought land in the remote Ciaq-Maq-Oglou area and then traveled to Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Cristina published accounts of her experiences in the orient and found the condition of women there particularly disturbing. She published Of Women's Condition and of their Future (1866) in which she argues that deprived of education, women come to accept the oppressive conditions in which they find themselves.
She lived in exile in Turkey for eight years before returning to Italy in 1856 and working with the statesman Camillo Benso Cavour for Italian unification which was achieved in 1861.
In 1858 her estranged husband Emilio still legally her spouse died. A few years later she was finally able to legitimize her daughter, Mary.
Her final years were spent in retirement between Milan and Lake Como in the company of her daughter and son-in-law, Marquis Ludovico and her English governess Miss Parker, and her Turkish servant, a freed slave. During this period she continued to write and publish until her death at age 63.
An excerpt from a major book written about Christina Belgiojoso follows. The text in its entirety is available on-line at: http://www.archive.org/details/revolutionarypri00whituoft.
A REVOLUTIONARY PRINCESS
H. REMSEN WHITEHOUSE, 1906
PRINCESS BELGIOJOSO left no private or personal record of her eventful life. Her very considerable literary baggage, dealing almost exclusively with political and sociological
problems, affords but rare and fleeting glimpses of the author's inner self; while of her private correspondence very little is accessible. Her biographer consequently finds himself constrained to draw upon the (fortunately) numerous memoirs of French and Italian contemporaries, most of whom, however, confine themselves to casual mention of her eccentricities or expressions of unbounded admiration of her ardent patriotism.
The voluminous correspondence of the secret agents of the Austrian Government, who for many years minutely chronicled her words and actions, are of course not without their value; but it should be borne in mind that these reports were the work of spies whose means of livelihood depended on their skill in fostering and stimulating the suspicions of their employers. Few of the actors who flit across the stage of Italy's great drama of National Independence equal the Princess Belgiojoso, in romantic interest none surpass her. Although her role was a minor one, yet, ever and anon, she advanced to the footlights, mingling with the "stars," and forcibly arrested the attention of the audience, exciting not only curiosity, but creating the impression that hers was a figure of no mean significance in the development of plot and action.
Furthermore, for well-nigh half a century her name was a familiar one not alone in Italian political and patriotic circles, but to the ears of intellectual Europe. "Femina sexu, ingenio vir," quotes Monselet in a contemporary sketch. Within certain limits the aphorism is an acceptable definition of a temperament at once peculiarly feminine yet on which are grafted attributes supposedly distinctive of masculine genius alone. Womanlike, her reason was almost invariably subjective to sentiment and to transient emotion: she never stopped to determine of what stuff her dreams were made, and when disillusion outran optimism she readily reverted to the prerogatives of her
sex. Full of contradictory elements; lacking equilibrium, yet keenly sensitive to logical appreciations; above and beyond all, stubbornly tenacious of an abstract ideal, the mental processes of this essentially paradoxical nature baffle deductive analysis. Veiled in a haze of mystery, the halo of martyrdom poised over her lovely head, the personality of this strange woman remarkable both despite and on account of her vagaries and extravagances is of yet further interest as, in a sense, typical of the singular admixture of practical and visionary ideals prevailing during the evolutionary period of Italy's national regeneration.
Notwithstanding her eccentricities and exaggerations, this frail epileptic Milanese patrician, the daughter of one of the proudest aristocracies of Europe, undoubtedly wielded in her time an intellectual fascination as effective as it was far reaching. At once a social heroine and apolitical martyr, her hold over a popular imagination gradually unfolding to the realization of the patriotic ideals of which she was readily
accepted as the incarnation, was, for a space at least, considerable. Her influence with the sterner minds which guided and shaped the revolutionary movements in Italy was by the very reason of her impetuosity more restricted, but all, at one time or another, experienced the magnetism of her enthusiasm. Liberally endowed with the histrionic temperament, an audience was as essential to Christina Belgiojoso as the air she breathed. Yet when this has been confessed the worst stands revealed. The purity
of her patriotism is but little affected by the egotism of her personal vanity, oftenest discernible under the guise of that harmless dramatic posturing which some of her detractors pretend is never dissociated from even the most signal of her achievements as a propagandist of political liberties.
Continually shocking the susceptibilities and outraging the conventionalities of an epoch not particularly conspicuous for good taste, this erratic social and political free-lance never forfeited the consideration due to her birth. Sincerely democratic in the best Italian interpretation of the term, all through her many metamorphoses, whether as a Mazzinian conspirator and Republican, an Albertist Liberal, or an independent
Revolutionist, she jealously retained her title to the inherent privileges of a great lady. Even the "citizen" Belgiojoso scorned to forswear the aristocrat, and never omitted from her signature the prefix which was hers by "right divine."
Nor would this lapse from the tenets of the creed she embraced appear to have been in any way resented by her political co-religionaries. With the rank and file of revolutionary patriots, dazzled by the sublime audacity of her anti-Austrian intrigues and her open defiance of the mandates from Vienna, the sincerity of her democracy was unquestioned. But the Princess was not content to cast her spell over any one element of the great national movement she sought to inspire. The charm and brilliancy of her conversation, the attraction of an intelligence ever on the alert, together with the originality and piquancy of her wit, caused her to be surrounded at home and abroad by all that was foremost in the world of fashion, politics, literature, and art.
Among the wives and daughters of the Lombard patriots who risked life, liberty, and
fortune to free their country from the yoke of the foreigner, her exalted social position, her exceptional beauty, her wealth, hardly less than, the compelling magnetism of her fierce enthusiasm and singular independence of character, combined to assign to the Princess Belgiojoso conspicuous prominence. Feminine participation in the conspiracies and political intrigues of the early and middle years of the last century was by no means uncommon in Italy, especially in Lombardy, where the heel of the Austrian usurper ground hardest. But few rivaled this strenuous champion in the intensity of the hatred vouchsafed the foreign despotism which sought to enslave the intellectual and moral life of northern Italians, as it had bounded their political liberties.