Shadow that haunts Italy’s royals

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The return of Italy’s formerly exiled royal family after 57 years in exile was met with a wave of criticism which almost overshadowed the glitzy parties and welcome home dinners. The three-day visit was to the former capital of the independent south, Naples. 65 year-old Prince Victor Emmanuel, head of the House of Savoy, his wife, Marina Doria, and their son, Emmanuel Filiberto, 30, hoped their homecoming from their Swiss refuge would be a grand and  historic occasion. Instead, the prince’s declaration of “love” for his native land was met with hostility from the people of Naples – the city where he was born and, aged just nine, from where he sailed into exile after a much disputed referendum which abolished the monarchy. The Savoy family has been in exile since 1946. The near thousand year-old monarchy was banished primarily because the late King Victor Emmanuel III, the current prince’s grandfather, reigned passively under Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime.

Some Italians still have a nostalgia for the royal era, under which the nation was united, and the royal family’s return was orchestrated by Silvio Berlusconi’s government, which had the Italian parliament lift the constitutional ban a year ago. But anti-monarchy feelings still run deep in Naples. Posters damning the royal family as “traitors of Italy” and “slaughterers of the South” appeared in Naples – a reference to the harsh suppression used against southern “brigands” after the Savoys became rulers of the newly-united Italy in the 1860s, deposing their southern Bourbon rivals. The Bourbon legacy accounts for the added hostility in Naples, being the former seat of the rival  dynasty. A sign of which was seen outside Naples cathedral where the hard-Right Movimento Sociale staged a sit-in, calling for the Savoy family “apologise” for their “wrongs”.

The return was still a noteworthy social event as Naples socialites competed for invitations to schmooze with the royals at the Circolo dell’Unione, the city’s most elite club, or to the gala dinner at the Vesuvius Hotel. But to the Savoys’ dismay, Naples’ mayor, Rosa Russo Jervolino, refused a 15,000-euro donation by Victor Emmanuel to a city hospice, describing it as a publicity stunt. The issue, she said, was that the family had wanted a plaque in Victor Emmanuel’s honour. “Charity must be done quietly and not ostentatiously,” was the rebuke.

Die-hard supporters of the Neo-Bourbon Movement in Naples also had their say, printing thousands of stickers with the Savoy family coat of arms overlaid with a “no entry” sign  and the words “Indietro Savoia” – “Savoys, go home”. The movement’s leader Professor Gennaro De Crescenzo said: “The South has nothing to celebrate with the Savoys’ return. From unification onwards, they have spelt nothing but death, repression and the plunder of our resources.”

(First published in Royalty Magazine Volume 18-07.)