See biography by C. S. Forester (1927) and works of D. M. Smith.
Victor Emmanuel II, King of Italy (Vittorio Emanuele II; March 14, 1820 – January 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1869 he married morganatically his principal mistress Rosa Teresa Vercellana Guerrieri (3 June 1833–26 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:
Further offspring from other mistresses included:
Laura Bon at Stupinigi:
Virginia Rho at Turin:
Unknown Mistress at Mondovì:
Message issued by Umberto I immediately after his death: