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 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 13:07 GMT
Long road home for Italy's royals
The Italian Royal family in 1945
The House of Savoy was punished for collaboration
Italy's relationship with its abolished monarchy has entered a new era, with the return of the men who would have been its royal heirs.

On a December day in 2002, Prince Victor Emmanuel flew back to the Italy he left in 1946 as a boy of nine.

With him was the son born in exile, 30-year-old Emmanuel Filiberto.

Benito Mussolini
The family backed Mussolini's anti-Jewish laws
The House of Savoy had finally paid the price for the perceived cowardice and wartime collaboration of Victor Emmanuel's grandfather, King Victor Emmanuel III.

In a failed attempt to save the monarchy, the tainted king finally abdicated in 1946 in favour of his son Umberto II.

But he reigned for barely a month before the Italian public, given their say in a referendum, ditched the monarchy.

The vote sent King Umberto into lifelong exile and pitched his male relatives into a 50-year battle to return.

Split vote

Post-war Italians were, in fact, divided on whether to reject the House of Savoy, which had ruled a unified Italy since 1870.

But King Victor Emmanuel's wartime ties with dictator Benito Mussolini, and his 1943 decision to flee to Brindisi as German troops turned against their former Italian allies, proved too much for the public to stomach.

Crown Prince Filiberto
Emmanuel Filiberto: Pizza dreams unfulfilled

After a closely-fought campaign, 54% of the population voted in favour of dropping the monarchy.

It was not a resounding rebuke, but iin its wake, in 1948, came a constitutional ban on any male Savoy setting foot in Italy again.

The young Victor Emmanuel settled in Switzerland, later marrying Marine Doria and producing the son who would have been the heir - Crown Prince Emmanuel Filiberto.

Like other members of Europe's diaspora of deposed royals, they made lives for themselves, but were widely seen as poor ambassadors for their own cause.

'Playboy'

Emmanuel Filiberto became a hedge fund manager with something of a playboy reputation and a past as a disc jockey.

Victor Emmanuel created his own flurries of media excitement, once for playing down the significance of the anti-Jewish laws signed by his father - for which he later apologised, and once for allegedly shooting a German tourist on his yacht - for which he was cleared of manslaughter.

Maria Jose Savoy, late widow of former Italian King Umberto
Maria Jose's death triggered the homecoming
Umberto himself died in Geneva in 1983 without renouncing his claim to the throne.

It was the death of Umberto's widow, ex-Queen Maria Jose, early in 2002 which triggered the fulfilment of the family's dream of a homecoming.

After an election campaign pledge, the right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi reversed the constitutional ban in a series of parliamentary votes.

Furious republicans tried to raise enough signatures for a petition which would have halted the procedure, but public opposition was simply not strong enough.

One survey showed 74% of Italians in favour of the Savoys' return, as long as they swore allegiance to the republic.

But Victor Emmanuel's future role remains unclear. Monarchists have turned against him for renouncing his claim to the throne, and republicans have little time for him.

He has hinted that he would be interested in a role promoting Italy's economic interests.

Symbolic

His right to return won, Victor Emmanuel had been widely expected to sail back in to Naples to reverse the traumatic departure of 1946.

He had wanted his first view of Italy to be the same as the last scene he saw as he sailed away, Italian monarachists had confidently declared.

In the event, he flew in to Rome's military Ciampino airport.

His first encounter was not with relatives or monarchist supporters, but with Vatican officials, as the family were whisked away for an audience with the Pope.

But it was a day-trip rich in symbolism and significance.

Emmanuel Filiberto's publicly-stated dreams of eating his pizza in Naples remain to be fulfilled - but the family has at least reached the end of the long road home.

See also:

15 Nov 02 | Europe
02 Aug 01 | Europe
28 Jan 01 | Europe
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