Victor Emmanuel II

Victor Emmanuel II, 1820–78, king of Sardinia (1849–61) and first king of united Italy (1861–78). He fought in the war of 1848–49 against Austrian rule in Lombardy-Venetia and ascended the throne when his father, Charles Albert, abdicated after the defeat at Novara. With the skillful collaboration of Cavour, whom he appointed premier in 1852, he became the symbol and the central figure of the Risorgimento, the movement for Italian unification. Popular in Sardinia because of his liberal reforms and his respect for the constitution, he increased Sardinian prestige abroad by engaging in the Crimean War as an ally of France, Britain, and Turkey. In conjunction with Napoleon III of France, with whom Cavour had formed an alliance, he fought against Austria in the Italian War of 1859. After the battle of Solferino, France signed a separate armistice with Austria at Villafranca di Verona; Victor Emmanuel was not consulted, but the terms were ratified in the Treaty of Zürich. When, in 1860, Tuscany, Romagna, Parma, and Modena voted for union with Sardinia (contrary to the treaty terms), Victor Emmanuel and Cavour secured French consent to their incorporation in exchange for the cession of Savoy and Nice. He favored the expedition (1860) of Garibaldi into the kingdom of the Two Sicilies and joined forces with Garibaldi after crossing the Papal States and defeating the papal army at Castelfidardo. Plebiscites in Naples and Sicily and in the Marches and Umbria (two provinces of the Papal States) favored union with Sardinia, and in 1861 the kingdom of Italy was proclaimed with Victor Emmanuel as king. The capital was transferred from Turin to Florence in 1865. Siding (1866) with Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War, Victor Emmanuel was awarded Venetia in the peace settlement. The remaining Papal States were protected by the troops of Napoleon III, but when he fell in 1870, Italian troops seized the Papal States, and Rome was made (1871) the capital of Italy. Pope Pius IX and his successors protested, and the so-called Roman Question remained a serious problem until the Lateran Treaty of 1929. The remainder of Victor Emmanuel's reign was spent in the consolidation of the new kingdom. His son Humbert I succeeded him.

See biography by C. S. Forester (1927) and works of D. M. Smith.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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