Exiled Italian Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy has died at the age of 86

 February 4, 2024

Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, the only son of Italy's last ruling monarch, King Umberto II, died this weekend at the age of 86, according to Italian news outlet ANSA.

The Royal House of Savoy said on Saturday in a translated statement, "At 7:05 am this morning, February 3, 2024, His Royal Highness Vittorio Emanuele, Duke of Savoy and Prince of Naples, passed away peacefully in Geneva surrounded by his family."

"The place and date of the funeral will be announced as soon as possible," the royal family's statement added.

Lived most of his life in exile

The Associated Press reported that Prince Emanuele was born in 1937 in Naples to his father Umberto, then the Prince of Piedmont, and his mother, Princess Marie-Jose of Belgium, while his grandfather, King Vittorio Emanuele III, held the throne over the Kingdom of Italy.

However, when the prince was just nine years old, the king for whom he was named abdicated the throne in 1946 amid public outrage following World War II about his prior close supportive relationship with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, and his son was elevated to rule as King Umberto II, albeit only for about a month before the royal family was forced to flee Italy for Switzerland to live in exile.

That forced exile was due to provisions in the new Republic of Italy's constitution that not only abolished the monarchy but also banned all royal male members of the House of Savoy, which had ruled parts or all of Italy for nearly a millennium, from setting foot on Italian soil.

The ban was eventually lifted in 2002, at which point Prince Emanuele and his son, Prince Emanuele Filiberto, finally returned to Italy for a visit even as they continued to reside near Switzerland's Lake Geneva, where the family had lived in exile for decades.

Controversies and scandals

Reuters reported that Prince Emanuele's 2002 return to Italy, where he met briefly with the Catholic Pope and other dignitaries before returning to Switzerland, was not well-received by all, as there were lingering hard feelings over the royal family's Mussolini connections, Emanuele's decades-long fight against the royal ban, and his unsuccessful bid at one point to declared himself the king of Italy while in exile.

Part of that remaining bitterness toward Emanuele stemmed from various controversies and scandals he was involved in, such as the 1978 fatal accidental shooting of a German tourist named Dirk Hamer on a boat off the coast of Corsica, which is detailed in a Netflix documentary titled "The King Who Never Was."

The exiled prince was eventually brought to trial in France in 1991 but was acquitted of the killing that happened 12 years earlier and was only given a suspended sentence for his illegal possession of a rifle. He was also scandalously accused in 1981 of being a member of a banned secret society, though nothing ever came of that.

Emanuele found trouble again in 2006 when he was arrested and jailed in Potenza and hit with charges related to racketeering and prostitution, of which he was later acquitted, and that incident brought a renewed interest in the 1978 shooting of Hamer following the release of an alleged secret jailhouse recording, which he vigorously disputed, in which the prince seemed to brag to another inmate that he had fooled the French courts and gotten away with murder.

Changes are coming for the Royal House of Savoy

Per the AP, Prince Emanuele is survived by his wife, Marina Ricolfi Doria, and their son, Prince Emanuele Filiberto, who is now the heir to the Royal House of Savoy, though that is a title and responsibility that he doesn't intend to keep.

Instead, as reported last year by the New York Post, Filiberto has announced his plans to soon renounce his position and hand over control of the royal family -- as well as the monarchy, if it should ever be symbolically restored by the Italian people -- to his 19-year-old daughter, Princess Vittoria.

That transition will come eventually, as Filiberto explained that he wants to wait until Vittoria -- who is currently living in the U.K. as a student, social media influencer, and fashion model -- finishes her studies and grows a little older and wiser before being saddled with the responsibilities of maintaining a royal family that has been in existence for nearly 1,000 years.

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