Victor Emmanuel III

Victor Emmanuel III

Victor Emmanuel III, 1869-1947, king of Italy (1900-1946), emperor of Ethiopia (1936-43), king of Albania (1939-43), son and successor of Humbert I. In 1896 he married Princess Helena of Montenegro. Though involved with Germany and Austria-Hungary in the Triple Alliance, he sought cordial relations with France and Great Britain. He favored the war of 1911-12 against Turkey, thus acquiring Libya. Though first advocating neutrality, he finally joined (1915) the Allies in World War I. He was unable to handle the confused internal situation of Italy after the war, refused to oppose the Fascist march on Rome, and asked (1922) Mussolini to form a government. Under the Fascist regime he was king in name only, but Mussolini's conquests added to his list of titles. During World War II, when the Fascist grand council voted (1943) against continued support of Mussolini, the king dismissed the dictator, placed him under arrest, and named Pietro Badoglio premier. German troops occupied Rome after Italy surrendered to the Allies, and Victor Emmanuel fled to S Italy. Unpopular because of his long association with Mussolini, he was obliged to transmit (1944) his royal prerogatives to his son, Humbert II, in whose favor he abdicated in 1946. He died in exile in Egypt.

Victor Emmanuel III (Vittorio Emanuele III; 11 November, 186928 December, 1947) was a member of the House of Savoy and King of Italy (29 July, 19009 May, 1946). In addition, he was Emperor of Ethiopia (1936–43) and King of Albania (1939–43). During his long reign, Victor Emmanuel III saw two world wars and the birth, rise, and fall of Fascism in the Kingdom of Italy.

Biography

Early years

Victor Emmanuel was born in Naples, Italy. He was the only child of Umberto I, King of Italy (Re d'Italia), and his consort, Princess Margherita of Savoy. Margherita was the daughter of the duke of Genoa.

Unlike his paternal first cousin's son, the 6'6" 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.

On 24 October 1896, Prince Victor Emmanuel married Princess Elena of Montenegro.

Ascension to the throne

On 29 July 1900, at the age of 30, Victor Emmanuel ascended the throne upon his father's assassination. He became Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and Elena became Queen Elena of Italy (Regina Elena d'Italia).

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, 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 prevent 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 to enter the war himself. 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.

Support to Mussolini

The economic depression which followed World War I had given rise to much extremism among the sorely-tired 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. But Victor Emmanuel refused to sign it. The King suggested that his Royal Army (Regio Esercito) could not have defended the city against the Fascist march. However, testimony from the military leaders and surviving military records challenge his claim.

Fascist violence had been growing in intensity throughout the summer and autumn of 1922, climaxing with the rumours of a possible coup. Victor Emmanuel had all the means at his disposal to sweep Mussolini and his rag-tag Blackshirt army to one side. General Pietro Badoglio told the King that military would be able to rout the rebels, who numbered no more than 10,000 men, without any difficulty. Thereupon, Victor Emmanuel could have ordered Facta to protect Rome and could have supported a decree proclaiming martial law.

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). 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 Antonio Salandra, an ultra conservative politician and former Prime Minister, and General Armando Diaz, that it would be better to do a deal with Mussolini. There were also pro-Fascist elements in his immediate family, including Margherita of Savoy, his mother.

Whatever the circumstances, Victor Emmanuel showed weakness in a position of strength, with dire future consequences for Italy and for the monarchy itself. It has been alleged that Victor Emmanuel's decisions showed not only poor judgment but also undemocratic sentiments. What is not in doubt is that Fascism offered political stability and 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.

Lateran Treaty
In 1929, Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty for Victor Emmanuel. 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 answered.

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 his strikingly beautiful Queen Elena, born a Princess 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 Victor Emmanuel's 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 League of Nations decried Italy's participation in this war and the illegal use of "chemical warfare" against the Ethiopian forces was well documented.

Public silence concerning racial purity laws
In 1938, Victor Emanuel 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 and constituted a clear violation of both his coronation oath and his oath to the constitution.

The fact that large numbers of Italians risked their lives to save not only their Jewish fellow citizens but also Jewish refugees from other countries only deepened their contempt for a King who had dragged them into an alliance with the Germans that they had never wanted. Victor Emanuel's private complaints to Mussolini did little to lessen this contempt.

King of Albania
In 1939, Victor Emmanuel assumed the crown of the King of Albania. 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 neighbor.

Final efforts to save crown

On 10 June 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini made the fatal decision to have Italy enter World War II on the side of Nazi Germany. Italy was not prepared for war and, 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 fell. After a series of setbacks, the Royal Navy (Regia Marina) became no more than 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.

As Italy's fortunes worsened, the popularity of the King suffered. One coffee house ditty went as follows:

"When our Victor was plain King,
Coffee was a common thing.
When an Emperor he was made,
Coffee to a smell did fade.
Since he got Albania's throne,
Coffee's very smell has flown."

On 19 July 1943, the Italian capital city was bombed for the first time.

Coup d'état against Mussolini
On 24 July 1943, 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 for some time to get rid of the dictator himself -- summoned Mussolini to the palace and dismissed him as Prime Minister. The King replaced Mussolini with Marshal Pietro Badoglio and then 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 ouster.

Armistice with the Allies
On 8 September 1943, Victor Emmanuel made something of a blunder when he announced an armistice with the Allies without first ordering the Royal Army to defend Rome. Left without orders, the Italian armed forces everywhere disintegrated. Many of those units which did not surrender, joined forces with the Germans. Italian forces in Italy, France, the Balkans, and the Dodecanese Islands were quickly neutralized.

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 Oak" (Unternehmen Eiche) and rescued Mussolini. In 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 his remaining power while retaining the royal title. This status was formalized shortly after Rome was liberated on June 4, when he appointed Umberto Lieutenant General of the Realm.

1946 plebiscite
Within a year, public opinion forced a plebiscite to decide between retaining the monarchy or becoming a republic. On May 9, 1946, in hopes of influencing the vote, Victor Emmanuel formally abdicated. It did not work. 54% of the voters favored declaring a republic in the referendum held less than a month later. While widespread irregularities in the vote were alleged, particularly in southern Italy, the Savoy family was required to leave the country. The Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) 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."

Legacy

He has been seldom treated sympathetically by historians. His almost forced abdication on the eve of a referendum on the future of the Italian monarchy achieved nothing — being too little, far too late. At worst, it 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 monarchs 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. To this day, his role in the rise of fascism, his support of Italian imperialism, and his unwillingness to oppose either ensure that his legacy will always be controversial.

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 e Banna, Busca, Bene, Brà, Duke of Genoa, Monferrat, Aosta, Duke of Chablais, Genevois, Duke of Piacenza, Duke of Brescia, Marquis of Saluzzo (Saluces), Ivrea, Susa, del Maro, Oristano, Cesana, Savona, Tarantasia, Borgomanero e Cureggio, Caselle, Rivoli, Pianezza, Govone, Salussola, Racconigi con Tegerone, Migliabruna e Motturone, Cavallermaggiore, Marene, Modane e Lanslebourg, Livorno Ferraris, Santhià Agliè, Centallo e 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, delle Apertole, Baron of Vaud e del Faucigni, Lord of Vercelli, Pinerolo, della Lomellina, della Valle Sesia, del marchesato di Ceva, Overlord of Monaco, Roccabruna and 11/12th of Menton, Noble patrician of Venice, patrician of Ferrara.

Ancestors

Victor Emmanuel III's ancestors in three generations
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy Father:
Umberto I of Italy
Paternal Grandfather:
Victor Emmanuel II of Italy
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Charles Albert of Sardinia
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Maria Teresa of Tuscany
Paternal Grandmother:
Maria Adelaide of Austria
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Archduke Rainer of Austria
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Princess Elisabeth of Savoy-Carignan
Mother:
Margherita of Savoy
Maternal Grandfather:
Ferdinand, 1st Duke of Genoa
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Charles Albert of Sardinia
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Maria Teresa of Tuscany
Maternal Grandmother:
Princess Elizabeth of Saxony
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John of Saxony
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Princess Amalie Auguste of Bavaria

Family

In 1896 he married princess Elena of Montenegro (1873–1953), daughter of Nicholas I, King of Montenegro. Their issue included:

  1. Yolanda Margherita Milena Elisabetta Romana Maria (1901-1986), married to Giorgio Carlo Calvi, Count Bergolo, (1887–1977);
  2. 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;
  3. Umberto Nicola Tommaso Giovanni Maria, later Umberto II, King of Italy (1904–1983) married to Princess Marie José of Belgium, with issue.
  4. 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.
  5. Maria Francesca Anna Romana (1914–2001), who married Prince Luigi of Bourbon-Parma (1899–1967), with issue.

See also

References

External links

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