Its first important member was Count Humbert the Whitehanded, a powerful feudal lord of the kingdom of Arles (in SE France) in the 11th cent. He held possessions in Savoy and acquired, through marriage, several fiefs in Piedmont, including Turin. Through marriage, diplomacy, and conquest his successors expanded their holdings in France, Switzerland, and Italy, acquiring Bresse and Bugey, Chablais (on the south shore of the Lake of Geneva), Lower Valais, Gex, Ivrea, Pinerolo, Nice, parts of Vaud and of Geneva, and other seigniories and towns. Chambéry, acquired in 1232, became the seat of the counts, whose scattered possessions were gradually consolidated. Amadeus VIII acquired the ducal title in 1416. His son Louis (d. 1465) married Anne de Lusignan, titular heiress to the kingdoms of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Armenia; these titles were later borne by ruling members of the house.
The expansion of Switzerland and the Italian Wars resulted in the temporary disintegration of the duchy. The Swiss took the lower Valais (1475) and Vaud (1536); Geneva became independent (1533); and the rest of the duchy was occupied (1536) by Francis I of France. In 1559, however, Duke Emmanuel Philibert, called Ironhead, obtained the restoration of his duchy—except the larger part of the Swiss conquests—under the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis. Emmanuel Philibert made Turin his capital, thus shifting the center of his duchy from France to Italy. The language and tone of the court, however, remained French until the late 18th cent. Emmanuel Philibert's son and successor, Charles Emmanuel I, unsuccessfully sought to reconquer Geneva. He gained (1601) the marquisate of Saluzzo in Piedmont from France in exchange for Bresse, Bugey, and Gex.
Charles Emmanuel I's successor, Victor Amadeus II, expanded his territories by advantageous alliances. In the War of the Spanish Succession he sided first with France, then with the forces of the Holy Roman emperor; by the peace of Utrecht (1713-14) he became king of Sicily and enlarged his Piedmontese territories. His cousin, Eugene of Savoy, headed the imperial forces in the war. Spain reconquered Sicily in 1718 but was forced by the Quadruple Alliance to cede Sardinia to Victor Amadeus in exchange for Sicily.
After the acquisition of Sardinia, the political history of the dynasty became that of the kingdom of Sardinia (see Sardinia, kingdom of) and of Italy. Victor Amadeus II was succeeded by Charles Emmanuel III (reigned 1730-73), Victor Amadeus III (reigned 1773-96), and Charles Emmanuel IV, who lost all but the island of Sardinia to Napoleon I and abdicated (1802) in favor of his brother, Victor Emmanuel I. Restored to his possessions in 1814, Victor Emmanuel I abdicated in 1821, after the outbreak of a revolution in Piedmont. His brother and successor, Charles Felix, died without issue in 1831, and the cadet line of Savoy-Carignano, descended from a younger son of Charles Emmanuel I, came to the throne in the person of Charles Albert.
In Charles Albert's reign the house of Savoy became the center of the Risorgimento, the movement that led to the unification of Italy under his son, Victor Emmanuel II. Savoy itself, however, was ceded to France in 1860. Humbert I, who succeeded (1878) Victor Emmanuel II as king of Italy, was assassinated in 1900. His son and successor, Victor Emmanuel III, also took the titles emperor of Ethiopia (1936) and king of Albania (1939); after the Italian armistice (1943) with the Allies in World War II he delegated (1944) his powers to his son, who briefly ruled (1946) as Humbert II from Victor Emmanuel's abdication until the establishment of the Italian republic, when the family went into exile. Male members of the family were barred from entering Italy from 1948 to 2002.
See E. L. Cox, The Eagles of Savoy (1974).
Succeeded as King of Sardinia, 1831.