Who was Victor Emmanuel III? In 1900, Umberto I, who was the king of Italy, was assassinated and he was succeeded by Victor Emmanuel III. While his reign was a long one, we cannot quite say that it was prosperous. It ended in 1946, which means that he led Italy through two World Wars as well as the rise of Benito Mussolini and the fascists.
Victor Emmanuel III was born on November 11, 1869. He was a short man, and Mussolini referred to him as the “little sardine,” whereas Wilhelm II, the German Kaiser called him dwarf. Italy unified in 1871, but it was a fragmented society even after this event. The coalition governments were weak and non-influential which means that the entire peninsula was fraught with corruption and poverty. As a king, Victor Emmanuel III was more concerned with the money than the current affairs at the time.
World War I
Italy was a part of the Triple Alliance since 1882, and the other two countries were Germany and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. However, when the war started in 1914, Italy was neutral at first, but their position of neutrality didn’t last long as they entered the war one year later. To everyone’s surprise, they turned their backs on their long-term allies and joined the Triple Entente comprising of Russia, GB, and France. The King of Italy was anxious to join the war because he wanted Italy’s reputation to improve.
The rise of Mussolini
After the war, Italy continued to struggle with corruption while its people lived at the poverty line. Various movements were growing stronger, and the war was waging in the streets of Italy between anarchists, communists, and socialists, while on the brinks of society a new movement was being formed, threatening to engulf everyone who opposed it.
The fascists were led by Benito Mussolini who was in charge of the March on Rome with the demands for the new government to be formed. Initially, Victor Emmanuel III was disinterested, but Mussolini managed to convince him that such move would benefit the country. At one point, when fascist critic Giacomo Matteotti was murdered, it was believed that it would represent Mussolini’s demise, but he managed to stay afloat, partly thanks to the king who feared that the socialists might take over the power. After that, Victor Emmanuel III was marginalized and Mussolini assumed the position of the most powerful man in the country.
World War II
While Victor Emmanuel III wanted to enter the World War I, he wanted Italy to stay away from conflicts in the Second World War. However, Mussolini was too powerful to be stopped and he declared war on France and Great Britain in 1940, joining Germany and later Japan. Initially, Italy and Germany advanced, conquering territories, in Europe and northern Africa but in July 1943, Italy surrendered and the Italian Fascist Grand Council voted 19 to 8 to remove Mussolini from power. Mussolini tried to convince the king that the voting was not constitutional, but Victor Emmanuel III responded: “My dear Duce, it’s no longer any good. Italy has gone to bits… The soldiers don’t want to fight any more… At this moment you are the most hated man in Italy.”
Victor Emmanuel signed the armistice with the Allies on September 8th, and after that, he fled to the town of Brindisi from where he declared war on Germany.
One year after the World War II ended, so did the reign of Victor Emmanuel III. He was forced to leave his country and move to Egypt. He named his son Umberto II as his heir but on a national referendum in Italy, the people voted in favor of becoming a republic with 54.3 percent. With Victor Emmanuel III the Kingdom of Italy ended. He died in exile in 1947 at the age of 78. His son Umberto II continued his life in Switzerland where he died in 1983.