Following the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) Austria was the dominant foreign power in Italy – the Papal States, the maritime republics of Venice and Genoa, and the Duchy of Savoy all remained independent. The power of the Papal States had declined after the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, when the papacy became increasingly conservative and preoccupied by religious matters and Church reform. In the mosaic of duchies that made up the Habsburg–controlled region of northern Italy, administrative reforms were enacted to curtail corruption, reform the judiciary and improve economic productivity, although increased tax demands were much resented. Naples had languished under Austrian rule at the beginning of the 18th century, especially after the Austrians imposed huge tax burdens on the city. The Spanish re-acquisition of the city in 1734 led to the re-birth of the Kingdom of Naples. Over the course of the 18th century, Naples increasingly moved away from Spanish dominance, ultimately forming an alliance with Britain and Austria against France in the Napoleonic Wars. Sicily ultimately passed from Austrian to Spanish rule in 1734, when it enjoyed a period of reformist Enlightenment rule under Charles of Bourbon. The duke of Savoy, an Austrian ally in the War of Spanish Succession, acquired Sicily – which he substituted for Sardinia in 1720 – becoming ruler of the newly created Kingdom of Sardinia, which also included the Duchy of Savoy, ruling as Charles Emmanuel III (r. 1730–73). Enlightenment thought, which flourished in Italy in the latter half of the 18th century, admired science and secularization, repudiating the feudal and ecclesiastical control of much of the region’s wealth. But on the eve of the French Revolution (1789), Italian society – conservative, divided and facing economic hardships –was not generally amenable to reform.
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