Friday, May 13, 2011

The Faithful of the House of Savoy

King Umberto II and Pope Paul VI
This anniversary year of the unification of Italy has had my mind occupied quite a bit as of late with the Royal House of Savoy. A recent post which mentioned the deep faith of King Umberto II and Queen Maria Jose by MM member Matterhorn at her informative site The Cross of Laeken reminded me again of the injustice with which the House of Savoy is often treated, even by those who might be expected to be among their staunchest supporters; namely Catholic monarchists. However, as anyone with experience can attest, Catholic monarchists can be amongst the most impossible to please which is probably why so many (and God love them) are really what I like to call “theoretical monarchists”. They support monarchy in theory but do not actually support any existing monarchies nor do most have time for monarchist efforts which strive for anything less than a restoration of an absolutist confessional state under the guidance of a revived inquisition. I admit, such a thought warms my heart, but real results requires one to be realistic and face the facts.

When it comes to the House of Savoy, it seems many hold a grudge against the entire family, going backward and forward in time, all because of the unification of Italy and particularly because of “the Roman Question”. I can certainly understand their sympathies in that regard, and I have mentioned my opinion on the subject before and do not need to again here. However, I do not like to see an entire royal family smeared or rejected because of a few individuals or even a few unsavory associations. The House of Savoy is one of the oldest royal lines in Europe and was once among the most preeminent Catholic royal families. And the Catholic part is important because we are addressing that aspect in particular here. This was something that Blessed Pope Pius IX constantly stressed to King Victor Emanuel II during their many long years of correspondence, with the Pope reminding the King of what an old and honorable Catholic dynasty he represented.
Italian Royals at the Vatican
There was Count Amadeus V, better known as Amadeus the Great, who fought with the Knights of St John to defend Rhodes from the Muslims in 1315. There was Duke Louis I who obtained the famous Shroud of Turin which was held by the House of Savoy from 1453 to 1946. Duke Charles Emanuel II, known as “the Hadrian of Piedmont” was a tireless campaigner against heresy in his dominions (some would even say a little too zealous). King Victor Amadeus III was known for being very religious and an early and unshakable enemy of the French Revolution. King Charles Emanuel IV (a good friend of his cousin Cardinal York and who inherited the Jacobite claim to Britain upon his death) was also a very devout Catholic who, toward the end of his life, abdicated his royal status and joined the Society of Jesus. But, you may be thinking, that was all a long time ago, what about those around the time of and since the unification of Italy? The story does not really change that much.

It was King Charles Albert (Carlo Alberto) who got the ball rolling in that direction and remember that his mother was Queen Maria Theresa of Austria who was a descendant of the Italian branches of the Hapsburg and Bourbon families and a very devout, traditional Catholic women who did her best throughout her life to pass on her values to her children. One of those was, of course, King Victor Emanuel II who made the unification of Italy a reality. He was a man being pulled in all directions and many, many books can (and have) been written about his role in the process and his dealings with the Church. Suffice it to say that things were not so simplistic as many seem to believe. In their many letters the King never ceased to ask the Pope for his pardon and blessing, the Pope never ceased to remind the King of his august family history and there was so much mutual admiration expressed one could at times forget that the two were, technically, enemies in the political arena. St John Bosco was an intermediary between the two and toward the end of their lives they began a secret correspondence again. As most also know, when the Pope learned that the King was near death, he sent a priest to him with powers to lift the excommunication he had previously pronounced so that the King could die in good standing with the Church.

The wife of King Victor Emanuel II, Queen Adelaide of Austria, was also a very devout and pious woman, very charitable and she likewise did her best to pass these values on to her children. The youngest, Princess Maria Pia, married the King of Portugal and was known in that country as an absolute angel of mercy. The older daughter, Princess Maria Clotilde, was also known for her piety and charity but suffered from being forced into an unhappy marriage into the Bonaparte clan. All of the Kings of Italy were staunch Catholics, even if not always devout ones. King Umberto I was known for matching the no-compromise of the attitude of the papacy during his reign but he became much more religious toward the end of his life and this can be taken as sincere since he obviously had no idea he was going to be assassinated and thus a fear of mortality could not have been his motivation. Likewise he was supportive of his very religious queen, Margherita of Savoy.

King Victor Emanuel III was, likewise, a very religious man who quickly challenged anyone who expressed anti-clerical sentiments in his presence. The “Roman Question” remained a complicated problem and the King did have his doubts when Mussolini presented his proposal for coming to an agreement with the Church in what eventually resulted in the Lateran Treaty. He was concerned about what actual territory the Papacy would control as a result of the compromise, in the end this was restricted to the Vatican and a few extra-territorial buildings, but given this, it must also be kept in mind that the Italian kingdom had, in the past, offered the Papacy control over a much larger area, all of the land within the Leonine wall, but the Church had turned it down. However, it was finally worked out to the satisfaction of both sides and King Victor Emanuel III and Pope Pius XI exchanged messages of congratulation to each other on that occasion.

The King and Queen with Pope Pius XII
On the part of the Church, support for the monarchy was displayed at the highest levels. The children of the unfortunate Princess Mafalda were sheltered in the Vatican when the Nazis arrested her husband (Philipp of Hesse) and later herself. Princess Giovanna, who became Queen of Bulgaria, was very close to future Blessed Pope John XXIII and also played a key role in safeguarding the people of her adopted land from Nazi persecution. Padre Pio, now St Pio of Pietrelcina, had many devotees amongst the household of Queen Elena and gave spiritual assistance to Princess Maria Jose and others of the Royal Family. A book could be written about the position of the Church regarding the 1946 referendum on the monarchy, which was quite complicated, however it is sufficient to note that, despite how highly favored Alcide De Gasperi was in the Vatican, Pope Pius XII (who came from a Roman “Black Nobility” family) was very upset to see the monarchy abolished. He had long been on good terms with the House of Savoy and, as a cardinal, King Victor Emanuel III had awarded him the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Anunciation.

For some, no amount of contrary information will ever change their point of view. However, I think it is important to defend any royal house that is unjustly defamed. Again, any royal house with so long a history is going to have individuals of every variety. However, I would hope that the good and admirable should be the primary focus and the faults of a few individuals should not override the fidelity and piety of so many other upstanding sons and daughters of this venerable Catholic dynasty.


  1. Thank you very much for this article.

  2. If you see this, and have the time, it would be amazing to have a response:

    I'm 15 years old, but I am in no way trying to waist your time. I am an avid monarchist, in love with the constitutional monarchy form of government. In my school, as a freshman, you have to give the daunting task of preparing and giving a speech in front of the entire upper school. I gave mine on the benefits of a constitutional monarchy, why it was the best form of government, and why it should be employed in other countries. I was lucky enough to be voted first by the faculty, and staff. Something about the monarchy gets to me, and though the people I surround myself with could not be even called intelligent let alone historians, and though I've been lucky enough to have a decent amount of friends, I truly love learning, and arguing, about monarchies.

    So, for my actual question. I was recently in Italy when they were celebrating there 100th anniversary. It was amazing to see all the people and how excited they were. When I was in Sienna, there was a rally for the monarchy. The next day they would be inviting someone to speak on the issue. You had to submit your paper before hand, and if approved, you would be the key speaker for the next day. I ran to my hotel and wrote as quick as I could, and submitted my speech. To what still surprises me today, I was selected. They had no idea I didn't even speak Italian, or that I was so young, but they gave me a translator on the day nonetheless. It was amazing, powerful even, and got me excited about the possibility of the restoration of the monarchy.

    So, I wonder, do you think this could ever be possible? Will Italy ever welcome back the House of Savoy? Again, if I am bothering you I apologize, and I don't mean to waist your time, but I would love to hear back.

    - Will

  3. No bother at all, I greatly admire your zeal -nothing can be done in any field without it. As for a restoration, that is always *extremely* difficult and the odds will always be against it. However, it has happened and there are some things favoring it in Italy. The political class is held in very low regard, monarchist parties are putting up a good fight in the political arena and the history of the country cannot be separated from the history of the Savoys. It was also a good when they let the royals back in the country -a step in the right direction at least.

    So, it won't be easy, but the effort is being made and nothing will ever be done if no one tries. In Italy people are trying. Of course, I hope they succeed.

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  5. Was the Matterhorn in the House of Savoy?


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