Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
Birthday: November 11, 1869
Emperors & Kings
Died At Age: 78
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Born Country: Italy
Born in: Naples, Italy
Famous as: King of Italy
Height: 1.53 m
Spouse/Ex-: Elena of Montenegro
father: Umberto I of Italy
mother: Margherita of Savoy
children: Giovanna of Italy, Princess Mafalda of Savoy, Princess Maria Francesca of Savoy, Princess Yolanda of Savoy, Umberto II, Umberto II of Italy
Died on: December 28, 1947
place of death: Alexandria, Kingdom of Egypt
awards: Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Order of the Black Eagle
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Order of the White Eagle
Order of St. Olav
Order of Lāčplēsis
Order of St. Andrew
Victor Emmanuel III was a Savoy monarch who ruled over the Kingdom of Italy for over four decades, from 1900 to 1946. In addition, he was the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1936 to 1943 and the King of the Albanians from 1939 to 1943. He ascended the Italian throne following the assassination of his father, Umberto I, in July 1900. During his reign, Italy was part of two world wars. Because of this, he was given the nickname “Il Re soldato” or The Soldier King. He was also referred to as “Sciaboletta” or little sabre, as he was only 1.53 m (5 ft 0 in) tall. His tenure as the king also witnessed the birth, rise, and fall of Italian Fascism and its regime. Seventeen prime ministers served under him in Italy, including Benito Mussolini. To empower the monarchy against the eventually successful referendum to abolish it, he stepped down in favour of his son Umberto II. After Italy was declared a republic, Victor Emmanuel spent the remainder of his life in exile in Alexandria, Egypt.
Childhood & Early Life
Victor Emmanuel was born on November 11, 1869, in Naples, Kingdom of Italy, to Umberto I of Italy and Margherita of Savoy. He was his parents’ only son. Before his enthronement, his official title was the Prince of Naples.
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Marriage & Issues
Prince Victor Emmanuel exchanged wedding vows with Princess Elena of Montenegro on October 24, 1896. Elena was the daughter of King Nicholas I of Montenegro and his wife Milena. Following her marriage, she converted to Catholicism from Orthodoxy.
Victor Emmanuel and Elena had five children, four daughters, Yolanda Margherita Milena Elisabetta Romana Maria (1901–86), Mafalda Maria Elisabetta Anna Romana (1902–44), Giovanna Elisabetta Antonia Romana Maria (1907–2000), and Maria Francesca Anna Romana (1914–2001), and one son, Umberto Nicola Tommaso Giovanni Maria, later Umberto II, King of Italy (1904–83).
Coronation & Early Reign
Following the assassination of his father on July 29, 1900, Victor Emmanuel became the King of Italy at the age of 30. In the early years of his reign, going against the standards set by his predecessors, he proved himself to be a champion of constitutional government.
Despite the fact that Italy was governed by parliamentary rule, the king had substantial residual power at the time, allocated to him by the Statuto Albertino, or constitution. He was granted the rights to make an individual the prime minister even if that person did not possess majority support in the Chamber of Deputies.
Between 1900 and 1922, Victor Emmanuel appointed no less than 13 different prime ministers due to a turbulent political climate in Italy.
World War I
At the advent of World War I, Italy initially decided to remain neutral though they were one of the signatories of the Triple Alliance agreement. In 1915, after signing several secret treaties, Italy promised to join the war as an Allied Power. This caused political turmoil in Italy, as most of its politicians did not want to enter the war.
The Italian Chamber of Deputies compelled Prime Minister Antonio Salandra to submit his resignation. This was when King Victor Emmanuel stepped in, refusing to accept Salandra’s resignation and personally entering Italy into the war. The Statuto allowed him the right to do so.
A large section of the Italian public favoured the war. During this period, the king became extremely popular, especially because of his visits to various areas in northern Italy that had been subjected to repeated strikes and mortar hits.
After the end of the war, the king developed a disdain for the political bourgeoisie, whom he believed to be inefficient. He also blamed them for the widespread suffering in the country.
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World War I left Italy in a deep economic recession, which led to the upsurge of extremism among Italy’s downtrodden working class. Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party soon emerged the most prolific and dangerous among these groups.
During Mussolini’s 1922 March to Rome, the king declined to act against the fascists, voicing his reservation on the army’s capability of quashing the uprising without starting a civil war.
The king continued to refuse to involve the military to uproot the fascist elements in the country, despite being implored by the cabinet multiple times and assured by the military that they had the capability to do so.
He sent a telegram to the fascist leader, asking him to come to Rome. On 30 October 1922, Mussolini was made the President of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister).
The king was treated with respect and deference by Mussolini during their private meetings. In return, he helped the fascist leader consolidate his power in the country.
Like many of his subjects, he had been exhausted by the constant crises of the parliamentary government and believed that Mussolini, as a strong man, could instil order in the country. The king later refused to take any responsibility for Mussolini’s appointment as the prime minister.
Victor Emmanuel did not act against the fascist regime’s recurring abuses of power. In private, Mussolini expressed his disdain for the king, whom he regarded as "too diminutive for an Italy destined to greatness”. This was a jibe aimed at the king’s short stature.
The king refused to speak out during the winter of 1925–26 when Mussolini discarded all shams of democracy. He did not voice a word of dissent while signing the laws that revoked the rights to free speech, free press, and freedom of assembly and made the Fascist Party the only legal party in Italy. In the same year, Mussolini got a law approved that made him answerable only to the king and not to the parliament.
The king was known for his anti-clerical views. He was especially incensed by the Catholic Church denying the request of making Rome the capital of Italy. However, he understood that the Italian state needed the church’s approval for legitimacy and let Mussolini, acting on his behalf, sign the Lateran Treaty with the church in 1929.
After Italy annexed Ethiopia, he was crowned the Emperor of Ethiopia on May 9, 1936. He ascended the Albanian throne on April 16, 1939, following the Italian invasion of the country. After the defeat of Italy in World War II and its subsequent surrender to the Allied Powers, Victor Emmanuel gave up both his Ethiopian and Albanian titles.
Abolition of Monarchy
Like in World War I, Italy initially declared neutrality when World War II broke out, though Mussolini wanted to join the Axis Powers from the beginning. It was Victor Emmanuel’s adamant refusal to give his approval that prevented Italy from entering the war. Ultimately, his resolve weakened, and he gave his permission.
In July 1943, he dismissed Mussolini from his position as the prime minister. In September that year, he declared an armistice with the Allies. Still reeling from the destruction that the fascists and the war had brought, the Italians elected their country to be a republic during the 1946 institutional referendum.
Victor Emmanuel unsuccessfully tried to sway the public opinion by abdicating the throne in favour of his son, Umberto II.
Death & Interment
Victor Emmanuel fled to Alexandria, Kingdom of Egypt, with his wife, following the referendum. He passed away there on December 28, 1947. He was 78 years old at the time.
The former King was initially buried behind the altar of St Catherine's Cathedral in Alexandria. In 2017, his remains were brought back to Italy and reinterred beside those of his wife in the sanctuary of Vicoforte, near Turin.