Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Savoy Family Foreign Policy

The original focus of foreign policy for the newly born (or newly restored) Kingdom of Italy was, naturally, first on the recovery of the remaining Italian territory still under foreign rule and, as part of that drive, the recovery of the historic capital of Rome which was occupied by French troops. However, King Victor Emmanuel II was a man of restless energy, grand aspirations and ambition. Naturally, he wanted to restore all of “unredeemed Italy” but he also looked beyond the Italian borders towards the creation of a dynastic alliance of Mediterranean countries linked by the House of Savoy. To the end of his life he was also yearning for military adventure such as in the Balkans against the tottering Ottoman Empire of Turkey and, like many Italians, sympathized with the Greeks who were fighting for their independence from centuries of Turkish domination. That never came to be but he was able to at least make an effort to advance his goal of a dynastic alliance across the nations of the former Roman Empire through the lives of his children. This was a game royal houses had played since time immemorial.

In 1859 the King, in what was a great sacrifice, arranged the marriage of his daughter Princess Maria Clotilde to Prince Napoleon Joseph Bonaparte. This, combined with ceding certain territories, including the Savoy heartland, to France in exchange for the assistance of Napoleon III in the war to reclaim northern Italy from Austrian rule. Yet, there was also more long-term goals in mind with this marriage. Ultimately, Prince Napoleon Joseph would become the senior member of the Bonaparte family and Princess Maria Clotilde would have been placed to cement Franco-Italian ties and Savoy influence in Paris. However, as we know, it all came to nothing as the French Second Empire ultimately fell and Napoleon III himself disinherited Prince Napoleon Joseph. There were also growing tensions between France and Italy over their stopping short in the campaign against Austria and the occupation of Rome with French troops. In the end, King Victor Emmanuel II would send Crispi to try to arrange a war alliance with Germany against Austria and France so Italy could regain territories lost to the French and lands still held by Austria populated by Italians but Bismarck rejected the proposal.

In 1862 the King arranged the marriage of his daughter Princess Maria Pia to King Luis I of Portugal. This was a match that worked out very well. The two were much in love at first, though the King’s numerous infidelities later alienated him from his Italian wife. However, Queen Maria Pia was very popular in Portugal, known for her great care of the poor and the Savoy queen consort, later queen dowager, was the basis of a lasting, informal, friendship between Italy and Portugal. With the long-standing alliance of Great Britain and Portugal, combined with the Italian policy of maintaining good relations with the British Empire for security in the Mediterranean, this fit together quite well. In the person of Queen Maria Pia, the House of Savoy maintained a beloved presence at the court in Lisbon for as long as the Portuguese monarchy existed. When the Kingdom of Portugal was overthrown in 1910 the Queen Dowager Maria Pia was forced to go into exile with the rest of the Portuguese Royal Family and died the following year in Italy.

The same year that Princess Maria Pia was married to the King of Portugal, a prince of the House of Savoy was in the running for the throne of another country. Italian volunteers had long given assistance to the struggling Greeks in their fight for independence from Muslim domination. When an independent Greece was finally restored, it was originally a republic, which did not last long and later, with the intervention of the Great Powers in favor of the Greeks, it was decided that the country would be a monarchy. King Victor Emmanuel II thought his second son, Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, would make a fine King of Greece and could play an important part in this dynastic alliance of countries with prominent Savoy royals. A referendum was held in November of 1862 and the Duke of Aosta was in the running but did not win. In the end, none of the top choices were acceptable to the Great Powers and so the Greek crown finally passed to Prince William of Denmark.

However, King Victor Emmanuel II was not done trying to find a throne for the Duke of Aosta. In 1868 the Spanish overthrew Queen Isabella II and sent her into exile after which they began to shop around for a new monarch. It was this search which helped spark the Franco-Prussian War. With another French or German monarch off the table, the King of Italy pushed his second son to step forward as a candidate. The Duke of Genoa was the first that the Spanish showed interest in but his mother refused to allow that and so later their attention fell on the Duke of Aosta. King Victor Emmanuel II was pleased but his son rather less so. At the end of 1870 the Duke of Aosta was elected King of Spain, taking the oath the following year. However, the hoped for family ties came undone rapidly, to the consternation of the King. The Franco-Prussian War saw the downfall of Emperor Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II sent a courtier to bring his beloved daughter home, rescuing her from the chaos of the communards. However, this was overshadowed by the withdrawal of the last foreign troops on Italian soil, the French garrison in Rome, and the Eternal City once more became the capital of a united Italian peninsula. But, over in Spain, King Amadeo I was finding nothing but frustration.

In some ways, the brief Savoy reign over the “Land of the Setting Sun” was the decisive period in determining whether any vestige of the once vast Spanish empire remained in the world. A short time earlier, in 1868, the first uprising in Cuba in favor of independence was launched, starting the conflict that would eventually attract the sympathy of the United States and end in the Spanish-American War and the sale of Cuba, Puerto Rico and other colonial outposts to the USA. This was the time to stop such separatist movements before they got out of hand and King Amadeo I tried to do so but, as in the past, republican conspiracies and another Carlist uprising at home prevented the hard-pressed Spanish army from focusing fully on defending what was left of the empire (the Third Carlist War of 1872). With his own supporters turning against each other and a growing republican movement that benefited from the many Spaniards who were tired of the bickering royalists and their seemingly endless civil wars, King Amadeo became a source of unity only in that everyone seemed to be opposed to him for one reason or another. In February of 1873 he finally declared Spain ungovernable and abdicated, returning to a much happier life in Italy. With France and Spain having rejected monarchy and embraced republicanism, the only remnant of King Victor Emmanuel’s dynastic foreign policy was the Queen of Portugal.

To the very end of his life, the restless King hoped to achieve some greater glory and embellishment for his country. He is said to have told Paget, the British ambassador, that he had proposed to the Austrian and German emperors that he be given a free hand to invade Turkey, overthrow the Sultan and deport him back to his ancestral lands in Central Asia after which all the major powers could join in the partition of the Ottoman Empire, with everyone, happily, being given all they wanted. Paget did not take this seriously but the King continued to bring it up, saying that with 200,000 Italian soldiers he could solve all the ‘eastern problems’ with a single blow and Britain could benefit by annexing Egypt in the process. He became positively alarmed when he found that the King of Italy had mentioned such plans to the Russians who seemed rather positive about the idea, at a time when Britain and Russia had a fairly heavy rivalry going on. However, such aspirations were thwarted, ultimately by Bismarck and the Germans who began to put together what became the “Central Powers” of Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary but in what would be a defensive alliance only. So, there would be no Balkan adventure for King Victor Emmanuel II who finally ceased his restlessness with his death in 1878.

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