Today in History – May 9, 1946 – Umberto II the “King of May” becomes the last King of Italy

It was a decision that came three years too late.  With a referendum on the monarchy looming and tainted by his previous support of fascism King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy finally abdicated his throne n favor of his son Umberto II and left the country the following day.  Victor Emmanuel had allowed Mussolini to rise to power and had participated in the 1943 coup to topple him.  The royal family then fled Rome, a decision that was probably necessary  for their safety but did not improve the reputation of the monarchy and the House of Savoy.  In 1944 the Victor Emmanuel handed named Umberto Lieutenant General of the Realm and turned over his powers to him, but stubbornly remained king.

Umberto II
Umberto II

The young and cultivated Umberto garnered praise in his role as regent and had he been named monarch earlier could have saved the monarchy.  The referendum itself was controversial, given that many monarchist voters were displaced and unable to vote along with other unproven allegations of fraud by the monarchists.  On June 2, 1946 a 54% of Italians voted for a Republic with only 46% wanting the monarchy.  Having pledged to obey the results of the referendum, Umberto’s 34 day reign ended on June 12.  He asked his supporters to accept the Republic and left the country.

Barred by the new Italian constitution from returning to the country, Umberto spent the remaining 37 years of his life in exile and died in Geneva in 1983.

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