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  Countries: Piedmont Historical Overview

By Reckless Rodent

Piedmont Town Center

The small Duchy of Piedmont-Savoy was, although tiny, nevertheless an important factor in European politics between 1500 and 1800. Strategically placed in the area occupied today be South-Eastern France and North-Western Italy, it was severely damaged by the Italian Wars during the first half of the sixteenth century. The duchy was shorn of its Swiss possessions (including Geneva), and King Francis I of France occupied the rest of the duchy in 1536, forcing Duke Charles III into exile.

The French occupation did not last, however. The 1559 Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, which brought an end to half a century of pan-European conflict (especially between the French and the Habsburgs of Austria and Spain), restored Piedmont to Duke Emmanuel Philibert (1553 - 1580, the son of Duke Charles III and known to contemporaries as "Ironhead"). Emmanuel was, however, made to recognise the permanent loss of the duchy's former Swiss possessions, but received the consolation of being able to marry the sister of King Henry II of France. On returning to his homeland, Duke Emmanuel moved his capital to the Italian city of Turin, whilst at the same time retaining the quintessentially French character of his Court.

Duke Emmanuel Philibert's son, Duke Charles Emmanuel I (1580 - 1630), made an attempt to recover Geneva by force of arms, but failed, having to be satisfied with the Piedmontese marquisate of Saluzzo, which he gained by the 1601 Treaty of Lyons. The duchy would not, however, truly come into the European mainstream until the War of the Spanish Succession, which took place during the rule of Duke Victor Amadeus II (1675 - 1713). Initially supporting the French, he switched sides in 1703, his cousin Eugene of Savoy soon becoming the overall commander of the Imperial armies. His reward came in the Peace of Utrecht, which made him King of Sicily, which he ruled until 1720, when he agreed to swap it for the Kingdom of Sardinia. Ten years later, he abdicated in favour of his son. The Duchy of Piedmont-Savoy and Kingdom of Sardinia continued to be held together until Napoleon swept through Northern Italy in 1796. The family would, however, continue to play an important role in Italian politics - they were Kings of Italy until they were deposed in 1946.

Piedmont was not immune from the religious conflict which swept Europe after the 1520s. However, it did manage to escape the worst excesses of the Protestant versus Catholic conflict. The principle "Protestant" minority in the Duchy was a group known as the Waldensians, who had actually been around since the twelfth century. Initially having started as a mendicant (begging) order, it had been outlawed in 1186 and 1215. When Protestantism began to make itself felt, the Waldensians adjusted their beliefs to fit in with the new-style religion. Despite occasional attempts by the authorities to suppress them, usually at the behest of and with the help of the French, they continued to battle against the odds until they were allowed their full religious freedom in 1848.

Perhaps one of the most unlikely candidates for the role of a central player within Europe, Piedmont nevertheless managed to weather the storms which occasionally buffeted it, and emerged at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814 as a stronger entity than ever. It often punched well above its weight, as its role in the War of the Spanish Succession showed, and its rulers would later go on to reign over the united Kingdom of Italy.

Related Links:
» Piedmont Building Gallery


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