Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
- Category : Notable-Famous-Royal-family
- Type : PE
- Profile : 1/3 - Investigating / Martyr
- Definition : Split - Large
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Explanation 4
Victor Emmanuel III (Italian: Vittorio Emanuele III; 11 November 1869 – 28 December 1947) was a member of the House of Savoy and King of Italy (29 July 1900 – 9 May 1946). In addition, he claimed the thrones of Ethiopia and Albania as Emperor of Ethiopia (1936–41) and King of the Albanians (1939–43), which were unrecognised by the Great Powers. During his long reign (46 years), which began after the assassination of his father Umberto I, the Kingdom of Italy became involved in two World Wars. His reign also encompassed the birth, rise, and fall of Italian Fascism.
Victor Emmanuel abdicated his throne in 1946 to his son Umberto II, hoping to strengthen the support for the monarchy against an ultimately successful referendum to abolish it. He then fled to Alexandria, Egypt, where he died and was buried the following year.
Victor Emmanuel was born in Naples, Italy. He was the only child of Umberto I, King of Italy, and his consort (first cousin by his grandfather Charles Albert of Sardinia), Princess Margherita of Savoy. Margherita was the daughter of the duke of Genoa.
Unlike his paternal first cousin's son, the 1.98 m (6 foot 6") tall Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta, Victor Emmanuel was short of stature even by 19th-century standards, to the point that today he would appear diminutive. He was just 1.53 m tall (just over 5 feet). From birth, Victor Emmanuel was known by the title of Prince of Naples.
On 24 October 1896, Prince Victor Emmanuel married Princess Elena of Montenegro.
Accession to the throne
On 29 July 1900, at the age of 30, Victor Emmanuel ascended the throne upon his father's assassination. The only advice that his father Umberto ever gave his heir was "Remember: to be a king, all you need to know is how to sign your name, read a newspaper, and mount a horse". His early years showed evidence that, by the standards of the Savoy monarchy, he was a man committed to constitutional government. Indeed, even though his father was killed by an anarchist, the new King showed a commitment to constitutional freedoms.
Though Italy was a parliamentary democracy, under the Statuto Albertino, or constitution, the monarchy possessed considerable residual powers, including the right to appoint the Prime Minister, even if the individual in question did not command majority support in the Chamber of Deputies. A shy and somewhat withdrawn individual, the King hated the day-to-day stresses of Italian politics, though the country's chronic political instability forced him to intervene no less than ten times between 1900 and 1922 to solve parliamentary crises.
When World War I began, Italy remained neutral at first, despite being part of the Triple Alliance (albeit it was signed on defensive terms and Italy objected that the Sarajevo assassination did not qualify as aggression). However, in 1915, Italy signed several secret treaties committing to enter the war on the side of the Triple Entente. Most of the people opposed war, however, and the Italian Chamber of Deputies forced Prime Minister Antonio Salandra to resign. Victor Emmanuel, however, declined Salandra's resignation and made the decision himself for Italy to enter the war. He legally had the right to make this decision under the Statuto Albertino, popular opposition to the war notwithstanding. However, the corrupt and disorganised war effort, the stunning loss of life suffered by the Italian army, especially at the great defeat of Caporetto, and the economic depression that followed the war turned the King against what he perceived as an inefficient political bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, the King visited the various areas of northern Italy suffering repeated strikes and mortar hits from elements of the Austro-Hungarian/Italian fighting there, where he demonstrated considerable courage and care in personally visiting many people, with his wife the queen taking turns with nurses in caring for Italy's wounded. It was at this time, the period of World War I, that the King enjoyed genuine affection from the majority of his people.
Support to Mussolini
The economic depression which followed World War I gave rise to much extremism among the sorely tried working classes of Italy. This caused the country as a whole to become politically unstable. Benito Mussolini, soon to be Italy's Fascist dictator, took advantage of this instability for his rise to power.
March on Rome
In 1922, Mussolini led a force of his Fascist supporters on a March on Rome. Prime Minister Luigi Facta and his cabinet drafted a decree of martial law. After some hesitation the King refused to sign it, citing doubts about the ability of the Army to contain the uprising.
Fascist violence had been growing in intensity throughout the summer and autumn of 1922, climaxing with the rumours of a possible coup. General Pietro Badoglio told the King that the military would be able to rout the rebels, who numbered no more than 10,000 men, without any difficulty.
The troops were totally loyal to the King. Even Cesare Maria De Vecchi, commander of the Blackshirts, and one of the organisers of the March on Rome, told Mussolini that he would not act against the wishes of the monarch. It was at this point that the Fascist leader considered leaving Italy altogether. But then, in the minute before midnight, he received a telegram from the King inviting him to Rome. By midday on 30 October, he had been appointed Prime Minister, at the age of 39, with no previous experience of office, and with only 35 Fascist deputies in the Chamber.
The King failed to move against the Mussolini regime's abuses of power (including, as early as 1924, the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti and other opposition MPs) and remained silent during the winter of 1925–26 when Mussolini dropped all pretense of democracy. Later that year, Mussolini passed a law declaring that he was responsible to the King, not Parliament. Although under the Statuto Albertino Italian governments were responsible only to the monarch, it had been a strong constitutional convention since at least the 1860s that they were actually responsible to Parliament. By 1928, practically the only check on Mussolini's power was the King's right to dismiss him from office—though that right could only be exercised on the advice of the Fascist Grand Council, a body that could only be convened by Mussolini.
Though the King claimed in his memoirs that it was the fear of a civil war that motivated his actions, it would seem that he received some 'alternative' advice, possibly from the archconservative Salandra as well as General Armando Diaz, that it would be better to do a deal with Mussolini.
Whatever the circumstances, Victor Emmanuel showed weakness in a position of strength, with dire future consequences for Italy and for the monarchy itself. Fascism offered opposition to left-wing radicalism. This appealed to many people in Italy at the time, and certainly to the King. In many ways, the events from 1922 to 1943 demonstrated that the monarchy and the moneyed class, for different reasons, felt Mussolini and his regime offered an option that, after years of political chaos, was more appealing than what they perceived as the alternative: socialism and anarchism. Both the spectre of the Russian Revolution and the tragedies of World War I played large roles in these political decisions. At the same time, though, the crown became so closely identified with Fascism that by the time Victor Emmanuel was able to shake himself loose from it, it was too late to save the monarchy.
In 1929, Mussolini, on behalf of the king, signed the Lateran Treaty. The treaty was one of the three agreements made that year between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See. On 7 June 1929, the Lateran Treaty was ratified and the "Roman Question" was settled.
Loss of popular support
The Italian monarchy enjoyed popular support for decades. Foreigners noted how even as late as the 1940s newsreel images of King Victor Emmanuel and Queen Elena, born Princess Elena of Montenegro, evoked applause, sometimes cheering, when played in cinemas, in contrast to the hostile silence shown toward images of Fascist leaders.
On 30 March 1938, the Italian Parliament established the rank of First Marshal of the Empire for Victor Emmanuel and Mussolini. This new rank was the highest rank in the Italian military.
As popular as Victor Emmanuel was, several of his decisions proved fatal to the monarchy. Among these decisions were his assumption of the crown of Ethiopia, his public silence when Mussolini's Fascist government issued its notorious racial purity laws, and his assumption of the crown of Albania.
Emperor of Ethiopia
In 1936, Victor Emmanuel assumed the crown of the Emperor of Ethiopia. His decision to do this was not universally accepted. Victor Emmanuel was only able to assume the crown after the Italian Royal Army invaded Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and had overthrown Emperor Haile Selassie during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. The model for the Italian King thus becoming a King-Emperor was evidently the British monarchs who since 1877 were King-Emperor (or Queen-Empress) with a double throne, of Britain and India respectively.
The League of Nations decried Italy's participation in this war and the Italian claim on Ethiopia's conquest was disputed by some members of the international community (namely the United States and the Soviet Union) but accepted by Great Britain and France in 1938. It was undone in 1941 by the Ethiopian restoration after five years of Italian Empire.
The term of the last acting Italian Viceroy of East Africa, including Eritrea and Somalia, ended 27 November 1941 upon surrender to the allies. King Victor Emmanuel III renounced his claimed titles of Emperor of Ethiopia in November 1943, recognizing the previous holders of those titles as legitimate.
Public silence concerning racial purity laws
In 1938, Victor Emmanuel kept a public silence when the Fascist government, under pressure from Nazi Germany, issued racial purity laws. These laws left his Jewish subjects open to persecution. Victor Emmanuel signed the laws and didn't veto them.
King of the Albanians
In 1939, Victor Emmanuel assumed the crown of the King of the Albanians. Italian forces invaded the nearly defenseless monarchy across the Adriatic Sea and caused King Zog I to flee. The Italian invasion of Albania was generally seen as the act of a stronger nation taking unfair advantage of a weaker neighbour.
In 1941, while in Tirana, the monarch escaped an assassination attempt by the 19-year-old Albanian patriot Vasil Laçi. Later, the author's act was considered by Communist Albania to be a sign of the overall discontent of the oppressed Albanian population. A second attempt by Dimitri Mikhaliov in Albania led the Italians to cast heavy doubts on the event by pointing to a possible Greek link following the monarch's green light to the Greco-Italian War.
Final efforts to save crown
On 10 June 1940, ignoring advice that the country was unprepared for war, Mussolini made the fatal decision to have Italy enter World War II on the side of Nazi Germany. Almost from the beginning, disaster followed disaster. In 1940 Italian armies in North Africa and in Greece suffered humiliating defeats. In late 1941, Italian East Africa was lost. In 1942, Italian Libya was lost. Early in 1943, the ten divisions of the "Italian Army in Russia" (Armata Italiana in Russia, or ARMIR) were crushed as an aside to the Battle of Stalingrad. Before the end of 1943, the last Italian forces in Tunisia had surrendered and Sicily had been taken by the Allies. Confronted by a lack of fuel as well as several serious defeats, the Royal Navy (Regia Marina) spent most of the war confined to port as a fleet in being. The Mediterranean Sea was hardly "Italy's Sea" (Mare Nostrum). The Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica), while generally doing better than the Army and the Navy, was chronically short of modern aircraft and even it was politely uninvited to participate in the Battle of Britain.
On 19 July 1943, Rome was bombed for the first time in the war, further cementing the Italian people's disillusionment with their once-popular King.
Coup d'état against Mussolini
On 24 July 1943, Count Dino Grandi and the Grand Council of Fascism voted overwhelmingly to ask Victor Emmanuel to resume his full constitutional powers—in effect, a motion of no confidence in Benito Mussolini. The next afternoon, the King — who had been planning to get rid of the dictator himself for some time — summoned Mussolini to the palace and dismissed him as Prime Minister in favour of Marshal Pietro Badoglio. He then ordered Mussolini arrested and renounced the usurped Ethiopian and Albanian crowns in favor of the legitimate monarchs of those states.
Publicly, Victor Emmanuel and Badoglio claimed that Italy would continue the war as a member of the Axis. Privately, they both began negotiating with the Allies for an armistice. Court circles had already been putting out feelers to the Allies before Mussolini's ousting.
Armistice with the Allies
On 8 September 1943, Victor Emmanuel publicly announced an armistice with the Allies without first notifying the armed forces. Confusion reigned as Italian troops were left without orders, and the Germans, who had been expecting this move for some time, quickly disarmed and interned Italian forces and took control in the occupied Balkans, France and the Dodecanese, as well as in Italy itself. Many of those units that did not surrender joined forces with the Allies against the Germans.
Fearing a German advance on Rome, Victor Emmanuel and his government fled south to Brindisi. This choice may have been necessary to protect his safety; indeed, Hitler had planned to arrest him shortly after Mussolini's overthrow. Nonetheless, it still came as a surprise to many observers inside and outside Italy. They drew contrasts to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who refused to leave London during the Blitz, and of Pope Pius XII, who mixed with Rome's crowds and prayed with them after the working class Roman neighborhood of Quartiere San Lorenzo was bombed and destroyed.
Ultimately, the Badoglio government in southern Italy raised the Italian Co-Belligerent Army (Esercito Cobelligerante del Sud), the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force (Aviazione Cobelligerante Italiana), and the Italian Co-Belligerent Navy (Marina Cobelligerante del Sud). All three forces were loyal to the King.
On 12 September, the Germans launched Operation Eiche and rescued Mussolini from captivity. In a short time, he established a new Fascist state in northern Italy. Mussolini's Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana) was never more than a German-dominated puppet state, but it did compete for the allegiance of the Italian people with Badoglio's government in the south.
Realizing that he was too tainted by his earlier support of the Fascist regime, Victor Emmanuel transferred most of his powers to his son, Crown Prince Umberto, in April 1944. By doing this, Victor Emmanuel relinquished most of his power while retaining the royal title. This status was formalized shortly after Rome was liberated on 4 June, when he turned over his remaining powers to Umberto and named him Lieutenant General of the Realm.
Within a year, public opinion forced a plebiscite on whether to retain the monarchy or become a republic. On 9 May 1946, in hopes of influencing the vote, Victor Emmanuel formally abdicated, succeeded by his son Umberto II. It did not work. Fifty-four percent of the voters favored declaring a republic in the referendum held less than a month later. All male members of the House of Savoy were required to leave the country and never return. The Kingdom of Italy was no more.
Taking refuge in Egypt, Victor Emmanuel died in Alexandria in 1947 and was buried there, behind the altar of St Catherine's Cathedral. In 1948, Time magazine included an article about "The Little King".
At worst, his abdication prior to the referendum reminded undecided voters of the role the monarchy and the King's own actions (or inactions) had played during the Fascist period, at precisely the moment when monarchists were hoping that voters would focus on the positive impression created by Crown Prince Umberto and Princess Maria José as the de facto king and queen of Italy since 1944. The 'May' King and Queen, Umberto and Maria José, in their brief, month-long reign, were unable to shift the burden of recent history and opinion. Some present-day historians have speculated that, had Victor Emmanuel abdicated in favour of Umberto shortly after the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, Umberto's relative popularity might have saved the monarchy.
VIctor Emmanuel was one of the most prolific coin collectors of all time, having amassed approximately 100,000 specimens dating from the fall of the Roman Empire up to the Italian Unification. His collection was donated to the Italian people on his abdication, except for the coins of the House of Savoy which he took with him to Egypt. On the death of Umberto II in 1983, the Savoy coins joined the rest of the collection in the National Museum of Rome. Between 1910 and 1943 Victor Emmanuel wrote the 20-volume Corpus Nummorum Italicorum, which catalogued each specimen in his collection.
Titles of the Crown of Italy
From 1860 to 1946, the following titles were used by the King of Italy:
Victor Emmanuel III, by the Grace of God and the Will of the Nation, King of Italy, King of Sardinia, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Armenia, Duke of Savoy, count of Maurienne, Marquis (of the Holy Roman Empire) in Italy; prince of Piedmont, Carignano, Oneglia, Poirino, Trino; Prince and Perpetual vicar of the Holy Roman Empire; prince of Carmagnola, Montmellian with Arbin and Francin, prince bailliff of the Duchy of Aosta, Prince of Chieri, Dronero, Crescentino, Riva di Chieri and Banna, Busca, Bene, Brà, Duke of Genoa, Monferrat, Aosta, Duke of Chablais, Genevois, Duke of Piacenza, Marquis of Saluzzo (Saluces), Ivrea, Susa, of Maro, Oristano, Cesana, Savona, Tarantasia, Borgomanero and Cureggio, Caselle, Rivoli, Pianezza, Govone, Salussola, Racconigi with Tegerone, Migliabruna and Motturone, Cavallermaggiore, Marene, Modane and Lanslebourg, Livorno Ferraris, Santhià Agliè, Centallo and Demonte, Desana, Ghemme, Vigone, Count of Barge, Villafranca, Ginevra, Nizza, Tenda, Romont, Asti, Alessandria, del Goceano, Novara, Tortona, Bobbio, Soissons, Sant'Antioco, Pollenzo, Roccabruna, Tricerro, Bairo, Ozegna, of Apertole, Baron of Vaud and of Faucigni, Lord of Vercelli, Pinerolo, of Lomellina, of Valle Sesia, of Ceva Marquisate, Overlord of Monaco, Roccabruna and 11/12th of Menton, Noble patrician of Venice, patrician of Ferrara.
In 1896 he married princess Elena of Montenegro (1873–1952), daughter of Nicholas I, King of Montenegro. Their issue included:
Yolanda Margherita Milena Elisabetta Romana Maria (1901–1986), married to Giorgio Carlo Calvi, Count of Bergolo, (1887–1977);
Mafalda Maria Elisabetta Anna Romana (1902–44), married to Prince Philipp of Hesse (1896–1980) with issue; she died in the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald;
Umberto Nicola Tommaso Giovanni Maria, later Umberto II, King of Italy (1904–1983) married to Princess Marie José of Belgium (1906–2001), with issue.
Giovanna Elisabetta Antonia Romana Maria (1907–2000), married to Boris III, King of Bulgaria, and mother of Simeon II, King and later Prime Minister of Bulgaria.
Maria Francesca Anna Romana (1914–2001), who married Prince Luigi of Bourbon–Parma (1899–1967), with issue.