Happy Birthday Italy!


Torino, 17 Marzo 1861:  Vittorio Emanuele II assumes the title of King of Italy for himself and his successors.

With these words, Parliament and the Chamber of Deputies sanctioned the birth of the Kingdom of Italy and placed it under the legitimate sovereignty of the Savoy family. Italy had been made and ended part of the “Risorgimento” (1815 – 1871), the cultural, ideological and literary, political and spiritual, economic and social movement, marked by the activity of many statesmen (Camillo Benso di Cavour, Francesco Crispi, Vincenzo Gioberti), thinkers and patriots (Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Fratelli Bandiera, just to name a few), following which, the Italian peninsula, under the pressure of European nationalism, was preparing to become a unitary state, free from the yoke of the foreigner.

The Italy of Vittorio Emanuele II (1820-1878), territorially speaking, was, however, far from that of today. It did not include the Veneto, at the time under the dominion of the Habsburg Empire and annexed in 1866, nor Trento and Trieste, added, however, after the end of the First World War (between 1918 and 1920). Lazio, the region of Rome, under the control of the Pope, was also missing from the appeal. For this reason, therefore, the first capital of the new Kingdom of Italy was Turin and not Rome, which became it only in 1870 (the year of the Breccia di Porta Pia).

The new political configuration chosen, that of the constitutional monarchy, was based on the Albertino Statute, the flexible constitution that Carlo Alberto di Savoia (1798-1849) had granted to the subjects of the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1848, before his abdication. The king, the country’s supreme head, was at the top of the state. His person, as “sacred and inviolable”, could not be the subject of criminal sanctions. He had several prerogatives: he exercised executive power through ministers; he convened and dissolved the Chamber of Deputies and, if he thought that a law did not respond to the Crown’s plans, he could reject it (power of sanction of laws). He also decided on the government, while Parliament should confine itself to making laws. Although he brought together the executive, legislative and judicial powers, his monarchy could not be said to be absolute as it was limited by the Constitution.

In the exercise of his prerogatives, the king was, in fact, supported by Parliament, which was composed of two chambers: the Senate, which could not be dissolved and which was formed by members of directorial nomination in office for life; and the Chamber of Deputies, with members elected on a census basis and male, a single-member college and a double round of election.

The House of Savoy gave Italy four sovereigns: Vittorio Emanuele II (1820-1878), the “Galantuomo King”, who, as we have seen was the first King of Italy and the one who completed the unification process; his son Umberto I (1844-1900), the so-called “Good King”, killed in an attack in 1900; Vittorio Emanuele III (1869-1947), whose reign was the longest, having lasted 46 years (from 1900 to 1946) and having seen two world wars, the birth and collapse of Fascism and the achievement of the maximum extension of the Italian territorial boundaries.

In 1946, Vittorio Emanuele III abdicated in favour of his son, Umberto II, whom he had appointed, on 5 June 1944, after the Liberation of Rome, lieutenant general of the Kingdom. In this capacity, under pressure from the Allies, Umberto signed a decree on the basis of which, once the liberation of the Italian territory was completed, the new institutional forms would have been “chosen by the Italian people”. As king, Umberto renewed his promise to respect the will of the people, if the citizens had chosen the Republic instead of the monarchy. He was, however, engaged in an exhausting electoral campaign that, in a very short time, led him to cross much of Italy in search of numerous consents in favor of the monarchy. The referendum between the republic and the monarchy, to which women were also called to vote for the first time ever, took place on 2 June and on the morning of 3 June 1946. From the counting of the ballot papers, the Republic had a difference of advantage equal to about two million votes. Early rumours of alleged fraud in the counting of votes soon spread, leading the monarchists to lodge some appeals. The final results of the Referendum were proclaimed by the Court of Cassation on June 10, 1946: the Republic had won and Alcide de Gasperi on the night of June 12 summoned the Government after Umberto, in a letter written by the Quirinal, declared his intention to respect the will expressed by the people.

Thus ended the reign of Humbert II, which had become a historical king like the “King of May” (his reign was, in fact, very brief, lasting just over a month, from May 9, 1946 to June 10, 1946) and instead began a new page in Italian political history, that of the Constitutional Republic.


Posted by Sara Pandozzi

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