Lecture Series - The Rise of the House of Savoy

October 10, 2021

If you are unable to attend the live sessions, do not worry - all those who register will automatically be sent copies of the lectures to view in your own time (from around four hours after they take place).  

The Rise of The House of Savoy

Straddling the alpine passes between France and Italy, the House of Savoy rose from 11th century feudal counts to Imperial dukes and princes, eventually becoming kings of Sardinia and finally of Italy, traversing a thousand years of European history. The expansion of their territories was based on a series of military adventures and judicious marriages, allied to survival skills sharpened over centuries of European diplomacy. Indeed, the dynasty acquired a quasi-Machiavellian reputation for double-dealing, usually backing ‘the right horse’ on the international stage, thus facilitating their rise to regal status. In the course of this remarkable transformation, in 1563 the Savoy dukes moved their capital from alpine Chambéry to an old Roman settlement on the upper plain of the river Po, transforming it into their new capital of Turin. Thus, the city and surrounding territories saw an extraordinary blossoming of the arts, particularly in architecture as churches, palaces and villas were created. Two of Europe’s greatest architects, Guarino Guarini and Filippo Juvarra, worked for the family who filled these building with outstanding collections, much of which is still in the city’s palaces and museums. During the tumultuous events which led to the unification of Italy, the Savoy family became the new country’s monarchs until they were forced into exile at the end of the second World War.

Over the course of two lectures, James Hill will introduce some of the most influential members of the House of Savoy, sketching in their military careers, their diplomatic achievements, their considerable patronage of the arts, the transformation of the ducal and royal capital at Turin and the dynasty’s wider impact on the creation of modern Italy.

Lecture 1
Power & Prosperity in Turin - Tuesday 9 November at 11am
The Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund of Luxemburg and Bohemia, elevated Amadeus VIII from count to Duke of Savoy in 1416, a status consolidated over the next hundred years, culminating in the decision to move the ducal capital from alpine Chambéry to Turin. Of Roman origin with a low-grade veneer of medieval buildings, in 1563 Turin was chosen by Duke Emmanuel Philibert to be the new center of the dynasty’s growing importance in European affairs. This reflected what the Kings of France called its position at ‘The Gateway to Italy’. Over time the medieval cathedral complex became a bold renaissance expression of the city’s new spirit, while an elegant ducal court soon blossomed nearby, marrying renaissance forms to ever increasing French influence, absorbed via a series of royal marriages. At the turn of the 17th into the 18th centuries, the dynasty produced a military genius, Prince Eugène of Savoy, who served three Habsburg emperors becoming their most successful general. Victorious against the Turks and triumphant in the Wars of the Spanish Succession, his standing and achievements aided the dynasty’s elevation from dukes to kings in 1720. Throughout this period, the creative force of architects such as Guarino Guarini and Filippo Juvarra transformed the city and garlanded it with elegant villas and hunting lodges of restrained opulence.
A Slide List for this lecture can be downloaded here.
Lecture 2
The Kings of Sardinia & Italy - Wednesday 10 November at 11am
With the end of the Wars of the Spanish Succession, Europe once again opened up to travel and Turin resumed its role as a ‘gateway’ to Italy. Grand tourists made it their first ‘stop over’ before moving on to Venice and elsewhere, enjoying the dignified elegance of the upgraded ‘royal’ capital of the newly minted Kingdom of Sardinia. In the following century the city became involved in the wider power struggles between France and Austria, while the revolutionary fervour of 1848 stimulated growing demands for ‘Italian’ independence from foreign dynasties. After failed attempts to galvanise popular uprisings, the Savoy dynasty were sought by the revolutionaries to lead Italy’s attempt to unify as a single nation. While King Charles Albert conceded a written constitution for the Savoy kingdom, his prime minister, Count Cavour, became the protagonist in the slow march to Italian unity. In 1861 Victor Emmanuel II became the first of the four Savoy kings to rule Italy, originally from Turin and from Rome in 1870. Their dominance ended with the dramatic and short-lived rule of Umberto II who abdicated in 1946. Thus ended the power of the House of Savoy, a dynasty which has left an indelible imprint on the social, political and cultural landscape that is Italy.
A Slide List for this lecture can be downloaded here.
James Hill.344x395     
James Hill
James Hill is our long-standing Italian, US and Caribbean tours director. British born, he has been resident in Italy for over 28 years where he studied politics. An authority on travel and culture in Italy, he lives near Rome and has a background in travel writing and television production where he worked on around sixty cultural programmes and documentaries on Italy.

Format for Lectures

James will give two one-hour illustrated lectures for £20.

You will not need to download any software and the lecture will work in any browser. For the best experience use a desktop or laptop - but it will also work on an iPad or similar tablet.

We hope you enjoy the webinars.


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