Victor Emmanuel III
From World War I Document Archive
Victor Emmanuel studied history and law, and received military training that resulted in his holding positions of command from 1887. He married Elena, the daughter of Prince Nicholas of Montenegro, in October 1896, and succeeded his father on the throne following the latter's assassination in 1900. Persuaded that the reactionary efforts of the government of General Luigi Pelloux and others during his father's final years were counter-productive, Victor Emmanuel supported moderate and liberal practices until after the Great War. He backed the economic development and social/political reforms of Giovanni Giolitti, which created something of an Italian "New Deal" in the years 1900-1914. Victor Emmanuel III maintained support for Italy's membership in the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, but also agreed with the Italian rapprochement with Britain, France, and Russia -- the Triple Entente -- concerning Mediterranean affairs, which facilitated Italy's military venture in Libya against the Turks, 1911-1912. Partly because of this situation, General Alfred von Schlieffen of the German General Staff included Italian fortifications in his points along the circumference of the "encirclement" of Germany in the years before the war.
Although many Italian aristocrats and churchmen displayed pro-Austrian sentiments upon the outbreak of hostilities, the King understood the need for neutrality early in the conflict; and, like Sydney Sonnino, Victor Emmanuel came to support pro- Entente intervention. During a severe crisis for the Salandra-Sonnino government in May 1915, the King backed the interventionists, signed the declaration of war against Austria-Hungary, and left for the front as soon as hostilities began.
In the wake of the breakthrough at Caporetto and the ensuing crisis of October-November 1917, Victor Emmanuel displayed calm and exercised decisive leadership. When French Marshal Ferdinand Foch reported the virtual lack of a high command under Italian General Luigi Cadorna, the King replaced the latter with General Armando Diaz. Victor Emmanuel then persuaded the other Allied leaders that Italy could hold the enemy at the Piave River, and he exhorted the nation and the army to rally for the defense of the Piave line. The nation, including most Socialists and other anti-war groups, came to the aid of their country during the crisis, and the Italians held.
The king's behavior in the years following World War I lacked the character with which he acted during the war. He refused to approve Premier Luigi Facta's emergency decree against the Fascist March on Rome in 1922 and permitted Benito Mussolini to form the first fascist-led government, although the Fascists had elected only 35 members of parliament. Subsequently, his occasional complaints against Mussolini aside, Victor Emmanuel supported the Fascist dictatorship in virtually every major crisis until the Allied invasion of 1943, a course of behavior which cost him his throne in May 1946 and which facilitated Italy's abolition of the monarchy shortly thereafter.
Silvio Bertoldi, Vittorio Emanuele III. Turin: UTFT, 1971.
H. James Burgwyn, The Legend of the Mutilated Victory: Italy, the Great War, and the Paris Peace Conference, 1915-1919. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.
Paolo Puntoni, Parla Vittorio Emanuele III. Milan: Aldo Palazzi, 1958.