EUROPEAN ROYAL HOUSES

 

 

 

THE SAVOY SUCCESSION

[A personal view] 

Although the Royal House of Savoy was governed by certain laws on marriages, both reflecting the traditions of the House and specific statutes, it was necessary for the King to act specifically under the provisions of these laws to insure their enforcement. Until the recent publication of certain letters, I was unaware that the late King, Umberto II, had warned his son in writing about the consequences  that would follow Prince Vittorio Emanuele making an unequal marriage, that this warning had been accepted by Prince Victor Emmanuel, and the consequent threat by the King duly carried out.  

In considering the traditions of the house, it should be noted that King Victor Amedeus II of Sardinia, Duke of Savoy, considered that his second marriage, to a lady of noble but not exalted birth, should be secret, so she would not be accorded any of the courtesies that a publicly acknowledged wife of equal birth would expect. One year later the King declared the marriage public, and was immediately forced to accept following protests by his own family and the court, that his wife’s status should not be that of equal consort, but of lower rank. There is little doubt that had issue been born of this marriage they would not have been accorded dynastic rights. 

The marriage of Prince Eugenio Ilarione of Savoy-Carignano in 1779 led to the promulgation of two royal patents, in 1780 and 1782, which made it clear that his marriage did not confer dynastic rights and that this prince would forfeit his own rights. It would seem that Prince Eugenio was already aware that his marriage would not have been recognized when he contracted it, before the promulgation of the two royal patents. He was then given, in a separate act, the titles and royal rank he had enjoyed earlier but without the right to transmit them to his descendants.  In 1834 his grandson, born of his son’s marriage to a lady of high noble rank (the daughter of a French duke), was restored to the titles and position he would have enjoyed had his grandfather’s marriage been dynastic. The reason for this may have been the fact that King Carlo Alberto’s sons were as yet unmarried and, should they have died without male heirs, the dynasty would have become extinct. This same prince later married his mistress, the mother of his children, and the King declared this marriage invalid for dynastic purposes and gave the issue a new name and title. 

I had earlier questioned whether a dynastic law governing the succession to a state of the Empire could be enforced without Imperial approval (and sanction by the Imperial Diet). Since 1742 such a necessity was much diminished following the Emperor’s decision to give way to the demands of the sovereign princes of the Empire not to ennoble a “notoriously unequal” spouse. Meanwhile the Imperial courts came to rely on family precedent as well as any house laws promulgated by these families. Furthermore, these restrictions on sovereign authority only extended to the German states, and did not as I have now been informed, extend to families ruling “neighbouring territory of the Empire” (Nebenland des deutschen Reiches, as opposed to the eigentliche Reichsland). Hence my notion that the status of Savoy as an Imperial Duchy might have imposed a restriction on the right of Victor Amedeus III to enact the Patents of 1780 / 1782 was mistaken.  

In 1848 the Abertine Statute, which became the new constitution of unified Italy, neither repealed nor amended the law. It has been claimed that the omission from this act of any claim by the king to regulate the marriages of his family consequently invalidated the laws of 1780 and 1782. Yet both Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I acted to apply these laws in excluding the second wife of Victor Emmanuel from the privileges and rank that would have accrued to her as equal consort of the King (and deprived the issue of any rights or titles they might have otherwise enjoyed as such), and Umberto I did the same in respect of the marriage of Prince Eugenio of Savoy-Carignano (the object of the re-dynasticisation of 1834). These acts were not considered void or invalid by virtue of the Albertine statute. One may consider that the dynastic law of the House was entirely separate from that of the state and continued to apply, irrespective of the Constitutional nature of the Albertine Statute. This is what in fact happened in Spain, where the Pragmatic Decree regulating royal marriages, of 1776, continued to be applied against Infantes and Infantas marrying unequally, with or without permission (in the latter case excluding also the prince or princess contracting the unauthorised marriage), even though successive Constitutions introduced separate requirements regarding royal marriages. I am not persuaded by the argument that the Albertine Statute revoked the 1780 decrees, and it is clear from the exchange of letters from 1960 to 1963 that at the time neither did King Umberto II or his son  consider royal sanction for a marriage no longer necessary.  

The 1865 Italian Civil Code, amended in 1942 (and still valid), by article 65 (92 in the later version) required that the King give his authorisation for all marriages of princes and princesses of the royal family. This article, unlike article 91 which forbid interracial marriages, has not been abrogated but has merely been omitted from the present version of the code (the title of the article is still listed). 

In 1960 King Umberto II wrote to his son clearly laying out his view that in order to succeed his father Prince Victor Emmanuel must marry in accordance with the laws of the House. In this letter the King describes the consequences of an unequal marriage contracted without his permission (exclusion from the succession) and that should his son make such a marriage he, the King, would divide his estate in four equal parts and not leave anything special to his son, as heir. This letter also states that if Prince Victor Emmanuel married unequally, the heir of King Umberto would be Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta. This letter has previously been unknown to me.  

Prince Victor Emmanuel, it has now been shown, signed his acceptance of this letter and its terms. I was unaware of this fact. I am informed that it has been claimed this letter and the affirmation of Prince Victor Emmanuel are forgeries; the problem with this claim is that it is over their authenticity and not whether the King’s statement and his son’s acceptance of it were binding if they are valid.  

In 1963, following an interview in Oggi magazine, Prince Victor Emmanuel was reported as having stated that he intended to marry Sig.na Marina Doria; in this interview he evidently recognized that the status of his future wife was important in stating that her grandfather was a Marquess. He had evidently been misinformed on this point, but the fact that he claimed it suggests he recognized the traditions of the House which had permitted princes to marry into the higher nobility with the authorisation of the King. Following this interview, the King wrote once again to his son, confirming that everything he had stated in his 1960 letter was still binding. I did not know of this article or the King’s letter following its publication.  

On 16 December 1969, in an act that may be considered the treasonable deposition of his father, Prince Victor Emmanuel, as “Vittorio Emanuele IV, Re d’Italia” declared his future wife created “Duchess of S. Ana di Valdieri. I did not know of this act until recently.  

Before he died, King Umberto II is not known to have made any further written statement on the matter. It is known that he forbade his family to participate in Prince Victor Emmanuels’ marriage ceremony in Teheran or the celebration following the marriage; only Princes Maria Pia and her huisband, who happened to be in Teheran, attended the wedding ceremony. The King later conferred the Collar of the Annunziata on the only son and heir of Prince Amedeo, the then fifteen year old Prince Aimone di Savoia-Aosta, Duca delle Puglie and, notably, did not confer the same honour upon his grandson. He did however attend the baptism of his grandson and is stated as having conferred, viva voce, the title of Prince of Venice, a title new to the dynasty (as had been that of Naples a century earlier), and clearly of higher rank than the title of Count conferred on the issue of earlier unequal marriages. This conferral was never followed by letters patent or by any written decree, even though the King during his exile conferred or confirmed several hundred other titles. It is difficult to conclude precisely what the King intended from this act, although he is reported as having stated “Italians will understand,” presumably referring to the fact that this was not a title of Savoy dynasty but a new creation unknown in Italian history (other than the similar title conferred by Napoleon I on his step-son, Eugène de Beauharnais).  On the other hand, the title of Prince of Naples first used for the elest son of Umberto I, the future Victor Emmanuel III, was also new to the dynasty.

In 1983 King Umberto II died, his succession was divided between his four children equally (as he had stated he would do in 1960 if his son married unequally, and was consequently excluded). Prince Victor Emmanuel proclaimed himself his father’s heir and Head of the House; his mother, Queen Maria José, urged her daughters to acknowledge him as head of the Savoy Orders by virtue of his position as “head of the House of Savoy”, which they did in a notarised letter, in which they were joined by King Simeon II of the Bulgarians and Prince and Landgraf Moritz of Hesse, nephews of the late King and co-execitors of his estate. This statement did not enjoy any legal authority, however, and must be considered purely private familial support for their son, brother and cousin. 

Prince Victor Emmanuel’s succession was not publicly challenged and since that date he has been treated as head of the Royal House by the Italian Republic, by the heads of other reigning and non-reigning houses and by many Italians as well as by the editors of every genealogical reference work. Prince Amedeo at the time said nothing publicly, although when he remarried following the annulment of his first marriage,[1] he apparently made a statement before a notary that he declared this marriage to be authorised. Prince Victor Emmanuel’s awards of the Savoy Orders have been accepted by many, as have those of the Annunziata (the Prince Grand Master of the SMOM and two former Cardinal Secretaries of State of the Holy See are among those who have accepted this Order). Prince Victor Emmanuel subsequently published an act combining the grand chancelleries of the Royal Orders, although their statutes and traditions for sound historic reasons had always had separate administrations and officers. On 13 December 2006 he declared the Duke and Duchess of Aosta and the Duke of Apulia deprived of their membership of the Savoy Orders and the Duchess of Aosta of her title of Royal Highness.  

Prince Amedeo’s failure to claim the dignity which Prince Victor Emmanuel’s presumed exclusion would entitle him is a significant weakness in the case for the junior line. This decision may have been made to protect him and his young family (of whom he had been given custody following his divorce from Princess Claude of Orléans) from the possibility of expulsion from Italy.[2] It may also have been done to prevent the public squabble which would have inevitably resulted. In either case it left a situation with a de facto head of the House whose acts as such are only now being called into question, following allegations of serious criminal acts by the Italian magistrature, his arrest, and temporary imprisonment before release during the ongoing inquiries.

The question remains whether Prince Amedeo’s failure to claim the succession in 1983 would prevent him from doing so subsequently. If he is considered to have abandoned his own rights thereby, then the succession would pass to the next heir in line. If Prince Vittorio Emanuele is indeed excluded, then that person is Prince Aimone, Duca delle Puglie. If he did not enjoy any such rights and Prince Vittorio Emanuele has duly succeeded, then the deprivation of membership of the Royal Orders of the members of the Aosta family by Prince Vittorio Emanuele must be considered valid.

Guy Stair Sainty


For the text of the documents called in support of the Aosta claim, see www.casarealedisavoia.it

[1] To a lady from the Paternò family, of commensurate rank with that of his ancestress, the first duchess of Aosta, sometime Queen of Spain, born dal Pozzo della Cisterna, whose marriage to the first duke of Aosta had been authorised by the King.

[2] It is unclear whether the Transitory Provision XIII of the Italian Constitution, which excludes the descendants of the ex-kings of the House of Savoy from Italy; most of the scholarly texts have considered this extended to all the princes of the House of Savoy but in fact no action was ever taken against Prince Amedeo.