Victor Emmanuel II

views updated Jun 11 2018


VICTOR EMMANUEL II (1820–1878; ruled 1861–1878), first king of Italy.

Victor Emmanuel (born 14 March 1820) took the throne of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia at age twenty-eight. He succeeded his father, Charles Albert (r. 1831–1849), who abdicated after the Austrians defeated Piedmontese forces at the Battle of Novara in 1849. Twelve years later, 17 March 1861, with all but Venice, Rome, Trieste, and the Trentino united under the aegis of Piedmont, he accepted the title King of Italy.

When he took power in 1849, Victor Emmanuel II endorsed the constitution granted by his father the year before and reluctantly agreed to Austria's stiff terms for an armistice. Parliament rejected the armistice, and the new king dissolved it (29 March 1849) and called new elections only to see the voters reaffirm democratic control. The king dissolved the Chamber again and appealed to the people to return a more favorable majority with the Proclamation of Moncalieri, 20 November 1849. This time moderates took charge (9 December 1849), and they endorsed the peace treaty with Austria on 5 January 1850.

Victor Emmanuel's ability to stand up to the Austrians and to undercut the democrats without using force or violating the constitution won him the epithet "the gentleman king." In this early crisis, he insisted on the royal prerogative to make war and peace and used his power to dissolve

parliament to bring it in line with his more moderate views. His constitutional authority and his interest in using it gave him political influence, especially as the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia gained prominence in the movement to unify Italy.

While he agreed with moderates on constitutional rule and Piedmont-Sardinia's national mission, Victor Emmanuel remained conservative on religious matters. He resisted a bill to dissolve monastic orders, but at the urging of close advisors, he signed the law (29 May 1855). At odds over religious policy, the king and his prime minister Count Cavour (Camillo Benso, 1810–1861) found common ground on foreign affairs, agreeing to join France and England against Russia in the Crimean War (4 March 1855). Contributions to the war gave Piedmont-Sardinia a place at the Congress of Paris (opened 25 February 1856) and brought acknowledgment of the Italian question. As Piedmont-Sardinia gained prominence, republicans and patriots elsewhere on the peninsula increasingly looked to Victor Emmanuel for leadership of the national movement.

The exact nature of Victor Emmanuel's role in the events leading to unification remains the subject of debate. Historians attribute the creation of Italy under Piedmontese rule to some combination of the diplomatic finesse of Cavour, the actions of the French emperor Napoleon III (1808–1873), the success of Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–1882) and his Red Shirts, the popular drive for liberation, and the pressure of events. At the least, Victor Emmanuel did not obstruct unification, and according to most assessments, he assisted the process in key ways. In particular, he managed in volatile conditions to maintain contacts with the democratic movement while successfully presenting himself to moderates and frightened foreign governments as the only plausible guarantee against popular revolution.

The attempt of the Italian Felice Orsini (1819–1858) on Emperor Napoleon III's life (14 January 1858) opened a critical sequence of events. Napoleon III met with Cavour (July 20–21) and agreed to support Piedmont's effort to expel Austria from northern Italy. He accepted the creation of a northern Italian kingdom under Victor Emmanuel as part of an Italian confederation of states. Victor Emmanuel agreed in turn to cede Nice and Savoy to France and to marry his daughter Clotilde to the emperor's cousin, Prince Napoleon (alliance signed 24 January 1859). War broke out with Austria 27 April 1859, and French and Piedmontese troops forced an Austrian retreat. Under pressure from Napoleon III and over strong protests from Cavour, Victor Emmanuel accepted the truce of Villafranca (8 July 1859) and received control over Lombardy, causing Cavour to resign.

Meanwhile the duchies of central Italy (Tuscany, Modena, Parma, Bologna) collapsed, and moderate leaders moved rapidly to take control. They requested annexation to Piedmont-Sardinia, and with the encouragement of England and the sanction of plebiscites, Victor Emmanuel agreed. With the king's support and against the wishes of Cavour (who returned to power 21 January 1860), Garibaldi organized an army of volunteers and prepared to invade Sicily. The rapid liberation of Sicily from the Spanish Bourbons alarmed European powers, and Victor Emmanuel publicly warned Garibaldi against crossing to the mainland, while privately urging him on. When Garibaldi landed in southern Italy (18 August), the Piedmontese army invaded the Papal States to stop him (10 September 1860). The forces met at Teano (26 October), and Garibaldi ceded Sicily and Naples to Victor Emmanuel.

As the first king of united Italy, Victor Emmanuel actively influenced foreign policy, working with his ministers to annex Venice (1866) and Rome (1870). Because parliamentary factionalism weakened cabinets, his authority to appoint ministers drew him into internal politics as well. Initially he favored the Right and then, with the "parliamentary revolution" of March 1876, he accepted the Left's arrival in power. His actions helped reduce the opposition of republicans to monarchy and of the South to unification under the North.

Victor Emmanuel died 9 January 1878 and was buried in the Pantheon in Rome.

See alsoCrimean War; Italy; Risorgimento (Italian Unification); Umberto I.


Primary Sources

Victor Emmanuel II. Le lettere di Vittorio Emanuele II, raccolte da Francesco Cognasso. Turin, 1961. A collection of the king's letters.

Secondary Sources

Mack Smith, Denis. Victor Emanuel, Cavour, and the Risorgimento. London, 1971.

——. Italy and Its Monarchy. New Haven, Conn., 1989.

Susan A. Ashley

Victor Emmanuel II

views updated May 29 2018

Victor Emmanuel II

Victor Emmanuel II (1820-1878) was king of Sardinia from 1849 to 1861 and then the first king of Italy until 1878. He worked to free Italy from foreign control and became a central figure of the movement for Italian unification.

The son of Charles Albert, Prince of Savoy-Carignano, Victor Emmanuel was born at Turin on March 14, 1820. His education was not thorough or varied, its content being restricted largely to military and religious training. In his youth he took little interest in affairs of state, preferring to spend his time in the study of military strategy and tactics. In 1842 he married Adelaide, the daughter of Archduke Rainer of Austria.

Throne of Sardinia

During the War of 1848 with Austria, Victor Emmanuel fought courageously at the head of a division. Notwithstanding bravery and zeal, the Piedmontese forces suffered defeat at the battle of Novara, and in March 1849 Charles Albert abdicated as king of Sardinia in favor of his son rather than face the humiliation of the peace terms. The new king was immediately confronted with a most difficult and important decision. The Austrians offered to refrain from occupying Piedmont and to give Victor Emmanuel more territory if he would renounce the constitution granted the Piedmontese a year earlier by his father. To his great credit, Victor Emmanuel rejected this offer, suffering as a result the loss of substantial territory and a considerable reduction in the size of his army. His stubborn insistence that amnesty be granted to all Lombards who had engaged in the revolt against their Austrian rulers was rewarded, and his refusal to yield on this point—along with the sacrifices made in order to retain the constitution—caused him to become a hero in the eyes of all Italians.

The peace treaty with the Austrians was ratified in January 1850. In the same year Victor Emmanuel appointed Camillo di Cavour to the office of minister of agriculture. Acquiring the services of this political genius was one of the most important acts of the King's career. Two years later Cavour was named prime minister.

During the 1850s these two able men worked on internal reforms, modernizing especially the financial structure of the kingdom and circumscribing ecclesiastical privileges in favor of civil power. When the Crimean War began, Victor Emmanuel and Cavour thought it prudent to join forces with France and England against Russia in order to gain the attention of the Great Powers. In 1855, during the hostilities, the King visited London and Paris, where he won much favor if not concrete goals.

Conquest of Italy

With a goal of ousting the Austrians from northern Italy, Victor Emmanuel made contact with revolutionary groups throughout the country. In 1859 Napoleon III was persuaded to ally France with Sardinia, albeit at a high price. Victor Emmanuel agreed to cede Savoy and Nice to France and to marry his daughter Clothier to Napoleon's cousin if France joined Sardinia in war against Austria. He concluded these careful preparations for war by conferring on the great soldier Giuseppe Garibaldi command of a newly recruited and eager volunteer corps called the Cacciatori delle Alpi (Hunters of the Alps). War was declared by Austria in April 1859, and at first the course of events favored the Piedmontese and French forces. But Napoleon had second thoughts and unexpectedly signed a separate peace with Austria at Villa-franca di Verona. Over the bitter objections of Cavour, who resigned over the matter, Victor Emmanuel signed the compromise Treaty of Zurich on Nov. 10, 1859. By this agreement Sardinia received Lombardy, but Austria retained Venetia.

Subsequent events proved that in this instance Victor Emmanuel was right and Cavour wrong. Time and diplomacy won for the King what continued fighting without the aid of France might have lost irrevocably. To prevent the reinstatement of the petty princes of Central Italy, Victor Emmanuel maintained contact with the revolutionaries. When Garibaldi took the bold step of invading Sicily, the King aided him secretly. Garibaldi's startling success in Sicily and his subsequent victories on the mainland raised the hopes of Italian liberals and made Victor Emmanuel's ultimate success easier. The King decided to participate in the conquest of Naples and marched south through the Romagna. Its people greeted him with cheers, joyfully agreeing to the annexation of their entire province to his kingdom. He occupied the Papal States, accepting with equanimity the excommunication imposed upon him by Pope Pius IX, and he met Garibaldi in Naples. On Oct. 29, 1860, Garibaldi formally surrendered his conquests to Victor Emmanuel, and on Feb. 18, 1861, Parliament proclaimed him king of Italy.

Venetia was added to the new kingdom in 1866 through an alliance with Prussia against Austria, but complete unification of the peninsula could not be achieved as long as Rome remained in the hands of the Pope. A French garrison stood between Victor Emmanuel and this final conquest. Napoleon III, needing the support of the clergy, did not wish to abandon the Pope, although he had been Victor Emmanuel's ally in the expulsion of Austria from northern Italy. But this last bulwark of the papal territories was withdrawn in 1870, when—under the threat of total defeat by Prussia—Napoleon ordered his soldiers out of Rome. On Sept. 20, 1870, the Italian army marched into the city, and on July 2, 1871, Victor Emmanuel himself entered Rome, from that time the capital of the kingdom of Italy. The Pope, who had lost the last vestiges of his temporal power although the Vatican and his freedom were guaranteed to him, refused to recognize the new kingdom, and Victor Emmanuel died on Jan. 9, 1878, unreconciled to the Church.

Further Reading

The best biography of Victor Emmanuel in English is Cecil S. Forester, Victor Emmanuel II and the Union of Italy (1927). A readable and thorough account of Victor Emmanuel's role in the unification of Italy is contained in Bolton King, A History of Italian Unity (2 vols., 1899; new ed. 1967). An excellent recent study of the period is Edgar Holt, The Making of Italy, 1815-1870 (1971). □

Victor Emmanuel II

views updated Jun 08 2018


Last king of Sardinia and first king of Italy; b. Turin, March 14, 1820; d. Rome, Jan. 9, 1878. Educated in the military tradition of the house of Savoy and in the devout atmosphere of the Piedmontese court, he retained throughout life the bluff manners of the soldier and a sincere if superficial religious faith, coupled with serious shortcomings in his private life. A shrewd judge of human nature, he chose able men to serve him. His sense of responsibility and duty and his personal bravery helped him to overcome the many crises of his reign and to gain popularity among his people. His public life began when his father, Charles Albert, defeated by the Austrians at Novara, abdicated in his favor (March 23, 1849). When he refused Austrian demands for a revocation of the liberal constitution granted by Charles Albert in 1848, his courage and determination were acclaimed throughout Italy and won him the soubriquet of "re galantuomo" (honest king). His association with cavour began in 1852. Although Victor Emmanuel did not always agree with him, he recognized that Cavour's plan helped to strengthen the monarchy and to transform Piedmont-Sardinia into a modern state. At first much opposed to Cavour's ecclesiastical laws, the King signed them when convinced that they constituted an essential part of Cavour's economic and political reforms. This caused conflict with Pius IX.

As the revolutionary tactics of Mazzini failed, Italian nationalists looked more and more to the house of Savoy for leadership. Victor Emmanuel began playing an active and important role in the movement that resulted in the unification of the peninsula. He persuaded the republican and Mazzinian Garibaldi to support the monarchic cause. To gain French support against Austria he agreed to the marriage of his daughter Clothilde with the dissolute Prince Napoleon, cousin of Emperor Napoleon III, and promised to cede Nice and his ancestral province of Savoy to France. By 1860 most of the peninsula had rallied to his side after the Franco-Sardinian victory over Austria (1859), which inspired revolts in the small states in north central Italy. Garibaldi meanwhile had penetrated southern Italy.

Victor Emmanuel II esteemed Pius IX highly, and carried on a considerable correspondence with him, unknown to his ministers, in the hope of gaining the Pope's consent to the incorporation of the states of the church into the new Italy, with the pope as governor of the central portion. Pius IX refused to abdicate his sovereignty. In 1861 Victor Emmanuel was proclaimed king of a united Italy with Rome as its capital. This created the roman question, which plagued Vatican-Italian relations until the Lateran Pacts (1929). The seizure of the States of the Church, completed in 1870, resulted in the King's excommunication. Victor Emmanuel hoped to reconcile Church-State relations, but the Law of guarantees proved unacceptable to the Pope. Before death the King was reconciled with the Church and assured his chaplain that he "intended to die a good Catholic." When he was dying, Pius IX released him from all canonical censures, permitted him to receive the Last Rites, and imparted to him his blessing. As a constitutional monarch he sought to provide leadership in the very difficult early period of Italian nationhood.

Bibliography: c. s. forester, Victor Emmanuel II and the Union of Italy (New York 1927). g. ardau, Vittorio Emanuele II e i suoi tempi, 2 v. (Milan 1939). f. cognasso, Vittorio Emanuele II (Turin 1946). d. massÈ, Il caso di coscienza del risorgimento italiano dalle origini alla Conciliazione (Rome 1961). p. pirri, ed., Pio IX e Vittorio Emanuele dal loro carteggio privato, 5 v. (Rome 194461).

[e. p. noether]

Victor Emmanuel II

views updated May 11 2018

Victor Emmanuel II (1820–78) King of Italy (1861–78). In 1849, he succeeded his father, Charles Albert, as King of Piedmont-Sardinia. From 1852, guided by his able minister, Conti di Cavour, he strengthened his kingdom, formed a French alliance, and consequently defeated Austria (1859–61). In 1861, he assumed the title of King of Italy. Rome became his new capital after French troops withdrew (1870).