by Scott Mehl
King Umberto I of Italy
King Umberto I of Italy (Umberto Ranieri Carlo Emanuele Giovanni Maria Ferdinando Eugenio) was born March 14, 1844, in Turin, the eldest son of the future King Vittorio Emanuele II of Italy and Archduchess Adelheid of Austria. He had seven siblings:
- Princess Marie Clotilde (1843) – married Prince Napoléon Joseph Bonaparte, had issue
- Amadeo, Duke of Aosta (1845) – later King Amadeo I of Spain – married (1) Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo, had issue; (2) Princess Maria Letizia Bonaparte, had issue
- Prince Oddone, Duke of Montferrat (1846) – unmarried
- Princess Maria Pia (1847) – married King Luís I of Portugal, had issue
- Prince Carlo Alberto, Duke of Chablais (1851) – died as a child
- Prince Vittorio Emanuele (1852) – died at birth
- Prince Vittorio Emanuele, Count of Geneva (1855) – died as an infant
Just five years old when his father became King of Sardinia, Umberto – now styled Prince of Piedmont – was educated privately, with some of the most prominent statesmen and artists among his tutors. After turning 14, he began his military career with the Sardinian forces and took part in the Italian Wars of Independence. In 1861, he became heir to the throne of the newly unified Kingdom of Italy.
Due to the infighting within the Italian states during the wars, there weren’t many other royal houses who looked kindly upon the House of Savoy, and many were unwilling to establish any sort of relations with them. Their conflicts with the Pope did not help when it came time to find an appropriate royal Catholic bride for Umberto.
In 1867, in an attempt to ease the tense relations between Austria-Hungary and Italy, an engagement was arranged with Archduchess Mathilde of Austria. She was the daughter of Archduke Albrecht, Duke of Teschen, and Princess Hildegard of Bavaria. However, before the marriage could take place, Mathilde died as a result of an accident. While smoking before going to the theater, she had tried to hide the cigarette from her father and caught her dress on fire, suffering severe burns. She died several days later.
Later, on April 21, 1868, Umberto married his first cousin, Princess Margherita of Savoy (their fathers were brothers). She was the daughter of Prince Ferdinando of Savoy, Duke of Genoa, and Princess Elisabeth of Saxony. Umberto and Margherita had one son:
Umberto became King Umberto I of Italy upon his father’s death on January 9, 1878. Largely unpopular with the Italian people, Umberto was soon the target of an assassination attempt. While touring the kingdom in November 1878, an anarchist, Giovanni Passannante, attacked the King with a dagger. The king was unharmed, but the Prime Minister who was accompanying the royal couple was severely wounded. A second assassination attempt would take place in April 1897, when Pietro Acciarito, an unemployed ironsmith, attempted to stab the King. Again, Umberto was unharmed.
In May 1898, workers organized a strike in Milan to protest against rising food costs in Italy. Wheat harvest in Italy had greatly diminished, and the cost of importing grain from America had risen due to the Spanish-American war. Despite attempts by the government to maintain the price by lowering the tariffs, it was too late and not enough. What began as a somewhat peaceful strike soon turned violent. In an attempt to control the crowds, the son of the Milan mayor was shot and killed. Soon, more workers were striking, and riots broke out. The government brought in General Fiorenzo Bava-Beccaris, one of the leaders in the Italian Wars of Independence, to restore order. All came to a head on May 7, when Bava-Beccaris ordered his troops to fire on the demonstrators. Nearly 100 people were killed and several hundred were wounded. A month later, King Umberto awarded the General with the Great Cross of the Order of Savoy, which brought further uproar among the Italian people. It would lead to a tragic end for the King.
On July 29, 1900, while in the city of Monza, King Umberto I was shot four times and killed, by Gaetano Bresci, an anarchist who claimed he was avenging the deaths in the Bava-Beccaris massacre, and the insult of awarding the General for his actions. The King was buried in the Pantheon in Rome. His son, King Vittorio Emanuele III, had a chapel-monument built on the site of Umberto’s murder.