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Death of Prince Vittorio Emmanuele, only son of the last King of Italy

The only son of the last King of Italy has died.

Prince Vittorio Emmanuele died in Geneva on February 3rd 2024, just days before his 87th birthday. His family was with him when he passed away.

Vittorio Emmanuele was the child of King Umberto II who was deposed in 1946 after a reign that lasted a month and which ended following a referendum that confirmed the abolition of the monarchy. The prince was nine when his father lost his throne and the family went into exile.

He would later declare himself King of Italy, claiming that his father had abdicated by accepting the result of the referendum. He spent much of his adult life disputing opposition to his claim to be head of the House of Savoy.

Vittorio Emmanuele Alberto Carlo Teodoro Umberto Bonifaction Amadeo Damiano Bernadino Gennaro Maria was born on February 12th 1937 in Naples, son of Umberto, then heir to Italy’s throne and his wife, the Belgian born Princess Marie-Jose. He had three sisters – Princess Maria Pia, Princess Maria Gabriella and Princess Maria Beatrice.

His grandfather, King Vittorio Emmanuele III, held the throne although power in Italy rested with Benito Mussolini. Prince Vittorio Emmanuele grew up during World War Two and saw his family fall from grace after their association with the fascist dictator. His grandfather tried to restore the popularity of the Italian monarchy following Mussolini’s fall by handing power to Umberto but the end of the war saw opposition to royal rule increase. Vittorio Emmanele abdicated in favour of Umberto in 1946 but just a month later, a referendum saw a majority reject the monarchy. Italy’s royal family went into exile.

Prince Vittorio Emmanuele went to live in Portugal and Switzerland where he was educated. However, disputes over claims to the extinct throne marred his family. In 1969, at the age of 32, he declared himself King of Italy despite the monarchy having been abolished. But his marriage, in 1971, to Marina Doria without the permission of his father led to a rival, Amadeo, Duke of Aosta, to claim that the prince had lost his rights to the non existent crown. Their families continued to dispute leadership of the House of Savoy. In 2010, a court ruled in favour of Vittorio Emmanuele, a decision appealed by his rivals.

However, in 2002, the prince had to renounce his claim to the throne as part of his attempts to return to Italy. He had been barred from the country since his family’s exile and the conditions for his return included a renunciation of his claim and recognition of the Italian Republic as the only form of government. He also publicly declared his loyalty to the Italian Constitution and abandoning all claims to royal properties and jewels. He returned to Italy in December 2002 with his only son, Prince Emanuele Filiberto, who had been born in 1972.

Prince Vittorio Emmanuele was never far from controversy. In 1978, he was involved in an incident off the Italian coast which led to the death of a teenager. The prince said he was investigating the disappearance of a dinghy from his yacht when he fired a gun and a bullet hit a passenger on another boat, 19 year old Dirk Hamer. Vittorio Emmanuele would later be tried in Paris on charges of inflicting a lethal injury but was found not guilty. Instead, he was convicted of unauthorised possession of a weapon.

In 2006, he was arrested on charges of corruption and placed briefly under house arrest. He was later acquitted of all charges.

The prince also had to ask forgiveness from Italy’s Jewish community after an interview in which he spoke of Mussolini’s anti semitic laws, saying they weren’t ”terrible”. He said sorry and issued an apology for his family signing the laws in 1938.

In his later years, Prince Vittorio Emmanuele lived in Switzerland where he died at the age of 86 on the morning of February 3rd 2024.

He always claimed the title of Duke of Savoy. His only child, Emanuele Filiberto, could now assume that title although he has already said he would pass any claim to the throne, should the monarchy be revived, to his elder daughter, Princess Vittoria.

The family of Prince Vittorio Emmanuele have said his funeral arrangements will be announced shortly. For now they are mourning the loss of a man whose life began in turmoil and who remained controversial until the end.

Prince Vittorio Emmanuele, Duke of Savoy, 1937 – 2024

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