9 January 2017

Victor Emmanuel II dies

Christian burial for the King excommunicated by the Pope

Victor Emmanuel II: a portrait from 1860
Victor Emmanuel II: a portrait from 1860 
Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of Italy, died on this day in 1878 in Rome.

He was buried in a tomb in the Pantheon in Rome and was succeeded by his son, who became Umberto I, King of Italy.

Victor Emmanuel II was allowed to be buried in the Pantheon by Pope Pius IX, even though he had previously excommunicated him from the Catholic Church.

Before becoming King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel, as King of Sardinia-Piedmont, had secretly encouraged Garibaldi in the conquest of Sicily and Naples. He had then led his Piedmontese army into papal territory to link up with Garibaldi, despite the threat of excommunication.

In his quest to become King of a fully united Italy, Victor Emmanuel achieved two notable military triumphs. He managed to acquire the Veneto after linking up with Bismark’s Prussia in a military campaign in 1866. Also, after the withdrawal of the French occupying troops, his soldiers were able to enter Rome through a breach in the walls at Porta Pia and take over the city.

A painting by Sebastiano de Albertis shows Garibaldi hailing Victor Emmanuel II as King of Italy at Teano, near Naples
A painting by Sebastiano de Albertis shows Garibaldi hailing
Victor Emmanuel II as King of Italy at Teano, near Naples 
This had antagonised Pius IX so much that he refused all overtures from the new King, when he attempted a reconciliation.

The first King of Italy had been born Vittorio Emanuele Maria Alberto Eugenio Ferdinando Tommaso in 1820 in Turin.

In 1842 Victor Emmanuel married his cousin, Adelaide of Austria, and was styled as the Duke of Savoy, before becoming King of Sardinia-Piedmont after his father, Charles Albert, abdicated the throne following a humiliating military defeat by the Austrians at the Battle of Novara.

After he was proclaimed King of a united Italy in 1861 by the country’s new Parliament, the monarch styled himself Victor Emmanuel II, perhaps implying that Italy had always been ruled by the House of Savoy. This immediately provoked criticism from some factions.

Pope Pius IX
Pope Pius IX
Victor Emmanuel II could trace his ancestry back to Victor Emmanuel I, who had been King of Sardinia from 1802 until his death in 1824.

Victor Emmanuel II had become King of Sardinia in 1849 after his father’s abdication. His father had succeeded a distant cousin to become King of Sardinia in 1831.

The Kingdom of Sardinia is considered to be the legal predecessor to the Kingdom of Italy.

As King of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel II had appointed Count Camillo Benso of Cavour as Prime Minister of Sardinia-Piedmont, who had then masterminded a clever campaign to put him on the throne of a united Italy.

Victor Emmanuel II had become the symbol of the Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement in the 19th century.  He had supported Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand in 1860, which resulted in the fall of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, giving him control over the southern part of the country.  But when he ascended the throne there were still two major territories left outside the new Kingdom, the Veneto and Rome.

The scene outside the Quirinale Palace at the start of Victor
Emmanuel II's funeral procession
He acquired the Veneto in 1866 and, in 1870, after the French had withdrawn from Rome, he set up the new Italian capital there and chose as his residence the Palazzo del Quirinale.

The Italian people called him Padre della Patria - Father of the Fatherland.

Travel tip:

Porta Pia is a gate in Rome’s ancient walls, named after Pope Pius lV, who commissioned Michelangelo to design it just before his death in Rome in 1564. You will find it at the end of Via XX Settembre, which goes off Piazza di San Bernardo, not far from the Quirinale Palace, which Victor Emmanuel II had chosen as his residence, and the Trevi fountain. A marble and brass monument, the Monumento al Bersagliere, commemorating the liberation of Rome, was put up near the place where the Italian troops found a way through the walls.

The Pantheon has been standing in the Piazza della Rotonda  since AD118 and is one of Rome's finest ancient buildings
The Pantheon has been standing in the Piazza della Rotonda
 since AD118 and is one of Rome's finest ancient buildings
Travel tip:

Victor Emmanuel II is buried in the Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda in Rome. Considered to be Rome’s best preserved ancient building, the Pantheon was built in AD 118 on the site of a previous building dating back to 27 BC. It was consecrated as a church in the seventh century and many other important people are buried there, including Victor Emmanuel II’s son, Umberto I, and his wife, Queen Margherita.

More reading:

How the capture of Rome completed Italian unification

First Italian parliament convenes to proclaim Victor Emmanuel II King of Italy

Victor Emmanuel I - King of Sardinia

Also on this day:

1878: Umberto I is proclaimed Italy's new monarch

(Picture credit: Pantheon by Klaus F via Wikimedia Commons)


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