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Umberto I of Italy

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Umberto I or Humbert I of Italy (Ranieri Carlo Emanuele Giovanni Maria Ferdinando Eugenio of Savoy, 14 March, 1844 - 29 July, 1900), surnamed "the Good", was the King of Italy from 9 January, 1878 until his death.

- Umberto I -

The son of Vittorio Emanuele II and of Adelaide, archduchess of Austria, Umberto was born at Turin, capital of the kingdom of Sardinia, on 14 March, 1844. His education was entrusted to the most eminent men of his time, amongst others to Massimo Taparelli, marquis d'Azeglio and Pasquale Stanislao Mancini. Entering the army in March 1858 with the rank of captain, he was present at the battle of Solferino in 1859, and in 1866 commanded a division at the battle of Custozza. Attacked by the Austrian cavalry near Villafranca, he formed his troops into squares and drove the assailants towards Sommacampagna, remaining himself throughout the action in the square most exposed to attack. With Bixio he covered the retreat of the Italian army, receiving the gold medal for valour.

On 21 April, 1868 Umberto married his cousin, Margherita Teresa Giovanna, princess of Savoy. They begat Victor Emmanuel, prince of Naples; and Victor Emmanuel III of Italy.

Ascending the throne on the death of his father (9 January, 1878), Umberto adopted the style "Umberto I of Italy" rather than "Umberto IV" (of Savoy), and consented that the remains of his father should be interred at Rome in the Pantheon, and not in the royal mausoleum of Superga (see Crispi). Accompanied by the premier, Benedetto Càiroli, he began a tour of the provinces of his kingdom, but on entering Naples (17 November, 1878), amid the acclamations of an immense crowd, was attacked by a man named G. Passanante. The king warded off the blow with his sabre, but Cairòli, in attempting to defend him, was severely wounded in the thigh. The would-be assassin was condemned to death, but the king commuted the sentence to one of penal servitude for life. The incident upset the health of Queen Margherita for several years.

In 1881 King Umberto, again accompanied by Cairòli, resumed his interrupted tour, and visited Sicily and the southern Italian provinces. In 1882 he took a prominent part in the national mourning for Garibaldi, whose tomb at Caprera he repeatedly visited. When, in the autumn of 1882, floods afflicted Verona and Venetia, he hastened to the spot, directed salvage operations, and provided large sums of money for the destitute. Similarly on 28 July, 1883 he hurried to Ischia, where an earthquake had engulfed some 5000 persons. Countermanding the order of the minister of public works to cover the ruins with quicklime, the king prosecuted salvage operations for five days longer, and personally saved many victims at the risk of his own life.

In 1884 Umberto visited Busca and Naples during a cholera epidemic, helping the numerous sufferers with money and advice, and raising the spirit of the population.

Compared with the reigns of his grandfather, Charles Albert of Savoy, and of his father, Victor Emmanuel, the reign of Umberto proved tranquil. Scrupulously observant of constitutional principles, he followed, as far as practicable, parliamentary indications in his choice of premiers, only one of whom - Rudini - came from the Conservative ranks. In foreign policy he approved of the conclusion of the Triple Alliance, and, in repeated visits to Vienna and Berlin, established and consolidated that pact. Towards the United Kingdom he invariably maintained a cordial attitude, and he considered the Triple Alliance imperfect unless supplemented by an Anglo-Italian naval entente.

He was also favourably disposed towards the policy of colonial expansion inaugurated in 1885 by the occupation of Massawa, he was suspected of aspiring to a vast empire in north-east Africa, a suspicion which tended somewhat to diminish his popularity after the disaster of Adowa on 1 March 1896. During the colonial wars in Africa, big demonstrations were held in Italy and on May 7, 1898 the city of Milan was put under military control by General Fiorenzo Bava-Beccaris, who ordered to use cannons on the people; as a result, 80 people were shot dead; King Umberto sent a telegram to congratulate with Bava-Beccaris and decorated him with the medal of Great Official of Savoy Military Order, greatly disappointing a large part of the public opinion. On the other hand, his popularity was enhanced by the firmness of his attitude towards the Vatican, as exemplified in his telegram declaring Rome "intangible" (20 September, 1886), and affirming the permanence of the Italian possession of the Eternal City.

Above all King Umberto was a soldier, jealous of the honour and prestige of the army to such a degree that he promoted a duel between his nephew, Victor Emmanuel, Count of Turin (died 1946), and Prince Henry of Orleans (15 August 18?7) on account of the aspersions cast by the latter upon Italian arms.

The claims of King Umberto upon popular gratitude and affection were enhanced by his extraordinary munificence, which was not merely displayed on public occasions, but directed to the relief of innumerable private wants into which he had made personal inquiry. The regard in which he was universally held was abundantly demonstrated on the occasion of the unsuccessful attempt upon his life made by the anarchist Acciarito near Rome on 22 April, 18?7, and still more after his tragic assassination at Monza by the anarchist Gaetano Bresci on the evening of 29 July, 1900 to revenge, as he said, the people killed by Bava-Beccaris. Good-humoured, active, tender-hearted, somewhat fatalistic, but, above all, generous, he was spontaneously called "Umberto the Good". He was buried in the Pantheon in Rome, by the side of Victor Emmanuel II, on 9 August, 1900.

Umberto and Queen Margherita had children including:

  1. Vittorio Emanuele

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Preceded by:
Victor Emmanuel II
King of Italy Succeeded by:
Victor Emmanuel III