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House of Savoy

The Kingdom of Italy continued the Lombard kingdom among the states which arose out of the break-up of the Eastern Empire. Again, on the northwestern march of Italy a power gradually arose, partly Italian, but for a long time mainly Burgundian, which in the end, by a strange fate, grew into a new Italian kingdom. This is the House of Savoy. One of the most singular phenomena of the creation of United Italy is the part played therein by the House of Savoy. The Italian patriots, who during the early years of the Risorgimento struggled for the freedom and unity of Italy, sought to establish a republic. Mazzini at Rome, Manin at Venice, Garibaldi were stalwart Republicans. The thought of a monarchy was distasteful to all Italians. In seeking to create United Italy their chief incentive was the overthrowing of the seven despotic princes who ruled over Italy, not least among them the Princes of Savoy.

The house of Savoy was, perhaps, the most ancient reigning family in Europe; but their certain traditions go no further back than the beginning of the eleventh century, when their ancestors, probably of Saxon derivation, established their sway over a barren district of the Alps, under the title of counts of Savoy. This family traced its descent from the Lombard feudatories, the marquises or dukes of Ivrea. Umberto, dalle bianche mani, Count of Savoy, the first on record, flourished at the very opening of the eleventh century. Umbcrto died AD 1056. His posterity, in an unbroken line, had been constantly rising in power during the next eight centuries. By 1850 it numbered thirty-eight reigning princes during twenty-six generations.

They gradually extended their dominion on the better side of the Alps, usurped the sovereignty of the vale of Aosta, of Ivrea, and Turin, and received the homage of the rival houses of Saluzzo and Montferrat, especially whilst the noble warriors of the latter family, Conrad and Baldwin, were engaged in their long career of conquest and glory in the Levant. The house of Savoy reached a very high degree of power and wealth under Amedeus VIII, who, during his long reign, from 1398 to 1451, had reunited under his sceptre the states that had hitherto been divided between two different branches of the family, and added important conquests to his double inheritance.

A clause in the treaty of Cateau Cambresis recognized the right of Emmanuele Filiberto, duke of Savoy, to Piedmont. He owed this recognition, as Alessandro owed his duchy of Parma, to the fact that he was one of Philip's bravest generals. Yet Emmanuele Filiberto represented the oldest and not the least illustrious reigning house in Europe, and his descendants were destined to achie\e for Italy the independence which no other power or prince had piven her since the fall of ancient Kome. It is, therefore, needful at this point to trace the history of the counts of Savoy from the date of their first emergence on the stage of Italian politics.

In the tenth century the founders of the house of Savoy were masters over Burgundy and Western Lombardy. Their provinces stretched beyond what is now called Savoy on the west and north, and southward touched the Mediterranean at Savona. In the course of the next two centuries the family divided. Its elder branch ruled Savoy and the northern shores of Lake Geneva. The younger line held Piedmont with the city of Turin for capital. The former were frequently at war with the dauphins of Vienne and the house of Hapsburg, seeking to extend their domains in the direction of Switzerland and Provence. The latter proved but ill neighbors to the marquises of Montferrat and Saluzzo.

When the first league of the Swiss was formed, the counts of Savoy were vigorously driven back within their northern borders. At the same time the powers of France repelled them from Provence. Entrenched within their mountains, they now looked toward Italy for expansion. This southward growth of a state which had hitherto been undefined between its cisalpine and transalpine provinces was further determined by the union of the two branches of the family in the person of Amadeus VIII. Succeeding to the honors of the elder line in 1391, he joined Piedmont to Savoy in 1418, and received the title of duke from the emperor Sigismund. During his lifetime he annexed Saluzzo. took ( hivasso from Montferrat, and received Vercelli from Filippo Maria Visconti. Nice had already joined itself to Savoy in 1388.

The duchy of Savoy, checked in its development upon the further side of the Alpine barrier, gamed in solidity and extent upon the south, and took rank definitely from this time forward as a considerable Italian power. Amadeus was one of the most remarkable personages of his day. Having built up the fortunes of his house by diplomatic ability in an age of policy and intrigue, he abdicated in 1434, and went into cloisteral retirement at Kipaille. Hence he emerged in 1440 to receive the papal tiara from the council of Basel. He took the name of Felix V, but resigned in 1449, leaving Nicholas V sole pope. When he died in 1451, he had reigned for sixtyone yeats as count, duke, prior of a hermit convent, anti-pope, and dean of the Holy College.

The immediate successors of Amadeus VIII undid a great deal of his work. They entered into unprofitable warfare with Geneva, Freiburg, Bern, and Vaud, and were still further shorn of territory and prestige upon the side of Switzerland. The French invaded Savoy, and their Lombard domains became the theater of the Franco-Spanish wars. When Emmanuele Filiberto succeeded to his father Charles III in 1553, he was a duke without a duchy. But the princes of the house of Savoy were warriors; and what Emmanuele Filiberto lost as sovereign he regained as captain of adventure in the service of his cousin Philip II. The treaty of Cateau Cambresis in 1559, and the evacuation of the Piedmontese cities held by French and Spanish troops in 1574, restored his state. By removing the capital from Chamberey to Turin, he completed the transformation of the Dukes of Savoy from Burgundian into Italian sovereigns. They still owned Savoy beyond the Alps, the plains of Bresse, and the maritime province of Nice.

Emmanuele Filiberto was succeeded by his son Carlo Emmanuele I, who married Catherine, a daughter of Philip II. He seized the first opportunity of annexing Saluzzo, which had been lost to Savoy in the last two reigns, and renewed the disastrous policy of his grandfather Charles III by invading Geneva and threatening Provence. Henry IV of France forced him in 1601 to relinquish Bresse and his Burgundian possessions. In return he was allowed to keep Saluzzo. All hope of conquest on the transalpine side were now quenched; but the keys of Italy had been given to the dukes of Savoy, and their attention was still further concentrated upon Lombard conquests. Carlo Emmanuele now attempted the acquisition of Montferrat, which was soon to become vacant by the death of Francesco Gonzaga, who held it together with Mantua. In order to secure this territory, he went to war with Philip III of Spain, and allied himself with Venice and the Grisons to expel the Spaniards from the Valtelline.

Savoy (Savoia, Italian; Savott, French) in the 19th Century was a duchy belonging to the Sardinian monarchy, and bordering on France, Switzerland, and Piedmont, with a superficial extent of 3,750 square miles, and a population of 501,165. Savoy was anciently inhabited by the Allobroges. It was under the Roman dominion till 400, belonged to Burgundy till 530, to France till 879, to Aries till 1000, when it had its own counts, and, in 1416, was erected into a duchy. In 1792, it was conquered by the French, and incorporated with France, as the department of Mont Blanc. It was partly ceded to Sardinia by the first peace of Paris (1814), and by the second (1815), the remainder was given up to the Sardinian monarchy. The greatest part of the duchy consisted of lofty mountains and forests, alternating with deep and narrow valleys. Mont Blanc, the loftiest summit in Europe, is in Savoy. The Savoyards spoke a mixture of French and Italian. They were honest, faithful, frugal, and industrious, but poor. They were often compelled to quit their ungrateful soil for a subsistence (as porters, pedlars, &c.), but generally return with their earnings to their country.

The reigning prince, the first of the house of Savoy Carignan, was Charles Emanuel, born 1800; married Theresa, sister of the grand-duke of Tuscany, in 1817, succeeded his uncle Charles Felix, May, 1831. He had two sons, Victor Emanuel (born in 1820), and Ferdinand (born in 1822). The royal title is King of Sardinia, Cyprus and Jerusalem, and duke of Savoy. The crown-prince was styled prince of Piedmont. Former sovereigns were, Victor Amadeus II, 1713-30; Charles Emanuel III, to 1773; Victor Amadeus III, 1796; Charles Emanuel IV, abdicated 1802; Victor Emanuel I, abdicated 1821; Charles Felix, died 1831.

The nucleus of this monarchy was Savoy, a fragment of several states that had crumbled to pieces (the old kingdom of Burgundy, the Frankish monarchy, the Carolingian kingdom of Italy, and the kingdom of Aries, which became independent in the beginning of the eleventh century. Rodolph III, last king of Aries, created Berthold count of Savoy in 1016. He was probably the ancestor of the subsequent counts and dukes of Savoy. The counts of Savoy gradually extended their territories, partly by marriages, partly by their adherence to the German emperors, in the disputes between the Guelfs and Gibelines, partly by purchase, and partly by an artful policy in their connexions with the Spanish, French and Austrian courts. As Marquesses ot Montserrat had claimed the crown of Jerusalem and had worn the crown of Thessalonica, so, as if to keep even the balance between East and West, in return a branch of the Imperial house of Palaiologos came to reign at Montserrat.

The congress of Vienna was desirous of strengthening the kings of Sardinia, as holders of the passes of the Alps, mid England wished to establish a commercial intercourse with the court of Turin. Genoa, therefore, was annexed as a duchy to the Sardinian monarchy, December 14, 1814. Victor Emanuel restored, as far as was practicable, the old constitution, readmitted the Jesuits, subscribed the holy alliance, and established a rigorous censorship. As an ally of England, he obtained a permanent and honorable peace with the Barbary powers, through the British admiral Lord Exmouth. In March 1821, in consequence of the troubles which resulted in the occupation of the country by the Austrians, he abdicated the crown, in favor of his brother, Charles Felix.

The measures which were adopted subsequently to the suppression of the insurrection, were directed to realize the plan of the congress of Vienna in erecting Sardinia into a partition wall between Austria and France. Rigorous measures were taken to extirpate "revolutionary principles," as they were styled. In the universities of Turin and Genoa, and other institutions of education, a strict supervision over the conduct of the students was maintained; the Jesuits were admitted into Savoy and the island of Sardinia; the royal schools were committed to their care, and, in 1823, the provincial college was put under their direction. The Jews were subjected to severe burdens and great disabilities.

The Sardinian Monarchy was a kingdom of the south of Europe, composed of the island of Sardinia, and of several countries of the continent. It comprised in the whole an extent of 28,000 square miles, with a population (in 1829) of 4,165,277 (300,000 French in Savoy, 3,865,077 Italians, and 3200 Jews). The population, with the exception of the Jews, and 21,900 Waldenscs, was entirely Catholic. The continental parts of which the monarchy was composed were the duchy of Savoy; the duchy of Piedmont; the county of Nice [or Nizza], with the principality of Monaco; the duchies of Montserratand (Sardinian) Milan; and the duchy of Genoa. The power of the crown is unlimited : the succession to the throne is confined to the male line. In the island of Sardinia there were estates, and in Genoa the assent of the estates wai necessary for the imposition of new taxes. The nobility was numerous, but not exempt from taxation.

Sardinia embraced the Austrian politics with more cordiality than the French, both hi regard to her domestic administration, and in her Italian policy in general. A roval edict, of 1825, prohibited any person learning to read or write, who had not property to the amount of 1500 lire (about $400), and any one studying at the university who bad not as much more in the funds. Translations of the works of Gothe, Wieland, and Schiller, were also prohibited within the Sardinian states.

Charles Felix died March 29, 1831, and being without a son was succeeded by Charles Albert, of the cadet line of the princes of Carignano, who were descended from Thomas, youngest son of Charles Emmanuel I. Charles Albert inherited in a measure the capacity for sagaciously gauging the significance of the events that were taking place. Though not in direct line of succession, he was called to the throne, and though a weak and vacillating ruler whose qualms of conscience forbade him to take a firm stand, he made possible the reconciliation between reaction and revolution, between democracy and aristocracy, which took place during the reign of his son, Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of United Italy. Thus at a crucial moment in their history the Princes of Savoy once again accommodated themselves to the temper of their times, and followed the oldest tradition of the House. Italian revolutionary leaders, whose unselfish patriotism was so strikingly set forth by Garibaldi himself when he declared, "I have never been a partisan of Kings, but, inasmuch as Charles Albert has made himself the defender of the cause of the people, it is my duty to offer him my sword," soon recognised that the amis of the House of Savoy were as legitimate as they were useful to the cause of United Italy.

Charles Albert abdicated on the evening of his defeat at Novara (April 20, 1849), in favor of his son Victor Emmanuel II (1840-1878), who on the 18th of February 1861 was proclaimed king of Italy. Victor Emmanuel, ably advised by Count Cavour, who was himself of old aristocratic lineage, understood that the destiny of his House depended upon the policy to be pursued. It so came about that the world witnessed the extraordinary sight of a King taking into his service red-shirted Garibaldians, and placing himself at the head of armed revolutionaries, in order to compass the overthrow of the other sovereign princes of Italy, including the Pope. United Italy, long the dream of Italian Republican patriots, owed its accomplishment to the strong hand and the daring enterprise of the royal House of Savoy. Victor Emmanuel had married in 1842 Maria Adelaide, daughter of the archduke Rainer, who bore him several children, viz. Princess Clothilde (b. 1843), who married Prince Napoleon; Humbert, prince of Piedmont (1844); Amadeus, duke of Aosta (b. 1845); Oddone, duke of Montferrat (b. 1846); and Princess Maria Pia (b. 1847).

The second son of Victor Emmanuel II, Amadeus, duke of Aosta, was offered the crown of Spain by the Cortes in 1870, which he accepted, but, finding that his rule was not popular, he voluntarily abdicated in 1873 rather than cause civil war. In 1867 he married Princess Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo clella Cisterna, who bore him three sons, viz. Emmanuel Philibert, duke of Aosta (b. 1869), commanding an Italian army corps; Victor Emmanuel, count of Turin; and Louis Amadeus, duke of Abruzzi, an Italian naval officer and a distinguished traveller, explorer and man of science.

The first son of Victor Emmanuel II, Humbert, who in 1868 had married Princess Margherita of Savoy, daughter of Victor Emmanuel's brother, the duke of Genoa, became king of Italy on his father's death in 1878. King Humbert was a monarch whose personal magnetism and courage and whose tenderness to his people had atoned for his lack of great political distinction. After the earthquake of 1883, and during the cholera epidemic of 1884, he had risked his own life to aid the sufferers. However, he surrounded himself with a small coterie of persons who had little sympathy with popular reforms, and thus failed to remain in close touch with the country. Of distinct Germanophil tendencies, he was a stanch supporter of the Triple Alliance, and did much to bring about close and friendly relations between Italy and Germany. He exerted his energies to strengthen the army and navy, and approved of the program of colonial expansion.

His reign presented less general interest than his father's. Its electoral struggles were waged rather upon the personality of leaders - Depretis, Cairoli, Crispi - than upon party platforms. A leading question was that of alliances, whether Italy should follow France or Germany. Gradually the center of influence shifted from the north to the more democratic provinces of the south. Burdens of taxation to further colonial projects and maintain an enormous army and powerful navy fell heavily upon an impoverished people. On this account disorders in the chief Italian cities broke out. In Milan in a street fight in May 1898, several hundred persons were killed and over 1000 wounded. Yet there has been progress in the tranquillization of the country and in the application of constitutional government. He governed in strict accord with the constitution. On July 29th, 1900, an anarchist named Bresci assassinated King Humbert while he was returning from the distribution of prizes at an athletic carnival at Monza. His death brought genuine public grief, for his generosity had won him the name "Humbert the Good."

The prince of Naples, his only son, succeeded the king, and took the title Victor Emmanuel III. He was born on November llth, 1869, and had married the princess Helena of Montenegro in October, 1896, by whom he had four children, viz. Princess Yolanda Margherita (b. 1901), Princess Mafalda (b. 1902), Humbert, prince of Piedmont (b. 1904), and Princess Giovanna (b. 1907). With his reign an era of liberalism opened, and within a very brief space of years Socialists and Radicals no longer considered any change in the Government as a necessary part of their program; even Clericals, who were for so long active anti-dynastic agents, appeared to have become reconciled to the Monarchy. Victor Emmanuel had taken the lead in the new trend of events. He removed the Monarchy from the sphere of controversy and originated the democracy of kingship. In pursuing this policy of liberalism he left the task of governing too much in the hands of parliamentary leaders, and allowed the country to be ruled by a parliamentary dictator, while he bent his energies on improving the social and economic conditions of his subjects.

Victor Emmanuel III remains undoubtedly Italy's most controversial monarch. He supporded Mussolini when he fomed a govenment and backed him when he became dictator. Mussolini offering a stability that the Italian Kingdom craved, against the economic damage caused by the constant collapse of earlier governments. Victor Emmanuel accepted the titles Emperor of Ethiopia and king of Albania, while one of his son's was created king of Croatia. Victor Emmanuel's failure, in the face of mounting evidence, to act against Mussolini's regime's abuses of power (including as early as the 1920s, the notorious murder of Giacomo Matteotti and other opposition MPs), he lost the Italian throne the little popularity it had earned earlier in his reign. His silence in 1938, when Fascism issued its racial laws, was astonishing for the tolerant Italian people. His decision to flee Rome in 1943, shocked many, who compared King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who refused to leave London during the Blitz.

Umberto di Savoia, 1904-83, son and successor of Victor Emmanuel III, was the last king of Italy (1946). On the abdication (May, 1946) of his father, who was tainted by his long acquiescence (1922-43) to Fascist rule, Humbert succeeded to the throne, pending a referendum on the monarchy. Victor Emmanuel III weighed down the Italian monarchy with his mistakes, a weight which the 'May' king and queen, King Umberto II and Queen Maria José were unable to shift in their short but impressive month-long reign. The referendum (June 1946) resulted in the establishment of a republic, and Humbert went into exile in Portugal.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:59:57 ZULU