House of Savoy

House of Savoy
House of Savoy
Great coat of arms of the king of italy (1890-1946).svg
Country Albania, Croatia, Ethiopia, France, Italy, Spain
  • Count of Savoy
  • Duke of Savoy
  • Emperor of Ethiopia
  • King of the Albanians
  • King of Armenia
  • King of Croatia
  • King of Italy
  • King of Sardinia
  • King of Spain
Founder Umberto I
Final sovereign Umberto II
Current head Disputed:
Victor Emmanuel,
Prince Amedeo
Founding 1003
Dissolution 12 June 1946
Cadet branches Savoy-Carignano,
(extinct since 1996)
(extinct since 1209)
Italian Royalty
House of Savoy
Lesser coat of arms of the Kingdom of Italy (1890).svg

Victor Emmanuel II
Princess Marie Clothilde
Umberto I (born 1844)
Amadeo I, King of Spain (born 1845)
Maria Pia, Queen of Portugal (born 1847)
Vittoria (born 2 December 1848)
Emanuele Alberto (born 16 March 1851), Count of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda.
Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Aosta
Vittorio Emanuele, Count of Turin
Luigi, Duke of the Abruzzi
Umberto, Count of Salemi
Great Grandchildren
Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta
Aimone, 4th Duke of Aosta
Great Great Grandchildren
Margherita, Archduchess of Austria-Este
Princess Maria Cristina
Amedeo, 5th Duke of Aosta
Great Great Great Grandchildren
Princess Bianca
Aimone, Duke of Apulia
Princess Mafalda
Umberto I
Victor Emmanuel III
Victor Emmanuel III
Princess Yolanda
Princess Mafalda
Umberto II
Giovanna, Queen of Bulgaria
Princess Maria
Umberto II
Princess Maria Pia
Victor Emmanuel, Prince of Naples
Princess Maria Gabriella
Princess Maria Beatrice
Emanuele Filiberto, Prince of Venice and Piedmont
Great Grandchildren
Princess Vittoria
Princess Luisa

The House of Savoy (Italian: Casa Savoia) was formed in the early 11th century in the historical Savoy region. Through gradual expansion, it grew from ruling a small county in that region to eventually rule the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 until the end of World War II, king of Croatia and King of Armenia. The House of Savoy ruled unified Italy for 85 years with Victor Emmanuel II, Umberto I, Victor Emmanuel III, and Umberto II as monarchs. The last monarch ruled for a few weeks before being overthrown by a popular referendum and a new republican government.[1]



The House of Savoy emerged, along with the free communes of Switzerland, in what is now called Switzerland. The name derives from the historical region Savoy in what is now France and Italy. Over time the house expanded from that region to rule almost all of the Italian Peninsula. Yet their growth and survival over the centuries was not based on spectacular conquests, but on gradual territorial expansion through marriage and methodical and highly manipulative political acquisitions.

Early history

The house descended from Humbert I, Count of Sabaudia (Umberto I "Biancamano"), (1003–1047 or 1048). Humbert's family are thought to have originated from near Magdeburg in Saxony, with the earliest recording of the family being two 10th century brothers, Amadeus and Humbert.[2] Though originally a poor county, later heirs to the throne were diplomatically skilled, and gained control over strategic mountain passes in the Alps. Two of Humbert's sons were bishops at the Abbey of Saint Maurice on the River Rhone east of Lake Geneva, and Saint Maurice is still the patron of the House of Savoy.

Humbert's son, Otto of Savoy ascended the throne in 1051 after the death of his elder brother Amedeo and married the Marchioness Adelaide of Turin, passing the Marquessate of Susa, with the towns of Turin and Pinerolo, into the House of Savoy's possession.[3] This diplomatic skill caused the great powers such as France, England, and Spain to take the counts' opinions into account.

They once had claims on the modern canton of Vaud, where they occupied the Château of Chillon in Switzerland, but their access to it was cut by Geneva during the Protestant Reformation, after which it was conquered by Bern. Piedmont was later joined with Sabaudia, and the name evolved into "Savoy" (Italian "Savoia"). The people of Savoy were descended from the Celts and Romans.

Hautecombe Abbey where many of the dukes are buried.

Expansion, retreat and prosperity

By the time Amadeus VIII came to power in the late 14th century, the House of Savoy had gone through a series of gradual territorial expansions and he was elevated by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to the Duke of Savoy in 1416.

However, the years of the Renaissance in Europe witnessed the invasion and occupation of Piedmont by the French. When Charles VIII of France invaded Savoy, Piedmont, and Italy in 1494 and conquered Naples, the House of Savoy retreated and established its residence in Turin, where it remained until the unification of Italy.

When Emmanuel Philibert came to power in 1553 most of his family's territories were in French hands, so he offered to serve France's leading enemy the House of Habsburg, in the hope of recovering his lands. He served Philip II as Governor of the Netherlands from 1555 to 1559. In this capacity he led the Spanish invasion of northern France and won a victory at St. Quentin in 1557. He took advantage of various squabbles in Europe to slowly regain territory from both the French and the Spanish, including the city of Turin. He moved the capital of the duchy from Chambéry to Turin and replaced Latin as the duchy's official language with Italian.

The 17th century brought about economic development to the Turin area and the House of Savoy took part in and benefitted from that. Charles Emmanuel II developed the port of Nice and built a road through the Alps towards France. And through skillful political manoeuvres territorial expansion continued. In early 18th century in the War of the Spanish Succession Victor Amadeus switched sides to assist the Habsburgs and via the Treaty of Utrecht they rewarded him with large pieces of land in northeastern Italy, and a Crown in Sicily.

The Kingdom of Italy

The crown of Sicily, the prestige of being kings at last, and the wealth of Palermo helped strengthen the House of Savoy further. In 1720 they exchanged Sicily for Sardinia of which they were kings.In 1792 Piedmont-Sardinia joined the First Coalition against the French First Republic, but was beaten in 1796 by Napoleon and forced to conclude the disadvantageous Treaty of Paris (1796), giving the French army free passage through Piedmont. In 1798 Joubert, occupied Turin and forced Charles Emmanuel IV to abdicate and leave for the island of Sardinia. Eventually, in 1814 the kingdom was restored and enlarged with the addition of the former Republic of Genoa by the Congress of Vienna.

In the meantime, nationalist figures such as Giuseppe Mazzini were influencing popular opinion. Mazzini believed that Italian unification could only be achieved through a popular uprising, but after the failure of the 1848 revolutions, the Italian nationalists began to look to the Kingdom of Sardinia and its prime minister Count Cavour as the leaders of the unification movement. In 1848 under the Statuto Albertino Charles Albert conceded a constitution to the Kingdom of Sardinia including the parts of north-western Italy, such as Piedmont. The Statuto Albertino remained at the basis of the Kingdom's legal system even after Italian unification was achieved and the Kingdom of Sardinia became the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

The Kingdom of Italy was the first Italian state to include the Italian Peninsula since the fall of the Roman Empire. But when Victor Emmanuel was crowned King of Italy in 1861, his reign did not control Venetia and Lazio. Yet the House of Savoy continued to rule Italy for several decades through the Italian Independence wars as the Italian unification continued and even as the First World War raged on in the early 20th century.


Over the centuries, the House of Savoy had its share of controversies (including massacres of unarmed civilians including children and the elderly) on more than one occasion.

In April 1655, based on (perhaps false) reports of resistance by the Waldensians, a Protestant religious minority, to a plan to resettle them in remote mountain valleys, Charles Emmanuel II ordered their general massacre. The massacre was so brutal it aroused indignation throughout Europe. Oliver Cromwell, then ruler in England, began petitioning on behalf of the Waldensians, writing letters, raising contributions, calling a general fast in England and threatening to send military forces to the rescue. The massacre prompted John Milton's famous sonnet, "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont".

In 1898 the Bava-Beccaris massacre in Milan involved the use of cannons against unarmed protesters (including women and old people) during riots in Milan over the rising price of bread. King Umberto I of the House of Savoy congratulated General Fiorenzo Bava-Beccaris for the massacre and decorated him with the medal of Great Official of Savoy Military Order, greatly outraging a large part of the public opinion. As a result Umberto I was assassinated in July 1900 in Monza by Gaetano Bresci, the brother of one of the women massacred in the crowd, who traveled back to Italy from the United States for the assassination.

Fascism and end of monarchy

When the First World War ended, the Treaty of Versailles fell short of what had been promised in the London Pact to Italy. As the economic conditions in Italy worsened after the war, popular resentment and along with it the seeds of Italian fascism began to grow and resulted in the March on Rome by Benito Mussolini.

General Pietro Badoglio advised King Victor Emmanuel III that he could easily sweep Mussolini and his rag-tag Blackshirt army to one side, but Victor Emmanuel decided to tolerate Mussolini. Later, the King's failure, in the face of mounting evidence, to move against the Mussolini regime's abuses of power led to much criticism. Though the King claimed in his memoirs that it was the fear of a civil war that motivated his actions, it would seem that he received some 'alternative' advice, possibly from Antonio Salandra and possibly some pro-Fascist elements in his immediate family, including Margherita of Savoy, his mother.[citation needed] In retrospect, members of the House of Savoy and the moneyed class in Italy, felt that Mussolini and his regime offered a more stable and appealing option to the other alternative they perceived: socialism.[citation needed]

Eventually, the King's decision had dire future consequences for Italy and for the monarchy itself. On October 28, 1922, Victor Emmanuel III selected Mussolini to become Italian Prime Minister, allowing Mussolini and the Fascist Party to pursue their political ambitions as long as they supported the monarchy.[citation needed] As Mussolini and the axis powers failed in the Second World War in 1943 Victor Emmanuel removed Mussolini from office and named Pietro Badoglio as his replacement. However, he made a blunder when he negotiated a surrender to the Allies without ordering the army to defend Rome.[citation needed] Left without orders, the army virtually disintegrated. Victor Emmanuel and his government fled south to Brindisi. Victor Emmanuel transferred most of his powers to his son, Crown Prince Umberto, in April 1944. Within a year, public opinion forced a plebiscite to decide between retaining the monarchy or becoming a republic. In hopes of influencing the vote, Victor Emmanuel formally abdicated on May 9, 1946. It did not work; 54% of the voters favored declaring a republic in the referendum held less than a month later. The Savoy family was required to leave the country. Taking refuge in Egypt, Victor Emmanuel died in Alexandria in 1947 and was buried there.

The rule of the House of Savoy thus ended with the 1946 referendum by which Italians chose the republic as the form of state (see also birth of the Italian Republic). Under the Constitution of the Italian Republic, male descendants of the House of Savoy were forbidden from entering Italy. This provision was removed in 2002 but as part of the deal to be allowed back into Italy, Vittorio Emanuele, the last claimant to the House of Savoy, renounced all claims to the throne.[4]

House of Savoy today

The Residences of the Royal House of Savoy in Turin and the neighbourhood are protected as a World Heritage Site. Although the titles and distinctions of the Italian royal family are not legally recognised by the Republic of Italy, the remaining members of the House of Savoy, like dynasties of other abolished monarchies, still use some of the various titles they acquired over the millenium of their reign prior to the Republic's existence, including Duke of Savoy, Prince of Naples, Prince of Piedmont and Duke of Aosta.

Currently the leadership of the House of Savoy is contested by two cousins: Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples, who used to claim the title of King of Italy, and Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, who still claims the title of the Duke of Savoy. Their rivalry has not always been peaceful — on May 21, 2004, following a dinner held by King Juan Carlos I of Spain on the eve of the wedding of his son Felipe, Prince of Asturias, Vittorio Emanuele punched Amedeo twice in the face.[5]

Some of the remaining members of the House of Savoy have been engulfed in controversy in the 21st century. On June 16, 2006 Vittorio Emanuele was arrested in Varenna and imprisoned in Potenza on charges of corruption and recruitment of prostitutes for clients of the Casinò di Campione (casino) of Campione d'Italia.[6][7][8] After several days, Vittorio Emanuele was released and placed under house arrest instead.[9] He was released from house arrest on July 20 but was required to remain within the borders of Italy.

Vittorio Emanuele's son Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy works in Geneva as a hedge fund manager. In 2007, lawyers representing the father and son wrote to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano seeking damages for their years in exile.[10] During a television interview, Emanuele Filiberto also requested that Roman landmarks such as the Quirinale palace and Villa Ada should return to the Savoy family. The Italian prime minister’s office has released a statement stating that the Savoys are not owed any damages and suggesting that Italy may demand damages from the Savoys for their collusion with Benito Mussolini. The Italian constitution contains a clause stripping the Savoys of their wealth on exile.

The patrilineal lineage of the House of Savoy was reduced to four males between 1996 and 2009. In 2008 Aimone of Savoy-Aosta married Princess Olga of Greece, his second cousin, and they became the parents of sons Umberto and Amedeo born, respectively, in 2009 and 2011.

List of rulers

Counts of Savoy

Main Branch

Dukes of Savoy

Emperors of Ethiopia

Kings of the Albanians

Kings of Croatia

  • Tomislav II (grandson of Amadeo I of Spain) : 1941–1943

Kings of Italy

Kings of Sardinia

Savoy-Carignano Branch

Kings of Spain

  • Amadeo I (son of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy) : 1871–1873

Heads of the House of Savoy since 1946

Umberto II was the head of family from 1946 to 1983. As of July 7, 2006, the leadership of the House of Savoy is now contested by two cousins:

  • Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples, only son of the last king, Umberto II, and claimant since his father's death in 1983. He has one son, Emanuele Filiberto, whom he considers his heir. His claim is disputed due to his unauthorized marriage in 1971, and the renunciation of succession rights as a condition for repatriation from exile in 2002.
  • Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta,[11] who claims the title of Duke of Savoy: July 7, 2006–present. At the death of Umberto II, he was genealogically next in patrilineal seniority to Vittorio Emanuele and his only son, Emanuele Filiberto. He claims, however, to have replace them in the line of succession to the Italian throne on the grounds that he, his eldest son, and his son's sons were born of dynastically valid marriages in accordance with Italy's monarchical law, despite having sworn allegiance to the Republic upon entering the Italian military prior to his first marriage.

Name, motto, titles

Name of the dynasty: Reale Casa di Savoia

House of Savoy Coat of Arms on 1861 flag of Italy

Motto: FERT

The Motto is believed an acronym of
  • "Foedere Et Religione Tenemur" (We will be kept together by the [constitutional] pact and by religion)
but others suggest:
  • "Fortitudo Eius Rhodum Tenuit" (His strength preserved Rhodes). This refers to Duke Amadeo V "the Great" (1249–1323), who fought against the Saracens at the siege of Rhodes in 1310.
  • "Fortitudo Eius Rempublicam Tenet" (His bravery preserves the Republic)
  • "Fides Est Regni Tutela" (Faith is the protection of the kingdom)
  • The proposed origin from "Femina Erit Ruina Tua" (Woman will be your ruin) is obviously only a satire.
  • Another famous spurious satire is "Frappez, Entrez, Rompez Tout!", roughly translated from the French as "Knock, get in, then break everything!" It is supposedly a French witticism mocking the freebooting foreign policies of Duke Vittorio Amadeo II.

Titles of the Crown of Sardinia

Kingdom of Sardinia map

VITTORIO AMEDEO III, per la grazia di Dio Re di Sardegna, Cipro, Gerusalemme e Armenia; Duca di Savoia, Monferrato, Chablais, Aosta e Genevese; Principe di Piemonte ed Oneglia; Marchese in Italia, di Saluzzo, Susa, Ivrea, Ceva, Maro, Oristano, Sezana; Conte di Moriana, Nizza, Tenda, Asti, Alessandria, Goceano; Barone di Vaud e di Faucigny; Signore di Vercelli, Pinerolo, Tarantasia, Lumellino, Val di Sesia; Principe e Vicario perpetuo del Sacro Romano Impero in Italia.

The English translation is: Victor Amadeus III, by the Grace of God, King of Sardinia, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Armenia, Duke of Savoy, Montferrat, Chablais, Aosta and Genevois, Prince of Piedmont and Oneglia, Marquis (of the Holy Roman Empire) in Italy, of Saluzzo, Susa, Ivrea, Ceva, Maro, Oristano, Sezana, Count of Maurienne, Nice, Tende, Asti, Alessandria, Goceano, Baron of Vaud and Faucigny, Lord of Vercelli, Pinerolo, Tarentaise, Lumellino, Val di Sesia, Prince and perpetual Vicar of the Holy Roman Empire in Italy.

Titles of the Crown of Italy

Victor Emmanuel II, by the Grace of God and the Will of the Nation, King of Italy, King of Sardinia, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Armenia, Duke of Savoy, Count of Maurienne, Marquis (of the Holy Roman Empire) in Italy; Prince of Piedmont, Carignano, Oneglia, Poirino, Trino; Prince and Perpetual vicar of the Holy Roman Empire; Prince of Carmagnola, Montmellian with Arbin and Francin, Prince bailliff of the Duchy of Aosta, Prince of Chieri, Dronero, Crescentino, Riva di Chieri e Banna, Busca, Bene, Brà, Duke of Genoa, Monferrat, Aosta, Duke of Chablais, Genevois, Duke of Piacenza, Marquis of Saluzzo (Saluces), Ivrea, Susa, del Maro, Oristano, Cesana, Savona, Tarantasia, Borgomanero e Cureggio, Caselle, Rivoli, Pianezza, Govone, Salussola, Racconigi con Tegerone, Migliabruna e Motturone, Cavallermaggiore, Marene, Modane e Lanslebourg, Livorno Ferraris, Santhià Agliè, Centallo e Demonte, Desana, Ghemme, Vigone, Count of Barge, Villafranca, Ginevra, Nizza, Tenda, Romont, Asti, Alessandria, del Goceano, Novara, Tortona, Bobbio, Soissons, Sant'Antioco, Pollenzo, Roccabruna, Tricerro, Bairo, Ozegna, delle Apertole, Baron of Vaud e del Faucigni, Lord of Vercelli, Pinerolo, della Lomellina, della Valle Sesia, del marchesato di Ceva, Overlord of Monaco, Roccabruna and 11/12th of Menton, Noble patrician of Venice, patrician of Ferrara.

These titles were used during the unified Kingdom of Italy which lasted from 1860–1946.[1]

Dynastic orders

The House of Savoy has held two dynastic orders since 1434, which were brought into the Kingdom of Italy as national orders. Although the Kingdom of Italy ceased to exist in 1946, King Umberto II did not abdicate his role as fons honorum over the two dynastic orders over which the family has long held sovereignty and grand mastership. The following are the dynastic orders of the Royal House of Savoy. Today, HRH Victor Emmanuel, Prince of Naples is hereditary Sovereign and Grand Master of these orders.

Recently, all three of Victor Emmanuel's sisters (HRH Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma, HRH Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, and HRH Princess Maria Beatrice of Savoy) resigned from both of these dynastic orders, alleging that memberships in the orders had been sold to unworthy candidates, a newfound practice they could not abide.[12]

In addition to these, the House of Savoy claims sovereignty over the Civil Order of Savoy and the Order of the Crown of Italy (since 1988, the Order of Merit of Savoy), which are merit orders of the Royal House.

See also


Other studies

  • Francesco Cognasso: I Savoia nella politica europea. Milano, 1941 (Storia e politica).
  • Robert Katz: The Fall of the House of Savoy. A Study in the Relevance of the Commonplace or the Vulgarity of History, London 1972.
  • Eugene L. Cox: The Eagles of Savoy. The House of Savoy in thirteenth-century Europe. Princeton, N.J., 1974.
  • Denis Mack Smith: Italy and its Monarchy, New Haven, 1992.
  • Toby Osborne: Dynasty and Diplomacy in the Court of Savoy. Political Culture and the Thirty Years' War (Cambridge Studies in Italian History and Culture), Cambridge 2002.
  • Paolo Cozzo: La geografia celeste dei duchi di Savoia. Religione, devozioni e sacralità in uno Stato di età moderna (secoli XVI-XVII), Bologna, il Mulino, 2006, 370 pp.
  • Enrico Castelnuovo (a cura di): La Reggia di Venaria e i Savoia. Arte, magnificenza e storia di una corte europea. Vol. 1-2. Turin, Umberto Allemandi & C., 2007, 364 + 309 pp.
  • Walter Barberis (a cura di): I Savoia. I secoli d'oro di una dinastia europea. Torino, Giulio Einaudi Editore, 2007, 248 pp.

External links

  1. Official website of the Duke of Aosta
  2. Official website of the Prince of Naples
  3. Brief history of the House with a picture of coat-of-arm
  4. Genealogy of recent members of the House
  5. House of Savoy fansite
  6. The Heads of House of Savoy
  7. Historical Development of titles of the House of Savoy

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