Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Queen of Pearls

Today in 1851 Margherita of Savoy, later Queen consort of King Umberto I of Italy was born. She was a woman of fierce loyalty to her family, of devout Catholic faith and an ardent Italian patriot.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Saintly Birthday

Today, in 1812, was the birthday of Blessed Maria Cristina of Savoy, Queen consort of the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies. This is a good day to reflect on her life and to ask for her intercession for Italy and the House of Savoy today. Blessed Maria Cristina of Savoy, Pray for Us!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

King Vittorio Emanuele I of Piedmont-Sardinia

HRH Prince Vittorio Emanuele, Duke of Aosta, was born at the Savoy Royal Palace in Turin on July 24, 1759, the second son of King Vittorio Amedeo III and Queen Maria Antoinetta of Spain. He had the looks of his father and the religious conservatism of his mother. Being a second son would normally make a prince destined for a military career but in the House of Savoy this went without saying as probably nowhere outside of Prussia was the army given a higher status in society than in the Piedmontese region of northern Italy. It was no surprise that he gained a life-long fascination with the military and served as an army officer as a young man. If anything, he would surpass his father in terms of being a very traditional legitimist royal. When his father, full of righteous indignation at the French Revolution, declared war on republican France, the Duke of Aosta went with the army to wage a hopeless fight against the revolutionary forces. When his father died shortly after being forced to make peace with France it was left to the Duke’s older brother, King Carlo Emanuele IV, to preside over the disastrous aftermath in December of 1798. Eventually, all the Savoy lands on the continent would be occupied and annexed by France, forcing the Royal Family to relocate to the safety of the island of Sardinia.

The new king spent most of his time in Rome, leaving Vittorio Emanuele in charge in Sardinia and when his beloved queen died in 1802, the grief-stricken monarch abdicated in favor of his younger brother to join the Society of Jesus. So, on June 4, 1802 the Duke of Aosta came to the throne as King Vittorio Emanuele I, ruling Sardinia, all that remained of the Savoy patrimony, from Cagliari. To carry on the struggle against France, he gave great attention to reinvigorating the army. This included the institution of the Military Order of Savoy, the formation of the famous Grenadiers of Sardinia as well as the Carabinieri, a special gendarme corps that is still the official military-police force of Italy today. He instituted some administrative reforms on Sardinia but remained greatly attached to the way things had been before the wave of revolution swept Europe. He rebuffed all French attempts at a compromise peace and was determined to see his kingdom restored to exactly what it had been which meant that he would spend the first twelve years of his reign ruling in Sardinia until the fortunes of war turned against Napoleon. His focus on military matters was also not confined to the army and, ruling from an island, was the monarch responsible for the formation of the Department of the Navy.

It was a time of hardship and waiting for opportunities. Vittorio Emanuele 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 Vittorio Emanuele 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 Fernando II of the Two Sicilies. There was only one boy among them, Prince Carlo Emanuele, 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.

When Napoleonic France was finally defeated and King Vittorio Emanuele I was able to return in triumph to the Savoy citadel of Turin in 1814, it was the start of a gloriously reactionary era. This wasn’t just a restoration of the monarchy as all monarchists hope for, this was the sort of restoration that ardent, hardcore monarchists imagine in their wildest dreams. It is an oft-quoted truism that one cannot turn back the clock, but if the clocks stayed the same, King Vittorio Emanuele I managed to turn back just about everything else. It was a matter of principle and if that meant showing up to Turin wearing fashions nearly twenty years old, he would do it. The Code Napoleon was abolished and the legal system of Vittorio Amedeo II was restored. Education ceased to be secular and was handed back to the Catholic Church. All the hereditary posts at court were restored, everyone entitled to a position was given one and if that meant having “page boys” that were forty-year-old alongside teenagers, so be it! The Queen did her part as well, making sure that anyone who had anything to do with the French regime was excluded from high society. Even then there were also those who were pushing for a constitution but, needless to say, King Vittorio Emanuele I I was having none of that. He also restored the old religious laws which placed restrictions on Jews and the Protestant Waldensians. The Catholic, absolute monarchy was back in full force.

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. Vittorio Emanuele 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 Vittorio Emanuele 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 Vittorio Emanuele 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 Vittorio Emanuele 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.

This was the beginning of the rise in secret societies, plots and conspiracies in northern Italy (spreading of course throughout the whole peninsula soon enough). The Carbonari would become the most prominent but there were many conspiratorial groups with many different agendas. Some were nationalists pushing for Italian unity, others were liberals who wanted constitutional monarchy and free trade, others were radical revolutionaries who wanted what amounted to socialist republics. Some had elements of all of these but common themes included a desire for a constitution in Piedmont-Sardinia, some sort of unity amongst the Italian people and war against Austria to liberate the lands of Lombardy-Venetia that the Hapsburgs had gained through a deal with republican France. King Vittorio Emanuele I was not favorable toward any of these grand schemes and was not about to even consider granting such agitators a single concession. The problem was how popular many of these ideas were. The reach of the secret societies spread even into the army which really proved to be the crucial point as it meant that the primary instrument of force available to the Crown was not entirely reliable. King Vittorio Emanuele I responded strongly against such conspiracies in the civilian population but if the military could not be entirely relied upon, that was a more serious matter and more difficult to deal with.

It was, finally, a mutiny in the army that signaled the end of the reign of Vittorio Emanuele 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 Vittorio Emanuele 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 Vittorio Emanuele 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 Carlo Alberto 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.

King Vittorio Emanuele I is often portrayed in a tragic light, as a sad, gloomy man who endured kingship and whose reign has been described as one long Lenten period. Most modern historians have not been kind to him, describing his policies as harmful and out of date while at best admitting that he was well-intentioned and an upstanding gentleman in his private life. Actually, he was a man of firm principles, a dutiful monarch, a man of integrity and firm convictions. Given how his reign ended, some of his decisions may have been mistakes but that does not mean they were wrong. His determination to set everything back to the way it had been before the revolution, to do what most have always held to be impossible, was a decision based on his values and sense of right and wrong rather than political considerations. In the end, it did not work and it may be that, from a practical standpoint, he should have tempered this policy to take into account in some way what thinking had taken root during the French occupation but that is something known with certainty only in hindsight. The old system had worked well enough before so there was no reason why it absolutely could not have worked again. Vittorio Emanuele I deserves to be remembered as a dutiful monarch, a monarch who tried always to do what was right as his faith guided him. It is also just plain inaccurate to portray his reign as some sort of purgatory to be endured; his reign saw the restoration of the venerable Savoy monarchy, the end of French domination and the expansion of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in both territory and international esteem. It was, until the end, a success by any measure.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

One Opinion on Italian Soldiery

"Italian soldiers are neither better nor worse than the soldiers of any other nation.  All men are by nature fond of the family, of life and peace.  To enjoy war is surely degenerate; it appeals more to the single, adventure-seeking man than to the father of a family.  Yet in the life of a nation the father, as head of the smallest unit, is more important than the adventurous youth, who in war is the first to be sacrificed.  This fact was even more significant to the Italian, who lives so much within the family, than to the German.  If the father of a large and young family is killed in action, the only result is bitterness and woe.
   
   "Before the days of Mussolini, Italy was not averse to war.  How otherwise could it have successfully borne the heavy and protracted battles of the Isonzo during the First World War?  Piedmont is the cradle of Italy’s military prowess.  With the exception of Prussia, no dynasty was ever as militant as the House of Savoy.  It was the campaigns of the Piedmontese battalions that unified Italy, thereby fulfilling the dreams of many generations.  Everywhere the memorials bore witness to this fact.
   
   "At Turin and in that neighborhood were a number of military schools. The Peidmontese nobility, like the Prussian one, put service in the army on a higher plane than any other service to the state.  The discipline was good.  In Piedmont there were also many alpine units, the best that the Italian Army could produce---proud, quiet, outwardly not very disciplined troops, but reliable types, brought up the heard way, accustomed to camping in the eternal snows with only the barest supplies.  They were magnificent soldiers, to whose pride and modesty I paid tribute whenever I happened to encounter an Alpino.  The Navy, too, was good, though I had few contacts with it."

-From the book "Neither Hope Nor Fear" by the commander of the German XIV Panzer Corps, General Frido von Senger und Etterlin who was responsible for the defense of Monte Cassino and the Gustav Line, who had also earlier fought in the defense of Sicily.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The March on Rome

It was on this day in 1922 that the Fascist “Blackshirts” led by General Emilio De Bono, Italo Balbo, Cesare De Vecchi and Michele Bianchi marched on Rome. For years this event has been misunderstood which is not too surprising given that both the pro- and anti-Fascist sides have tried to distort it to fit their own agendas. For the Fascists, this was the bold move taken by Mussolini to “take by the throat our miserable ruling class” and by this show of force and the intimidation of his enemies, seizing power. For the anti-Fascists the blame has traditionally been placed solely on King Vittorio Emanuele III. According to their narrative, the March on Rome was nothing more than a bluff that could have easily been dispersed with a simple show of force only for the King to inexplicably refuse to give the army orders to defend the city and then hand power over, submissively, to the bombastic Mussolini. Neither of these narratives are correct as both try to take some portion of truth and twist it to their own advantage; the Fascists to glorify Mussolini and the anti-Fascists to disavow any responsibility and place all blame on the King, portraying him as some sort of Fascist sympathizer from the start.

The truth is that the Kingdom of Italy was in a chaotic state and while there had not yet been a full blown civil war or Marxist revolution, the prospect was not as remote as some since have liked to imply. Nor was Fascism some minor, disorganized party that enjoyed no widespread support. In 1921 the Fascists and communists had clashed in the streets of Florence, vying for power and in 1922, the same year as the march, the Fascist Blackshirts had driven the communists from power in Bologna and had taken Milan. In 1921 long-time liberal statesman Giolitti had returned to power with Fascist support; he considered them to be preferable to the Marxists. But, in the chaotic situation, his government did not long survive and he was succeeded by Bonomi who, likewise, took no action against the Fascists in their street wars with the socialists. Bonomi could find no lasting majority and his government soon fell as well, replaced by that of Luigi Facta in early 1922. In short, the established, liberal parties in Italy were proving themselves totally unable to confront the situation facing the country. There were too many divisions and too many radical elements so that many were left looking for who, among those radical elements, would be most likely to save the country rather than destroy it.

In fact, the only reason Facta himself lasted as long in office as he did (and that was less than a year) was because none of the established liberal figures in Italian politics could agree to come together or wished to take responsibility for dealing with the crisis that Italy faced. Giolitti, Orlando, Salandra, none of them could get along with each other. Nitti was agreeable to joining in a coalition but stated he would sooner join a government led by Mussolini than another by Giolitti. What about the King? The King was always reluctant to intervene in politics. There were already enough republicans in the country and communist protests outside the Quirinale Palace were a common sight so that he did not want the monarchy to appear political and partisan. The idea that he played favorites is easily disproved by the fact that, at this time of crisis, he asked Turati, leader of the moderate socialists, to join the government and not for the first time. Turati refused, like so many others at this crucial point in Italian political history. In the period leading up to the March on Rome, aside from being the only leader some felt could deal with the chaos in Italy, Mussolini was seen more and more as the only one even willing to try.

To make himself more acceptable, Mussolini began moving noticeably to the right, voicing strong support for the monarchy and making common cause with the royalists of the nationalist party. The King, even in the fall of 1922, still expected Giolitti to return to power when a suitable political coalition could be formed. However, the other liberal politicians worked against this and Mussolini masterfully played them against the elderly statesman who had earlier squelched the forces of D’Annunzio in Fiume as Prime Minister. He secretly promised his support to Facta, Nitti and Salandra against Giolitti or even against each other. Meanwhile, the old wartime premier Orlando had come out as a supporter of the Fascists, thinking them manageable and preferable to the alternative of a Marxist revolution. More and more people were doing the same and Giolitti himself took no action to try to form a government himself to offer as an alternative. Whether out of fear, indecisiveness or the presumption that all must eventually come running to him for salvation, who can say? The fact is that in this time when leadership was needed, Giolitti did nothing. The liberals who like to condemn the King for eventually appointing Mussolini Prime Minister never like to, and rarely are expected to, explain where their leaders were and what alternative they put forward at the crucial time.

Finally, when it became obvious that Facta was not up to meeting the crisis, Salandra agreed to form a government that would include Mussolini and would not include the elderly Giolitti. It was at that point, with Facta still in office, that the March on Rome began to shape. Ever since, anti-Fascists have condemned the King for not deploying the army to use force to stop the Blackshirts while the pro-Fascists like to ignore the issue and pretend that they couldn’t have been stopped. The King made it clear that the order to, effectively, desist from shooting down the Fascists was his and his alone but he never revealed his reasons for this. Personally, and this is a matter of opinion to take as you please, I cannot help but feel that memories of Milan could not have but played a part in his decision. In 1898 his father, King Umberto I, had deployed the army to put down riots in Milan sparked by radical socialists. There was bloodshed in the streets and the King was widely criticized for overreacting. His eventual assassination in 1900 by an anarchist, which brought Vittorio Emanuele III prematurely to the Italian throne, was done in retaliation for the violence in Milan. How could the King have known that he would ultimately be condemned for failing to do what others had condemned his own father for doing? It does seem reasonable to ask why King Umberto I should not have used force against socialists in Milan but that his son should have used force against Fascists in Rome. Why the double-standard?

In any event, those who take issue with the King refusing to shoot down his black-shirted subjects in the streets like to imply that if he had done so, that would have been the end of it. But, what about all the parts of the country already effectively under Fascist control? Who can say that the movement would have stopped then and there? How do we know that the communists would not have seized the opportunity to launch their revolution and take power for themselves? Remember that there was still no decisive liberal leadership to take control of the situation. Salandra had agreed to form a government but, upon seeking support from De Vecchi and Dino Grandi of the Fascist Party, was told that Mussolini would settle for nothing less than the premiership. Plenty in the army spoke up for the Fascists, the leading industrialists in Milan sent messages of support and so Salandra willingly stepped aside in favor of Mussolini who, it should also be remembered, was originally appointed by the King as simply Prime Minister of a coalition government in which the Fascists were not the majority.

Ultimately, the March on Rome was more of a Fascist victory parade than a bold seizure of power. Everything was worked out behind the scenes in political discussions rather than being settled by force in the streets. The King had tried to stick with the traditional, liberal ruling class but they were unable or unwilling to take action. He even tried to reach out to the moderate socialists only to have his hand slapped away. It is no exaggeration to say that, whether the King felt any sympathy for the Fascists or not, at the time they were simply the only alternative left to him and he should not be condemned for that, especially by the liberal elites who sat back and did nothing out of fear for their own positions or because they wanted to hold out for a better offer. The idea that the King and the Royal Family later came to be the scapegoats for the Fascist era and held solely to blame for the rule of Mussolini is both flagrantly dishonest and totally disgusting, especially considering the quarters such accusations usually come from. Those who are so quick to blame the King do so only because it is far too painful to blame themselves.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Teano - When South Joined North

On this day in 1860 King Vittorio Emanuele II and Giuseppe Garibaldi met at Teano where the north and south of Italy, for the first time since practically the fall of the Roman Empire, came together under one flag, under one monarch.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Palaces of the Savoy

Chateau de Chambery
(residents of the Dukes of Savoy, in what is now in France)

Palazzo Madama, Turin
(residence of Queen Christine Marie of France, regent for King
Carlo Emanuele II, later used by the Senate & High Court)

Palazzo Reale, Turin
(primary residence of the Kings of Piedmont-Sardinia)

Palazzo Carignano, Turin
(residence of the Savoy-Carignano branch of the Royal House)

Castello del Valentino, Turin
(former residence of Queen Marie Christine of France)

Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome
(primary residence of the Kings of Italy)