This article examines the changing attitude of the Sicilian statesman Francesco Crispi towards Britain between the 1850s and the end of the century. While Crispi had enormous admiration for Britain, and recognised that Italy had much to learn from its political system, he also acknowledged that the British constitution was the product of a long process of historical evolution and could never be imitated slavishly in Italy. From the end of the 1870s in particular, Crispi felt that Italy could not concede the degree of freedom permitted in Britain until the state had completed its work of what he called ‘political education’. As prime minister in the 1880s and 1890s Crispi looked to an aggressive foreign policy to strengthen Italy's beleaguered institutions, and he counted on British support to achieve this. The refusal of Britain to back him in the way he hoped left him perplexed and ultimately disillusioned about what he had felt was a special friendship between the two countries.
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