Monarchy

(House of Savoy)
   One of Europe’s oldest ruling families, the lineage of the dukes of Savoy stretches back to the Middle Ages. Though theoretically subjects of the Holy Roman Empire, the Savoy family enjoyed great autonomy and, from Turin, governed Chambery and Annecy in modern-day France and a substantial tract of territory straddling the Alps, and territories within the modern Italian regions of Piedmont, Aosta, and Liguria constituted the dukedom’s boundaries. The dukes achieved regal status as a result of the enterprising Duke Amadeus II (Amadeo II, 1675–1730), who deserted King Louis XIV of France at a crucial moment in the War of Spanish Succession and was rewarded for his behavior by elevation to kingship and the addition of the island of Sicily to Savoyan territory in 1718. In 1720, under Austrian pressure, he was obliged to exchange Sicily for Sardinia. His heirs were henceforth known as the Kings of Sardinia, although many historians refer to the state as Piedmont-Sardinia to reflect the fact that Turin continued to be the administrative and social capital of the new state. The new state added to its domain during the War of the Polish Succession, when Charles Emmanuel III, the son of Amadeus II, defeated the Austrians and conquered Lombardy, although at the peace of Vienna in 1738 he was obliged to give Lombardy back in exchange for the province of Novara and other minor territorial gains.
   As the primary power in Lombardy and Venetia, Austria was a long-standing enemy of the Savoy family. Nevertheless, the family was an absolutist dynasty, and the Savoys therefore rallied to the side of imperial Austria against the challenge of revolutionary France after 1789. Napoleon defeated the Austro-Piedmontese forces at the battle of Mondovi in 1796; two years later, Charles Emmanuel IVof Savoy was forced to flee to Sardinia when French forces occupied Turin. The Savoys, in the person of King Victor Emmanuel I, were only restored to their throne in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. The importance of the Savoy family, of course, is that they became the ruling family of all Italy. Victor Emmanuel I was succeeded on the throne of Sardinia by his pro-Austrian brother, Charles Felice (reigned 1821–1831), and only after that by his son, Charles Albert (1831–1849). Italian unification was achieved during the reign of VictorEmmanuel II (1849–1878). His son, Humbert I (1878–1900), was a reactionary who backed the conservative governments of the 1890s and was killed by an emigre anarchist who returned from the United States with the express intention of avenging the innocent peasants and workers slaughtered by Italian troops during the Sicilian uprisings of 1894 and the Milanese bread riots in 1898. Humbert’s son, Victor Emmanuel III (1900–1946), initially backed relative progressives in the Italian political establishment but ultimately acquiesced in the accession to power of Benito Mussolini. His son, Humbert II, was king for two months in 1946 prior to the referendum on the future of the monarchy. By a very close margin (12.7 million votes to 10.7 million, with 1.5 million invalid votes), Italy elected to become a republic.
   The Savoy family was subsequently debarred from ever setting foot in Italy again, though this ban was lifted in 1997. Even today, many Italians, particularly in the North, regard the Savoy family as traitors and unpunished war criminals. There is no monarchist political party in Italy today, although there is a surprising amount of public interest in the Savoy family’s jet-set lifestyle.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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