History of the House of Savoy: the Italian Royal Family

In this article we will talk about a very important moment in the history of Italy. Everyone knows that Italy is a Republic, but it has not always been like that! In fact, Italy became a Republic in 1946, after a popular referendum. Before this year, Italy was a monarchy, therefore ruled by a king, that was Vittorio Emanuele II di Savoia. When Italy officially became a united country on the 17th of March 1861, it was called the Kingdom of Italy. In this lesson, we will talk about the Italian Royal House of Savoy!

The House of Savoy – The History of the Italian Royal Family

Origins of the family

First of all, where does the name Savoy (Savoia in Italian) come from? It comes from the geographical region of “Savoia”, located in Southern France. However, we don’t have any certain evidence, since all the documents were destroyed in wars and fires, but it seems like the Savoy dynasty (sabauda is the Italian adjective for Savoia) has its roots in that exact part of France.

The founder of the dynasty was most likely Umberto I, who became earl in the french region of Savoia, around 1000 AD. Apart from Umberto I, we don’t know much about the other members of the family. And what is known, was probably invented by the family itself to bring fame.

For example, there were rumours about Umberto I being Ottone II’s nephew, emperor of the Sacred Roman Empire, because the Savoy family wanted to claim its power throughout the Empire to which they belonged. The Savoy wanted to prove that they descended from an imperial dynasty. Anyway, Umberto had two children. One of them, Oddone, married Adelaide di Susa, Turin’s margravine. Thanks to this relevant marriage the Savoy family obtained its first lands in Italy.

The Savoy family in Italy

The Italian Royal House of Savoy moved to Italy only in the XVI century, when the main seat was moved from Chambery (in France) to Turin: the Duke Emanuele Filiberto decided it had to be that way. And so, the most modern period of the family began, Turin becomes a major European metropolis and is embellished by urban architects such as Guarini and Juvarra.

However, the Italian Royal family’s power was still quite limited. It grew during the War of the Spanish Succession (1710), when Vittorio Amedeo II secretely swithced allegiance, from the Franco-Spanish front to the Austrian one.

This move turned out to be a success for Vittorio Amedeo II, as the King of Spain himself gave him the Kingdom of Sicily. Difficult years followed. The sovereigns were obviously far away from Sicily and what’s more, they didn’t appreciate the culture and traditions of this isle. So the locals started hating the governors, until they traded Sicily for another isle in Italy, which is Sardinia.

Moving on, we reach the XIX century and the Italian unification. In fact, to the Savoy family largily contributed to the process of unification of the country. Before 1861, Italy was divided in many different States. Later, Giuseppe Garibaldi, with Vittorio Emanuele II’s support, made the unification come true, and it was formalized on the 17th of March 1861.

The Savoy dynasty lasted from 1861 to 1946, and had 4 sovereigns: Vittorio Emanuele II (1861-1878), Umberto I (1878-1900), Vittorio Emanuele III (1900-1946) and Umberto II (May1946-June1946). In particular, Vittorio Emanuele III is very important remember, since he ruled Italy during both World Wars.

After Mussolini’s defeat and the end of fascism in Italy, the King Vittorio Emanuele III decided to abdicate in favour of his son Umberto II. By doing so, he wanted to save the monarchy. So he went into exile. However, a month later, in June 1946, there was the notorious popular referendum. Italians were asked whether they wanted to keep the monarchy or to introduce the Republic. 54,27% of Italians chose the Republic, and Umberto II volountarily decided to go into exile to Portugal, to avoid a potential civil war between the two parts.

End of the Savoy dynasty

An article of the Constitution of the new Republic prevented the previous kings of the House of Savoy, their wives and male descendants of the family from entering Italy. This article remained in force until 2002, that means not long ago.

To this day, we know that Umberto II’s son, Vittorio Emanuele, lived in Switzerlandwith his son Emanuele FIliberto until 2002. In particular, Emanuele Filiberto has become by now a very popular tv character in Italy: but as we already said, he couldn’t enter the country until 2002. He officially lives in Monte Carlo, in the Principality of Monaco, but he often travels to Italy. For example, in 2010 he took part in the Festival di Sanremo with a song called Italia Amore Mio.

Moreover, his father Vittorio Emanuele asked the Italian government an indemnity, that is an amount of money (170 million euro), as compensation for his years in exile, and the return of certain assets (castles, villas and jewels) that once were personal property of the Savoy family, but then became state-owned. To this day, both matters remain unresolved.

Main residences of the Savoy family

The main residences of the royal family are obviously located in Turin and its surroundings. Between the XVII and the XVIII century the Savoy family commanded the building of a residential complex to symbolise its prestige: extremely sumptuous villas and palaces built to represent the family’s power.

In the heart of Turin, there was the command zone, that is an area made of buildings where sovereigns dealt with politics. The starting point is Piazza Castello. From there, we can see Palazzo Reale, centre of power of the Savoy family. This palace is beautiful and majestic both inside and out, not to mention Giardini Reali!

Not so far away from there, you can find Palazzo Madama. It was a royal residence where the family stayed during holiday, when they decided to come to Turin, while the main seat of the Kingdome of Savoy remained in Chambery. Later, after they moved and Palazzo Reale was built, Palazzo Madama became a residence for guests. At a certain point, it was a military command headquarters. Moving on, there is Palazzo Carignano, seat of the first Italian Parliament. And last but not least, the typically French-style Castello del Valentino.

Just outside the city, the Savoy commanded the building of some beautiful residences, called “corona delle delizie”, dedicated to leisure and hunting trips. We’re talking about 14 buildings that are UNESCO World Heritage sites since 1997, for example Castello di Rivoli and Reggia di Venaria. The latter is a former hunting lodge, considered by many the “Savoy Versailles”, with its grand gardens. Nearby there is Borgo Castello de la Mandria, an area that today houses a very large natural park.

Palazzina di caccia di Stupinigi, designed by Filippo Juvarra, is just as impressive. It was a place for parties and splendour and Napoleone’s residence in the early nineteenth century. Castello di Moncalieri, one of the oldest residences, was built for defensive purposes instead and converted into court life residence by the Savoy family.

Well, this is the history of the House of Savoy in short. If you are a a fan of great italian families, you should watch the video dedicated to the history of the Medici family They didn’t have blue blood, but they have marked the history of Italy!

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One thought to “History of the House of Savoy: the Italian Royal Family”

  1. Una bella storia soprattutto come informazioni per i visitatori di Torino. Anche le pettegolezzi dei Savoia che ho sentito da una guida turistica valgono la pena, come il dubbio sulla paternità di Umberto I !

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