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Three Dukes and one Duchess of Aosta and one future (nominal and unwilling) King of Croatia, c. 1910 [732 x 413]
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Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy-Aosta was born in 1869, the son of Amedeo of Savoy-Aosta and Maria Vittoria Dal Pozzo, Princess of La Cisterna. His father was the second son of Victor Emmanuel II, first King of Italy, and brother of Umberto I, second King of Italy; he was the first Duke of Aosta and the founder of the Aosta cadet branch of the House of Savoy. From 1870 to 1873 the little Emanuele Filiberto was Prince of Asturias, heir apparent to the throne of Spain: this was because in 1870, his father had been elected (yes,
) as King of Spain by the Spanish Parliament, following the deposition of Queen Isabella II. Amedeo had accepted the crown, and had thus become the first (and only) Savoy to sit on the Spanish trone; but his reign was troubled by political instability, Carlist and republican uprisings, Cuban independentism and assassination attempts. In 1873, Amedeo decided that he had had enough of Spain, declared the country ungovernable, abdicated and returned to Italy as “mere” Duke of Aosta. At his death in 1890, Emanuele Filiberto became the second Duke of Aosta; five years later he married Princess Hélène of Orléans. As customary with cadet members of the House of Savoy (and most other royal or noble families of the time), Emanuele Filiberto pursued a military career; he entered the Army in 1884 and by the time of Italy’s entry into World War I, in 1915, he had reached the rank of General. During the Great War he commanded the Third Army, which fought on the Karst plateau from 1915 to 1917 and then on the Piave river in 1918; after the victory, like other senior Italian commanders, he was given the honorary rank of Marshal of Italy. In the early 1920s he was the most Fascist-leaning member of the House of Savoy, to the point that Mussolini considered the possibility of deposing Victor Emmanuel III (who was Emanuele Filiberto’s cousin) and replacing him with Emanuele Filiberto as King of Italy if the former had opposed the march on Rome. This did not happen, but he remained the most prominent supporter of the Fascist regime in the royal family. He died in 1931, at age 62, and was buried – according to his will – in the Redipuglia War Memorial, where most of the dead of the Third Army are buried.
Hélène of Orléans was born in 1871, the daughter of Prince Philippe of Orléans (grandson of the last King of France, Louis Philippe of Orléans) and Princess Marie Isabelle of Orléans (granddaughter of King Ferdinand VII of Spain). She was born in the UK, where the entire Orléans family had been exiled after the French Revolution of 1848; a few months after her birth, the law that banished the French royal family from their country was repealed, and they were allowed to return to France; but in 1886 the French Republic banished once again the head of the House of Orléans, and Hélène moved back to the UK with her parents. In her youth she was considered "
the personification of womanly health and beauty, distinguished as a graceful athlete and charming linguist
", and had a love affair with Prince Albert Victor, son of the Prince of Wales, but they could not marry as she would have to convert to Anglicanism and her father prohibited that. After some arranged marriage attempts (including Nicholas II of Russia, Victor Emmanuel III of Italy – both still princes back then – and Franz Ferdinand of Austria) failed due to either party’s opposition or lack of interest (luckily for her, considering fhe fate of Nicholas’ and Franz Ferdinand’s wives), in 1893 Hélène fell in love with Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, whom she married in 1895, thus becoming Duchess of Aosta. Their first son, Amedeo, was born in 1898, followed by Aimone in 1900. Apparently Hélène was not very well liked by some Savoys, including Queen Margherita and his son, later king, Victor Emmanuel III; and probably not by the other Helen of the House of Savoy, Elena of Montenegro (wife of Victor Emmanuel), to whom she disparagingly referred as “
my shepherd cousin
”. The court she set up in Capodimonte (near Naples), where she lived, rivaled that in Rome. During the Italo-Turkish War and World War I Hélène, like other female members of the House of Savoy, volunteered as a nurse, serving as inspector-general of volunteer nurses within the Italian Red Cross during the Great War. In 1913-1914 she undertook a round-the-world voyage and during the interwar period she travelled in Africa (along the Nile, in East Africa and the Congo, and crossing the Sahara), Asia and Australia, hunting big game and writing several books about her travels as well as articles for “Harper’s Weekly”. Like her husband, she openly supported the Fascist regime. Her marriage with Emanuele Filiberto had been an open marriage (according to some, the marriage effectively ended in all but name in 1902, after which the two made an informal pact to ignore each other’s affairs), and in 1936, six years after his death, Hélène married the (much younger) Army Colonel Otto Campini, despite disapproval from the Savoy ‘cousins’. After losing both her sons within a few years, she retired in Capodimonte, where she died in 1951.
Amedeo of Savoy-Aosta (a recurring name in the House of Savoy, especially the Aosta branch: both his grandfather and nephew carried this name, among others – by the way, he had another ten names after ‘Amedeo’, but these are best forgotten), the first son, was born in 1898. As a child his title was that of Duke of Apulia; at age nine he was sent to school in the United Kingdom, learning perfect English and becoming perhaps the most Anglophile of the House of Savoy. After returning to Italy, he enrolled at the Nunziatella Military College in Naples; at the outbreak of World War I he volunteered in the cavalry, later becoming an artillery officer on the Karst front. He ended the war with the rank of Captain; in 1920 he followed his adventurous uncle, the Duke of Abruzzi, in Somalia, where they founded an agricultural settlement, the
Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzi
(present-day Jowhar). In 1921 he was sent to Belgian Congo – according to some, as a punishment after Victor Emmanuel III had overheard him quipping about him and his wife Elena (this seems to have been inherited from his mother…), calling them “
Curtatone e Montanara
” – the name of a battle of the Italian wars of independence, but also meaning (more or less) “the short guy and the mountain woman” (because Victor Emmanuel was extremely short, and Elena was from Montenegro). After returning from this exile of sorts in 1923, he resumed his military career; in the second half of the 1920s, by then a Lieutenant Colonel, he was stationed for some time in Libya, in command of colonial troops participating in clashes against the native resistance led by Omar al-Mukhtar, and in 1926 he became a pilot. Amedeo was extraordinarily tall, especially for the time, and a story has him jokingly answering a journalist, who had addressed him as
(“Your Highness”, but if asked as a question can also mean “[what is] your height?”), “un metro e novantotto!” (“one meter and ninety-eight centimetres”). In 1927 he married Princess Anne of Orléans, his cousin, from which he had two daughters, Margherita (born in 1930) and Maria Cristina (born in 1933). In 1931, at the death of his father, he became the third Duke of Aosta. In 1932 Amedeo was transferred, at his request, from the Army to the Air Force; during the following years he held various commands within the Regia Aeronautica, being promoted to
generale di brigata aerea
(Air Commodore) in 1934,
generale di divisione aerea
(Air Vice-Marshal) in 1936 and
generale di squadra aerea
(Air Marshal) in 1937. In December 1937, less than a month after this promotion, he was appointed Viceroy of Ethiopia and Governor-General of Italian East Africa; in contrast with the brutish policies implemented by his predecessor in this position, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani (whom had been his superior at the time of the “pacification of Libya” in the 1920s), during his tenure in East Africa Amedeo tried to pursue a more conciliatory approach with the local population. On 10 June 1940, with Italy’s entry into World War II, Amedeo – newly promoted to the rank of
generale d’armata aerea
, Air Chief Marshal – found himself in the role of commander-in-chief of all troops in Italian East Africa, a colony surrounded by enemy territory and cut off from any possibility of receiving supplies or reinforcements. In the summer of 1940 his troops conquered British Somaliland and captured some border cities and fortresses in Kenya and Sudan; then, lacking enough fuel or vehicles for further advance, could only dig in and wait for the predictable British counterattack. In December 1940 General Gustavo Pesenti, governor of Somalia, suggested Amedeo to make a separate peace with the United Kingdom and declare war on Italy, essentially starting a civil war; the Duke refused, replying “We would both deserve the firing squad: you for having said these words, and I for listening”. Pesenti was then dismissed from his position and repatriated, albeit not prosecuted. The British counteroffensive materialized in early in 1941, in the form of a multi-pronged invasion from both Kenya and Sudan; Somalia fell in February 1941, British Somaliland was retaken in March, most of Eritrea fell in April. Early on that month, Amedeo left Addis Ababa, which he deemed undefendable, and entrenched himself with 7,000 soldiers on the mountain fortress of Amba Alagi. There, besieged by a force of some 40,000 Commonwealth troops and Ethiopian irregulars, he capitulated on 19 May 1941 after the last reserves of drinking water had been contaminated by oil as a result of heavy shelling. During his captivity in Kenya he fell ill with malaria and tuberculosis, which led to his death at age forty-three, on 3 March 1942. He is buried in Nyeri, Kenya, along with seven hundred of his soldiers who also died during captivity in Kenya.
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