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Royals gather to pay respects to scion of Italy’s House of Savoy

By AFP - Feb 11,2024 - Last updated at Feb 11,2024

Pallbearers carry the coffin of late Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy following his funeral ceremony at the Duomo cathedral in Turin on Saturday (AFP photo)

TURIN, Italy — A funeral mass for the head of the House of Savoy drew royals from across Europe on Saturday, who paid their respects to Prince Vittorio Emanuele, son of Italy’s last king.

But despite the royal pedigree of many of the guests, the funeral for the controversial crown prince who died last week at age 86 in Geneva was met with relative indifference in Turin, the historical seat of the Savoy dynasty.

Under rainy skies, Vittorio Emanuele’s widow Marina Doria and son Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy were seen entering the Duomo of Turin for the private ceremony, along with guests including Sofia of Spain, Albert II of Monaco and Jean of Luxembourg.

A small crowd of about 200 onlookers gathered outside the cathedral, adorned with funeral wreaths, as pallbearers carried inside the coffin draped by a flag bearing the House of Savoy’s red and white coat of arms.

Vittorio Emanuele will later be laid to rest in the family’s crypt within the Basilica of Superga overlooking Turin.

A scion of the thousand-year-old House of Savoy that ruled a united Italy from 1861 to 1946, Vittorio Emanuele lived for most of his life in exile in Switzerland, enjoying a jetset lifestyle including ski weekends and beach holidays.

But the claimant to the Italian throne was a controversial figure embroiled in numerous scandals — including a manslaughter charge for which he was ultimately acquitted — who did little to endear himself to his native country.

Born in Naples in 1937, he was the son of Umberto II, who briefly reigned in 1946 before Italy abolished the monarchy, and the grandson of Vittorio Emanuele III, who collaborated with Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

Although the House of Savoy put an indelible royal stamp on the northern city of Turin, including a sumptuous 17th century palace that is now a museum, the city’s mayor and other local authorities snubbed Saturday’s funeral. The deceased prince’s grandfather, “handed over Italy to Mussolini. His grandson deserves no public tribute”, the Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted Turin’s former mayor, Valentino Castellani, as saying. On Friday however, the senate speaker, Ignazio La Russa, co-founder of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy Party, paid his respects during a viewing.

Emanuele Filiberto told journalists Friday his father wanted to be buried in “the city he loved”.

“He was a father, a friend, a teacher,” he said, calling his father “an extraordinary person who treated everyone equally, from the most humble to the most important”.

Vittorio Emanuele left Italy with his parents in 1946 at age nine, when Italy voted for a republic in a historic referendum and barred the return of the royal family discredited by its association with Fascism.

He did not return to Italy until 2002, after the Italian parliament ended a constitutional ban on the dynasty’s male heirs, a visit in which he swore loyalty to the republic.

The prince’s reputation was severely damaged in 1978 when he was accused of having accidentally killed a 19-year-old German, Dirk Hamer, after shooting twice at a dinghy anchored in a Corsican port near his family’s summer estate.

Finally put on trial in France over a decade later, he was acquitted in 1991 of manslaughter, but convicted of possession of an unauthorised rifle for which he received a six-months suspended sentence.

Vittorio Emanuele always maintained his innocence in Hamer’s death.

The episode became the subject of a 2023 Netflix documentary, “The King Who Never Was”.

The series revealed a 2006 wiretapped prison conversation while Emanuele Vittorio was in jail over a separate racketeering scandal — for which he was similarly acquitted — in which he is heard telling his cellmate that he had “conned” the French judges in the Hamer case.

In 2007, he and Emanuele Filiberto demanded 260 million euros in damages from the Italian state over the family’s exile and the return of the royal family’s property.

After a public outcry, they renounced the claim.

Vittorio Emmanuele married his wife Marina Doria, a Swiss former waterskiing champion, in 1971. Their son, Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy — who is married to French actress Clotilde Courau — was born in 1972 in Geneva.

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