Childhood & Early Life
Victor Emmanuel II of Italy was born on March 14, 1820, at Palazzo Carignano in Turin, Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to Charles Albert, Prince of Carignano, and Maria Theresa of Austria. He spent much of his youth in Florence where he showed more interest in physical activities than studying books and often participated in fencing and military training.
He was 11 years old when his father inherited the throne of Sardinia-Piedmont in 1831, following the death of his distant cousin Charles Felix. He subsequently became known as the Duke of Savoy up until his coronation.
In 1848, he fought at the front line at the battles of Pastrengo, Santa Lucia, Goito and Custoza during the First Italian War of Independence when his father marched against the Imperial Austrian army.
His father was defeated at the Battle of Novara in 1849 after being abandoned by Pope Pius IX and Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, following which he abdicated the throne in his son's favor.
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Victor Emmanuel II of Italy was crowned the King of Sardinia-Piedmont on March 23, 1849. The following day, he agreed to an armistice with the great general Joseph Radetzky von Radetz at Vignale, the terms of which were more favorable than previously offered.
He rejected Austrian offer of more territory for renouncing the 'Albertine Statute', the constitution that his father had conceded to the Kingdom of Italy a year earlier. He also made sure that amnesty was granted to all Lombards who had revolted against their Austrian rulers, with both decisions costing him dearly.
The treaty, however, was not ratified by the Chamber of Deputies, which prompted him to replace Prime Minister Claudio Gabriele de Launay with Massimo D'Azeglio. He also faced a revolt in Genoa in 1849, which he crushed with a strong hand, labeling the rebels a "vile and infected race of canailles".
In 1852, he made Count Camillo Benso of Cavour, a political mastermind, the Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia. He was the face of Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement, during the 1850s and 1860s because he respected the new constitution and introduced several liberal reforms.
He convinced Cavour to join the alliance of Britain and France against Russia in the Crimean War, and when the war concluded, was able to seek support from both the nations. In a secret meeting with Napoleon III of France in 1858, Cavour secured help from France against Austria in northern Italy in exchange for the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice.
In 1859, Victor Emmanuel launched a joint campaign with the France against Austria during the Second Italian War of Independence and achieved initial success in battles at Palestro, Montebello, Magenta, and Solferino. However, Napoleon III, worried about the mobilization of Prussian troops, secretly signed the Treaty of Zurich with Austria that awarded Lombardy to Piedmont, but at a major setback, allowed Austria to keep Venetia.
Due to the fact that the treaty happened without the knowledge of the Piedmontese, Cavour had to resign from his post. He was later reinstated as the Prime Minister and the conditional secession of Nice and Savoy to France, provided that the population consented to it, was settled at the Treaty of Turin in March 1860.
In 1860-61, he supported the 'Expedition of the Thousand' led by Italian general and nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi, against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. While he stopped Garibaldi from launching an offensive against Rome, protected by the French, the local plebiscites of Tuscany, Modena, Parma and Romagna voluntarily joined with Sardinia-Piedmont.
He achieved victory over the Papal forces at the battle of Castelfidardo in late 1860 and the corps of thousand volunteers was successful in merging Naples and Sicily into the Kingdom of Sardinia. After he received control of southern Italy from Garibaldi in Teano, he was proclaimed the first King of Italy by the new unified parliament on March 17, 1861.
In the late 1860s, despite setbacks in Italy, he took advantage of advancements of the Prussian army against Austria and France to seize control of Veneto and Rome during the Third Italian War of Independence. With the unification complete, he moved to Rome in 1870 and set up capital there in 1871, spending the rest of his reign in tackling various cultural and economic issues.
Marriages & Mistresses
On April 12, 1842, 22-year-old Victor Emmanuel II of Italy married his 19-year-old first cousin Adelaide of Austria. The marriage was arranged with the aim of strengthening relations between the Houses of Savoy and Habsburg, but some feared that the future king might be influenced by Austria.
They were married for 13 years until her untimely death in January 1855, during which time she bore him eight children, four of whom grew old enough to marry. During the time he was married to his loving and pious wife, he was also involved in several extramarital affairs.
He had a long relationship with his mistress Rosa Vercellana, a.k.a. La Bela Rosin, which caused a major controversy when he was crowned King of Sardinia in 1949. He named her Countess of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda after his wife's death, and falling ill in 1869, he hurriedly married her, but this being a morganatic marriage, she was never recognized as Queen.
He had two more children from his second marriage, and at least half a dozen more with various other mistresses. One of his mistresses, Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, who was also the mistress of Napoleon III, had pleaded the cause of Italian unity with the French King.