Sunday, September 15, 2013
Prince Vittorio Emanuele, Count of Turin
During this battle, unfamiliarity with the terrain and misinformation provided by guides in the pay of the enemy, led a small Italian colonial column of 18,000 troops (mostly African natives with Italian officers) to become separated and then attacked piecemeal and overwhelmed by a massive Ethiopian army of well over 100,000. In the aftermath, many of the survivors on the Italian side were massacred and/or tortured and mutilated. Those who were taken prisoner were not released at the close of hostilities but held for ransom (which was paid secretly by King Umberto I of Italy to the Ethiopian Emperor). It horrified public opinion in Italy and brought down the government of the long-time political powerhouse Francesco Crispi (a proud and ambitious veteran of “The Thousand”). Now, enter Prince Henri of Orleans. Throughout his life Prince Henri had proven himself to be a bold and intrepid traveler as well as a condescending man. He was most known for being an inveterate Anglophobe, writing and uttering many a diatribe insulting and condemning Great Britain in the harshest terms. Yet, oddly enough, the British seemed to celebrate him in spite of that. He would learn that Italians responded quite differently to being insulted.
The time and place were decided; August 15, 1897 in Vaucresson at Versailles. The weapon chosen was the sword since, even though the French preferred to duel with pistols, the Italians felt this unworthy of princes deciding a matter of honor. In Italy, pistols were used by cuckolded husbands while nobles and the high born settled differences with the saber. So, at five o’clock in the morning, it began with the duel being supervised by Count Leontieff and Count Avogadro in the Bois de Marchechaux. The two had at each other and after five reprises the Count of Turin was victorious, inflicting a wound on Prince Henri’s abdomen that the doctors of both parties deemed serious enough to put the Prince at a disadvantage and so the match was awarded to the Count of Turin. All of Europe was rather enthralled by this showdown that seemed like a throwback to centuries past. In Italy, however, the Count of Turin became a national hero instantly and was celebrated across the country for his victory and for standing up for Italian honor. When he returned to his homeland he was met in Turin by King Umberto I who said, “I want to be the first to congratulate you with all my heart on the example you set and the success you scored.”