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Sidney Sonnino

Sidney Sonnino
Prime Minister of Italy
In office
8 February 1906 – 29 May 1906
Monarch Victor Emmanuel III
Preceded by Alessandro Fortis
Succeeded by Giovanni Giolitti
In office
11 December 1909 – 31 March 1910
Monarch Victor Emmanuel III
Preceded by Giovanni Giolitti
Succeeded by Luigi Luzzatti
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
14 November 1914 – 23 June 1919
Prime Minister Antonio Salandra
Paolo Boselli
Vittorio Emanuele Orlando
Preceded by Antonino Paternò-Castello
Succeeded by Tommaso Tittoni
Personal details
Born Sidney Costantino Sonnino
(1847-03-11)11 March 1847
Pisa, Italy
Died 24 November 1922(1922-11-24) (aged 75)
Rome, Italy
Political party Historical Right
Italian Liberal Party
Religion Anglicanism

Baron Sidney Costantino Sonnino (11 March 1847 – 24 November 1922) was an Italian politician. He twice served briefly as Prime Minister, in 1906 and again from 1909-1910, and was the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs during the First World War, representing his country at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.


  • Early life and career 1
  • Political career 2
  • Prime Minister 3
  • First World War 4
  • End of career and legacy 5
  • Trivia 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life and career

Sonnino was born in Anglican by his family.[1][2] After graduating in law in Pisa in 1865, Sonnino became a diplomat and an official at the Italian embassies in Madrid, Vienna, Berlin, and Paris from 1866 to 1871.[1] His family lived at the Castello Sonnino in Quercianella, near Livorno. He retired from the diplomatic service in 1873.

In 1876, Sonnino traveled to Sicily with Leopoldo Franchetti to conduct a private investigation into the state of Sicilian society. In 1877, the two men published their research on Sicily in a substantial two-part report for the Italian Parliament. In the first part Sonnino analysed the lives of the island's landless peasants. Leopoldo Franchetti's half of the report, Political and Administrative Conditions in Sicily, was an analysis of the Mafia in the nineteenth century that is still considered authoritative today. Franchetti would ultimately influence public opinion about the Mafia more than anyone else until Giovanni Falcone over a hundred years later. Political and Administrative Conditions in Sicily is the first convincing explanation of how the Mafia came to be.[3]

In 1878, Sonnino and Franchetti started a newspaper (La Rassegna Settimanale), which changed from weekly economic reviews to daily political issues.[1]

Political career

He was elected in the Italian Chamber of Deputies for the first time in the general elections in May 1880, from the constituency of San Casciano in Val di Pesa. He belonged to the chamber to September 1919 from the XIV to XXIV legislature. He supported universal suffrage.[4]

In December 1893, he became Minister of Finance (December 1893-June 1894) and Minister of the Treasury (December 1893-March 1896) in the government of Francesco Crispi, and tried to resolve the Banca Romana scandal. Sonnino envisaged to establish a single bank of issue, but the main priority of his bank reform was to rapidly solve the financial problems of the Banca Romana, as well as to cover up the scandal which involved the political class, rather than to design a new national banking system. The newly established Banca d'Italia was the result of a merger of three existing banks of issue (the Banca Nazionale and two banks from Tuscany). Regional interests were still strong; hence the compromise of plurality of note issuance with the Banco di Napoli and the Banco di Sicilia, while providing for stricter state control.[5][6][7]

After the fall of the Crispi government as a result of the lost Battle of Adwa in March 1896, he served as the leader of the opposition conservatives against the liberal Giovanni Giolitti. In January 1897, Sonnino published an article titled Torniamo allo Statuto (Let's go back to the Statute), in which he sounded the alarm about the threats that clergy and socialists posed for liberalism. He called for the abolition of the system of parliamentary governments and a return of the executive power to the King as the only possible way to avert the danger.[1] In 1901 he founded a new major newspaper, Il Giornale d'Italia.[1]

Prime Minister

He served twice briefly as Prime Minister. On 8 February 1906 Sonnino formed his first government, which lasted only three months; on 18 May 1906 he was forced to resign. On 11 December 1909 Sonnino formed his second government, with a strong connotation to the centre-right, but it did not last much longer, falling on 21 March 1910.[1]

First World War

Sidney Sonnino as Foreign Minister

After the events in 1914, Sonnino was initially supportive to the side of the old allies of the Triple Alliance, Germany and Austria-Hungary. He firmly believed that Italian self-interest entailed participation in the war, with its prospect of Italian territorial gains as a completion of Italian unification.[8] However, after becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs in November 1914 in the conservative government of Antonio Salandra and realizing that it was unlikely to secure Austro-Hungarian agreement to the concession of certain Austro-Hungarian territories to Italy, he sided with the Entente powers – France, Great Britain and Russia – and signed the secret Treaty of London in April 1915 to fulfil Italy’s irrendentist claims. Italy consequently declared war on Austria-Hungary on May 23, 1915.[8][9]

From left to right: Marshal David Lloyd George, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando and Sidney Sonnino at the Paris Peace Conference

He remained Minister of Foreign Affairs in three consecutive governments and represented his country at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference with Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando. Sonnino defended the literal application of the Treaty of London and opposed to a policy of nationalities in the former territories of the Habsburg Empire.[8] Orlando's inability to speak English and his weak political position at home allowed Sonnino to play a dominant role. Their differences proved to be disastrous during the negotiations. Orlando was prepared to renounce territorial claims for Dalmatia to annex Rijeka (or Fiume as the Italians called the town) - the principal seaport on the Adriatic Sea - while Sonnino was not prepared to give up Dalmatia. Italy ended up claiming both and got none, due to strong opposition to Italian demands by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and his policy of national self-determination.[9]

End of career and legacy

When the territorial ambitions of Italy towards Austria-Hungary were shattered Orlando’s government had to resign in June 1919. It was the end of the career of Sonnino and he did not participate in the elections in November 1919. Nominated senator in October 1920, he did not actively participate. He died on 24 November 1922 in Rome.[1]

A New York Times obituary described Sonnino as an intellectual aristocrat, great financier and an accomplished scholar with little talent for popularity whose greatness would have been unmistakable in the days of absolute monarchy. He was further portrayed as a very able diplomat belonging to the “old” diplomacy with an undeserved prominence at the Paris Peace Conference as the typical imperialistic annexationist at a time when the diplomatic rules had been changed.[10] According to historian R.J.B. Bosworth, "Sidney Sonnino, who was Foreign Minister from 1914 to 1919, and with a personal reputation, perhaps deserved, for honesty in all his dealings, has strong claims to have conducted Italy’s least successful foreign policy."[11]


On 16 April 1909 Sonnino and Wilbur Wright went on a flight at Centocelle field, Rome, making Sonnino one of the earliest of statesmen to fly in an airplane.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g (Italian) Sidney Sonnino (1847-1922). Note biografiche, Centro Studi Sidney Sonnino
  2. ^ Morley Sachar, A History of the Jews in the Modern World, p. 541
  3. ^ Dickie, Cosa Nostra, p. 43-54
  4. ^ (Italian) Sidney Costantino Sonnino, Camera dei diputati, portale storico
  5. ^ Seton-Watson, Italy from liberalism to fascism, pp. 154-56
  6. ^ Alfredo Gigliobianco and Claire Giordano, Economic Theory and Banking Regulation: The Italian Case (1861-1930s), Quaderni di Storia Economica (Economic History Working Papers), Nr. 5, November 2010
  7. ^ Pohl & Freitag, Handbook on the history of European banks, p. 564
  8. ^ a b c Who's Who - Sidney Sonnino at
  9. ^ a b MacMillan, Paris 1919, pp. 283-92
  10. ^ Sonnino, The New York Times, November 25, 1922
  11. ^ Bosworth, Italy and the Wider World, p. 39
  • Bosworth, R.J.B. (2013). Italy and the Wider World: 1860-1960, New York: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-13477-3
  • Dickie, John (2004). Cosa Nostra. A history of the Sicilian Mafia, London: Coronet ISBN 0-340-82435-2
  • Macmillan, Margaret (2002). Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, New York: Random House, ISBN 0-375-76052-0
  • Morley Sachar, Howard (2006). A History of the Jews in the Modern World, Vintage Books, ISBN 9781400030972
  • Seton-Watson, Christopher (1967). Italy from liberalism to fascism, 1870-1925, New York: Taylor & Francis, 1967 ISBN 0-416-18940-7

External links

  • (Italian) Centro Studi Sidney Sonnino
Preceded by
Alessandro Fortis
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by
Giovanni Giolitti
Preceded by
Alessandro Fortis
Italian Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Giovanni Giolitti
Preceded by
Giovanni Giolitti
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by
Luigi Luzzatti
Preceded by
Giovanni Giolitti
Italian Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Luigi Luzzatti
Preceded by
Antonino Paternò-Castello di San Giuliano
Foreign Minister of Italy
Succeeded by
Tommaso Tittoni
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