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The House of Savoy ( ) was formed in the early eleventh 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 until the end of World War II. Some argue, at the time that the title of king was abolished in 1946, the House of Savoy was the longest surviving royal house in the world.


The House of Savoy emerged, along with the free communes of Switzerland, in what is now called Switzerlandmarker. The name derives from the historical region Savoy in what is now Francemarker. 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 Magdeburgmarker in Saxonymarker, with the earliest recording of the family being two tenth century brothers, Amadeus and Humbert. 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 Genevamarker, 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 Susamarker, with the towns of Turin and Pinerolo, into the House of Savoy's possession. This diplomatic skill caused the great powers such as Francemarker, Englandmarker, and Spainmarker to take the dukes' opinions into account.

They once had claims on the modern canton of Vaud, where they occupied the Château of Chillonmarker in Switzerlandmarker, but their access to it was cut by Genevamarker 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.

Expansion, retreat and prosperity

By the time Amadeus VII came to power in the late fourteenth 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 Turinmarker, 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 Chambérymarker to Turin and replaced Latin as the duchy's official language with Italian.

The seventeenth 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 Nicemarker and built a road through the Alps towards France. And through skillful political manoeuvres territorial expansion continued. In early eighteenth 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 Palermomarker helped strengthen the House of Savoy further and they established themselves in the Kingdom of Sardinia. 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 , 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 Italymarker, 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 old people) 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 massacremarker 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 Monzamarker 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. 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.

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. 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. Left without orders, the army virtually disintegrated. Victor Emmanuel and his government fled south to Brindisimarker. 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.

House of Savoy today

The Residences of the Royal House of Savoy in Turinmarker and the neighbourhood are protected as a World Heritage Site. Although the titles and distinctions of the Italian royal family have been legally abolished, the remaining members of the House of Savoy still insist on using various titles, including the Counts of Savoy, the Dukes of Savoy, the Kings of Sardinia, and the Kings of Italy.

Currently the leadership of the House of Savoy is contested by two cousins: Victor Emmanuel, Prince of Naples, who used to claim the title of King of Italy and Duke Amadeo of Savoy 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 Amadeo twice in the face.

The remaining members of the House of Savoy have been engulfed in controversy in the twenty-first century. On June 16, 2006 Vittorio Emanuele was arrested in Varennamarker and imprisoned in Potenzamarker on charges of corruption and recruitment of prostitutes for clients of the Casinò di Campione (casino) of Campione d'Italiamarker. After several days, Vittorio Emanuele was released and placed under house arrest instead. He was released from house arrest on July 20, but he had to stay inside the Italian borders.

Vittorio Emanuele's son Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy works in Genevamarker 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. During a television interview, Emanuele Filiberto also requested that Roman landmarks such as the Quirinalemarker palace and Villa Adamarker 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.

List of rulers

Counts of Savoy

Main Branch

Dukes of Savoy

Kings of Sardinia

Savoy-Carignano Branch

Kings of Italy

Rulers of other countries

  • King Amadeus I of Spainmarker (son of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy) : 1871–1873
  • King Tomislav II (Prince Aimone, 4th Duke of Aosta) of Croatiamarker (grandson of Amadeus I of Spain) : 1941–1943

Heads of the House of Savoy since 1946

As of July 7, 2006, the leadership of the House of Savoy is now contested by two cousins:

See also: Lists of incumbents, List of Presidents of the Italian Republic

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 Onegliamarker, Marquis (of the Holy Roman Empire) in Italy, of Saluzzomarker, Susamarker, Ivreamarker, Cevamarker, Maro, Oristanomarker, Sezanamarker, Count of Mauriennemarker, Nicemarker, Tendemarker, Astimarker, Alessandriamarker, Goceano, Baron of Vaudmarker and Faucignymarker, Lord of Vercellimarker, Pinerolomarker, Tarentaise, Lumellino, Val di Sesiamarker, 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 Mauriennemarker, Marquis (of the Holy Roman Empire) in Italy; prince of Piedmont, Carignanomarker, Onegliamarker, Poirinomarker, Trinomarker; Prince and Perpetual vicar of the Holy Roman Empire; prince of Carmagnolamarker, Montmellian with Arbin and Francin, prince bailliff of the Duchy of Aostamarker, Prince of Chierimarker, Droneromarker, Crescentinomarker, Riva di Chierimarker e Banna, Buscamarker, Benemarker, Bràmarker, Duke of Genoa, Monferrat, Aostamarker, Duke of Chablais, Genevois, Duke of Piacenzamarker, Marquis of Saluzzomarker (Saluces), Ivreamarker, Susamarker, del Maro, Oristanomarker, Cesanamarker, Savonamarker, Tarantasia, Borgomaneromarker e Cureggiomarker, Casellemarker, Rivolimarker, Pianezzamarker, Govonemarker, Salussolamarker, Racconigimarker con Tegerone, Migliabruna e Motturone, Cavallermaggioremarker, Marenemarker, Modanemarker e Lanslebourgmarker, Livorno Ferrarismarker, Santhiàmarker Aglièmarker, Centallomarker e Demontemarker, Desanamarker, Ghemmemarker, Vigonemarker, Count of Bargemarker, Villafrancamarker, Ginevramarker, Nizzamarker, Tendamarker, Romontmarker, Astimarker, Alessandriamarker, del Goceano, Novaramarker, Tortonamarker, Bobbiomarker, Soissonsmarker, Sant'Antiocomarker, Pollenzomarker, Roccabrunamarker, Tricerromarker, Bairomarker, Ozegnamarker, delle Apertole, Baron of Vaudmarker e del Faucignimarker, Lord of Vercellimarker, Pinerolomarker, della Lomellina, della Valle Sesiamarker, del marchesato di Cevamarker, Overlord of Monacomarker, Roccabrunamarker and 11/12th of Mentonmarker, Noble patrician of Venicemarker, patrician of Ferraramarker.

These titles were used during the unified Kingdom of Italy which lasted from 1860–1946.[10854]

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.

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


  • Spencer Di Scala, Italy: From Revolution to Republic ISBN 0813341760

  • Toby Osborne Dynasty and Diplomacy in the Court of Savoy ISBN 0521037913

  • Eugene Cox The Eagles of Savoy: The House of Savoy in Thirteenth-Century Europe 0691052166

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

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