9 January 2016

Umberto I – King of Italy

Anarchists made three attempts on monarch’s life

King Umberto I ascended the throne of Italy on this day in 1878.

This full length portrait was painted in 1878, the year of his ascension to the throne
Umberto I, depicted in a
portrait painted in 1878
Known by the Italian people as Il Buono (the Good) he succeeded on the death of his father, Victor Emmanuel II.

Umberto had already won popular support because of the way he had conducted himself during his military career and as a result of his marriage to Margherita of Savoy and the subsequent birth of their son, who was to become King Victor Emmanuel III.

But he was to become increasingly unpopular during his reign because of his imperialist policies and his harsh ways of dealing with civil unrest.

Queen Margherita was particularly loved in Naples, where she visited schools and hospitals and organised collections of toys and clothes for the children of poor families. She was seen to hold the hands of cholera victims without wearing gloves and to join the ordinary women in their processions to the Duomo.

As a result, Pizza Margherita, with its tomatoes, basil and mozzarella representing the colours of the Italian flag, was created in Naples and named after her.

However, her popularity didn’t help Umberto, who was attacked by an anarchist in Naples during the first year of his reign.

Umberto was making a tour of the kingdom accompanied by Queen Margherita, and the Prime Minister, Benedetto Cairoli.

While saluting the crowd from his carriage, Umberto was attacked by a young man, Giovanni Passanante, who was employed as a cook but was later described as an anarchist.

Passanante jumped on the carriage and attempted to stab the King. Umberto warded off the blow with his sabre but the Prime Minister, who came to his aid, was wounded in the thigh.

In 1897 Umberto was attacked again, this time by an unemployed ironworker who tried, but failed, to stab him in Rome.

But in July 1900 the anarchists were finally successful. Umberto was shot and killed in Monza by Gaetano Bresci, who later claimed he wanted to avenge the people killed in a recent massacre in Milan, when military force had been used against ordinary people protesting about rising bread prices.

Umberto was buried in the Pantheon in Rome next to the tomb of his father, Victor Emmanuel II.

The Pantheon in Rome, which houses the tombs
of Umberto I and his father, Victor Emanuel II
Travel tip:

The Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda is Rome’s best preserved ancient building. It was built in AD 118 on the site of a previous building dating back to 27 BC. The building, which has a huge dome, was consecrated as a church in the seventh century. Victor Emanuel II, Umberto I and his wife, Queen Margherita, are the only members of the Italian royal family buried there.

Travel tip:

The Duomo in Naples, in Via Duomo, off Via Tribunali, was built over the ruins of two earlier Christian churches for Charles I of Anjou at the end of the 13th century. The Duomo is in the spotlight in May and September each year when a vial containing the dried blood of the city’s patron saint, San Gennaro is brought out to liquefy in front of the congregation. It is believed that whenever the blood fails to liquefy disaster is going to befall Naples. The Duomo is open to the public from 8.30 to 1.30 and 2.30 to 8 pm Monday to Saturday and 8.30 to 1.30 and 4.30 to 7.30 pm on Sundays.

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