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.

12 June 2017

Charles Emmanuel II - Duke of Savoy

Ruler who was notorious for massacre of Protestant minority

Charles Emmanuel II's good work for Turin was overshadowed by his persecution of minority
Charles Emmanuel II's good work for Turin was
overshadowed by his persecution of minority
Charles Emmanuel II, who was Duke of Savoy for almost his whole life, died on this day in 1675 in Turin.

His rule was notorious for his persecution of the Valdesi – a Christian Protestant movement widely known as the Waldenses that originate in 12th century France, whose base was on the Franco-Italian border.

In 1655, he launched an attack on the Valdesi that turned into a massacre so brutal that it sent shockwaves around Europe and prompted the English poet, John Milton, to write the sonnet On the Late Massacre in Piedmont.

The British political leader Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, proposed to send the British Navy if the massacre and subsequent attacks were not halted, and raised funds for helping the Waldensians.

More positively, Charles Emmanuel II was responsible for improving commerce and creating wealth in the Duchy. He was a driver in developing the port of Nice and building a road through the Alps towards France.

He also reformed the army so that it did not rely on mercenaries, forming five Piedmontese regiments and reviving the cavalry, as well as introducing a standardised uniform.

Charles Emmanuel with his mother Christine Maria
Charles Emmanuel with his mother Christine Maria
Charles Emmanuel restored crumbling fortifications and many of Turin’s most beautiful buildings were built on his initiative. He also continued the development of the Palazzo Reale, which had been built by mother, Christine Marie of France, during her regency, as a new residence for the Court of Savoy.

He was born in Turin in June 1634. His father was Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy, who died when Charles Emmanuel was just three. His maternal grandparents were Henry IV of France and his second wife Marie de' Medici.

Charles Emmanuel was only four when he succeeded to the title following the death of his older brother, Francis Hyacinth. Because of his age, his mother governed as regent. He showed little interest in affairs of state himself as he grew up and even after turning 18, when he might have taken charge in his own right, he invited his mother to extend her regency, allowing him to continue to enjoy the carefree life of a wealthy young man.

It was only with the death of his mother in 1663 that he was forced to take responsibility for governing the Duchy.  Apart from his persecution of the Valdesi, he also flexed his military muscles in a war against Genoa which was inconclusive.

Charles Emmanuel was Duke of Savoy from the age of four years old
Charles Emmanuel was Duke of Savoy
from the age of four years old
His first marriage was rather forced on him by his mother, who paired him with Françoise Madeleine d'Orléans, daughter of her younger brother, Gaston, Duke of Orléans. They were married in April 1663 but the marriage lasted less than one year because of the death of his new wife in 1664. They had no children.

This freed him to marry Marie Jeanne of Savoy, whom he had first met in 1659 and fallen in love with her. They married in May 1665 and had one son, who would become Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, future King of Sicily and later Sardinia.

Charles Emmanuel II is also thought to have fathered at least five illegitimate children by three different mistresses.

He died in Turin a few days short of what would have been his 41st birthday, leaving his wife to act as regent on behalf of Victor Amadeus.  He is buried in Turin’s Duomo – the Cathedral of St John the Baptist.

The Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista in Turin
The Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista in Turin
Travel tip:

The Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista, to give the Turin Duomo its Italian name, is the seat of the Archbishops of Turin. It was built between 1491–98 on the site of an old Roman theatre and adjacent to an earlier campanile built in 1470. Designed by Guarino Guarini, the Chapel of the Holy Shroud – the resting place of the Shroud of Turin - was added in 1668–94, Guarini having been called in to complete a project begun in 1649 by Bernardino Quadri at the behest of Charles Emmanuel II.

The Palazzo Reale is at the heart of Turin
The Palazzo Reale is at the heart of Turin
Travel tip:

The Royal Palace of Turin – the Palazzo Reale – was built on the site of what had been the Bishop’s Palace, built by Emmanuel Philibert, who was Duke of Savoy from 1528 to 1580, who chose the site because it had an open and sunny position close to other court buildings. Opposite is the Palazzo Vecchio or the Palazzo di San Giovanni, which was later replaced by the grand Ducal Palace. In 1946, the building became the property of the state and was turned into a museum. In 1997, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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