The creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 was the result of Italian nationalists and those loyal to the House of Savoy who wished to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula. The Kingdom of Italy was preceded by the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, the papal states and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
The first King of the newly united Italy was Victor Emmanuel II, former King of Sardinia. He had been married to Adelaide of Austria, who had given him five surviving children. She died in 1855 and was thus never Queen of Italy. Victor Emmanuel II remarried to Rosa Vercellana in 1869 but the marriage was considered to be morganatic (unequal), and she was known as the Countess of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda. Upon his death in 1878, he was succeeded by his eldest son, now King Umberto I of Italy.
King Umberto I had married Margherita of Savoy in 1868, and they had one son together. Margherita thus became the first Queen of Italy upon her husband’s accession in 1878. During Umberto’s reign, Italy gained Eritrea and Somalia through colonial expansion. Umberto was unpopular because of his conservatism and his support of the Bava0Beccaris massacre in Milan. On 29 July 1900, Umberto was assassinated in Monza. He was succeeded by his only son, now King Victor Emmanuel III.
Victor Emmanuel III had married Elena of Montenegro in 1896, and they had five children together. When the First World War began, Italy initially remained neutral but then signed several secret treaties committing Italy to enter the war as being part of the Triple Entente (linking the Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland). The economic depression that followed the war caused the country to become politically unstable. Benito Mussolini took advantage of this.
The fascist Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister of Italy in 1922, and the King failed to curb Mussolini’s abuses of power. They were now too closely associated with fascism, and the King could not shake him off.
In 1936, Victor Emmanuel assumed the crown as Emperor of Ethiopia after the invasion of Ethiopia and the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. This was not universally accepted and rejected by countries such as the United States. In 1939, he also assumed the crown of the King of the Albanians after the Italian invasion of Albania. King Zog I of Albania was forced to flee. In 1943, Victor Emmanuel renounced his claims to the titles and recognised the previous holders.
Benito Mussolini made the fatal decision of entering the Second World War on the side of Nazi Germany. Italy suffered defeat after defeat, and the popularity of the King suffered as well. A coup d’etat against Mussolini followed, and he was arrested. Publicly Italy remained on the side of Nazi Germany, but secret negotiations with the allies began for an armistice. Later that same year, Mussolini was rescued from captivity and established a new fascist state in the north of Italy. Victor Emmanuel realised that his earlier support of the fascist regime would continue to haunt him and he transferred most of his powers to his son, Crown Princ Umberto.
In 1946, a referendum was held on whether to retain the monarchy. In an attempt to win votes, Victor Emmanuel abdicated in favour of his son, now King Umberto II. Umberto II was married to Princess Marie José of Belgium, and they had four children together. Marie José would be Italy’s last Queen as the referendum concluded that 52% of voters preferred a republic.
The claim to the Italian throne is currently being held by Umberto II’s son, Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples.