Victor Emmanuel II of Italy

gigatos | March 28, 2022


Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy (Turin, March 14, 1820 – Rome, January 9, 1878) was the last king of Sardinia (from 1849 to 1861) and the first king of Italy (from 1861 to 1878).From 1849 to 1861 he was also duke of Savoy, prince of Piedmont and duke of Genoa.He is also remembered with the nickname of King gentleman, because after his accession to the throne did not withdraw the Statuto Albertino promulgated by his father Carlo Alberto.

Assisted by the President of the Council Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, brought to completion the Risorgimento, culminating in the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy.

For having achieved the Unification of Italy, is referred to as the Father of the Fatherland, as it appears in the inscription on the national monument that takes its name from him Vittoriano, located in Rome, in Piazza Venezia.

Childhood and youth

Vittorio Emanuele was the eldest son of Carlo Alberto, King of Sardinia, and Maria Teresa of Tuscany. He was born in Turin in the Palace of the Princes of Carignano and spent the first years of his life in Florence. His father Carlo Alberto was one of the few male members of the House of Savoy, belonging to the cadet branch of the Savoy-Carignano and second in line of succession to the throne. However the Prince, of liberal sympathies, was involved in the uprising of 1821, which led to the abdication of Vittorio Emanuele I, so Carlo Alberto was forced to leave with his family to Novara by order of Carlo Felice.

The new king Carlo Felice, who did not like Carlo Alberto, soon gave him an order to move to Tuscany, completely outside the Kingdom. Thus, he left for Florence, the capital of the Grand Duchy ruled by Vittorio”s maternal grandfather, Ferdinando III. In the Tuscan capital was entrusted to the tutor Giuseppe Dabormida, who educated the children of Carlo Alberto to a military discipline.

Being physically very different from the father, circulated the rumor of a substitution of the real firstborn, who would have died, still in swaddling clothes, in a fire in the residence of the grandfather in Florence, with a child of common origin whose father was said to be a certain Tuscan butcher Tanaca, who had reported in those same days the disappearance of a son and who later would have suddenly become rich, or with a butcher of Porta Romana, such Mazzucca. This reconstruction, categorically denied in the past centuries, has always aroused strong doubts in historians about its validity so as to be confined in the sphere of gossip and has been taken up by some modern historians, who dispute the report of the fire drawn up by Corporal Galluzzo believing that the flames have wrapped the nurse, present in the room, but left unharmed the infant.

This “legend” about the popular origin of the “Re Galantuomo” would be denied by two elements: the first one is the young age of the parents, still able to procreate, and therefore to generate a second heir to the throne, as it happened just two years later with the birth of Ferdinand, future Duke of Genoa, thus resulting useless to resort to a similar stratagem, extremely risky for the image of the dynasty; the second element is given by a letter that Maria Teresa sent to her father the Grand Duke in which, talking about little Vittorio and his liveliness, she said: “I don”t really know where this boy came from. He does not look like any of us, and it would seem that he has come to make us all despair”: if the child had not been her son, she would have been very careful not to write a similar sentence.

When, in 1831, Carlo Alberto was called to Turin to succeed Carlo Felice of Savoy, Vittorio Emanuele followed him to the capital, where he was entrusted to Count Cesare Saluzzo of Monesiglio, flanked by a host of tutors, including the general Ettore De Sonnaz, the theologian Andrea Charvaz, the historian Lorenzo Isnardi and the jurist Giuseppe Manno. The pedagogical discipline intended for the scions of the House of Savoy had always been Spartan. The tutors, rigid formalists chosen on the basis of their attachment to the throne and the altar, imposed barracks hours on them both in summer and winter, with a typical day structured as follows: wake up at 5:30 am, three hours of study, an hour of horseback riding, an hour for breakfast, then fencing and gymnastics, then another three hours of study, half an hour for lunch and the visit of etiquette to the mother, half an hour of prayers to end the day.

The efforts of the learned tutors had, however, little effect on Vittorio Emanuele”s refractoriness to study. He preferred to devote himself to horses, hunting and saber, as well as hiking in the mountains (on July 27, 1838 Vittorio Emanuele climbed to the top of Rocciamelone), avoiding grammar, mathematics, history and any other subject that required study or even simple reading. The results were so poor that one day – he was only ten years old – his father summoned him before a notary and made him make a solemn commitment, with a lot of stamped paper, to practice studying more. It seems that the only tenderness he had received from his mother, his father was not capable of this with anyone, only twice a day he gave him his hand to kiss saying: C”est bon. And to test his maturity, he enjoined him to answer in writing questions of this kind: “Can a prince take sides in contracts for buying and selling horses?”

Vittorio promised and did not keep his promise. As a matter of fact, his results only improved a little, and this can be seen from the handwritten letters he wrote during his life, which are certainly not a model for syntax and grammar; the only subjects in which he had a certain profit were calligraphy and military regulations. Conversely, he was so devoid of ear and allergic to any musical sense that he had to make studies on purpose to learn how to give commands.

When at the age of eighteen he was granted the rank of Colonel and the command of a regiment, he touched the sky with one finger: not only because of the command, thanks to which he could finally give vent to his military ambition, but also because it meant the end of that oppressive regime that had tormented him in the useless attempt to give him a culture.


Having obtained the rank of general, he married his cousin Maria Adelaide of Austria in 1842. Despite the love that bound Maria Adelaide to her husband, and the sincere affection that he had for her, Victor Emmanuel had several extramarital affairs.

In 1847 he met for the first time the beautiful Rosin, Rosa Vercellana, who will be his lifelong companion. In 1864 Rosina followed the king to Florence, settling in the villa La Petraia. In 1869 the king fell ill and, fearing to die, married Rosa Vercellana religiously in San Rossore with a morganatic marriage, that is without the attribution of the title of queen. The religious rite took place on October 18th of that year, celebrated also with a civil rite, on October 7th 1877, in Rome.

First years of reign

Carlo Alberto, acclaimed as the sovereign reformer, granted the constitution on March 4, 1848 and declared war on Austria, meanwhile opened the long period known as the Italian Risorgimento entering in Lombardy with Piedmontese troops and Italian volunteers. Vittorio Emanuele Duke of Savoy was at the head of the 7th Reserve Division. The results of the first war of independence were disastrous for the continuation of the conflict for the Kingdom of Sardinia that, abandoned by the allies and defeated on July 25 in Custoza and August 4 in Milan, negotiated a first armistice on August 9. Resumed hostilities on March 20, 1849, on March 23, after a violent battle in the area near the Bicocca, Carlo Alberto sent the general Luigi Fecia di Cossato to negotiate the surrender with Austria. The conditions were very hard and foresaw the presence of an Austrian garrison in the strongholds of Alessandria and Novara. Carlo Alberto, in the presence of Wojciech Chrzanowski, Carlo Emanuele La Marmora, Alessandro La Marmora, Raffaele Cadorna, Vittorio Emanuele and his son Ferdinando of Savoy-Genoa, signed his abdication and, with a false passport, repaired to Nice, from where he left for exile in Portugal.

The same night, shortly before midnight, Vittorio Emanuele II went to a farmhouse in Vignale, where General Radetzky was waiting for him, to negotiate again the surrender with the Austrians, that is for his first action as sovereign. After having obtained an attenuation of the conditions contained in the armistice (Radetzky did not want to push the young sovereign into the arms of the democrats), Vittorio Emanuele II assured that he wanted to act with the utmost determination against the democratic party, to which his father had allowed so much freedom and which had led him towards the war against Austria. He fully disavowed his father”s actions and defined the ministers as a “bunch of imbeciles”, even though he reiterated to General Radetzky that he still had 50,000 men at his disposal to be thrown into the fray, but they existed only on paper. However, Vittorio Emanuele, despite pressure from Austria, refused to revoke the constitution (Statute), the only sovereign in the whole Peninsula to preserve it.

After the defeat of Novara and the abdication of Carlo Alberto, people began to define Vittorio Emanuele II the gentleman king, who, animated by patriotic feelings and for the defense of constitutional liberties, proudly opposed Radetzky”s requests to abolish the Statuto Albertino.

The young king declared himself a friend of the Austrians and reproaching his father for the weakness of not having been able to oppose the democrats, he promised a hard policy towards them with the abolition of the statute.

This new version of the figure of the sovereign emerged with the discovery and publication of Austrian diplomatic documents on the talks held in Vignale, in which General Radetzky wrote to the government in Vienna on March 26:

This portrayal of the king as illiberal would be confirmed by what he wrote in a private letter to the apostolic nuncio in November 1849 where the king states:

Charles Adrien His De Butenval, French plenipotentiary in Turin, wrote on October 16, 1852 in Paris that Vittorio Emanuele was a reactionary who used the Statute to keep as supporters and allies of himself and of his dynasty the restless Italian emigrants and the liberals who had taken refuge in Turin after the events of 1848-49.

Opposite to this version of the meeting between the King and General Radetzky reported by Denis Mack Smith, there is the one of General Thaon di Revel who, one month after the Vignale meeting, had the opportunity to meet Vittorio Emanuele II at Stupinigi. “The King – writes the general – came to speak to me of the motions used by the Marshal in the meeting, to induce him to abrogate the Statute; he laughed hinting at the illusion of the old man who had believed to seduce him with obliging manners and ample promises, to the point of offering him forty thousand Austrian bayonets if he needed to restore good order in his State.”

An explanation of the king”s behavior in the armistice of Vignale is attributed to Massimo d”Azeglio who would have judged an “ill-conceived liberalism” that of the sovereign who would have affirmed: “It is better to be king in one”s own house, albeit with constitutional limitations, than to be a protégé of Vienna.”

A branch of historiography affirms that Vittorio Emanuele, even though he had absolutist feelings, maintained the liberal institutions for political farsightedness, understanding their great importance in the administration of the State. The proof of this is also in the long collaboration between the King and the Prime Minister Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, who were strongly divided by their different political positions (absolutism and liberalism):

Moreover, another recent reconstruction of the Vignale negotiations argues that:

The above-mentioned political farsightedness, which led him to contradict his own principles, would therefore be the origin of the term “gentleman king”.

The official meetings between Vittorio Emanuele and Field Marshal Josef Radetzky were held from the morning to the afternoon of March 24, always in Vignale, and the agreement was signed on March 26 in Borgomanero. Vittorio Emanuele promised to dissolve the voluntary corps of the army and surrendered to the Austrians the fortress of Alessandria and the control of the territories between the Po, the Sesia and the Ticino, in addition to paying for the damages of war with the astronomical sum of 75 million French francs. These are the armistice agreements that, according to article 5 of the Albertine Statute, had to be ratified by the Chamber, in order to sign the Peace Act.

The day after the armistice of Vignale, in the city of Genoa there was a popular uprising, perhaps driven by ancient republican and independentist moods, managing to drive out of the city the entire royal garrison. Some soldiers were lynched by the rioters.

Vittorio Emanuele II, in agreement with the government, immediately sent a corps of bersaglieri, supported by numerous pieces of artillery and led by General Alfonso La Marmora; in a few days the revolt was quelled. The heavy bombardment and the subsequent actions of pillage and rape perpetrated by the military led to the submission of the Ligurian capital, at the cost of 500 deaths among the population.

Satisfied with the repression carried out, Vittorio Emanuele wrote – in French – a letter of praise to La Marmora in April 1849, defining the rioters “vile and infected race of scoundrels” and inviting him, however, to ensure greater discipline on the part of the soldiers (“try if you can to ensure that the soldiers do not let themselves go to excesses on the inhabitants, and give them, if necessary, a high pay and a lot of discipline”).

On March 29, 1849 the new King appeared before Parliament to pronounce the oath of allegiance and the next day dissolved it, calling new elections.

The 30,000 voters who went to the polls on July 15 expressed a parliament too “democratic” that refused to approve the peace that the King had already signed with Austria. Vittorio Emanuele, after promulgating the proclamation of Moncalieri, which invited the people to choose representatives aware of the tragic hour of the State, dissolved the Parliament again, to make sure that the new elected were pragmatic ideas. The new Parliament was composed for two thirds of moderates in favor of the government of Massimo d”Azeglio. On January 9, 1850 the peace treaty with Austria was finally ratified.

Already a candidate for Parliament in April 1848, Cavour entered in June of that year, maintaining an independent political line, which did not exclude him from criticism but kept him in a situation of anonymity until the proclamation of the Siccardi laws, which provided for the abolition of certain privileges relating to the Church, already repealed in many European states.

Vittorio Emanuele was subjected to heavy pressure from the ecclesiastical hierarchies, so that he would not promulgate those laws; they went so far as to mobilize even the Archbishop Charvaz who, having been the King”s tutor, had a certain influence on his ex-pupil, and even insinuated that the misfortunes that had struck the King”s family (the death of his mother and the illness of his wife) were the result of a divine punishment for his lack of opposition to laws considered “sacrilegious”. The King, who was not a bigot like his father but was very superstitious, at first promised that he would oppose the laws, even writing a letter, very ungrammatical, to the Pope in which he renewed his devotion as a Catholic and said he was proud opponent of such measures. However, when the Parliament approved the laws he said he was sorry but that the Statute did not allow him to oppose them; demonstration that, although allergic to democratic principles, when it was necessary to get out of trouble he became a scrupulous observer of the Constitution.

The active participation of Cavour in the discussion of laws was worth the public interest, and at the death of Pietro De Rossi di Santarosa, he became the new Minister of Agriculture, to which was added the position, from 1851, of Minister of Finance in the government of Azeglio.

Promoter of the so-called union, Cavour became on November 4, 1852 President of the Council of the Kingdom, despite the aversion that Vittorio Emanuele II had towards him. In spite of the undisputed political union, the two never had much sympathy for each other. On the contrary, Vittorio Emanuele often limited their actions, and even sent several political projects up in smoke, some of which were very important. He probably remembered when a still young Cavour had been reported as treacherous and capable of betraying as a result of his republican and revolutionary statements during his military service.

According to Chiala, when La Marmora proposed to Vittorio Emanuele the appointment of Cavour as President of the Council, the King replied in Piedmontese: “Ca guarda, General, che côl lì a j butarà tutii con”t le congie a”nt l”aria” (“Look, General, that guy will throw everyone with his legs in the air”). According to Ferdinando Martini, who found out from Minghetti, the Sovereign”s reply was even more colorful: “E va bin, coma ch”aa veulo lor. Ma ch”aa stago sicur che col lì an poch temp an lo fica an”t el prònio a tuti!” (“All right, as they wish. But let”s be sure that the one there in a short time will put it in everyone”s ass!”). A version that more closely resembles the character and his vocabulary, but also denotes a certain flair for men.

Unity of Italy

Determined to manifest the problem of Italy in the eyes of Europe, Cavour saw in the Russian-Turkish war that broke out in June 1853 a unique opportunity: against Nicholas I of Russia, who had occupied Wallachia and Moldavia, then Ottoman Turkish lands, moved the United Kingdom and France, in which Cavour hoped to find allies.

Victor Emmanuel II seemed favorable to a conflict, and so expressed himself to the French ambassador:

Having obtained the approval of Vittorio Emanuele, Cavour began negotiations with the belligerent countries, which took a long time due to the contrasts between the ministers. Finally, on January 7, 1855, the French and English governments imposed an ultimatum to Piedmont: within two days to approve or not the entry into the war. Vittorio Emanuele, read the message, meditated to approve the plan he had long had: dissolve the Parliament again and impose a government in favor of the war. He did not have the time: Cavour convened the same night the Council of Ministers and, at nine o”clock in the morning of January 8, after a night that involved the resignation of Dabormida, with satisfaction he could affirm the participation of Sardinia in the Crimean war.

It was Alfonso La Marmora to captain the expedition that, from Genoa, sailed towards the East: the Piedmontese sent a contingent of 15 000 men. Forced to remain relegated to the rear under British command, La Marmora was able to make his case by leading the troops himself in the battle of Cernaia, which was a triumph. The echo of the victory rehabilitated the Sardinian army, giving Vittorio Emanuele II the opportunity to travel to London and Paris to sensitize the local rulers to the Piedmontese question. In particular, it was important for the King to speak with Napoleon III, who seemed to have more interest in the Peninsula than the British.

In October 1855 began to circulate rumors of peace, which Russia signed in Paris (Congress of Paris). Piedmont, which had set as a condition of its participation in the war an extraordinary session to deal with the issues of Italy, through the voice of Cavour condemned the absolutist government of Ferdinand II of Naples, predicting serious disorders if no one had solved a problem now widespread in almost the entire peninsula: the oppression under a foreign government.

This did not please the Austrian government, which felt called into question, and Karl Buol, foreign minister for Franz Joseph of Austria, expressed himself in these terms:

In any case, the participation of Sardinia in the Treaties of Paris aroused great joy everywhere. Screens occurred between Turin and Vienna as a result of propaganda articles anti-Sabby and anti-Habsburg, while between Buol and Cavour were asking for an official apology: at the end, on March 16, Buol ordered his diplomats to leave the Sardinian capital, something that Cavour also replied on March 23. Diplomatic relations were now broken.

In such a tense international climate, the Italian Felice Orsini made an attempt on Napoleon III”s life by exploding three bombs against the imperial carriage, which remained unharmed, causing eight deaths and hundreds of injuries. Despite the expectations of Austria, which hoped in the approach of Napoleon III to his reactionary policy, the French Emperor was cleverly convinced by Cavour that the Italian situation had reached a critical point and needed a Savoy intervention.

It was in this way that the basis for a Sardinian-French alliance was laid, despite the adversity of some ministers in Paris, especially Alessandro Walewski. Thanks also to the intercession of Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione and Costantino Nigra, both of whom had been properly instructed by Cavour, the relationship between Napoleon and Vittorio Emanuele became closer and closer.

In July 1858, under the pretext of a vacation in Switzerland, Cavour went to Plombières, in France, where he secretly met Napoleon III. The verbal agreements that followed and their formalization in the Sardinian-French alliance of January 1859, provided for the cession to France of Savoy and Nice in exchange for French military aid, which would occur only in case of Austrian attack. Napoleon granted the creation of a Kingdom of Upper Italy, while he wanted under his influence central and southern Italy. In Plombières Cavour and Napoleon also decided the marriage between the cousin of the latter, Napoleon Giuseppe Carlo Paolo Bonaparte and Maria Clotilde of Savoy, daughter of Vittorio Emanuele.

The news of the meeting of Plombières leaked despite all precautions. Napoleon III did not help to keep the secret of his intentions, if he began with this sentence to the Austrian ambassador:

Ten days later, on January 10, 1859, Vittorio Emanuele II addressed the Sardinian parliament with the famous phrase of the “cry of pain”, whose original text is preserved in the castle of Sommariva Perno.

In Piedmont, immediately, the volunteers rushed, convinced that war was imminent, and the King began to amass troops on the Lombard border, near the Ticino. At the beginning of May 1859, Turin had 63,000 men under arms. Vittorio Emanuele took command of the army and left control of the citadel of Turin to his cousin Eugenio di Savoia-Carignano. Worried by the Savoy rearmament, Austria put an ultimatum to Vittorio Emanuele II, at the request of the governments of London and Petersburg, which was immediately rejected. This is how Massimo d”Azeglio judged the news of the Hapsburg ultimatum:

It was war. Franz Joseph ordered the crossing of the Ticino and the targeting of the Piedmontese capital, before the French could rush to the rescue.

The Austrians withdrew from Chivasso, the French-Piedmontese routed the enemy army corps near Palestro and Magenta, arriving in Milan on June 8, 1859. The Hunters of the Alps, led by Giuseppe Garibaldi, quickly occupied Como, Bergamo, Varese and Brescia: only 3,500 men, poorly armed, who were now marching towards Trentino. By now the Hapsburg forces were retreating from all of Lombardy.

The battle of Solferino and San Martino was decisive: it seems that, just before the clash at San Martino, Vittorio Emanuele II thus spoke to the troops, in Piedmontese:

(“fare San Martino” from the Piedmontese “fé San Martin” means “to move”, “to dislodge”).

Insurrectional movements broke out a little everywhere in Italy: Massa, Carrara, Modena, Reggio, Parma, Piacenza. Leopold II of Tuscany, frightened by the turn of events, decided to flee towards Northern Italy, in the camp of Emperor Francis Joseph. Napoleon III, observing a situation that did not follow the plans of Plombières and beginning to doubt that his ally wanted to stop at the conquest of Upper Italy, from July 5 began to stipulate the armistice with Austria, that Vittorio Emanuele II had to sign, while the plebiscites in Emilia, Romagna and Tuscany confirmed the annexation to Piedmont: October 1, Pope Pius IX broke off diplomatic relations with Vittorio Emanuele.

The building that had been created found itself in difficulty on the occasion of the peace of Zurich signed by the Kingdom of Sardinia only 10

Nevertheless, in a few months there were to create opportunities for the unification of the entire peninsula. Garibaldi”s desire to leave with volunteers for Sicily, the government seemed very skeptical, not to say hostile. There were, it is true, apparent signs of friendship between Vittorio Emanuele II and Garibaldi, who seemed to esteem each other, but Cavour in the first place considered the Sicilian expedition as a rash action and harmful to the very survival of the Sardinian state.

Garibaldi seems to have repeatedly reiterated, in order to get people to agree to the expedition, that:

In spite of the support of the King, Cavour had the better of it, and in this way deprived Garibaldi”s campaign of the necessary means. That the King had, finally, approved the expedition, we can not know. What is certain is that Garibaldi found in Talamone, then still in the Kingdom of Sardinia, the supplies of cartridges. Hard was the diplomatic protest: Cavour and the King had to assure the Prussian ambassador not to be aware of the ideas of Garibaldi.

Arrived in Sicily, Garibaldi assured the island, after defeating the battered Bourbon army, to “Victor Emmanuel King of Italy. Those words already foreshadowed the design of the Nice, which would not have stopped at the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, but would have marched on Rome. This prospect clashed with the Piedmontese projects, who now saw the looming danger of republican and revolutionary and, above all, feared the intervention of Napoleon III in Lazio. Vittorio Emanuele, at the head of the Piedmontese troops, invaded the Papal States, defeating the army in the battle of Castelfidardo. Napoleon III could not tolerate the invasion of the papal lands, and several times he had tried to dissuade Vittorio Emanuele II from the invasion of the Marches, informing him, on September 9, that:

The meeting with Garibaldi, passed into history as the “meeting of Teano” took place on October 26, 1860: it was recognized the sovereignty of Victor Emmanuel II on all territories of the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This led to the ouster of Giuseppe Mazzini”s concept of republican Italy and will lead to the formation of anti-monarchist nuclei of republican, internationalist and anarchist that will oppose the crown until the end of the Savoy sovereignty.

“Viva Verdi”: this was the motto of the anti-Austrian uprisings in Northern Italy when the patriots did not so much intend to exalt the figure of the great musician, who had introduced patriotic meanings into his works, as they did to propagate the national unitary project in the person of Victor Emanuel II (Viva V.E.R.D.I. = Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D”Italia).

With the entry of Victor Emmanuel in Naples, the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy became imminent, as soon as Francis II had capitulated with the fortress of Gaeta.

Renewed the parliament, with Cavour as prime minister, its first session, including deputies of all regions annexed (by plebiscite), took place on February 18, 1861.

On March 17, the parliament proclaimed the birth of the Kingdom of Italy:

However, the formula was bitterly contested by the parliamentary left, which would have preferred to bind the royal title to the will of the people. In fact, the deputy Angelo Brofferio proposed to change the text of the article in:

removing “divine Providence” an expression inspired by the formula of the Statuto Albertino (1848) which read By Grace of God and Will of the Nation thus legitimizing the divine right of the kings of the Savoy dynasty.

This is how Francesco Crispi expressed himself for the Left in the parliamentary debate:

The proposal of the Left was not accepted and the following was approved

After the proclamation of the Kingdom, the numeral “II” was not changed in favour of the title “Vittorio Emanuele I of Italy”, similarly to Ivan IV of Muscovy, who did not change his numeral once he proclaimed himself Tsar of all the Russias, and to the British monarchs, who kept the numeral of the Kingdom of England (William IV and Edward VII), thus acknowledging the institutional continuity of the Kingdom. On the contrary, Ferdinand IV of Naples and III of Sicily decided to call himself Ferdinand I after the cancellation of the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples as autonomous states and the institution of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The maintenance of the numeral is remarked by some historians, and some of these observe that this decision, in their opinion, would underline the character of extension of the dominion of the House of Savoy over the rest of Italy, rather than the birth ex novo of the Kingdom of Italy. In this regard, historian Antonio Desideri comments:

Other historians note that the maintenance of the numbering was in accordance with the tradition of the Savoy dynasty, as happened for example with Victor Amadeus II who continued to be called so even after obtaining the royal title (first of Sicily and then Sardinia).

Rome capital and recent years

Important territories were still missing from the unification of Italy: Veneto, Trentino, Friuli, Lazio, Istria and Trieste. The “natural” capital of the newborn kingdom should have been Rome, but this was prevented by the opposition of Napoleon III, who had no intention of renouncing his role as protector of the pope. In order to show that Vittorio Emanuele II renounced to Rome, and therefore to mitigate the tension with the French emperor, it was decided to move the capital to Florence, a city close to the geographical center of the Italian peninsula. Between September 21 and 22, 1864 bloody riots broke out in the streets of Turin, which resulted in about thirty dead and over two hundred wounded. Vittorio Emanuele would have wanted to prepare the citizenship to the news, in order to avoid clashes, but the news had somehow leaked. The discontent was general, and so described the situation Olindo Guerrini:

Following new events, which involved the wounding of some foreign delegates and violent stone-throwing, Vittorio Emanuele II put the city in front of a fait accompli by having this announcement published in the Gazzetta of February 3, 1865:

Vittorio Emanuele thus received the honors of the Florentines, while over 30,000 court officials moved to the city. The population, accustomed to the modest number of grand-ducal ministers, found itself displaced in front of the administration of the new kingdom, which in the meantime had signed an alliance with Prussia against Austria.

On June 21, 1866 Vittorio Emanuele left Palazzo Pitti to the front, to conquer the Veneto. Defeated at Lissa and Custoza, the Kingdom of Italy obtained Venice following the peace treaties that followed the Prussian victory.

Rome remained the last territory (with the exception of Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige) still not incorporated into the new kingdom: Napoleon III kept his commitment to defend the Papal States and his troops were stationed in the papal territories. Vittorio Emanuele himself did not want to make an official decision: to attack or not. Urbano Rattazzi, who had become prime minister, hoped for an uprising of the Romans themselves, which did not happen. The defeat in the battle of Mentana had thrown many doubts on the actual success of the enterprise, which could only happen with the fall, in 1870, of Napoleon III. On September 8 the last attempt to obtain Rome by peaceful means failed, and on September 20 General Cadorna opened a breach in the Roman walls. Vittorio Emanuele had to say:

When the excited ministers Lanza and Sella presented him with the result of the plebiscite in Rome and Lazio, the King replied to Sella in Piedmontese:

With Rome as the capital city, the page of the Risorgimento was closed, even if the so-called “irredent lands” were still missing to complete the national unity. Among the various problems that the new State had to face, from illiteracy to banditry, from industrialization to the right to vote, there was not only the birth of the famous southern question, but also the “Roman question”. Although the Pontiff had been granted special immunities, the honors of Head of State, an annual income and control over the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo, Pius IX refused to recognize the Italian State because of the annexation of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy occurred with the breach of Porta Pia and reaffirmed, with the provision of Non expedit (1868), the inappropriateness for Italian Catholics to participate in political elections of the Italian State and, by extension, to political life.

Moreover, the Pontiff inflicted excommunication on the House of Savoy, i.e. both on Vittorio Emanuele II and his successors, and together with them on anyone who collaborated in the government of the State; this excommunication was withdrawn only when the Sovereign died. In any case, Vittorio Emanuele, when the events in Rome were mentioned, always showed ill-concealed annoyance, so much so that, when he was asked to make a triumphal entry into Rome and climb the Capitol with the helmet of Scipio, he replied that for him that helmet was: “Good only for cooking pasta with it! In fact, if his father had been extremely religious, Vittorio Emanuele was a skeptical but very superstitious man who was very much under the influence of the clergy and the ascendancy of the Pontiff.

At the end of December 1877 Vittorio Emanuele II, a lover of hunting but delicate of lungs, spent a night sleeping rough by the lake in his hunting estate in Latium; the humidity of that environment proved fatal to him. According to other historians, the fevers that led to Vittorio Emanuele”s death were malarial fevers, contracted while hunting in the swampy areas of Latium.

On the evening of January 5, 1878, after having sent a telegram to the family of Alfonso La Marmora, who had recently passed away, Vittorio Emanuele II felt a strong fever. On January 7, news of the King”s serious condition was divulged. Pope Pius IX, when he learned of the imminent death of the king, wanted to send Monsignor Marinelli to the Quirinal, perhaps to receive a retraction and to grant the dying king the sacraments, but the prelate was not received. The King received the last sacraments from the hands of his chaplain, Monsignor d”Anzino, who had refused to introduce Marinelli to his bedside, as it was feared that behind Pius IX”s action there were secret purposes.

When the doctor asked him if he wanted to see the confessor, the King was initially shocked, but then said “I understand” and authorized the entrance of the chaplain, who stayed with Victor Emmanuel II for about twenty minutes and went to the parish of San Vincenzo to take the viaticum. The parish priest said that he was not authorized to give it to him and the intervention of the vicar was necessary to remove his resistance. Vittorio Emanuele II never lost consciousness and remained conscious until the last moment, wanting to die as a king: gasping, he drew himself on the pillows, threw a gray hunting jacket on his shoulders and let all the court dignitaries parade at the foot of the bed, greeting them one by one with a nod of the head. Finally he asked to remain only with the princes Umberto and Margherita, but at the last he introduced also Emanuele, the son had by Bela Rosin, who for the first time found himself in front of his half-brother Umberto, who had never wanted to meet him.

On January 9, at 14:30, the King died after 28 years and 9 months of reign, assisted by his children but not by his morganatic wife, who was prevented from going to the bedside by the ministers of the Kingdom. A little more than two months later he would have been 58 years old.

The emotion that invested the Kingdom was unanimous and the headlines of the newspapers expressed it making use of the rhetoric typical of the period; Il Piccolo of Naples titled “The most valiant of the Maccabees is dead, the lion of Israel is dead, Dante”s Veltro is dead, the providence of our house is dead. Weep, O hundred cities of Italy! weep with sobs, O citizens!” “Who knew, O great king, to love you so much?” wrote the Roman poet Fabio Nannarelli; even Felice Cavallotti, co-founder of the historic Extreme Left expressed his condolences to the new King Umberto I. The entire press, including foreign ones, was unanimous in its condolences (but the Austrian newspapers Neue Freie Presse and the Morgen Post did not join in the mourning, as could be expected). L”Osservatore Romano wrote: “The king received the Holy Sacraments declaring that he asked the Pope”s forgiveness for the wrongs for which he had been responsible”. The Stefani Agency immediately denied it, but the Curia denied the denial: the lay press rose up and called Pius IX a “vulture” and accused him of “infamous speculation on the secret of the confessional”; what could have been an opportunity for détente thus turned into yet another controversy.

Vittorio Emanuele II had expressed the desire that his coffin was buried in Piedmont, in the Basilica of Superga, but Umberto I, complying with the requests of the City of Rome, approved that the body remained in the city, in the Pantheon, in the second chapel on the right of the entrance, adjacent to the one with the Annunciation by Melozzo da Forlì. His tomb became the destination of pilgrimages of hundreds of thousands of Italians, from all regions of the Kingdom, to pay homage to the king who had unified Italy. It is estimated that more than 200,000 people have taken part in the funeral of state. Drawing up the proclamation to the nation, Umberto I (who adopted the numeral I instead of IV, which should have kept according to the Savoy numeration), so expressed:

This is how Edmondo De Amicis described the funeral to the young characters in his book Cuore:


To celebrate the “Father of the Fatherland”, the Municipality of Rome launched a project for a commemorative work in 1880, at the behest of Umberto I of Savoy. What was built was one of the most daring architectural works of Italy in the nineteenth century: to erect it, a part of the city, still medieval, was destroyed and the tower of Pope Paul III was also demolished. The building was supposed to recall the temple of Athena Nike, in Athens, but the bold and complex architectural forms raised doubts about its stylistic characteristics. Today, inside, there is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery in Milan

Designed by Giuseppe Mengoni (who died there), the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II connects Piazza della Scala to Milan Cathedral, and was built while the King was still alive, starting in 1865. The initial project intended to emulate the great works of architecture erected in those years in Europe, creating a bourgeois gallery in the heart of the city.

Monuments to Vittorio Emanuele

The king did not like courtly life, preferring to dedicate himself to hunting and playing billiards rather than to social gatherings. For his mistress, and later morganatic wife, Rosa Vercellana, he bought the lands in Turin now known as Parco della Mandria and built the residence known as Appartamenti Reali di Borgo Castello. Later he made a similar operation in Rome, having Villa Mirafiori built as the residence of Vercellana.

For his children Vittoria and Emanuele of Mirafiori, who were born from her, the king built inside the Mandria the farmhouses “Vittoria” and “Emanuella”, the latter now known as Cascina Rubbianetta, for the breeding of horses.

The writer Carlo Dossi, in his diary Note azzurre, affirmed that the king was virulently “super endowed”, that he lived immoderately the sexual passions and that in his adventures he had generated a very relevant number of natural children.

He married at Stupinigi on April 12, 1842 his cousin Maria Adelaide of Austria, from whom he had eight children:

From his morganatic wife Rosa Vercellana, Countess of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda, the king had two sons:

Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy also had other children from extra-marital relationships.

1) From the relationship with actress Laura Bon:

2) From an unknown woman in Mondovi:

3) From the relationship with Virginia Rho in Turin:

4) From the relationship he had with Rosalinda Incoronata De Dominicis (1846-1916):

5) From the relationship with Angela Rosa De Filippo, the king had another illegitimate male child:

6) From Baroness Vittoria Duplesis he had another daughter:

In addition to these, the king had many other extramarital relationships, especially after the death of his wife so as to have a multitude of illegitimate children (about 20) of which we do not know the name but which was given the surname Warriors or Warrior.

Patrilineal ancestry

His Majesty Victor Emmanuel II, by the grace of God and the will of the Nation,

Foreign honors


  1. Vittorio Emanuele II di Savoia
  2. Victor Emmanuel II of Italy
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