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).
In modern France, Savoy is part of the Rhône-Alpes region. Following its annexation to France in 1860, the territory of Savoy was divided administratively into two separate départements, Savoie and Haute-Savoie. The modern separatist / regionalist movements are discussed in the "Annexation and Opposition" section in this article.
The region was once part of the Roman Empire. The name Savoy stems from the Late Latin Sapaudia, referring to a fir forest. It is first recorded in Ammianus Marcellinus (354), to describe the southern part of Maxima Sequanorum According to the Gallic Chronicle of 452, it was separated from the rest of Burgundian territories in 443, after the Burgundian defeat by Aetius.
Later it became part of the Kingdom of the Franks. The first embodiment of Savoy in the modern sense was created out of a fragment of Middle Francia, the central of the three kingdoms into which the Frankish Empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun (843). Savoy was part of Lotharingia, then part of the Kingdom of Burgundy (also known as the Kingdom of Arles. The County of Savoy was detached from the Kingdom of Arles by emperor Charles IV in 1361. In 1388, the County of Nice was acquired, and in 1401 the County of Genevois (the area of Geneva except for the city proper). On February 19, 1416, Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor, made the County of Savoy an independent duchy, with Amédée VIII as the first duke. In 1563 Emmanuel Philibert moved capital from Chambéry to Turin, which was less vulnerable to French interference. In 1714, as a consequence of the War of the Spanish Succession, Savoy was technically subsumed into the Kingdom of Sicily, then (after that island was traded to Austria for Sardinia) the Kingdom of Sardinia from 1720.
Savoy was annexed by France on March 24, 1860 according to the provisions of the Treaty of Turin. The treaty was followed on April 22/23 by a plebiscite in which voters were offered the option of approving the treaty and joining France or rejecting the treaty under certain conditions; the disallowed options of either joining Switzerland (with which the region had close ties), remaining with Italy, or regaining its independence, were the source of some opposition. With a 99.8% vote in favour of joining France, there were allegations of vote-rigging.
Some opposition to French rule was manifest when, in 1919, France officially (but contrary to the annexation treaty) ended the military neutrality of the parts of the country of Savoy that had originally been agreed at the Congress of Vienna, and also eliminated the free trade zone - both treaty articles having been broken unofficially in World War I. France was condemned in 1932 by the international court for the non compliance with the measures of the treaty of Turin, on the countries of Savoy and Nice.
For reasons such as these, there is currently a peaceful separatist movement in the départements, as well as a faction in favour of greater regional powers.
The Mouvement Région Savoie (Savoy Regional Movement) was founded in December 1971 as a 'movement' (rather than a traditional political party) in favour of regional autonomy. In the 1996 local elections the Savoie Regional Movement received 19,434 votes.
In the March 1998 regional elections, 1 seat (out of 23) was won by Patrice Abeille, leader of the Ligue Savoisienne (Savoie League, founded 1994), which had set up a 'provisional Savoie government' two years earlier. This group base its actions on the decline of the treaty of annexation. The League gathered a total of 17,865 votes across the two départements. In the same elections a further 4,849 voted in favour of the Savoie Movement.
As a result of the regional debate sparked by the political advances, the non-party organisation, La Région Savoie, j’y crois ! (I believe in the Savoy Region!), was founded in 1998. The organisation campaigns for the replacement of the Savoie and Haute-Savoie départements with a regional government, separate from the Rhône-Alpes region, with greater devolved powers. According to surveys conducted in 2000, between 41% and 55% of the population are in favour of the proposal. 19% to 23% were in favour of separation from France.
In 2004, Waiting for freedom in Savoy was founded to promote the peaceful separatist cause to young people.
Towards the end of 2005, Hervé Gaymard called for Savoie to be given special status similar to a French region, under his proposed 'Conseil des Pays de Savoie'.