Friday, November 7, 2014
Monarch Profile: King Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont-Sardinia
It was a time of hardship and waiting for opportunities. Victor Emmanuel I, however, was a man who understood enduring misfortune. In 1789 he had married the Hapsburg Archduchess Maria Teresa of Austria-Este, daughter of Duke Ferdinand of Modena (who was the son of the Austrian Emperor Francis I). She was as ardently conservative and traditional as her husband was and the two were a very well-matched couple and had a very happy marriage. However, securing the succession remained a problem. While his older brother had never been able to have children, King Victor Emmanuel I fathered seven children, all but one of whom were daughters. The eldest ultimately married her uncle, Duke Francis IV of Modena, the next did not survive childhood, the third lived an even shorter time. The next eventually married the Duke of Parma, the fifth married Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria and the sixth married King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies. There was only one boy among them, Prince Charles Emmanuel, born in 1796 and sadly he died of smallpox in 1799. Once again, the Savoy crown would have to pass from brother to brother rather than father to son (and a brother who would be childless as well). They knew personal tragedy with the loss of two children, one a potential heir, yet their shared faith and values allowed them to endure it as they later endured their exile on Sardinia. But, that was something that would change.
In short, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, under the restored Savoy monarchy, was as close to perfection for a reactionary monarchist as one could get. Victor Emmanuel I also ruled over a somewhat larger kingdom than had his father and older brother as the Congress of Vienna awarded Piedmont the territory of the old Republic of Genoa with the port becoming the base of the new Piedmontese navy. As a side note, interesting to legitimist monarchists at least, when his brother died in 1819, King Victor Emmanuel I also became heir of the Stuart claims for the diehard Jacobites. For them, he became “King Victor I of England, Scotland, Ireland and France” though, of course, he never pressed such a claim in any way. There is a well known anecdote that, when Victor Emmanuel I died, the British Prime Minister wrote to a friend (presumably in a joking way) that there should have been public mourning in the UK since quite a few people recognized the Savoy monarch as their “true” king. He was probably wrong about the number but it is slightly humorous the way the British government continued to worry about the Jacobites so long after they ceased to be relevant. In any event, King Victor Emmanuel I had enough to concern him with the government of Piedmont-Sardinia. His campaign of total, absolute restoration may have cheered old fashioned monarchists but the years of French rule had also left their mark and not everyone was happy about things going back to the way they had been.
It was, finally, a mutiny in the army that signaled the end of the reign of Victor Emmanuel I. Rebel troops seized control of the citadel in Turin and demanded that the King grant a constitution with guaranteed civil rights and a war against Austria to liberate Milan and Venice. Anyone at all familiar with the character of King Victor Emmanuel I would know intuitively that he would never agree to any such demands. The content of them really did not even matter as he would never have agreed to anything put forward by mutinous troops and riotous subjects making demands on their sovereign. The political issues he was absolutely opposed to and while he had no great love for Austria (because of their shifting policies in the war and territorial acquisitions) and would have been as pleased as anyone to restore northern Italy to Italian rule, he was certainly not going to be coerced into a specific action and would never stand for being dictated to by a riotous mob. Yet, with the mobs in the streets and the loyalty of the army being either absent or questionable; what could he do? There seemed to be no choice but to give in, yet, for the King, that was out of the question. If King Victor Emmanuel I could not rule as he saw fit, he decided that he would not rule at all and preferred to abdicate rather than give in to pressure from disloyal elements. So, on March 21, 1821 he formally abdicated his throne in favor of his brother, who was away in Modena, with his nephew Prince Charles Albert on hand to oversee things in the interim. The Queen (who some even blamed for the crisis) had offered to act as regent but in the event went with her retired husband to Nice (then part of Piedmont-Sardinia). He died at Moncalieri castle a few years later on January 10, 1824.