1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Victor Emmanuel II.
VICTOR EMMANUEL II. (1820-1878), king of Sardinia and first king of Italy, was born at Turin on the 14th of March 1820, and was the son of Charles Albert, prince of Savoy-Carignano, who became king of Sardinia in 1831. Brought up in the bigoted and chilling atmosphere of the Piedmontese court, he received a rigid military and religious training, but little intellectual education. In 1842 he was married to Adelaide, daughter of the Austrian Archduke Rainer, as the king desired at that time to improve his relations with Austria. The young couple led a somewhat dreary life, hidebound by court etiquette, which Victor Emmanuel hated. He played no part in politics during his father's lifetime, but took an active interest in military matters. When the war with Austria broke out in 1848, he was delighted at the prospect of distinguishing himself, and was given the command of a division. At Goito he was slightly wounded and displayed great bravery, and after Custozza defended the rearguard to the last (25th of July 1848). In the campaign of March 1849 he commanded the same division. After the disastrous defeat at Novara on the 23rd of March, Charles Albert, having rejected the peace terms offered by the Austrian field-marshal Radetzky, abdicated in favour of his son, and withdrew to a monastery in Portugal, where he died a few months later. Victor Emmanuel repaired to Radetzky's camp, where he was received with every sign of respect, and the field-marshal offered not only to waive the claim that Austria should occupy a part of Piedmont, but to give him an extension of territory, provided he revoked the constitution and substituted the old blue Piedmontese flag for the Italian tricolour, which savoured too much of revolution. But although the young king had not yet sworn to observe the charter, and in any case the other Italian princes had all violated their constitutional promises, he rejected the offer. Consequently he had to agree to the temporary Austrian occupation of the territory comprised within the Po, the Sesia and the Ticino, and of half the citadel of Alessandria, to disband his Lombard, Polish and Hungarian volunteers, and to withdraw his fleet from the Adriatic; but he secured an amnesty for all the Lombards compromised in the recent revolution, having even threatened to go to war again if it were not granted. It was the maintenance of the constitution in the face of the overwhelming tide of reaction that established his position as the champion of Italian freedom and earned him the sobriquet of Rè Galantuomo (the honest king). But the task entrusted to him was a most difficult one: the army disorganized, the treasury empty, the people despondent if not actively disloyal, and he himself reviled, misunderstood, and, like his father, accused of treachery. Parliament having rejected the peace treaty, the king dissolved the assembly, in the famous proclamation from Moncalieri he appealed to the people's loyalty, and the new Chamber ratified the treaty (9th of January 1850). This same year, Cavour (q.v.) was appointed minister of agriculture in D'Azeglio's cabinet, and in 1852, after the fall of the latter, he became prime minister, a post which with brief interruptions he held until his death.
In having Cavour as his chief adviser Victor Emmanuel was most fortunate, and but for that statesman’s astounding diplomatic genius the liberation of Italy would have been impossible. The years from 1850 to 1859 were devoted to restoring the shattered finances of Sardinia, reorganizing the army and modernizing the antiquated institutions of the kingdom. Among other reforms the abolition of the foro ecclesiastico (privileged ecclesiastical courts) brought down a storm of hostility from the Church both on the king and on Cavour, but both remained firm in sustaining the prerogatives of the civil power. When the Crimean War broke out, the king strongly supported Cavour in the proposal that Piedmont should join France and England against Russia so as to secure a place in the councils of the great Powers and establish a claim on them for eventual assistance in Italian affairs (1854). The following year Victor Emmanuel was stricken with a threefold family misfortune; for his mother, the Queen Dowager Maria Teresa, his wife, Queen Adelaide, and his brother Ferdinand, duke of Genoa, died within a few weeks of each other. The clerical party were not slow to point to this circumstance as a judgment on the king for what they deemed his sacrilegious policy. At the end of 1855, while the allied troops were still in the East, Victor Emmanuel visited Paris and London, where he was warmly welcomed by the emperor Napoleon III. and Queen Victoria, as well as by the peoples of the two countries.
Victor Emmanuel's object now was the expulsion of the Austrians from Italy and the expansion of Piedmont into a North Italian kingdom, but he did not regard the idea of Italian unity as coming within the sphere of practical politics for the time being, although a movement to that end was already beginning to gain ground. He was in communication with some of the conspirators, especially with La Farina, the leader of the Società Nazionale, an association the object of which was to unite Italy under the king of Sardinia, and he even communicated with Mazzini and the republicans, both in Italy and abroad, whenever he thought that they could help in the expulsion of the Austrians from Italy. In 1859 Cavour's diplomacy succeeded in drawing Napoleon III. into an alliance against Austria, although the king had to agree to the cession of Savoy and possibly of Nice and to the marriage of his daughter Clothilde to Prince Napoleon. These conditions were very painful to him, for Savoy was the hereditary home of his family, and he was greatly attached to Princess Clothilde and disliked the idea of marrying her to a man who gave little promise of proving a good husband. But he was always ready to sacrifice his own personal feelings for the good of his country. He had an interview with Garibaldi and appointed him commander of the newly raised volunteer corps, the Cacciatori delle Alpi. Even then Napoleon would not decide on immediate hostilities, and it required all Cavour’s genius to bring him to the point and lead Austria into a declaration of war (April 1859). Although the Franco-Sardinian forces were successful in the field. Napoleon, fearing an attack by Prussia and disliking the idea of a too powerful Italian kingdom on the frontiers of France, insisted on making peace with Austria, while Venetia still remained to be freed. Victor Emmanuel, realizing that he could not continue the campaign alone, agreed most unwillingly to the armistice of Villafranca. When Cavour heard the news he hurried to the king’s headquarters at Monzambano, and in violent, almost disrespectful language implored him to continue the campaign at all hazards, relying on his own army and the revolutionary movement in the rest of Italy. But the king on this occasion showed more political insight than his great minister and saw that by adopting the heroic course proposed by the latter he ran the risk of finding Napoleon on the side of the enemy, whereas by waiting all might be gained. Cavour resigned office, and by the peace of Zurich (10th of November 1859) Austria ceded Lombardy to Piedmont but retained Venetia; the central Italian princes who had been deposed by the revolution were to be reinstated, and Italy formed into a confederation of independent states. But this solution was most unacceptable to Italian public opinion, and both the king and Cavour determined to assist the people in preventing its realization, and consequently entered into secret relations with the revolutionary governments of Tuscany, the duchies and of Romagna. As a result of the events of 1859-60, those provinces were all annexed to Piedmont, and when Garibaldi decided on the Sicilian expedition Victor Emmanuel assisted him in various ways. He had considerable influence with Garibaldi, who, although in theory a republican, was greatly attached to the bluff soldier-king, and on several occasions restrained him from too foolhardy courses. When Garibaldi having conquered Sicily was determined to invade the mainland possessions of Francis II. of Naples, Victor Emmanuel foreseeing international difficulties wrote to the chief of the red shirts asking him not to cross the Straits; but Garibaldi, although acting throughout in the name of His Majesty, refused to obey and continued his victorious march, for he knew that the king's letter was dictated by diplomatic considerations rather than by his own personal desire. Then, on Cavour's advice, King Victor decided to participate himself in the occupation of Neapolitan territory, lest Garibaldi's entourage should proclaim the republic or create anarchy. When he accepted the annexation of Romagna offered by the inhabitants themselves the pope excommunicated him, but, although a devout Catholic, he continued in his course undeterred by ecclesiastical thunders, and led his army in person through the Papal States, occupying the Marches and Umbria, to Naples. On the 29th of October he met Garibaldi, who handed over his conquests to the king. The whole peninsula, except Rome and Venice, was now annexed to Piedmont, and on the 18th of February 1861 the parliament proclaimed Victor Emmanuel king of united Italy.
The next few years were occupied with preparations for the liberation of Venice, and the king corresponded with Mazzini, Klapka, Turr and other conspirators against Austria in Venetia itself, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere, keeping his activity secret even from his own ministers. The alliance with Prussia and the war with Austria of 1866, although fortune did not favour Italian arms, added Venetia to his dominions.
The Roman question yet remained unsolved, for Napoleon, although he had assisted Piedmont in 1859 and had reluctantly consented to the annexation of the central and southern provinces, and of part of the Papal States, would not permit Rome to be occupied, and maintained a French garrison there to protect the pope. When war with Prussia appeared imminent he tried to obtain Italian assistance, and Victor Emmanuel was very anxious to fly to the assistance of the man who had helped him to expel the Austrians from Italy, but he could not do so unless Napoleon gave him a free hand in Rome. This the emperor would not do until it was too late. Even after the first French defeats the chivalrous king, in spite of the advice of his more prudent councillors, wished to go to the rescue, and asked Thiers, the French representative who was imploring him for help, if with 100,000 Italian troops France could be saved, but Thiers could give no such undertaking and Italy remained neutral. On the 20th of September 1870, the French troops having been withdrawn, the Italian army entered Rome, and on the 2nd of July 1871 Victor Emmanuel made his solemn entry into the Eternal City, which then became the capital of Italy.
The pope refused to recognize the new kingdom even before the occupation of Rome, and the latter event rendered relations between church and state for many years extremely delicate. The king himself was anxious to be reconciled with the Vatican, but the pope, or rather his entourage, rejected all overtures, and the two sovereigns dwelt side by side in Rome until death without ever meeting. Victor Emmanuel devoted himself to his duties as a constitutional king with great conscientiousness, but he took more interest in foreign than in domestic politics and contributed not a little to improving Italy's international position. In 1873 he visited the emperor Francis Joseph at Vienna and the emperor William at Berlin. He received an enthusiastic welcome in both capitals, but the visit to Vienna was never returned in Rome, for Francis Joseph as a Catholic sovereign feared to offend the pope, a circumstance which served to embitter Austro-Italian relations. On the 9th of January 1878, Victor Emmanuel died of fever in Rome, and was buried in the Pantheon. He was succeeded by his son Humbert.
Bluff, hearty, good-natured and simple in his habits, yet he always had a high idea of his own kingly dignity, and his really statesmanlike qualities often surprised foreign diplomats, who were deceived by his homely exterior. As a soldier he was very brave, but he did not show great qualities as a military leader in the campaign of 1866. He was a keen sportsman and would spend many days at a time pursuing chamois or steinbock in the Alpine fastnesses of Piedmont with nothing but bread and cheese to eat. He always used the dialect of Piedmont when conversing with natives of that country, and he had a vast fund of humorous anecdotes and proverbs with which to illustrate his arguments. He had a great weakness for female society, and kept several mistresses; one of them, the beautiful Rosa Vercellone, he created Countess Mirafiori e Fontanafredda and married morganatically in 1869; she bore him one son.
Bibliography.— Besides the general works on Italy and Savoy see V. Bersezio, Il Regno di Vittorio Emanuele II. (8 vols., Turin, 1869); G. Massari, La Vita ed il Regno di Vittorio Emanuele II. (2 vols., Milan, 1878); N. Bianchi, Storia della Diplomazia Europea in Italia (8 vols., Turin, 1865). (L. V.*)