Today, June 2nd, is a national holiday in Italy marking the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the Republic of Italy. The holiday is celebrated with countless parades throughout the country, as well as the laying of a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Republic of Italy was formed after WWII and the fall of fascism, when the voters decided that they wanted to form a republic and depose the monarchy that had ruled unified Italy for 85 years. The House of Savoy, the royal family that had been in power, were deposed and exiled…never to return, supposedly, to Italian soil. The history of the House of Savoy is very long and convoluted (as with all royal families of Europe), and filled with stories of treachery, murder, espionage, and all those other juicy bits of royal intrigue. Unfortunately, I’m only going to concentrate on their history during the last 100 years or so. But believe me, their lives have been anything but boring!
The House of Savoy went from reigning a small county in the Savoy region back in the eleventh century to their eventual reign over the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 until 1946. It’s last monarch was Umberto II who only reigned for a couple of months before he was deposed and exiled.
Victor Emmanuel III transferred most of his powers to his son, Crown Prince Umberto II, in April 1944. After a public opinion poll was released to see if the people of Italy wanted to retain the monarchy or become a republic, the King decided to voluntarily abdicate in hopes that the populace would see that they loved the monarchy and would vote to keep it! Unfortunately, his plan was foiled and the voters chose to depose them. The Savoy family was exiled to Egypt and a provision was included in the new constitution stating that all male descendants of the House of Savoy were forbidden to set foot on Italian soil ever again. But in 2002, yet another Vittorio Emmanuele, this one the son of Umberto II, renounced every and all claims to the throne in order to change the constitution to allow the Savoys back onto Italian soil.
The surviving members of the House of Savoy continue to use their royal titles, even though the titles are in name only. There are two current royals who feud constantly over the leadership of the House: Vittorio Emmanuele, Prince of Naples and son of the last king; and Duke Amadeo of Savoy. During a dinner hosted by King Juan Carlos I of Spain in 2004, these two came to blows over some controversy – not a very royal way of acting in my opinion.
Controversy seems to follow the family continuously….most of it self-inflicted. Vittorio Emmanuele IV was arrested in Italy and imprisoned for charges of corruption and recruitment of prostitutes for clients in the prestigious Casino di Campione. This issue caused a bit of embarrassment for the family…
And then, if that wasn’t enough, they tred to regain ownership of the Quirinale palace in Rome along with some other properties, as well as being compensated for their years in exile! The Italian government’s response was that perhaps the Italian government should seek damages from the House of Savoy for their association with Benito Mussolini! Wow….the drama never ends!