Wednesday, December 14, 2011
King Umberto II
In keeping with Italian tradition, Prince Umberto stayed strictly out of political matters. He was expected to deal with those when he became king and not a day before. Nonetheless, Mussolini was wary enough of him to keep him closely watched and under tight control. Aside from the usual royal engagements Prince Umberto was mostly kept busy with his military career becoming commander of the Northern Armies and later of the Southern Armies. He was a good soldier, despite some claims to the contrary, but was kept from active service in most campaigns by the government, due both to concerns over his security as well as (perhaps even more so) worries that he was insufficiently supportive of the fascist regime. Nonetheless, he could not be ignored and in 1942, with the Second World War well under way, he was promoted to the rank of Marshal of Italy. However, by that time it was all too clear that the war was going against Italy.
However, the Germans quickly occupied northern Italy while the Allies moved into the south. The King was urged by others in the House of Savoy to step aside as many considered him tainted for having been so long associated with the old fascist regime. Torn between what he regarded as his sacred duty and the practical reality of the situation the King declined to abdicate but stepped aside from political affairs in favor of Prince Umberto, naming him Lieutenant General of the Realm with full power to act in his name. The King then left for what he hoped would be a temporary relocation to Egypt where King Farouk had been friendly toward the Italians and had a rather tense relationship with the British. In his absence Prince Umberto won praise from every quarter for his astute handling of the situation, cooperation with the Allies and continued resistance to the German occupation and the fascist puppet-state set up in the north by Mussolini following his rescue by Nazi special forces.
Within weeks a referendum was held on the abolition of the monarchy. King Vittorio Emanuele III had once said that no nation was less suited for a republic than Italy and the referendum which created the Italian Republic was enough to prove his words prophetic. The entire process made a farce of the democratic concept. Voters were intimidated, poll numbers skewed and the decision announced before all the votes had even been counted. Indeed, many had been prevented from casting a vote and disenfranchisement was worst in the south where monarchist sentiment was the strongest. Nonetheless, the powers that be had spoken and on June 12, 1946 the Savoy reign and the Kingdom of Italy came to an end.