Victor Emmanuel II

Victor Emmanuel II

Victor Emmanuel II, 1820-78, king of Sardinia (1849-61) and first king of united Italy (1861-78). He fought in the war of 1848-49 against Austrian rule in Lombardy-Venetia and ascended the throne when his father, Charles Albert, abdicated after the defeat at Novara. With the skillful collaboration of Cavour, whom he appointed premier in 1852, he became the symbol and the central figure of the Risorgimento, the movement for Italian unification. Popular in Sardinia because of his liberal reforms and his respect for the constitution, he increased Sardinian prestige abroad by engaging in the Crimean War as an ally of France, Britain, and Turkey. In conjunction with Napoleon III of France, with whom Cavour had formed an alliance, he fought against Austria in the Italian War of 1859. After the battle of Solferino, France signed a separate armistice with Austria at Villafranca di Verona; Victor Emmanuel was not consulted, but the terms were ratified in the Treaty of Zürich. When, in 1860, Tuscany, Romagna, Parma, and Modena voted for union with Sardinia (contrary to the treaty terms), Victor Emmanuel and Cavour secured French consent to their incorporation in exchange for the cession of Savoy and Nice. He favored the expedition (1860) of Garibaldi into the kingdom of the Two Sicilies and joined forces with Garibaldi after crossing the Papal States and defeating the papal army at Castelfidardo. Plebiscites in Naples and Sicily and in the Marches and Umbria (two provinces of the Papal States) favored union with Sardinia, and in 1861 the kingdom of Italy was proclaimed with Victor Emmanuel as king. The capital was transferred from Turin to Florence in 1865. Siding (1866) with Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War, Victor Emmanuel was awarded Venetia in the peace settlement. The remaining Papal States were protected by the troops of Napoleon III, but when he fell in 1870, Italian troops seized the Papal States, and Rome was made (1871) the capital of Italy. Pope Pius IX and his successors protested, and the so-called Roman Question remained a serious problem until the Lateran Treaty of 1929. The remainder of Victor Emmanuel's reign was spent in the consolidation of the new kingdom. His son Humbert I succeeded him.

See biography by C. S. Forester (1927) and works of D. M. Smith.

Victor Emmanuel II, King of Italy (Vittorio Emanuele II; March 14, 1820January 9, 1878) was the King of Piedmont, Savoy, and Sardinia from 1849 to 1861. On February 18, 1861, he assumed the title King of Italy to become the first king of a united Italy, a title he held until his death in 1878.


Victor Emmanuel was born in Turin, the eldest son of Charles Albert of Sardinia and Maria Theresa of Austria and Tuscany. His father was King of Piedmont-Sardinia. He lived for some years of his youth in Florence, and showed an early interest in politics, the military, and sports.

He took part in the First Italian War of Independence under his father, fighting in the front line at the battles of Pastrengo, Santa Lucia, Goito and Custoza.

He became King of Piedmont-Sardinia in 1849 when his father had abdicated the throne after a humiliating military defeat by the Austrians at Novara. Victor Emmanuel was immediately able to obtain a rather favourable armistice at Vignale by the Austrian commander, Radetzky. The treaty, however, was not ratified by the Piedmontese chamber, and Victor Emmanuel retaliated by firing Prime Minister Claudio Gabriele de Launay, replacing him with Massimo D'Azeglio. After new elections, the peace with Austria was accepted by the new Chamber of Deputies. In 1849 he also fiercely suppressed the revolt in Genoa, defining the rebels as a "vile and infected race of canailles".

In 1852, Victor Emmanuel II gave Count Camillo di Cavour the title of Prime Minister. This turned out to be a wise choice because Cavour was a political mastermind and was a major player in Italian unification in his own right. Victor Emmanuel II soon became the symbol of the Italian Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement. He was especially popular in the Kingdom of Sardinia because of his respect for the new constitution and his liberal reforms.

Crimean War

Following Victor Emmanuel's advice, Cavour joined Britain and France in the Crimean War against Russia. Cavour was cautious to go to war due to the power of Russia at the time and the expense of doing so. Victor Emmanuel, however was convinced of the rewards which would be gained from the alliance which would be created between Britain and more importantly with France. After successfully seeking British support and ingratiating himself with France and Napoleon III at the Congress of Paris in 1856, following the end of the war, Count Cavour arranged a secret meeting with the French emperor. In 1858, they met at Plombières-les-Bains (in the Lorraine), where they agreed that if the French were to help Piedmont combat Austria, still occupying the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in northern Italy, France would be awarded Nice and Savoy.

At the time Victor Emmanuel had become a universal symbol of the Italian Risorgimento, the movement pushing towards the unification of Italy.

Wars of Italian Unification

The Italo-French campaign against Austria in 1858 started successfully. However, scared by the serious casualties for France, Napoleon III secretly made a treaty with Franz Joseph of Austria at Villafranca whereby Piedmont gained only Lombardy. France did receive the promised Nice and Savoy, while Austria kept Venetia, a major setback for the Piedmontese, also because the treaty had been prepared without their knowledge. After several quarrels for the outcome of the war, Cavour resigned, and the king had to find other advisors.

Later that same year, he sent his forces to fight the papal army at Castelfidardo and drove the Pope into Vatican City. Victor Emmanuel II’s success at these goals got him excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Then, plebiscites in Naples and Sicily called for union with Sardinia-Piedmont and Italy grew even larger. On February 18, 1861 the Kingdom of Italy was officially established and Victor Emmanuel II became its king. Later, in 1866, Italy was given Venetia as part of the peace settlement after the Seven Weeks War. Five years after that (1871), the Papal States, protected by Napoleon III (an action motivated by his need to please Catholics in France), fell to Italian troops and Rome became the capital city.

Victor Emmanuel supported Giuseppe Garibaldi's Expedition of Thousand (1860-1861), which resulted in the quick fall of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in southern Italy. However, the King halted Garibaldi when he appeared ready to attack Rome, still under the Papal States, as it was under French protection. In 1860, through local plebiscites, Tuscany, Modena, Parma and Romagna decided to side with Sardinia-Piedmont. Victor Emmanuel then marched victoriously in the Marche and Umbria after the victorious battle of Castelfidardo (1860) over the Papal forces, after which he gained a Papal excommunication.

The King subsequently met with Garibaldi at Teano, receiving from him the control of southern Italy. Another series of plebiscites in the occupied lands resulted in the proclamation of Victor Emmanuel as the first King of Italy by the new Parliament of unified Italy, on March 17 1861. Turin became the capital of the new state. Only Rome, Veneto, Trentino and Dalmatia remained to be conquered.

Completion of the unification

In 1866 Victor Emmanuel allied with Prussia in the Third Italian War of Independence. Although not victorious in the Italian theater, he managed anyway to receive Veneto after the Austrian defeat in Germany. In 1871, after two failed attempts by Garibaldi, he also took advantage of the Prussian victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War to capture Rome after the French withdrew. He entered Rome on September 20 1871, setting there the new capital on July 2 1871, (after the momentary move to Florence in 1864). The new Royal residence was the Quirinal Palace.

The rest of Victor Emmanuel II’s reign was much quieter. After the Kingdom of Italy was established he decided to continue on as King Victor Emmanuel II instead of Victor Emmanuel I of Italy. This was a terrible move as far as public relations went as it was not indicative of the fresh start that the Italian people wanted and suggested that Sardinia-Piedmont had taken over the Italian Peninsula, rather than unifying it. Despite this mishap, the remainder of Victor Emmanuel II’s reign was consumed by wrapping up loose ends and dealing with economical and cultural issues.

Victor Emmanuel died in Rome in 1878, just after the reversal of excommunication by Pope Pius IX's envoys. He was buried in the Pantheon. His successor was his son Umberto I.

Family and children

In 1842 he married his cousin Maria Adelaide of Habsburg (1822-1855). By her he had eight children:

In 1869 he married morganatically his principal mistress Rosa Teresa Vercellana Guerrieri (3 June 183326 December 1885). Popularly known in Piedmontese as “Bela Rosin”, she was born a commoner but made Countess of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda in 1858. Their offspring were:

  • Vittoria Guerrieri (2 December 1848-1905), married three times and had issue.
  • Emanuele Alberto Guerrieri (16 March 1851-1894), Count of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda, married and had issue.

Further offspring from other mistresses included:

Laura Bon at Stupinigi:

  • Stillborn son (1852).
  • Emanuela Maria Alberta Vittoria di Roverbella (6 September1853-1880/1890).

Virginia Rho at Turin:

Unknown Mistress at Mondovì:

Baroness Vittoria Duplessis:

  • A daughter, perhaps named Savoiarda. She died as an infant.

Quotes about Victor Emmanuel

  • "While his father Charles Albert of Savoy was in Florence the cradle of the infant prince allegedly caught fire. The maid tending to the dauphin was reported to have saved the royal child while sustaining severe burns to her body, but in the same days a local butcher of Porta Romana named Tanaca denounced the disappearance of an infant child of his, which was never found". - This rumour was widely propagated by Massimo D'Azeglio and enjoyed considerable good fortune since Victor Emmanuel was very different from his father (who was very tall, spindly thin and had a timid, introverted and very intelligent personality).
  • "He was a simple man who despised etiquette, brave to the point of recklessness but also lazy, uncouth, jealous, petty and boisterous".

Message issued by Umberto I immediately after his death:

  • "Your first king died, his successor will prove that his legacy will live on".
  • "Among a heap of personal possessions, after his death, his son found a walking cane which he broke in two beating a priest who spoke ill of his main mistress Rosina and a life-size nude portrait of the Countess of Castiglione".

The British Foreign Minister George Villiers said of Victor Emmanuel;

  • There is universal agreement that Vittorio Emanuele is an imbecile; he is a dishonest man who tells lies to everyone; at this rate he will end up losing his crown and ruining both Italy and his dynasty.


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