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When we think of Italian leaders in the 20th century, we think of Mussolini. In doing so we often forget, if we ever knew, that Italy had been a monarchy since its creation as a unitary state in 1861 and remained a monarchy through World War Two. So what happened to the Italian monarchy?
A simplified map of Italy immediately prior to the Italian Unification
Italy was united as a modern country through a series of events beginning in the early 19th century collectively known as the ‘Risorgimento,’ or ‘The Resurgence.’ Prior to unification, Italy was divided into fiefdoms of various sorts including states governed by the Papacy. Many European powers governed bits of Italy and were opposed to a united country. The ‘Risorgimento’ took many decades and had many leaders over that time but the main credit for the unification of Italy goes to a most brilliant and competent man, Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, then ruled by the Royal House of Savoy.
Using bribery, flattery, and trading bits of territory here and there (he gave Nice to France, for instance, although the French actually demanded it), he finally managed to create the new nation state of Italy. In the winter of 1861, he stage-managed the opening of the first ever Italian Parliament which happened to meet in Turin, the capitol of Piedmont-Sardinia, and on 17 March 1861 that Parliament proclaimed the new Kingdom of Italy (Regno d’Italia). Naturally, the head of the Royal House of Savoy and the King of Piedmont-Sardinia, assumed the new Italian throne as Victor Emmanuel II. Curiously, although other royal dynasties are far more familiar to us, the House of Savoy holds the record as the longest lived ruling house of Europe – having survived from 1003 to 1946. Given their stupidity, this is unfortunate.
Laws and a constitution for the new country were easy. Cavour, as first prime minister of Italy, simply adopted the constitution and laws of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia for the entire country. With the panache he is remembered for, Cavour also declared Rome the capitol of the new Kingdom although Rome was part of the Papal States, a very old political entity controlled by the Vatican which had not yet joined the new kingdom nor had any intention of doing so. Just after this declaration, Cavour dropped dead of overwork. Thus died the last intelligent Prime Minister of Italy during the rule of the House of Savoy.
[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]