At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Charles Emmanuel I – Duke of Savoy

Rash ruler who led catastrophic attack on Geneva 


A portrait of Charles Emmanuel I by the Dutch Renaissance painter Jan Kraeck
A portrait of Charles Emmanuel I by the Dutch
Renaissance painter Jan Kraeck
Charles Emmanuel I, who developed a reputation for being hot-headed, was born on this day in 1562 in the Castle of Rivoli in Piedmont.

Renowned for his rashness and military aggression in trying to acquire territory, Charles Emmanuel has gone down in history for launching a disastrous attack on Geneva in Switzerland.

In 1602 he led his troops to the city during the night and surrounded the walls. At two o’clock in the morning the Savoy soldiers were ordered to dismount and climb the city walls in full armour as a shock tactic.

However the alarm was raised by a night watchman and Geneva’s army was ready to meet the invaders.

Many of the Savoy soldiers were killed and others were captured and later executed.

The heavy helmets worn by the Savoy troops featured visors with the design of a human face on them. They were afterwards called Savoyard helmets and the Swiss army kept some of them as trophies.

The Savoyard armour featured a helmet with eyes and a mouth
The Savoyard armour featured a helmet
with eyes and a mouth
Geneva’s successful defence of the city walls is still celebrated during the annual festival of L’Escalade, in which confectionary shops sell a cauldron known as a marmite made from chocolate.

Charles Emmanuel, from whom Victor Emmanuel II and the subsequent Italian kings are descended, had become Duke of Savoy in 1680 after having had a good education, which had made him multilingual.

He married a distant cousin, Infanta Catherine Michelle of Spain, who bore him ten children.

Charles Emmanuel tried to expand his duchy in a bid to become King and occupied French territory during the reign of his cousin, Henry III. When Henry IV became King he demanded the return of the land, but Charles Emmanuel refused and so they went to war.

Eventually the area of Saluzzo, now in the provinces of Cuneo and Turin, went to Savoy in exchange for Bresse, which they had also occupied.

A shop in Geneva selling chocolate marmites - cauldrons - at the time of the festival of L'Escalade
A shop in Geneva selling chocolate marmites - cauldrons - at
the time of the festival of L'Escalade
Charles Emmanuel supported France against Spain in 1610 but later changed sides and supported Spain against France in order to continue his policy of expansion. When Philip II of Spain sent an invasion force to Italy, Charles Emmanuel declared himself neutral. However, a French army then marched into Savoy and defeated the Savoy army.

In 1630, Charles Emmanuel died of a stroke at Savigliano and was succeeded by his son, Vittorio Amedeo.

Travel tip:

The ninth-century Castle of Rivoli in Piedmont, where Charles Emmanuel I was born, was a former residence of the Royal House of Savoy in Rivoli, which is in the province of Turin. The Castle is now home to the museum of contemporary art of Turin, Castello di Rivoli – Museo d’Arte Contemporaneo.

The triumphal arch in Savigliano, erected in honour of Charles Emmanuel I
The triumphal arch in Savigliano, erected
in honour of Charles Emmanuel I
Travel tip:

Savigliano, where Charles Emmanuel I died, is a comune of Piedmont in the Province of Cuneo, about 50 kilometres south of Turin. Now an industrial centre, it retains some traces of its ancient walls and has a triumphal arch, which was erected in honour of the marriage of the Duke of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel I, with Infanta Catherine Michelle of Spain.

More reading:


Victor Emmanuel II proclaimed first King of the united Italy

How Savoy Queen Margherita came to have a pizza named in her honour

Victor Emmanuel II given prestigious burial despite excommunication from the Catholic Church

Also on this day:


1848: The Sicilian uprising against the Bourbons

(Picture credits: Savoyard helmet by Golden Hound; shop window by Schutz; Savigliano arch by Davide Papalini; all via Wikimedia Commons)



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