Victor Amadeus II (1666-1732) was Duke of Savoy, king of Sicily, and king of Sardinia. An enlightened despot, he brought good government, justice, and prosperity to his domain and won for his people freedom from foreign domination.
Victor Amadeus was born on May 14, 1666. He was the son of Charles Emmanuel II, whom he succeeded as Duke of Savoy in 1675 upon the latter's death. Victor Amadeus's mother ruled as regent until 1683, when he declared the regency ended and personally assumed the reins of government. That same year Victor Amadeus married Anna Maria of Orléans, the niece of Louis XIV.
Louis XIV wished to draw Savoy into the French orbit for two reasons. Savoy would be a threat to France if it was occupied by any enemy of France's, and Louis wished to occupy Savoy himself as a first step toward conquering all of Italy. In 1685 Louis forced Victor Amadeus into war. That year, following Louis's revocation of the Edict of Nantes, thousands of French Protestants fled into the Waldensian Valley, an alpine border area between France and Savoy. Louis XIV instructed Victor Amadeus to invade the Savoyard portion of the Waldensian Valley and to root out the Protestants. Victor Amadeus refused until Louis threatened to invade Savoy.
The attack took place in 1686. A stiff Waldensian defense eventually broke down before the forces of Savoy and France, and the military operation developed into a slaughter of Protestants. More than 12, 000 Protestant survivors were imprisoned in various fortresses in Savoy. However, the Waldensian affair had sickened Victor Amadeus. He resolved to defy Louis XIV and to free his duchy of French domination.
Victor Amadeus freed the Waldensian prisoners and financed their journey to Switzerland. In 1690 he opened negotiations for membership in the League of Augsburg, a group composed of the enemies of France. To discourage Savoy from joining the league, Louis XIV dispatched an army that occupied strategic fortresses in Savoy. Undaunted, Victor Amadeus joined the league and declared war on France.
The war lasted six years, but Louis XIV could not conquer the duchy. To entice Victor Amadeus away from the League of Augsburg, Louis XIV offered him generous peace terms. In 1696 both countries signed the Peace of Turin. France returned the captured fortress-cities of Pinerolo and Villafranca and the state of Nice to Savoy. Victor Amadeus then assumed command of a French army to help drive his former allies out of Savoy. The war-weary members of the league signed the Treaty of Ryswick in 1696 and ended hostilities with France.
Peace reigned in Europe until 1701, when the War of the Spanish Succession broke out. Savoy entered the war at first as an ally of France and Spain. But in 1703 Victor Amadeus refused to renew his alliance with Louis XIV. In 1706 a combined Savoyard-Austrian army defeated the attacking French at Turin. Through this victory, Victor Amadeus ended the French domination of Savoy.
In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of the Spanish Succession. As remuneration for his efforts in the war, Victor Amadeus received the kingdom of Sicily and was crowned in September. In 1720 Victor Amadeus ceded his claims to Sicily to Emperor Charles VI in exchange for the island of Sardinia. That year Victor Amadeus was crowned king of Sardinia.
Victor Amadeus brought equitable justice to both Savoy and Sardinia. In 1723 he promulgated the first legal code in Savoy since the Middle Ages. He also brought economic prosperity to Savoy by expanding and investing in the tobacco and wool industries. He standardized weights, measures, and monetary units. The King established a state-supported insane asylum, a secondary school system, and the University of Turin.
In 1730 Victor Amadeus abdicated in favor of his son, Charles Emmanuel III. Victor Amadeus died on Oct. 31, 1732.
A scholarly and enjoyable account of the reign of Victor Amadeus II is by the Marchesa Vitelleschi, The Romance of Savoy (2 vols., 1905).
Symcox, Geoffrey, Victor Amadeus II: absolutism in the Savoyard State, 1675-1730, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.