History of Italy as a monarchy and in the World Wars

From Academic Kids

History of Italy
Prehistoric Italy
Roman Period
Middle Ages
Italy under foreign domination
Monarchy and Mussolini
Italian Republic

This is the history of Italy as a monarchy and in the World Wars.


Italian Unification (1861-1870)

Modern Italy became a nation-state during the Risorgimento on March 17, 1861 when most of the states of the peninsula and Kingdom the Two Sicilies were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty, hitherto king of Sardinia, a realm that included Piedmont.

The architect of Italian unification was Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Chief Minister of Victor Emmanuel.

Rome itself remained for a decade under the Papacy, and became part of the Kingdom of Italy only in 1870, the final date of Italian unification.

Napoleon III's defeat brought an end to the French military protection for Pius IX and on September 20, Italian troops breached Rome's walls at Porta Pia and entered the city. The Italian occupation forced Pope Pius IX to his palace where he declared himself a prisoner in the Vatican until the Lateran Pacts of 1929.

The Holy See (State of the Vatican City) is now an independent enclave surrounded by Italy.

From Unification to The First World War (1870-1914)

Until 1922, Italy was a constitutional monarchy with a parliament, mostly elected with restricted suffrage (in 1913, the first universal male suffrage election was held). The so called Statuto Albertino, which Carlo Alberto conceded in 1848 remained unchanged, even if the kings usually abstained from abusing their extremely large powers (for example, senators were not elected but chosen by the king).

The Italian Prime Minister for most of this era was Giovanni Giolitti(1892 and 1921).

The First World War (1914-1918)

At the beginning of World War I Italy remained neutral, since the Triple Alliance had only defensive purposes, and the war was started by Austria. However, both the central empires and the Entente tried to attract Italy on their side, and in April 1915 the Italian government agreed (London Pact) to declare war on Austria in exchange for several territories (Trento, Trieste, Istria, Dalmatia). In October 1917, the Austrians, having received German reinforcements, broke the Italian lines at Caporetto, but the Italians (helped by their allies) stopped their advance on the river Piave, not far from Venice. After another year of trench warfare, and a successful Italian offensive in autumn 1918, the exhausted Austria surrendered to the allies on November 4 1918, soon followed by Germany.

The Fascist Regime (1919-1939)

Under the postwar settlement, Italy received most of the territories promised in the 1915 agreement, except for Dalmatia, which was mostly given to the newly formed Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Some Italian workers, inspired by the Russian revolution, began taking over their factories, mills, farms and workplaces. The liberal establishment, fearing a revolution, started to endorse the small Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini (a former socialist turned nationalist), whose violent reaction to the strikes (by means of the "Black shirts" party militia) was often compared to the relatively moderate reactions of the government. After several years of struggle, in October 1922 the fascists attempted a coup (the "Marcia su Roma", i.e. March on Rome); the fascist forces were largely inferior, but the king ordered the army not to intervene, formed an alliance with Mussolini, and convinced the liberal party to endorse a fascist-led government. Over the next few years, Mussolini (who became known as "Duce", leader) eliminated all political parties (including the liberals) and curtailed personal liberties with the pretext of preventing revolution.

In 1929 Mussolini signed the Lateran Pacts with the Catholic Church (with whom Italy was in conflict since the annexation of Rome in 1870), leading to the formation of the tiny independent state of Vatican City. He was initially in friendly terms with France and Britain, but the situation changed in 1935-36, when Italy invaded Ethiopia despite their opposition (Second Italo-Abyssinian War); because of this and of the ideological affinities with the Nazi party led by Hitler,

Italian Occupation of Albania (March 1939)

As Germany annexed Austria and moved against Czechoslovakia, Italy saw itself becoming a second-rate member of the Axis. The imminent birth of an Albanian royal child meanwhile threatened to give King Zog a lasting dynasty. After Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia (March 15, 1939) without notifying Mussolini in advance, the Italian dictator decided to proceed with his own annexation of Albania. Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III criticized the plan to take Albania as an unnecessary risk.

Rome, however, delivered Tirana an ultimatum on March 25, 1939, demanding that it accede to Italy's occupation of Albania. Zog refused to accept money in exchange for countenancing a full Italian takeover and colonization of Albania, and on April 7, 1939, Mussolini's troops invaded Albania. Despite some stubborn resistance, especially at Durr�s, the Italians quickly defeated the Albanians.

Unwilling to become an Italian puppet, Zog, his wife, Queen Geraldine Apponyi, and their infant son Leka fled to Greece and eventually to London. On April 12, the Albanian parliament voted to unite the country with Italy. Victor Emmanuel III took the Albanian crown, and the Italians set up a fascist government under Shefqet Verlaci and soon absorbed Albania's military and diplomatic service into Italy's.

After the German army defeated Poland, Denmark, and France, a still-jealous Mussolini decided to use Albania as a springboard to invade Greece. The Italians launched their attack on October 28, 1940, and at a meeting of the two fascist dictators in Florence, Mussolini stunned Hitler with his announcement of the Italian invasion. Mussolini counted on a quick victory, but Greek resistance fighters halted the Italian army in its tracks and soon advanced into Albania. The Greeks took Kor�� and Gjirokast�r and threatened to drive the Italians from the port city of Vlor�.

Albanian fear of renewed Greek designs on their country prevented effective co-operation with the Greek forces, and Mussolini's forces soon established a stable front in central Albania. Fearful that the Balkans might become the achilles heel of her domination of Europe, on April 6, 1941, Germany intervened (together with Bulgaria and Hungary) to crush both Greece and Yugoslavia, and a month later the Axis added Kosovo to Italian-ruled Albania. Thus Albanian nationalists ironically witnessed the realization of their dreams of uniting most of the Albanian-populated lands during the Axis occupation of their country.

Italy strengthened its ties with Germany on May 22, 1939 when both Nations signed the Pact of Steel. This document solidified the alliance between the two regimes.

The Second World War (1939-1945)

At the beginning of World War II Italy remained neutral (with the consent of Hitler), but it declared war on France and Britain on June 10, 1940, when the French defeat was apparent. Mussolini believed that Britain would beg for peace, and wanted "some casualties in order to get a seat at the peace table", but that proved a huge miscalculation. With the exception of the navy, the Italian armed forces were a major disappointment for Mussolini and Hitler, and German help was constantly needed in Greece and North Africa.

After the invasion of Soviet Union failed (1941-42), and the United States entered the war (December 1941), the situation for the Axis started to deteriorate. In May 1943 the Anglo-Americans completely defeated the Italians and the Germans in North Africa, and in July they landed in Sicily. King Victor Emmanuel III reacted by arresting Mussolini and appointing the army chief of staff, Marshal Badoglio, as Prime Minister.

The new government officially continued the war against the Allies, but started secret negotiations with them. Hitler did not trust Badoglio, and moved a large German force into Italy, on the pretext of fighting the Allied invasion. On September 8, 1943 the Badoglio government announced an armistice with the Allies, but did not declare war on Germany, leaving the army without instructions. Badoglio and the royal family fled to the Allied-controlled regions. In the ensuing confusion, most of the Italian army scattered (with some notable exceptions around Rome and in places such as the Greek island of Cefalonia), and the Germans quickly occupied all of central and northern Italy (the south was already controlled by the Allies). The Germans also liberated Mussolini, who then formed the fascist Italian Social Republic, in the German-controlled areas.

While the Allied troops slowly pushed the German resistance to the north (Rome was liberated in June 1944, Milan in April 1945) the monarchic government finally declared war on Germany, and an anti-fascist popular resistance movement grew, harassing German forces before the Anglo-American forces drove them out in April 1945.


  • House of Savoy (including the list of the modern kings of Italy)
  • Text of the "Albertine Statute" (Constitution of the Kingdom of Sardinia from 1840 to 1861, and of the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 to 1946): original Italian (http://www.quirinale.it/costituzione/Preunitarie-testi.htm)

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