Rome: Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, the only son of Italy’s last king, who lived in exile in neighbouring Switzerland for most of his life, has died aged 86 at his home in Geneva, a note by the Royal House of Savoy said.
Born in the southern Italian city of Naples, he left his homeland as a 9-year-old when his father Umberto II was forced to leave following the 1946 national referendum which abolished the monarchy and established a republic.
He had declared himself King of Italy and long battled the rule in the Italian Constitution which barred all male members of his family from returning to the country.
Vittorio Emanuele finally returned to Italian soil in November 2022, after parliament lifted the ban, travelling to Rome for a brief visit just before Christmas and getting an audience with Pope John Paul.
But he met a cool reception on his return, the House of Savoy’s image having been sullied by its World War Two era association with Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
His own reputation had been damaged when he was accused in 1978 of accidentally shooting and killing 19-year-old German Dirk Hamer in a Corsican port.
Hamer had been sleeping below deck on a boat when Vittorio Emanuele’s gun went off during an altercation with holidaymakers. Hamer never recovered and he died a few months later of his injuries.
Vittorio Emanuele was eventually acquitted of the killing in a French court in 1991 and given a suspended sentence for illegal possession of a rifle.
Hamer’s family had long contested the verdict and the case gained renewed attention when it formed the centrepiece of a recent Netflix documentary “The King Who Never Was”.
The prince faced further legal troubles when he was arrested in 2006 on the orders of a magistrate in the southern Italian town of Potenza on charges of racketeering and involvement in prostitution. He was acquitted after a trial.
While being held in Potenza, he was recorded boasting to a cellmate that he had tricked the French magistrates in the Hamer case. Vittorio Emanuele disputed the authenticity of the video.
He married Swiss water skiing champion and heiress Marina Doria in 1971 and they lived for many years in a plush villa on the shores of Lake Geneva.
In his younger years he worked as a salesman for the Italian Agusta helicopter business and forged a friendship with the Shah of Iran through his business dealings. His wedding was held in Tehran.
Although living in exile, Vittorio Emanuele was named in 1981 as one of more than 900 members of the outlawed secret masonic lodge Propaganda 2 (P2), a group at the heart of many of Italy’s scandals of the late 20th century.
His grandfather, King Victor Emanuel III, abdicated in favour of his son Umberto just before the 1946 referendum in a final, futile attempt to save the monarchy.
But Vittorio Emanuele’s parents, Umberto II and Maria Jose, ruled over Italy for just over a month before the family headed into its long exile.
Vittorio Emanuele is survived by his wife and his son, Emanuele Filiberto, who said in 2023 that he would renounce his claim to the Italian throne in favour of his daughter, Vittoria, when he felt she was ready for the challenge.