Victor Emmanuel III

Victor Emmanuel III
Vittorio Emanuele III (1869–1947).
   Born in Naplesin November 1869, Victor Emmanuel III was the son of Humbert I and Margherita di Savoia (Margaret of Savoy). Despite his minimal stature (he was barely five feet tall), his education was military. By 1897, not yet 30 but already a general, he commanded an army corps. Additional studies included law, history, and political subjects. In 1896, he married Elena of Montenegro. When an anarchist assassinated his father (in July 1900 in Monza), Victor Emmanuel succeeded to the throne. The centrality of the governments of the right ended with Giuseppe Zanardelli and his successor, Giovanni Giolitti, with whom the king fell out, in 1914, over the intervention issue. Neutralist Giolitti was not in tune with Victor Emmanuel’s interventionist spirit; the king preferred Antonio Salandra as prime minister but accepted the constitutional limitations on his powers of initiative. When Italy emerged from World War I impoverished and torn, Victor Emmanuel III came to a tool to be used in forestalling the rise of Bolshevism. Apparently convinced that he could avoid civil war and could tame Benito Mussolini, the king failed to act or to use the army against Fascism’s political terrorism or the March on Rome. By 1925, legal opposition had been eliminated and the Partito Nazionale Fascista/National Fascist Party (PNF) was the only legal political party. Ceremonial powers were all that was left to the monarch, especially after the title president of the Council of Ministers was changed by law (24 December 1925) to make Mussolini head of the government. This pill was eventually sweetened by the conferring on the king of the titles of Emperor of Italian East Africa (1936) and King of Albania (1939). The king’s acceptance of a subservient role vis-a-vis Mussolini prevented the officers’corps of the army, always loyal to the throne, from opposing what was, after all, the legitimate Italian government. Resentment ran deep among officers raised in Piedmontese traditions, especially when Mussolini gave status equal to the Royal Army to the blackshirts of the militia, made up largely of former squadristi and street fighters. Afull three years after Italy’s invasion of France in 1940, humiliating defeats in North Africa and the USSR, together with the imminence of Allied landings in Italy itself, combined to convince the king to save what he could. On 25 July 1943, he sought to preserve the monarchical institution by having Mussolini arrested and by putting Marshal Pietro Badoglio in charge of the government. After 40 days, on 8 September, the marshal announced an armistice with the Allies and Victor Emmanuel, together with his court and Badoglio, fled Rome to travel south to areas already under Allied occupation, leaving the Italian army without orders in the face of the inevitable German drive to occupy immediately all of Italy as far south as Naples and to suppress Italian forces everywhere. Those who resisted were quickly overrun. Many simply shed their uniforms and headed home. Victor Emmanuel declared war on Germany in October 1943, thus making Italy a “cobelligerent.” The postwar climate of hostility to all identifiable supporters of Fascism, his flight from Rome, and his failure to act against Fascism in any way before 1943 ensured that Victor Emmanuel could no longer plausibly stay on the throne in the postwar period. He abdicated in favor of his son, Humbert II, on 9 May 1946, and went into exile in Alexandria, Egypt, where he died on 28 December 1947. The abdication did not suffice to preserve the monarchy, however. On 2 June 1946, the Italians voted narrowly to establish a republic. The Savoy dynasty’s role in Italy was ended by popular will and its own collusion with the Fascist state.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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