Saturday, January 28, 2012

Italian Talent in World War II

It is a major injustice that the Royal Italian Armed Forces, particularly during World War II, are so often belittled despite their numerous victories and astounding accomplishments. Particularly in areas of technological innovation, Italian forces set many records in the air and at sea. It is often forgotten that it was the Italian military that was the first to use aircraft in combat, the first to develop the theory of strategic air warfare, the first to use tanks in desert combat, the first to make widespread use of armored vehicles and the first to achieve major success through the use of naval special forces. Of course, the Italian armed forces were hampered in many ways during the Second World War, they lacked a sufficient industrial support base, they were unprepared and often had to make do with substandard equipment. Nonetheless, many Italian soldiers, sailors and airmen displayed excellence on numerous occasions.

At sea probably no other commander of a fighting ship was so famous as Lieutenant Commander Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia who commanded numerous submarines, mostly in the North Atlantic but none so famous as the Leonardo da Vinci. He was from a noble family from Milan but moved to Genoa as a boy during the First World War and later joined the Regia Marina. He won numerous decorations during the battle of the Atlantic, winning the respect of friend and foe alike before he was killed in action in 1943. During his service he sank 10 Allied ships for a total of 90,000 tons, surpassing the records of most Allied submarine commanders. He and his last submarine were among the most successful outside of Germany in all of World War II. He won the Gold Medal of Military Valor from Italy and the Knights Iron Cross from Germany for his many successes.

In the air, probably the greatest was Major Adriano Visconti di Lampugnano who earned four silver and two bronze Medals of Military Valor. He was born in Tripoli (when Libya was part of the Italian colonial empire obviously) and joined the Regia Aeronautica (Royal Air Force) in 1936. During World War II he shot down some 26 Allied aircraft. There are some conflicting claims but he was probably the highest scoring Italian air ace of World War II. He won victories over North Africa, Malta, the Mediterranean and Italy itself during the chaotic period after 1943. He was never defeated in the air, surviving the war only to be murdered in 1945 by Russian communists serving with the partisans who he had surrendered to afterwards. To put this in perspective, only seven pilots of the vastly larger U.S. air forces had a higher score than Visconti. It should also be kept in mind that the US and UK air forces generally had much better aircraft than Italy had to work with.

In the area of land warfare, again, Italy was at a severe disadvantage yet still produced a number of great military commanders. One of these was Prince Amedeo Duke of Aosta who was the Governor-General of Italian East Africa when the war broke out. He was cut off from Italy, totally surrounded by enemy territory and yet he showed great skill, daring and leadership from the outset. Italian colonial forces under his command penetrated deep into the Sudan and Kenya before going on to conquer British Somaliland and Djibouti with no additional help from Italy or support from any other power. Being cut off, there was never much doubt that Italian East Africa would eventually fall and so it did in the face of a massive Allied counter-attack with French, Belgian, Indian and numerous other British colonial forces. However, Prince Amedeo conducted a brilliant defensive campaign before being overwhelmed. His skill and gallantry won the admiration of even his British enemies just as he had already earned the loyalty of the native population. Unfortunately, he died in a British POW camp before the war was over.

Another extremely effective Italian commander was Marshal Giovanni Messe who commanded the Italian army on the Russian front. Previously he had shown great promise in the conquest of Libya during the war with Turkey and helped develop the elite assault troops (Arditi) of the Italian army in World War I. He served with distinction in Ethiopia and Albania and defeated several counter-attacks during the invasion of Greece. After being posted to the Russian front, he won several victories over the Soviet forces, earning further promotion and decorations from both the Italian and German high commands. He was transferred only after clashing with Mussolini over the contribution Italy could adequately maintain (Messe ultimately being proven correct). After that he was posted to Tunisia which was a dire situation that even the famous German Marshal Rommel had already given up as hopeless. That was true, nonetheless, Messe won a number of victories in delaying actions, commanding both Italian and German troops before the war on the North African front was ended. After the 1943 armistice Marshal Messe, a loyal monarchist, commanded Italian forces in the co-belligerent army alongside the Allies until the end of the war.

The list could go on but I think the basic point is clear. Obviously, anything involving the Second World War is going to be controversial but the bravery and talent of the Royal Italian armed forces, who had nothing to do with politics and who were not responsible for the war or their involvement in it, should not be disregarded or belittled. Given the odds against them and the handicaps they suffered the Italian forces performed heroically on land, at sea and in the air throughout the conflict. They were also upright soldiers as illustrated in the close cooperation of Italian and African troops in the colonial army in East Africa, the Russian volunteers who joined their ranks to escape Soviet oppression or the gallant defense of the Greek island of Cephalonia after the armistice when the Germans moved in to occupy the place. They put politics aside and gave their lives to defend the innocent local people, regardless of the odds against them. Their skill and their courage deserve to be remembered.

Friday, January 27, 2012

King Carlo Alberto and Monaco

King Carlo Alberto
It was during the reign of HSH Prince Florestan, aided by his ever-diligent wife Princess Caroline, that the crisis over Menton and Roquebrune reached its height. The one royal figure on the other side of that crisis was HM King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont-Sardinia, head of the House of Savoy which held a partial protectorate over the Principality of Monaco since the Napoleonic Wars, including Menton and Roquebrune. When liberal outbursts began to sweep Europe, and the southern areas particularly, some royals tried to suppress the spread of such sentiments while others tried to get out in front of them. King Carlo Alberto tried to get out in front, perhaps belatedly, but quite successfully. It was a course of action that put him on a path to conflict with the Prince of Monaco. However, King Carlo Alberto was not quite the scheming man of ambition many of his enemies make him out to be. At the outset he was simply following the example seemingly being set by other monarchs and even the Holy Father in Rome. The difference was, having set out, he refused to change course. The two driving forces behind this movement were constitutional government and nationalism. This is the background.

Prince Florestan of Monaco
In 1846 His Holiness Pope Pius IX was elected to the Throne of St Peter and came with a reputation for being something of a liberal, a man known for the demands he had made for governments to care for their people and for his recognition of the people of the Italian peninsula as one nation. Naturally, liberals rejoiced when he was elected and further thrilled when he released from the prisons in Rome all of those jailed for sedition or revolution or any sort of what we would call political prisoners. He appointed progressives to positions of leadership and began the unheard of process of introducing constitutional government in the Papal States with a leadership made up entirely of laymen. King Carlo Alberto followed the example of the Pope and soon in the Principality of Monaco, particularly Menton, there were cheers for Pope Pius IX and King Carlo Alberto by those hoping for the same innovations to be handed down from their Prince. However, the Pope who was so celebrated by liberals and even Protestant governments eventually became horrified by the effects of his progressive changes and ultimately became known as one of the most ardently conservative or even reactionary of pontiffs.

King Carlo Alberto, on the other hand, did not change course. His convictions may have even been strengthened by the sight of the Pope being forced to flee Rome in disguise and then brought back only by the intervention of the French army. The King of Piedmont-Sardinia would stay on the more liberal track and came to be hailed by Italian nationalists as the one monarch who never betrayed them. This meant clashes with other crowned heads, most significantly the Austrian Hapsburgs rather than the relatively powerless Prince of Monaco but it would also mean that, in the end, the House of Savoy would become the Royal Family of the unified Kingdom of Italy in the not too distant future. So, King Carlo Alberto enacted many liberal changes, including constitutional government, a system which hearkened back to the Code Napoleon but which also modeled itself somewhat on the constitutional monarchy of Great Britain which seemed to work quite well. New rights and liberties were granted and troublesome elements in Menton seized on this to demand the same in the Principality of Monaco. Many residents, even in Monaco itself as late as the 1940’s, continued to think of themselves as Italians in ethnic terms and the nationalist drive toward creating an Italian nation-state had its supporters in the Principality of Monaco.

This put Prince Florestan in a terrible position. He was no reactionary himself and, indeed, Monaco would eventually put all the demanded changes into effect, but he did not want to see his country divided or taken over by a foreign power. The problem was that the power he most feared, Piedmont-Sardinia, was the only one he was supposed to appeal to for help. Charles Trenca, a leading liberal, was an early flashpoint. He had served the House of Grimaldi since 1819 and in 1841 he had been sent on a diplomatic mission to Turin along with the Duke of Valentinois (future Prince Charles III) and King Carlo Alberto had been impressed with him. On a subsequent mission the King chose him to act as go-between with the court in Monaco on the subject of annexing Monaco to Piedmont-Sardinia. Needless to say, Prince Florestan and Princess Caroline were less than impressed with this suggestion and Trenca was eventually dismissed for his plotting on behalf of Turin.

King Carlo Alberto had showed his hand and his desire to include Monaco or at the least Menton and Roquebrune in his kingdom was now known. However, the agitation in those areas only increased even after reforms were made and Prince Florestan had no choice but to appeal to the King for Piedmontese troops to restore order. When soldiers were dispatched under General Claudio Gonnet to Menton they were met by a crowd of citizens carrying a large bust of their own beloved King Carlo Alberto. They could not bring themselves to shoot down a mob cheering their own monarch and when the crowd approached, carrying the bust before them, they simply saluted the image of their King and allowed them to pass at which point the crowd burst into cheers. General Gonnet declared that there was no trouble in Menton and marched his troops on to Monaco to report as much to the Prince. This did not go over well at the palace and they assumed, probably correctly, that General Gonnet was on the side of the protestors in wishing for annexation.

When the Revolutions of 1848 swept Europe, Menton and Roquebrune declared their secession from Monaco as “Free Cities” when similar uprisings were breaking out across Italy. Within two years they would be formally placed under the protection of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. However, King Carlo Alberto would not live to see that. Following his defeat at the hands of the Austrians in the First Italian War for Independence, he abdicated in favor of his son, Vittorio Emanuele II, in 1849 and died later that same year. Piedmont-Sardinia would not hold the former Monegasque towns for long though. As we know, in 1860, as part of a treaty to gain French support for the unification of Italy by the House of Savoy, the County of Nice, with Menton and Roquebrune included, were ceded to the Second French Empire after a referendum, disputed by some as being less than honest. Nonetheless, aside from a brief period during World War II, Menton and Roquebrune have remained a part of France ever since then.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Carabinieri Reali

The Italian Royal Guard was formed from the famous Carabinieri Reali, the national, paramilitary police force of Italy, instantly recognizable by their lucerna tricorn hats, which they still wear to this day, though today only for ceremonial duties. The history of the Carabinieri can be traced back to King Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont-Sardinia in 1814. Within this organization was the Carabinieri Guardie which was an elite corps of royal body guards who stood watch at the royal residence in Rome and which protected the King on his travels. Like most royal guard units they also served as an active military unit in the major conflicts undertaken by the Kingdom of Italy. In World War I, for example, a unit was sent to augment the British forces fighting in Palestine. In 1868 the Corazzieri or Cuirassiers’ Regiment was formed to provide a mounted escort for the King, first of Sardinia, later of Italy, and the first group was chosen from the Carabinieri to form a mounted escort on the occasion of the marriage of the future King Umberto I to Princess Margherita of Savoy. They would also protect the King while on military campaigns and were recognized as the official royal guard in 1870 as the Carabinieri Guardie del Re. The unit was reestablished in 1946 after the abolition of the monarchy, given a quick change of certain symbols and entrusted with the protection of the President of the Italian Republic. Members of these forces can still be seen, their appearance largely unchanged since the time of the monarchy, providing escorts and carrying out guard duty at the Quirinal Palace. Today they are part of the Italian military.

Today the Carabinieri and the Curassiers wear basically the same uniform they did in the time of the monarchy, only with the symbols of the House of Savoy replaced with republican insignia.

Italian Tea Party

Who knew the Italians had started their own "Tea Party" movement? I certainly didn't but, even though I think Italy should look to the example of her own history rather than that of other countries, in the fiscal context I think it's good to see. Don't think I didn't notice that Confederate ensign down there on the table either. From the photos they have posted, the Italian Tea Party doesn't look like a very large group (which is to be expected) but it does look to be a very active and motivated group and that often counts for much more than numbers. The "Tea Party Italia" page on Facebook has 5,257 members as of this writing and they have their own web presence and a flickr photos page. It seems that have had a number of meetings, some public events and the like, all aimed at promoting the "Tea Party" principles in Italy.

I would not have favored the original American Tea Party but in this day and age I am pretty much behind their calls for fiscal responsibility, less government spending, lower taxes, more accountability and government that is smaller and more efficient rather than an all-expansive state trying to care for everyone from cradle to grave. I have no doubt that the financial ruin Italy currently finds herself in is due to the decades of big-government, socialism and state-run economies. I would prefer that their tricolore have a Savoy coat of arms in the middle but there is no bar against monarchists agreeing with the economic policies of the Tea Party. There are even monarchist libertarians in a number of countries that I know of. More economic freedom and personal responsibility seems to me to be something Italy would do well to try. The country has gone so far for so long in the opposite direction that a dramatic shift would probably do some good. It might also help the cause of national unity.

I'm sure not everyone would agree with that but if the areas of the south could no longer benefit from the prosperity of the north, everyone being responsible for their own welfare, it might make the north less restive and force the south to develop and adopt some policies that have brought prosperity to others but which they have been able to shrug off. And any group that puts the flag of Texas side-by-side with the Italian colors automatically looks good to me. For all the Italian libertarians out there I would remind you of just a few facts. It was King Vittorio Emanuele III who said that the Italian people were individualists and a republic would never serve them well (I think that has been proven true). Also, if the idea of private ownership is superior to public ownership (which I agree with), why should that principle not extend to the head of state as well? The libertarian principles argue for a monarchy since a King who will be passing the crown to his son has a vested interest in the success of the nation, he will take better care of it because it is "his" crown and his country rather than just some temporary office he holds on behalf of others (such as political parties and big business money lenders). So, think about that, slap a cross and crown on those flags and I will be proud to be with you all the way. W il Re! W Italia!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Iron Crown of Lombardy

It may not look like much compared to some others, but the Iron Crown of Lombardy is one of the most significant symbols of monarchy in western Christendom. It is called the “Iron Crown” because of a small, narrow strip of iron that circles the interior of the piece. What is significant about this is that, according to tradition, this circle of iron was beaten out from one of the nails used at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That is where the story of the Iron Crown begins. As with most of the relics association with Christ and the crucifixion the nail was said to have been found by St Helena and given to her son the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (the first Roman Emperor to be a Christian) who, so the story goes, later sent it to the Queen of the Lombards who were converted to Christianity. At some point the nail was incorporated into a crown though no one is sure exactly when. Some say Emperor Charlemagne was crowned King of the Lombards using the Iron Crown while others maintained it was not made until after his time. Kept in the Cathedral of Monza, near Milan, it was the most sacred and well known symbol of the Kingdom of the Lombards which grew up following the fall of Rome.

When the Holy Roman Empire was created the Kings of Germany would go to Rome to be crowned “Emperor of the Romans” by the Pope. On the way they would usually stop in Monza to be crowned “King of Italy” with the Iron Crown of Lombardy. Such famous historical monarchs as Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and Emperor Charles V were crowned with the Iron Crown of Lombardy. In 1805 Napoleon Bonaparte had himself crowned “King of Italy” with the Iron Crown of Lombardy, a title he placed second in importance only to that of “Emperor of the French”. Later he also founded the Order of the Iron Crown as the premier chivalric order of his new Italian realm. That order would be maintained even by the enemies of Napoleon. In the course of the Napoleonic Wars the area of Lombardy was annexed by the Empire of Austria and Emperor Francis I revived Napoleon’s Order of the Iron Crown as his own. The Emperor also took possession of the actual Iron Crown itself though he made no use of it. The last time it was to be used for a coronation would be in 1838.

Ferdinand I became Emperor of Austria in 1835. Prior to that time he had already been crowned King of Hungary in 1830. In 1838 he had his coronation, using the Iron Crown of Lombardy as King of Lombardy-Venetia, at that time a part of the Austrian Empire. Incidentally, he was also married to Maria Anna of Savoy, daughter of King Vittorio Emanuele I of Piedmont-Sardinia, giving him a further Italian connection. Ferdinand would also be the last monarch to be crowned King of Bohemia though his successors on the Hapsburg throne continued to use the title. When Ferdinand abdicated as Emperor of Austria the throne of Lombardy-Venetia along with the rest passed to his nephew Francis Joseph I. There was never another coronation with the Iron Crown and Francis Joseph appointed his brother, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, Viceroy of Lombardy-Venetia. He would be the last to hold that position.

The Iron Crown was featured on the Savoy arms
In the Second War of Italian Independence control of Lombardy passed to King Vittorio Emanuele II of Piedmont-Sardinia who, in 1861, became the first King of Italy. Before surrendering Lombardy the Austrians removed the Iron Crown from Milan and took it to Vienna, however, no one was to forget this ancient and sacred symbol of Italian kingship. In 1866 Austria was defeated in the Third Italian War of Independence (a parallel of the Austro-Prussian or Seven Weeks War) in which Venetia was ceded to the Kingdom of Italy. Also included in the peace stipulations was the return of the Iron Crown of Lombardy which was duly handed over to the House of Savoy and returned to its traditional resting place in Milan. The Savoy monarchs never had a coronation but the Iron Crown was used as a symbol, being carried in the funeral cortege of King Vittorio Emanuele II of Italy, probably to highlight his role in evicting the Austrians from northern Italy and uniting the country. The Iron Crown of Lombardy still rests in the Duomo of Monza in the outskirts of Milan (also known as the Basilica of St John the Baptist) along with a collection of historic Christian art and artifacts. The Crown, however, is by far the most famous of the pieces on display there.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Birth of Imperial Rome

It was on this day in 27 BC that Octavian Julius Caesar was officially voted the title of "Augustus" ('the Exalted') by the Senate and People of Rome. Thus today marks the 2039th birthday of the Roman Empire, the mother civilization of modern Europe and the western world.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Monarchist Quote

"A republican form of government is not suited to the Italian people. They are not prepared for it either tempermentally or historically. In a republic, every Italian would insist upon being president, and the result would be chaos. The only people who would profit would be the communists."
-HM King Vittorio Emanuele III

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Case for Monarchy in Italy

Today, the Italian Republic is in a terrible state. No one can deny that, though the political class will spend their time pointing the finger of blame at each other in order to save themselves. Perhaps though, looking back on the now 150 years of a united Italy, the people will instead look at the political class as a whole and the system itself which has brought Italy to this point. Politics in Italy has always been a rough business, from ancient Rome to the Renaissance states to modern Italy. However, in recent decades the situation has really gotten out of control. The situation has become so dire, some have even contemplated the potential dissolution of Italy as a nation, breaking up the country into several petty-republic. Usually, this involves blaming all current problems on events that took place centuries ago and which are, therefore, impossible to solve so everyone should just give up and go home in defeat. That might be seen as an easier path for some, but human experience has shown that the easy way is invariably the wrong way and even more harmful in the end. Taking an honest look at the current state of affairs, instituting reforms and, perhaps, correcting some of those past mistakes might not be easy but it just might save and restore the Italian nation. Some have said that Italy needs a “new Risorgimento” but, perhaps, Italy would be better served by simply re-learning the lessons of the Risorgimento she has already had? That was the creation of the Kingdom of Italy, which stands in stark contrast to one of the greatest mistakes of Italian history; the destruction of the monarchy.

Italy was created as a monarchy. In 1861 it was not the Italian Republic that was declared, but the Kingdom of Italy. There were good reasons that this was the case. Italians from all walks of life and from vastly different political points of view came together to create the Kingdom of Italy because they agreed on certain points. Not many, it is true, but points that were vital; the unity, independence and great aspirations of the Italian people. They may have disagreed on absolutely every other detail but they did all agree that the people of Italy should be united, independent and strong and that the Kingdom of Italy, the monarchy, was the only viable framework to accomplish that. Republican politics invariably devolved into class warfare and divisive, partisan rancor that brought down the edifice that the revolutionaries were endeavoring to create. Even the revolutionary Francesco Crispi, old ally of Giuseppe Garibaldi, who led the Expedition of the Thousand alongside him and who had been an ardent republican, embraced the Kingdom of Italy and rejected the republican model because, as he told his former colleague Giuseppe Mazzini, “The monarchy unites us, the republic would divide us”. The Kingdom of Italy was the roof under which all Italians came together and it was the Kingdom of Italy that rose to be a regional power and a player on the world stage.

The late King Vittorio Emanuele III once said, in a time of political turmoil, “In Italy they are already speaking about a republic, but keep in mind that there is nothing less suited to Italians … The Italians are individualists and a republic will become the cause of confusion and disorder. Certainly of corruption. I have no doubt of it. When all this comes to pass who will profit from it?” Surely today the Italian people can appreciate what true and prophetic words these were. And, surely Italians today can give an answer to their late king as to “who will profit from it”; the answer is the politicians who make up the ruling class, who have turned the government of Italy into a scheme for their own enrichment rather than the administration of the country. They have made themselves an immense fortune at the expense of their people and their country, setting Italians against each other, engaging in bribery on a national scale and selling out the national interests and even the national sovereignty of Italy all in order to benefit themselves and the ruling politician-class to which they aspire to belong. They have no real connection to the Italian nation at all. They do not see individuals, as the late King did, but simply a mass of people to be manipulated, used and exploited.

This stands in stark contrast to the Kings of Italy who were, one after the other, devoted to the pursuit of Italian greatness above all. They did so for the honor of their country, which would be the glory of the dynasty as well. This is one of the great benefits of the monarchial system. Politicians gain fame by gaining victories for themselves whereas monarchs take a much broader view, considering the judgment of posterity and gain fame when the country succeeds, when the country becomes greater, more respected and more prosperous. Naturally, some projects worked out better than others but the simple fact is that the Kings of Italy were always looking for a way to advance the national cause, to make Italy a greater country whereas, in the era of the republic, the political leadership only seeks to advance the cause of their own party and to make themselves greater even if it means the ruination of the country in the long run. Italy is in a dire position today and at a pivotal crossroads in the history of the Italian nation. The country is mired in debt, overrun with corrupt politicians who have made the government in Rome a joke, ruled by a bunch of un-elected appointees of the European Union, social cohesion is breaking down, there are fewer and fewer Italians in Italy and those who remain squabble over what it means to be Italian.

What would the great figures from the history of the Italian peninsula, of the Latin race, say if they could see Italy today? How would they react to the offspring of the people who built Western Civilization, who ruled and advanced the prosperity of an empire stretching from the Pillars of Hercules to the Euphrates and Hadrian’s Wall in Britain to the cataracts in Egypt being reduced to a divided state indebted to others and ruled by an elite clique appointed from beyond her borders? The Italian Republic has proven itself a failure. It was, due to the republican plebiscite, built on fraud and injustice from the start and has failed in even its most basic duty to preserve and protect the sovereignty and independence of the Italian nation, to say nothing of allowing the Italian people to reach their greatest potential. Italians, 150 years ago, came together, united by the monarchy, to build a great nation. There is no reason they cannot do so again. It was the safeguard that the royal institution provided which prevented extremism from fracturing the country and brought the majority of both sides of the political spectrum together, on the path of moderation, to pursue the national aspirations of the Italian people.

The lesson of history could not be more clear. From 1861 until the monarchy was sidelined by political forces, Italy was growing in strength at home and prestige abroad. Since the republic came to power the country has known only renunciation and decline. The Kingdom of Italy inspired and encouraged Italians to think the best of themselves and to aspire to better themselves; to be worthy of the great civilizations that had gone before them. The republican governments encourage Italians to belittle their country, apologize for any success and generally feel ashamed of themselves. Is it any wonder that when a people are taught to think in such a way that the country falls into decline? If great deeds are to be mocked or apologized for, who would ever aspire to greatness? If the only representatives of the nation are partisan political figures, who can inspire all people of every section of society to put their country first and strive for success? Someone outside of politics is needed for that, a national figure who can represent the interests of the nation as a whole, the historic legacy of the nation and who can rally the people to live up to that legacy. For the modern, united Italy, there is simply no denying that no family can do that other than the Royal House of Savoy. They have been with modern Italy at every step of her history. Their story is the Italian story and until Italy restores the monarchy it will remain a nation in denial.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Today in Italian Royal History

Umberto I, "the Good" became King of Italy. Under his reign the Kingdom of Italy was consolidated, Italy joined the "Triple Alliance" with Germany and Austria and Italian power expanded beyond her shores to the first Italian colony in Eritrea.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Marriage of Umberto II and Marie Jose

It was on this day in 1930 that HRH Princess Marie Jose of Belgium was given in marriage to HRH Prince Umberto of Piedmont in Rome. It was a major social event in Europe, particularly for southern and Catholic Europeans as Belgium and Italy represented two of the last Catholic monarchies in Europe at that time (thankfully Spain was later recovered) and the couple had long been considered two of the most attractive royals on the continent. It did not turn out to be a perfect match, but on this day in 1930, it was all happiness and joyful celebrations across Belgium and Italy.

Birthday of Queen Elena

It was today in 1873 that the late Elena of Montenegro, future Queen of Italy as consort to King Vittorio Emanuele III was born. Some thought the Principality of Montenegro rather remote to be the source of a royal bride for the House of Savoy but she was an excellent choice. She converted from Eastern Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism on her way over to Italy and due to her virtue, integrity and tireless charitable work is currently under review to consider her cause for beatification; the first step toward canonization and sainthood.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Italian Flag Day

Original flag of the Cispadane Republic
It was on this day, January 7, in 1797 that the XIV Parliament of the Cispadane Republic voted to make the green-white-red tricolore their official flag. Because of that, January 7 has long been celebrated as the official birthday of the modern Italian flag. The Cispadane Republic was founded in the wake of the conquests of Napoleon Bonaparte in northern Italy and was later merged with the (probably more well-known) Cisalpine Republic which adopted a modified version of the original tricolore similar to the one we know today. It was modified further when the Cisalpine Republic later became the Italian Republic and then the Kingdom of Italy (Napoleonic). The green-white-red tricolore later emerged again as the flag of Italian unity and nationalism during the Risorgimento, carried by the famous Red Shirts of Giuseppe Garibaldi. In 1848 it was officially adopted as the flag of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia by King Carlo Alberto with the addition of the royal coat of arms of the House of Savoy in the center. Similar versions of the tricolore were adopted by the other regions of Italy before all came to share the same national flag, for the first time, under the Kingdom of Italy of the House of Savoy in 1861. It was retained by both Mussolini's Italian Social Republic and, of course, the modern Italian Republic with the royal Savoy arms removed from the center.

Flag of the Cisalpine Republic
Flag of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy
Flag of the (Savoy) Kingdom of Italy
Flag of the Italian Social Republic
Flag (ensign) of the present Italian Republic

Monday, January 2, 2012

Amadeo I, the Italian King of Spain

Amongst all those who have worn the crown of Spain, mention King Amadeo I and you will probably be met with a denouncement or an insulting joke. Yet, few seem to really know very much about the monarch usually dismissed as, “the Italian”. He is, in general, not well regarded and yet, when asked precisely why that is, the best answer anyone can usually come up with was that he had no business being King of Spain in the first place. A valid point, yet it is partly that very point which makes me somewhat sympathetic toward the man simply because King Amadeo would probably have agreed with it. King Amadeo I is remembered in history for a number of reasons. He was the first and only prince of the House of Savoy to sit on the throne of Spain, his reign was one of the shortest in Spanish history and his downfall ushered in the First Spanish Republic. And it was all for a crown he did not particularly want. King Amadeo I may have been the unluckiest King of Spain and he was also probably the most reluctant. In many ways, his reign is an example of how far from practical reality ideas can be that look perfectly reasonable on paper.

The Italian prince who would be King of Spain was born on May 30, 1845 in Turin (then part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia), the second son of King Victor Emmanuel II (later the first King of Italy) and his wife Archduchess Adelaide of Austria. When he was born he was given the title of Duke of Aosta, the first to hold that title since 1802. He had a fairly normal upbringing for a prince of the House of Savoy with an education that tended to favor duty, destiny and the heroic legacy of the Royal Family above all other subjects. In 1867, with the Kingdom of Italy having been created, it was decided that it was time for him to marry. Not unusually he had very little say in the matter. His father wanted him wed to a German princess for political reasons (France having gone cold, Prussia was being looked to as an ally against Austria) but that proved difficult and Francesco Cassins finally persuaded the King to accept Donna Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo (a daughter of the Piedmontese aristocracy) as a bride for his second son, despite not being of royal rank. So, on May 30, 1867 the two were married.

Meanwhile, across the Mediterranean in Spain, revolution was afoot. Ever since the accession of Queen Isabella II the country had been torn by civil war. Three factions emerged over the course of her reign; the Carlists who favored the royal line of the late King Fernando VII’s brother Don Carlos, the moderates who backed Isabella II and the revolutionaries who wanted to do away with the monarchy altogether. The Carlists were defeated in a series of civil wars and the revolutionaries were kept somewhat contented by movement to the left but Queen Isabella II eventually alienated her moderate supporters. She proved too Catholic and autocratic for their tastes (as well as having other problems) and in the end she was too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals. In September of 1868 the Queen was deposed and sent into exile by a group of liberal officers led by General Juan Prim (who had earlier led the Spanish contingent in the punitive expedition against Mexico alongside France and Britain which ultimately resulted in the short-lived monarchy of Maximilian). General Prim began looking for a candidate for the Spanish throne but had little luck.

The Cortes voted, by a considerable margin, that a monarchy was preferable to a republic but finding the right king proved difficult. Marshal Francisco Serrano was chosen as regent while General Prim cast about for someone to accept the crown of Spain. Dom Fernando, former King of Portugal, turned down the offer. Marshal Espartero, former Prime Minister, likewise turned down the throne and when the 15-year-old Duke of Genoa was approached with the offer his mother rejected it on his behalf on the grounds that Spain was too dangerous. It was not exactly an enticing prospect considering the many civil wars Spain had gone through, how bitterly divided against each other the Spanish people were and few royals would be eager to settle on a country that had just driven out their last monarch. The Prussian Prince Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was next approached and not only were the Prussians not interested, the French objected to the very idea of a Prussian on the throne of Spain and the offer helped set off the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Finally, someone suggested Prince Amadeus, Duke of Aosta, second son of the King of Italy.

Prince Amadeus was not attracted by the offer and was inclined to turn it down. Yet, his father, King Victor Emmanuel II, urged him to accept. He thought it would be great to have the House of Savoy reigning over Spain and Italy and envisioned his son restoring Spain to her former glory but this time as a more “modern” liberal constitutional monarchy, moderate and reasonable with no extremism from the left or the right. As he had done in Italy, surely his son could do in Spain, and wouldn’t it be glorious for Savoy kings to hold sway over the western and central Mediterranean areas? Amadeus was still less than impressed and preferred to remain in Italy pursuing his own pleasure than venturing off to a war-torn and notoriously temperamental country with which he had no connection and about which he knew practically nothing. However, his father was persuasive and the Spanish government was somewhat impatient as well, quickly running out of options and hoping to establish a new Royal Family before either the Carlists rebelled again or the revolutionaries started swaying people toward a republic. The Spanish Council of Ministers made their formal proposal and on October 19, 1870 Prince Amadeus agreed. On November 16, 1870 the Spanish Cortes formally voted on the election of the Italian prince to become King of Spain. 193 favored the Duke, 64 favored a republic and 22 favored another candidate. The issue was settled. It seemed.

The King pays his respects to General Prim
The Duke of Aosta, now King-elect, sailed for Spain in late December and there were bad omens from the start. Upon his arrival he learned that his chief supporter, General Juan Prim, had been assassinated. On January 2, 1871 there was a blinding snowstorm blowing when he arrived in Madrid to formally take his oath and be sworn in as His Catholic Majesty King Amadeo I of Spain. Like his father, King Amadeo was a man of simple tastes with no great love for pomp and splendor. When shown about the vast royal palace and informed that he, his wife and two sons were to each have separate households, the King informed them in no uncertain terms that he would stay with his family -and that was that. He set about his task with energy and determination, living in very humble surroundings, tackling the pressing issues of his state while his wife the Queen busied herself with charitable causes in Madrid. Some close to him were impressed by his calm determination to do his duty, make his father proud, and restore some luster to the Kingdom of Spain. For many, however, he was from the very first a figure of fun. His lack of knowledge of Spanish history and culture were laughed at and upper class Spaniards took to calling their new Italian monarch the “Intruder King” while the lower classes referred to him as “King Macaroni”.

Some disliked him simply because he was an Italian, a foreigner, while others had less nationalistic but more political reasons. The Carlists, naturally, would never support him as they would support no one but their own pretender to the throne and the revolutionaries, just as naturally, would never support him either as they would never support any monarch at all. His only base of support were the moderate progressives and even they were becoming more and more divided. King Amadeo did his best to come to an understanding of his new country, rising at six every morning to read the papers, including Carlist and republican periodicals, never spending more than an hour at meals, no matter how prominent the dinner guests and endeavoring to be as frugal as possible while still being generous to those in need. He paid the pensions of the household of the deposed Isabella II (which surprised many) and gave an average of $17,500 per month to charity. His tours around the country, in the past always a state expense, were always paid from his private funds.

Foreign observers remarked very favorably on the new royal couple. The Queen was intelligent, good-natured and compassionate while the King was dutiful, practical, hard working and tactful. It was also noted that, while he never took the pledge, he avoided alcohol and only ever drank water. The honest, however, could not ignore the looming obstacles that stood in the way of the King and Queen no matter how much they admired the pair personally. Periodic Carlist rebellions continued to break out, revolutionaries poured scorn on the very idea of a monarchy, money was scarce, the politicians bickering and often corrupt and in the Caribbean island of Cuba, Spain’s beloved “Pearl of the Antilles” there were growing calls for independence and an increasingly covetous gaze coming from the United States. Even the moderate progressives, the closest thing King Amadeo had to a core of support, began to tear each other apart. Many had risen to office during the reign of Isabella II through courting favors, buying and selling influence and rigging elections and the result was an overall low caliber of public servants who occupied the transitory offices of government.

In 1872 bitterness between the progressive factions reached a zenith and the foundation of the new Spanish Savoy monarchy began to crumble from beneath the feet of Amadeo I. In Basque and Catalan the Carlists rose up again in another rebellion and revolutionary republicans began to take to the streets in cities across Spain, starting out as protests but quickly turning into violent riots. The army proved to be as divided as the other segments of society and when the artillery corps went on strike, at such a critical time, the suddenly alarmed government demanded that King Amadeo do something about it. With two-thirds of the country against him, members of the remaining third were calling on him to start shooting down his adopted people. King Amadeo finally determined that he had had enough. He had not come to Spain for this. In the chance that it would do some good he ordered the artillery to return to duty and then, on February 11, 1873 turned in his formal abdication to the government. In his parting speech before the Cortes an exasperated ex-King Amadeo famously declared the Spanish people to be ungovernable and walked out. Later that night the First Spanish Republic was formally declared.

A thoroughly disgusted Amadeus was relieved to return to his native Italy and become Duke of Aosta again. If the Spanish were glad to see him go, they were probably still not so glad as he was to leave. He probably felt somewhat betrayed and he had reason to. His last Prime Minister later became one of the most ardent and troublesome republicans in Spain, which would suggest that he was less than fully committed to his sovereign. He was told he had been brought to Spain to lead a free and liberal constitutional monarchy, yet many of his supposed supporters turned against him when he refused to grant them dictatorial powers to deal with their enemies. The impossibility of the situation he faced comes into even clearer focus considering that the First Spanish Republic that replaced him lasted less than a year and was torn by three simultaneous civil wars and a revolution in Cuba. In the end, a ‘compromise monarchy’ was restored in the person of King Alfonso XII, son of the still disliked Isabella II. Prince Amadeus, Duke of Aosta, former King of Spain, contented himself with a much more peaceful life in Turin.

The marriage of Amadeus and Princess Maria Vittoria had not been without its problems. The Duke was not always a faithful husband and when Maria Vittoria once complained to her father-in-law about it (himself not a man of pristine marital fidelity) she was told more or less that it was not her place to judge her husband and not to make a fuss. Hardly romantic, but the two seemed to settle down and get along well enough and become an effective partnership. They had three sons, the last born the same year they left Spain. The trauma of that event, the stress of the political situation and the arduous journey all conspired to take the life of the former Queen of Spain. Later, Prince Amadeo married his niece, Princess Maria Letizia Bonaparte, by whom he had one more son in 1889. When Amadeus had first returned to Italy he was given a rapturous welcome but his marriage to his niece, who was some 22 years younger than he, caused a scandal. Most agreed that Prince Amadeus loved the girl but that the Princess was marrying simply to get away from the rule of her mother. The appropriate papal dispensation was obtained but Pope Leo XIII later declared that such dispensations were, from that time on, strictly a thing of the past.

The Bonaparte family was happy enough with the marriage as it put their name on the front page of every newspaper in Europe and marked the first time since 1859 that a Bonaparte had married a member of a reigning Royal Family. Interest in the late French Empire resurged in France and some news sheets commented that a restoration of the Napoleonic government might have been possible. This was certainly not the first time such royal relatives married, and his second marriage is not something most remember about former King Amadeo I, but regardless of how many strange royal unions one may know about -it’s just rather creepy. However, for the Duke of Aosta, his life as a newly remarried man was not to last long. Less than two years after his wedding, at the age of only 44, he died in Turin on January 18, 1890 at the Royal Palace. His descendants would go on to great fame in several instances, and of course they are still around today but the first Duke of Aosta will probably always be most remembered for his brief stint as the one and only Savoy King of Spain.

As we have already stated, history has not tended to be kind to King Amadeo I. Still today, more often than not, he is regarded with derision even though there were many glowing accounts of his efforts under the most difficult of circumstances at the time. Personally, I cannot help but have sympathy for King Amadeo I. Of course he had no genealogical right or claim to the Spanish throne but neither did any of the other candidates under consideration and as odd as some might find the idea of an Italian King of Spain, it is certainly less odd than the idea of a Prussian King of Spain which was also considered. Were he truly an invader or an actual usurper himself I would certainly have a less tolerant view. However, Amadeo I had not sought to become King of Spain, was not at all attracted to the notion and had to be persuaded against his better judgment to accept the position. He inherited a country in the midst of one crisis after another, set in motion many, many years before his arrival, none of which he was responsible for starting and yet which he was expected to deal with. He made a respectable effort to succeed in what was clearly a hopeless situation and refused to break his oath to the constitution and refused to maintain himself by slaughtering his subjects. I cannot blame him for becoming King of Spain, I can only blame the government that imported him. That decision having been made, I can only admire him for doing his best to make the best of a bad situation and place blame on the figures that went before him for reducing Spain to such a state that such a course of action ever arose.