Saturday, July 8, 2017
King Carlo Emanuele III
Nonetheless, Vittorio Amedeo II would not rule for long as his life was being overtaken by grief and sadness. His eldest daughter (mother of King Louis XV of France) died in 1712, his second daughter did not survive childhood, his third daughter (wife of King Felipe V of Spain) died in 1714 and his eldest son died in 1715. In 1728 his grief-stricken wife Queen Anne Marie also passed away from heart failure. Trying to flee from his depression, in August of 1730 the King secretly married an old girlfriend with special permission from Pope Clement XII. The following month they made their marriage public and shortly thereafter the King announced his abdication, signing over his powers to his son on September 3, 1730 who then became King Carlo Emanuele III. The whole affair over the new wife and the abdication caused quite a scandal and King Carlo Emanuele III, who had never been his father’s favorite, was less than pleased with having to deal with it. He did his best to keep the former monarch out of sight and out of mind.
Although she had only a few more years to live herself, Queen Polyxena was adamant that her husband be firm in dealing with his father. King Carlo Emanuele III gained the support of the Crown Council and managed to have his father arrested and confined to Rivoli castle and probably just in the nick of time as he had been rumored to be plotting an invasion Lombardy with the aim of conquering Milan, which would surely have sparked a war. In any event, that crisis was averted, his father had been dealt with and would trouble him no more and King Carlo Emanuele III could get on with the business of ruling his country. He did not have long to wait before an actual war broke out, once again over a disputed royal succession. The monarchy in dispute was that of Poland with France, Spain and Parma (so the Bourbon family basically) supporting Stanislas I and Russia, Austria, Prussia and Saxony supporting Augustus III. Rather than backing the empire, King Carlo Emanuele III joined the French and quickly led a very successful invasion of Lombardy, conquering Milan with little difficulty.
This war over the Polish throne had a few significant results for the Savoy monarchy. First, it had secured the reputation of King Carlo Emanuele III as a capable military leader with his campaign which secured several battlefield victories and showed his skill at maneuver in preventing the union of the armies from Austria and Naples. Secondly, it showed that the hope for greater gains to be had by allying with the French were not to be taken for granted. It caused no small amount of frustration in Turin that so much territory which the Piedmontese had fought for and won would be so quickly handed over to another power. Another conflict was soon on the horizon and King Carlo Emanuele III would certainly not be taking the side of the French again. That conflict, the War of Austrian Succession, was the next great crisis of his reign.
In 1741 the Spanish and their Neapolitan proxies made a fast and aggressive invasion north with the aim, once again, of taking control of Milan and northern Italy for Spain. Empress Maria Theresa sent her people to talk to King Carlo Emanuele III’s people and work out an alliance. 1742 saw these negotiations concluded and combat begin, though the Habsburg-Savoy alliance was directed at Spain rather than France. At first, the Austrians did well enough and seemed to need no help, however, by early 1743 the Spanish got the better of them. More troops were rushed in from Germany and the Spanish retreated but the scare was enough to involve the French were drawn into a frustrating conflict in the Alps against the Piedmontese troops of the House of Savoy. 1744 promised to be decisive with a major Franco-Spanish invasion planned for the conquest of northern Italy. The French, Spanish and Neapolitan troops, led by the King of Naples who would later be King Carlos III of Spain, won the Battle of Nemi (or First Battle of Velletri) and then a second by thwarting an Austrian raid that intended to capture the future Spanish monarch.
King Carlo Emanuele III lost a succession of battles against a Franco-Spanish army that outnumbered his roughly 3-to-1, however, in 1746 he was given some Austrian reinforcements to make good his losses and began to turn the situation around. Alessandria and Asti were recaptured from the enemy and in 1747 he won a stunning and decisive victory over the French at the Battle of Assietta. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Italians defeated the French and inflicted 5,300 losses on them while losing only 299 of their own. It was such an overwhelming victory that the Bourbon forces gave up on the Italian front and shifted their main war effort to the Franco-German border and the Netherlands. King Frederick the Great of Prussia famously said that if he had an army like the Piedmontese, he would make himself King of Italy in quick order. King Carlo Emanuele III was not without at least some such aspirations but, as his remark about the artichoke demonstrates, he knew that he would have to play the long game. As it was, he showed his remarkable skill as a negotiator when both sides of the war finally determined to come to terms for peace. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle might not have fulfilled every aspiration but it considerably expanded Savoy territory and recovered all that had been lost at the hands of the French.