Saturday, July 8, 2017

Monarch Profile: King Charles Emmanuel III of Piedmont-Sardinia

Only the second king of the House of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel III was undoubtedly one of the most ambitious and military-minded of the family. That he was to prove an astute and formidable monarch is all the more noteworthy inasmuch as he was not raised with the expectation of taking on such a responsibility and had been neither very well liked or well prepared by his father. Charles Emmanuel of Savoy was the second son of King Victor Amadeus II by his wife Queen Anne Marie d’Orleans. He was born in Turin on April 27, 1701, well before his father was King of Sardinia and was thus only Duke of Savoy. He was nicknamed “Carlino” as a boy for being rather frail and not the strapping, handsome son all fathers wish for. In time, however, his people would give him a more praiseworthy nickname; “the Hardworking” king. As his father became involved in the War of the Spanish Succession and because of the long military tradition of the family, young Charles Emmanuel was given a more thorough education on the subject of warfare though other subjects were neglected.

In 1713 his father became King of Sicily as part of the peace following the War of Spanish Succession but this aroused the jealousy and opposition of other powers so that the first reign of the Savoy over Sicily would be a relatively short one. At the same time tragedy struck the family when Charles Emmanuel’s older brother, Prince Victor Amadeus of Piedmont, died from smallpox at the age of only fifteen. His father had adored and doted on the boy, even making him regent during his year long absence from 1713-14 despite his young age. It was a devastating blow for the King and also thrust Prince Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Aosta, into the position of heir to the throne. The throne he would be heir to soon changed though as in 1720 his father finally came to an agreement to appease the other crowned heads of Europe by trading the Kingdom of Sicily for the Kingdom of Sardinia. In previous times, this might have aroused some opposition on the part of the German Emperor as there were supposed to be no other kings in the empire besides himself, however, the Hohenzollern rulers of Prussia had already set a precedent for princes within the empire to be kings of territories outside the empire.

Nonetheless, Victor Amadeus II would not rule for long as his life was being overtaken by grief and sadness. His eldest daughter (mother of King Louis XV of France) died in 1712, his second daughter did not survive childhood, his third daughter (wife of King Felipe V of Spain) died in 1714 and his eldest son died in 1715. In 1728 his grief-stricken wife Queen Anne Marie also passed away from heart failure. Trying to flee from his depression, in August of 1730 the King secretly married an old girlfriend with special permission from Pope Clement XII. The following month they made their marriage public and shortly thereafter the King announced his abdication, signing over his powers to his son on September 3, 1730 who then became King Charles Emmanuel III. The whole affair over the new wife and the abdication caused quite a scandal and King Charles Emmanuel III, who had never been his father’s favorite, was less than pleased with having to deal with it. He did his best to keep the former monarch out of sight and out of mind.

After so much gloom and grief, King Charles Emmanuel III tried to restore a more festive atmosphere to his court and Piedmont as a whole. However, his father was soon giving him trouble as, after recovering from a stroke, he tried to reassert himself and possibly retake the throne. This was potentially disastrous as not only had the whole abdication fiasco made Victor Amadeus II rather unpopular but father and son had never been on very good terms. For one thing, Charles Emmanuel had never been as good as his older brother as far as his father was concerned, he was not as strong, not as attractive, he did not measure up in the eyes of his father in any way. The new King had also had plenty of heartaches of his own. His father had arranged both of his marriages, the first to a German countess who died in childbirth at only 19 and the second to the Hessian Princess Polyxena with whom he had a successful marriage and six children. However, their domestic life was upset by the King who decided that his wife was too distracting and took up too much of his son’s time so he ordered them to sleep in separate beds.

Although she had only a few more years to live herself, Queen Polyxena was adamant that her husband be firm in dealing with his father. King Charles Emmanuel III gained the support of the Crown Council and managed to have his father arrested and confined to Rivoli castle and probably just in the nick of time as he had been rumored to be plotting an invasion Lombardy with the aim of conquering Milan, which would surely have sparked a war. In any event, that crisis was averted, his father had been dealt with and would trouble him no more and King Charles Emmanuel III could get on with the business of ruling his country. He did not have long to wait before an actual war broke out, once again over a disputed royal succession. The monarchy in dispute was that of Poland with France, Spain and Parma (so the Bourbon family basically) supporting Stanislas I and Russia, Austria, Prussia and Saxony supporting Augustus III. Rather than backing the empire, King Charles Emmanuel III joined the French and quickly led a very successful invasion of Lombardy, conquering Milan with little difficulty.

Unfortunately, the Spanish demanded Milan and Mantua as their reward for joining the coalition and the last thing King Charles Emmanuel wanted was for northern Italy to fall back under Spanish control again. He had ambitions to unite Italy which, though a tall order, he famously said the Savoy could accomplish the same way one eats an artichoke; one layer at a time. In any event, while the diplomats argued, King Charles Emmanuel III proved himself a skillful military leader as the commander of the combined Franco-Spanish-Italian forces in Italy. However, suspecting that the French would take away his gains and hand them over to Spain, he purposely botched the campaign to take Mantua. He did, however, prove himself in command of Franco-Piedmontese forces in victories at the Battle of Crocetta and the Battle of Guastalla. When France and Austria finally came to terms, as expected, the Piedmontese were obliged to withdraw from Lombardy rather than retain their conquests, however, King Charles Emmanuel III did gain Langhe, Tortona and Novara in the final settlement. In the end, the House of Bourbon gained territory but the candidate preferred by Russia, Austria and Prussia, Augustus III, became King of Poland (though he would not have a happy time of it).

This war over the Polish throne had a few significant results for the Savoy monarchy. First, it had secured the reputation of King Charles Emmanuel III as a capable military leader with his campaign which secured several battlefield victories and showed his skill at maneuver in preventing the union of the armies from Austria and Naples. Secondly, it showed that the hope for greater gains to be had by allying with the French were not to be taken for granted. It caused no small amount of frustration in Turin that so much territory which the Piedmontese had fought for and won would be so quickly handed over to another power. Another conflict was soon on the horizon and King Charles Emmanuel III would certainly not be taking the side of the French again. That conflict, the War of Austrian Succession, was the next great crisis of his reign.

The War of Austrian Succession (known as King George’s War in America) was basically an effort by the French and the Prussians to prevent the Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary Maria Theresa from inheriting the Habsburg monarchy. Her father had spent all but his last thaler trying to buy the support of the crowned heads of Europe to ensure a peaceful succession for his daughter but, as soon as he was gone, most opposed her anyway. King Charles Emmanuel III threw his support behind Empress Maria Theresa and the Habsburgs. He brought his own skills and a small but proficient army, however, his small state could not sustain the effort it would take to fight what was effectively a world war. However, the British, who also backed the Austrians as a way of opposing the power of the Bourbon French and Spanish, provided economic support for the House of Savoy, effectively funding their war effort. The war began in 1740 when King Frederick the Great of Prussia invaded Silesia, however Piedmont-Sardinia was not immediately involved.

In 1741 the Spanish and their Neapolitan proxies made a fast and aggressive invasion north with the aim, once again, of taking control of Milan and northern Italy for Spain. Empress Maria Theresa sent her people to talk to King Charles Emmanuel III’s people and work out an alliance. 1742 saw these negotiations concluded and combat begin, though the Habsburg-Savoy alliance was directed at Spain rather than France. At first, the Austrians did well enough and seemed to need no help, however, by early 1743 the Spanish got the better of them. More troops were rushed in from Germany and the Spanish retreated but the scare was enough to involve the French were drawn into a frustrating conflict in the Alps against the Piedmontese troops of the House of Savoy. 1744 promised to be decisive with a major Franco-Spanish invasion planned for the conquest of northern Italy. The French, Spanish and Neapolitan troops, led by the King of Naples who would later be King Charles III of Spain, won the Battle of Nemi (or First Battle of Velletri) and then a second by thwarting an Austrian raid that intended to capture the future Spanish monarch.

After this, the Austrians wrote off Naples and focused on supporting their Savoy ally in the north against the French forces under the Prince of Conti. King Charles Emmanuel III fought the French as best he could but, though he suffered several defeats, still managed to prevent the French and Spanish forces from uniting against him in battles throughout the summer of 1744. The successful defense of Cuneo was critical to that. The following year, the Republic of Genoa joined the Bourbon side and declared war on Piedmont-Sardinia. The French launched a renewed offensive in 1745 with a combined force of 80,000 men which managed to draw the Austrians away and then pounce upon the small, isolated Piedmontese army at the Battle of Bassignano on September 27, 1745. However, by that time, Prussia had made peace with Austria and more Austrian troops could be committed to Italy. The French and Spanish still fought ferociously and took a huge toll on the Austrians, the Genoese also holding their own surprisingly well against the Habsburg armies.

King Charles Emmanuel III lost a succession of battles against a Franco-Spanish army that outnumbered his roughly 3-to-1, however, in 1746 he was given some Austrian reinforcements to make good his losses and began to turn the situation around. Alessandria and Asti were recaptured from the enemy and in 1747 he won a stunning and decisive victory over the French at the Battle of Assietta. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Italians defeated the French and inflicted 5,300 losses on them while losing only 299 of their own. It was such an overwhelming victory that the Bourbon forces gave up on the Italian front and shifted their main war effort to the Franco-German border and the Netherlands. King Frederick the Great of Prussia famously said that if he had an army like the Piedmontese, he would make himself King of Italy in quick order. King Charles Emmanuel III was not without at least some such aspirations but, as his remark about the artichoke demonstrates, he knew that he would have to play the long game. As it was, he showed his remarkable skill as a negotiator when both sides of the war finally determined to come to terms for peace. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle might not have fulfilled every aspiration but it considerably expanded Savoy territory and recovered all that had been lost at the hands of the French.

When the Seven Years’ War (French & Indian War to Americans) broke out not long after, King Charles Emmanuel III remained neutral. His country had been stretched to the breaking point, invaded, occupied and needed a period of peace to recover its strength. He worked on improving the government, developing Sardinia, making the army more efficient, his fortresses stronger and improving higher education. He was also able to take time to indulge in his love of great works of art, enlarging the Savoy family collection and even establishing a tapestry workshop in Turin. Happiness in his private life continued to be short-lived. In 1737 he had married Princess Elisabeth Therese of Lorraine but, sadly, their life together was to be dominated by heartache. They had three children together, the first two dying in childhood with only their third, a son, surviving to adulthood and Elisabeth Therese died of fever shortly after this third childbirth. King Charles Emmanuel III could only busy himself with his duties, improving his military defenses, strengthening the army and so on, which he did until his death on February 20, 1773.

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