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King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy

King Vittorio Emanuele III

King Vittorio Emanuele III was the unlucky King of Italy who saw his country through both World Wars. He was, at times, a beloved king, who saw his country through good times, war and economic crisis. At another time, King Vittorio Emanuele III angered the people of his country by standing by and allowing Italy to take part in a war alongside a country that was bent on suppressing “inferior” races/groups of people and expanding its borders far beyond what was acceptable to the rest of the world.

King Vittorio Emanuele III was born on November 11, 1869 in Naples, Italy. His father was King Umberto I. His mother was Margherita di Savoia. Vittorio Emanuele spent his early life as the son of a king would.  He studied history and law. In October of 1896, he married a princess. Her name was Elena and she was the daughter of Prince Nicholas di Montenegro. Four years later, his life completely changed when, his at times unpopular father, Umberto I was assassinated by an anarchist.

King Umberto I was assassinated in 1900, at which time Vittorio Emanuele became King of Italy. For a time, King Vittorio enjoyed relative peace in his country. However, fourteen years after he became king, World War I began. At the time, Italy was publicly neutral, but the king and his government were secretly planning to join the war. This was not a popular position among the people. Nonetheless, King Vittorio Emanuele III had the authority to make that choice without the support of his people, and he did. He severed all previous ties with Germany and Austria-Hungary and signed the Treaty of London on April 26, 1915. This treaty granted Italy several territories in exchange for joining the United Kingdom, France and Russia (“The Triple Entente”) in their war against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Roughly one month after King Vittorio Emanuele III joined forces with the “Triple Entente,” he publicly declared war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Italy suffered grave losses during World War I and by the end of the war, Italy was in the midst of an economic crisis. Some sources say that King Vittorio Emanuele III was impassive and incompetent in his handling of the war and its aftermath. Others say that he bravely helped his citizens both during the war and after. Either way, the country was facing economic hardships that the fascists hoped to stop.

During and after World War I, fascism was spreading throughout Italy. This fascist movement would come to power under a man named Benito Mussolini. Mussolini and a group of his followers marched on Rome in 1922. King Vittorio Emanuele III was unsure of the military’s ability to suppress the seemingly inevitable uprising, so he did what was least expected. He made the utterly inexperienced and power hungry Mussolini the Prime Minister of Italy. From there, Mussolini’s power grew under the inattentive eye of King Vittorio Emanuele III.

By all accounts, King Vittorio Emanuele III did not support Mussolini personally, but he did nothing to stop Mussolini from wielding a power over the military that was equal to his own. Furthermore, Mussolini held nearly as much control over the government as the king himself. He established racist and fascist laws that have helped paint the picture of an evil dictator for future generations (though Mussolini was at least somewhat well-meaning). He also brought Italy into yet another World War. Not before King Vittorio Emanuele III had somewhat unethically acquired the titles of Emperor of Ethiopia and King of Albania.

On June 10, 1940, Benito Mussolini aligned Italy with the Axis powers. He declared war on the Allies. Three years later, King Vittorio Emanuele III had had enough. The war was not going well for Italy and the King was becoming more and more unpopular amongst his people. Mussolini was summarily dismissed by the King on July 25, 1943, after Mussolini had been stripped of power by his very own Fascist Grand Council the day before. The King then had him arrested and exiled to Gran Sasso. King Vittorio Emanuele III then abdicated his titles as Emperor of Ethiopia and King of Albania. He reestablished peace with the Allies on September 28, 1843. This did nothing to help his popularity, though. Nor did it help the Italian soldiers who had scarcely been informed of this change in plans before the German troops in Italy began killing them, imprisoning them and coercing them into changing sides.

King Vittorio Emanuele III fled Rome that year. Hitler wanted him arrested and his people blamed him for their horrible losses. In 1944, the King made his only son, Umberto II de facto king. Two years later, the Italian monarchy was abolished and the King’s family left the country. Vittorio went to Alexandria, Egypt, where he died on December 28, 1947. He was 78-years-old.

Duffy, Michael, Who’s Who-King Vittorio Emanuele III, retrieved 7/22/10,
Young, Jim, Victor Emmanuel III, King of Italy, retrieved 7/22/10,
Benito Mussolini and his era, retrieved 7/22/10,


  1. I have one last comment to make on the subject, then will let it rest (and will keep it short as Jim requests):
    When Mussolini formed a government in ’22 this had to be approved by the King; it naturally follows that Mussolini had to swear allegiance to the Monarchy.
    In ’43, Mussolini was ousted by the Grand Council, with the King’s approval; his subsequent establishment of the RSI was the real treasonous act on both his part and to all that followed him.

  2. Folks, for now on lets please keep the comments MUCH shorter. Thanks.

  3. Hey TJ:
    I think the following may help many understand the situation in Italy at that time; there are many articles both in English and Italian commenting on how the armistice was “concocted” and delivered to the Italian delegation led by Gen Giuseppe Castellano; it is also an interesting point that the “Allies” were not at all convinced of the value of Italy surrendering.
    The “allied” delegation was led by Walter Badell Smith and Kenneth Strong, the former became head of the CIA under Eisenhower while the latter became the first Director General of British Intelligence.
    While everyone had their own agenda, the United States in particular wanted to avoid the possible consignment of Italy to Great Britain after the war, as this would have given the British absolute control over the strategic Mediterranean area. The British, in turn, wanted to avoid a possible Communist regime in Italy supported by the USSR.
    Foolowing the meeting on August 27, Castellano returned to Italy and, three days later, briefed Badoglio about the Allied request for a meeting to be held in Sicily.
    It was vital that the Germans remained ignorant of any suggestion of Italian defection and the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) was seen as the most secure method in the circumstances.
    On August 31, during the negotiations, it became obvious that the two sides in the negotiations had adopted rather distant positions. The Italian delegation voiced concerns that the Army Corps deployed around Rome was insufficient to protect the city, due to lack of fuel and ammunition and that the armistice had to be postponed. Badoglio did not pronounce himself in the meeting but in the afternoon he appeared before the King, who decided to accept the armistice conditions. Castellano pressed the relatively reasonable request that the Italian territory be defended from the inevitable reaction of the German Wehrmacht against Italy after the signing. In return, he received only vague promises, which included the launching of a Parachute Division over Rome. Moreover, these actions were to be conducted contemporaneously with the signing and not preceding it, as the Italians had wanted. A confirmation telegram, sent to the Allies was intercepted by the German armed forces, which had long since begun to suspect that Italy was seeking a separate armistice. The Germans contacted Badoglio, who repeatedly confirmed the unwavering loyalty of Italy to its German ally. His reassurances were doubted by the Germans, and the Wehrmacht started to devise an effective plan to take control of Italian soil as soon as the Italian government had switched allegiance to the Allies.
    On September 3. Castellano and Bedell Smith signed the accepted the Armistice text (short Version)on behalf of Badoglio and Eisenhower.
    Only after the signing had taken place was Castellano informed of the additional clauses (Long Version)that had been presented by general Campbell to another Italian general, Zanussi, who had also been in Cassibile since August 31.
    The day of entry into force of the armistice was linked to a planned landing in central Italy and it was left to allied discretion. Castellano anyway understood that the date was intended to be September 12 and Badoglio started to move troops to Rome.
    Badoglio told to this delegation that his army was not ready to support this landing and that most airports in the area were under German control; he asked for a deferral of the armistice of a few days. When General Eisenhower learnt of this, he cancelled the landing in Rome by US troops but the day of the armistice was confirmed to September 8 since other troops were already sailing to southern Italy for other landings.
    The armistice was announced by allied radio from Algiers, in the afternoon of September 8, without informing the Italians; naturally the Italian Army knew nothing of this and no orders had been issued about the line of conduct to be taken in the face of the German armed forces. Some of the Italian divisions that should have defended Rome were still in transit from the south of France. Caught with no time to organise a proper defense of the Capital or protection to the royal family the King along with Badoglio fled from Rome in the early morning of the 9th, taking shelter to the south of the country. In the meanwhile the Italian troops, without instructions, collapsed and were soon overwhelmed, some displaying some fierce fighting resistance (Ariete Division), while smaller units surrendered or decided to stay loyal to the German ally.
    The day after the armistice declaration, September 9, the Allies disembarked at Salerno and Taranto but they failed to take full advantage of the Italian armistice and they were quickly checked by German troops. It took twenty months for the allied forces to reach northern borders of Italy resulting in a Civil War and countless dead.
    Some of Italian troops based out of Italy, in the occupied Balkans and Greek Islands were able to stand some weeks after the armistice but without any determined support by Allied forces they were all overwhelmed by the Germans by the end of September 1943. Only in the islands of Leros and Samos, with British reinforcements, resistance lasted until November 1943. In Corsica Italian troops, reinforced by French units, forced German troops to leave the island.
    Badoglio: At the beginning of Italian participation in WW1 he was a Lieutenant Colonel ; he rose to the rank of General following his handling of the capture of Monte Sabotino in May 1916 and by the late months of 1917 (mostly thanks to his Masonic contacts, including his superior, General Capello) was named as Vice Chief-of-Staff (Sottocapo di Stato Maggiore) despite being one of the main leaders responsible for the disaster during the retreat at Caporetto on 24 October 1917.
    In the years following World War I, in which he held several high ranks in the Italian Army, Badoglio exerted a constant effort in modifying official documents in order to hide his role in the defeat.
    Following the Allied invasion of Sicily, there was a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council. Grandi and other members of met July 24, 1943. At this meeting, Grandi turned against Mussolini and made a motion asking the King to resume his full constitutional authority. The resolution passed by a vote of 19 to 7, with one abstention—effectively removing Mussolini from office. The secret frondeur later involved Giuseppe Bottai, another high member of the Fascist directorate and Minister of Culture, and Gaelazzo Ciano, probably the second most powerful man in the Fascist party and also Mussolini’s son-in-law. The conspirators devised an Order of the Day for the next reunion of the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo which contained a proposal to restore direct control of politics to the king. The following afternoon, the King — who had been planning to get rid of the dictator himself for some time — summoned Mussolini to the palace and dismissed him as Prime Minister in favour of Badoglio, he then ordered Mussolini arrested and renounced the usurped Ethiopian and Albanian crowns in favor of the legitimate monarchs of those states.
    The King chose Badoglio to lead the new government mainly because the latter had not been in favour of the Italian-German Pact of Steel and was pessimistic about the chances of Italian success in any European war. At that time he was also the most senior General Staff officer to remain loyal to the Monarch.
    Despite Dino Grandi’s involvement in the Coup and alleged promises made to him, he was not the obvious choice to replace Mussolini; he was an ally to the most radical and violent groups of fascists, always surrounding himself with members of the Blackshirts. He had used his position to voice criticism of Mussolini’s attempt to reach an agreement with left-wingers, and was under suspicion of having attempted to replace the latter with the alleged Mussolini forerunner Gabriele D’Annumzio.
    The Badoglio government officially declared war on Germany on October 13. Badoglio continued to head the government for another nine months. Following the rescue of Mussolini and the liberation of Rome, and increasingly strong opposition, he was replaced on 9 June 1944 by Ivanoe Bonomi and other committed anti-Fascists.
    Italian referendum of 1946 and Abdication:
    Following Italian law, the results were checked by the Corte di Cassazione (the highest judicial Court at that time), as expected. A problem arose when the Count, itself divided between monarchists and republicans, provisionally declared the republican victory on 10 June, but postponing the final result to 18 June. To avoid huge dangers of political riots due to the Court’s irresponsible delay, the government declared itself a Republic and appointed De Gasperi as the provisional Head of State on 13 June.
    “Official” results:
    Republic 12,718,641 (54.3%) Monarchy 10,718,502 (45.7%)

    • Thanks Tiber, I am always looking for other sources of info and points of view. While not a scholar I am familiar with the circumstances of the Armistice, the Grand Council Session, and the actions thereafter. We will just have to agree to have differing views on this man. I guess that is one of the great things that attract so many to the study of history, the almost endless possibilities, analysis, and conclusions that can be made. And to me there is no better topic of research then that of the events of the Second World War.

  4. I would beg to differ on Peleliu’s and anyone else’s derogatory comments on the “Old King”; there are very many articles supporting his actions not just at the beginning of his reign but also it’s end (see – unfortunately in Italian); another point to note is that, the whole debacle of the Armistice was orchestrated by the Allies, refusing to allow extra time to organise a proper defense against the German forces unleashed by a very furious Hitler.
    Finally, at war’s end the referendum on Monarchy or Rebublic was at best contentious, notorious for allegations of vote rigging, therefore the Italian public opinion was not at all against the King. Unfortunately the “victors” are the voices of history who are normally legitimised and heard. The vanquished are normally percived as being rancorous of their loss.

    • Shelly Barclay says:

      I always perceived Vittorio as being glad to be rid of his responsibility, not because he was irresponsible, but because his position was not enviable. I doubt he felt it was much of a loss after his experience being King.

    • Well said Tiber, I can totally see your perspective. Mine, as you pointed out, is a little different. And for the record, I am very glad that I did not have to face the choices that this man had to make. Not an envious position. The king by no means was bad, and he did do many good things for the Italian people. My main contention was that he seemed to lack true ‘backbone’ if you will, especially when his people needed him most. He orchestrated Mussolini’s ouster by deceitful means. Just my opinion, but he could of made it known publicly that he was breaking ties from Mussolini, and could of asked Grandi to bring his proposal to the Grand Council without leading him to believe that he was in-line for greater things. The King seemed all too willing to except the “glory” that Mussolini brought him, but went behind his back if you will to have him ousted. Now I can see the argument that if Mussolini had knowledge that the king was against him, he might have cracked down on those who opposed him, including the King. Or he might have stepped aside; he was pretty “burnt out” by that time. I guess we will never know. Also, his abandonment of Rome in the middle of the night with his lackey Badoglio is an inexcusable act in my eyes. Again, only my opinion and I know many hold him in high esteem to this day. I guess he will forever be a man who splits public opinion.

      • I re-read my post and I am afraid it comes off as if I was calling the king cowardly. That was not my intention. The meaning I was trying to convey was that in my opinion perhaps he did not show the resolve or tenacity that was expected from a man in his position when he fled from Rome. He did not ensure that his handpicked man Badoglio gave his military a clear course of action to take against the Germans. In this moment of darkness I believe he needed to be more involved in this momentous decision to abandon Rome, and he was not. But like I said this is only my opinion and many people have the opposite view. Again, thankfully I never had to face the decisions he had to make.

  5. A little thing… it’s “Emanuele”. One “m” only. I’m italian, I say this for sure.

  6. Crispi II says:

    The King was a good man and I never hear from his critics what they would have done instead. The country was close to civil war and he basically had to choose between the communists who wanted to destroy Italy as it had existed since unification or the fascists who wanted to put a dictatorship on top of it. He thought that was the better of two bad choices. The people were also with Mussolini and the King should not be scapegoated as the only one fooled by Mussolini when lots of people loved him. And how was his becoming Emperor of Ethiopia and King of Albania “unethical”? Was it any more unethical than how the King of Britain became Emperor of India or King of South Africa? And for the end of the war, he had no other choice. He could have gone down fighting with the Nazis or broke away and he broke away and that could not be done quickly or easily. He left Rome because if he had not the Germans would have taken the government -why is that outrageous? The Belgian government left Brussels, the Dutch left Amsterdam, the Norwegians left Oslo etc. No, the King was a good man who did his best for his people and it is unfair that now he is criticized by both sides, each claiming he was on the other side.

    • The former king is not being scapegoated. This article is about one man. Therefore, he is the man being scrutinized. This article is not titled “List of people who were fooled by Mussolini.” As for becoming Emperor of Ethiopia and King of Albania being unethical, ask the people who lived in those countries and who were placed under foreign rule like pawns on a chessboard. This article makes no assertions whatsoever as the ethical or unethical nature of Britain’s foreign control. Nonetheless, I will comment on it, so I am not left with a strawman hanging. I think that is unethical as well. Foreign rulers should not be put in place where native citizens resist such a ruler.

      It is made clear in the article that the Vittorio was not a fan of Mussolini. No one here is claiming anyone is on the “other” side. There is no “other” side, in this case. The writer of this article is neither a fascist or a communist. Either side would have been a terrible decision, in my eyes. As for the king being a good man, his character is not what is in question here, it is his actions. And . . . for your last point, no one said him leaving Rome was good or bad. It simply says he fled Rome. Why apply biases to an article when none are there?

      • Crispi II says:

        But what were the likely consequences if he had done other than he did? When the public supported Mussolini, if the King had sided against him he would have been accused of being a tyrant. Also, what is the source that the King planned from the start to join WW1? I read that he thought it was a bad idea. And there was also public support for doing that, the Triple Alliance had never been popular in Italy and many were anxious to finish the fight with Austria. In Ethiopia and Albania there were many people who were happy the Italians took over, in the north, the army was even hindered by the number of people who rushed to them for help. But in any event, neither countries were democracies anyway and did not choose to have the leaders they had in the first place. There were also reasons for the occupation of both countries, Italy did not just attack them out of the blue so the King could gain some titles. If it was unethical for the King to accept them (which is an opinion) then it should at least be pointed out it was not unique to his case but had been done by every major power even just a few years before.

        In most cases, I was not responding to the article but the previous comment (which I did not do correctly but I’ve never done this before!). But if I am accused of being biased I will say it back also. It seems biased to me to give one fact and then imply something further that is negative, that he was involved in or responsible for things he was not. Or before him, the line that King Umberto I was “often unpopular” -why say that? He was often popular as well, he was known as “the good” king and I could list a number of specific incidents that made him popular. For King Vittorio Emanuele III making Mussolini prime minister, there were reasons that could be given, the Queen Mother was an influence but the King was tricked. He said Mussolini at least was loyal but he was not, Mussolini despised him and always had. There is only economic troubles and a “group” of fascists march on Rome and the King gives power to Mussolini, nothing about the turnover of governments, the battles in the cities that made up the crisis. It also seemed to me biased to say the King acquired titles unethically and then to say his character is not the issue, just his actions. If it was his actions that caused the occupation of Ethiopia and Albania this should be explained. It cannot of course because events in both countries prompted the military action, not the arbitrary decision of the King.

  7. Thanks for the nice article. My two cents…. King Emmanuele acted cowardly when his country needed him most. He was much more interested in saving his own skin than helping guide his country through one of the most tumultuos times in its history. Both he and Badoglio ducked out on the Italian people and caused untold confusion and death in their abandonment of Rome in 1943.