Umberto II of Italy Biography

King Umberto II of Italy was the last King of Italy and the last monarch of the nearly thousand years old House of Savoy. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, family life, achievements and fun facts about him.

Quick Facts

Nick Name: May King

Birthday: September 15, 1904

Nationality: Italian

Famous: Emperors & Kings Italian Men

Died At Age: 78

Sun Sign: Virgo

Also Known As: Umberto II, Umberto Nicola Tommaso Giovanni Maria di Savoia

Born Country: Italy

Born in: Castle of Racconigi, Racconigi, Italy

Famous as: King of Italy


Spouse/Ex-: Marie José of Belgium

father: Vittorio Emanuele III

mother: Elena of Montenegro

siblings: Giovanna of Italy, Princess Mafalda of Savoy, Princess Maria Francesca of Savoy, Princess Yolanda of Savoy

children: Maria Beatrice of Savoy, Prince of Naples, Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma, Vittorio Emanuele

Died on: March 18, 1983

place of death: Geneva, Switzerland

Cause of Death: Cancer

More Facts

awards: Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Knight of the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky
Order of the White Eagle

Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre
Order of Saint Anna
1st class
Order of the White Eagle
Order of Saint Stanislaus
1st class
Order of St. Alexander Nevsky
Order of Michael the Brave
Order of St. Andrew

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King Umberto II of Italy was the last King of Italy and the last monarch of the nearly thousand years old House of Savoy. He reigned only for 34 days from May 9, 1946 to June 12, 1946, for which he earned the moniker 'the May King'. However, he had been in power since 1944, when his reluctant father King Victor Emmanuel III was forced to transfer his constitutional powers to his son, who was considered as a better option than his father who was deeply influenced by Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. His father, who still retained the title of King, eventually abdicated the throne when a public opinion poll before the referendum on the abolition of the monarchy showed that the majority of the Italians wanted a republic. After losing his throne, Umberto was advised to use military force to prevent the formation of a republic, but he decided against inciting a civil war and lived the rest of his life in exile.

Childhood & Early Life
Sexuality & Marriage
  • Young Umberto II of Italy was known for keeping handsome young officers in his entourage and often seduced them with lavish gifts, which was later revealed by one of them, Enrico Montanari. He was close with French actor Jean Marais and the boxer Primo Carnera, and Luchino Visconti, an Italian film director and aristocrat, mentioned in his autobiography his homosexual relationship with the prince during the 1920s.
  • According to his biographers, the prince, being a devout catholic, was often tormented by his inability to resist the 'satanic' homosexual urges, and frequently prayed for forgiveness following his sexual adventures. Rumors about his homosexuality spread rapidly following the Second World War, which supposedly had the political agenda of influencing the post-war referendum on the monarchy.
  • On October 24, 1929, after his engagement to Princess Marie José of Belgium was announced, he was attacked by Fernando de Rosa while placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. While the gunshot missed him, the assailant was given a meager five-year sentence and was eventually pardoned by Umberto before he had served half of his sentence.
  • The marriage between Umberto and Marie José took place in the Pauline Chapel at the Quirinal Palace in Rome on January 8, 1930, and they were subsequently received by Pope Pius XI. Umberto spent the wedding night with his group of young men, and it is rumored that the prince, who took responsibility of designing the bride's dress, also wore it before his gay friends.
  • His wife gave birth to four children: Princess Maria Pia (born 1934), Prince Vittorio Emanuele (born 1937), Princess Maria Gabriella (born 1940) and Princess Maria Beatrice (born 1943). However, because the prince and the princess mostly lived separately, rumors spread that at least some of the children were fathered by Marshal Italo Balbo or were conceived via artificial insemination.
As Prince of Piedmont
  • Umberto II of Italy, in his capacity as Prince of Piedmont, visited several South American countries like Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile from July to September 1924. He visited Italian Somaliland twice, once in 1928, following the construction of the Mogadishu Cathedral, and again in October 1934.
  • While he usually avoided participating in politics during his father's reign, he did meet Adolf Hitler amidst global turmoil, following which he was further excluded from politics. He supported the war against Ethiopia in 1935, but despite his intentions, was barred from serving in the war himself by his father.
  • He was concerned about Prime Minister Benito Mussolini's decision to side with Germany during World War II, and attempted in vain to convince his father to block declaring war on Britain and France. He subsequently led Army Group West during Italy's failed attempt at invading France in 1940, and later took part in Operation Hercules, following which he was made Marshal of Italy.
  • After repeated defeats in Stalingrad and El Alamein, his cousin Prince Aimone visited British consulate in Geneva in late 1942 to send message to London that the King would sign an armistice with the Allies if allowed to keep his throne. His father, who was unwilling to abdicate the throne and put up unacceptable conditions for armistice, eventually decided to flee Rome facing German threat, a decision that Umberto vehemently criticized but reluctantly obeyed.
Regency & Reign
  • After the Allies freed Italy from the Salò regime, Umberto II of Italy became the primary choice over King Emmanuel, who was tainted by his support of Fascism and was forced to transfer his constitutional powers. While his father remained King, Umberto was named Lieutenant General of the Realm and began his rule as Regent, but was unpopular for his attempts to curb freedom to restrict criticism of his House.
  • While Umberto II was praised widely in the following years, a public opinion poll in April 1946 showed that most wanted Italy to become a republic, prompting his father to abdicate on May 9, 1946. In the June 2 referendum, 52% voted for a republic, which was formally proclaimed four days later, thus ending his 34-day-long reign and forcing Umberto to exile.
Later Life & Death
  • Umberto II of Italy settled in Cascais, Portugal, where he lived in exile for 37 years, and while he had practically separated from his wife, he often visited daughter Maria Beatrice in Mexico.
  • He wanted to return to Italy before death, but an attempt to grant him an 'extraordinary visa' was unsuccessful.
  • Umberto II died of cancer on 18 March 1983, in a Geneva clinic. He was interred in Hautecombe Abbey, which was for the burial place of the members of the House of Savoy.

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