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Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy

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Charles Emmanuel I
Portrait by unknown, c. 17th century
Duke of Savoy
Reign30 August 1580 – 26 July 1630
PredecessorEmmanuel Philibert
SuccessorVictor Amadeus I
Born12 January 1562
Castle of Rivoli, Rivoli, Duchy of Savoy
Died26 July 1630(1630-07-26) (aged 68)
Savigliano, Duchy of Savoy
(m. 1585; died 1597)

FatherEmmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy
MotherMargaret of Valois, Duchess of Berry
ReligionCatholic Church
SignatureCharles Emmanuel I's signature

Charles Emmanuel I (Italian: Carlo Emanuele di Savoia; 12 January 1562 – 26 July 1630), known as the Great, was the Duke of Savoy and ruler of the Savoyard states from 30 August 1580 until his death almost 50 years later in 1630, he was the longest reigning Savoyard monarch at the time, only for his record to be surpassed by his great-grandson, Victor Amadeus II. He was nicknamed Testa d'feu (lit.'Hothead', in context "the Hot-Headed") for his rashness and military aggression.

Being ambitious and confident, Charles pursued a policy of expansion for his duchy, seeking to expand it into a kingdom.


Charles Emmanuel as a boy with dwarf, portrait by Giacomo Vighi, c. 1572

Alliance with Spain[edit]

Charles was born in the Castle of Rivoli in Piedmont, the only child of Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy and Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry.[1] He succeeded his father as duke on 30 August 1580.[2]

Well-educated and intelligent, Charles spoke Italian, French, Spanish, as well as Latin. He proved an able warrior although short and hunchbacked. In the autumn of 1588, taking advantage of the civil war weakening France, he occupied the Marquisate of Saluzzo, which was under French protection.[1] The new king, Henry IV, demanded the restitution of that land, but Charles Emmanuel refused, and war ensued. In 1590 he sent an expedition to Provence in the interests of the Catholic League, and followed it himself later, but the peace of 1593, by which Henry of Navarre was recognized as king of France, put an end to his ambitions.[3] On 1 August 1591, the Duke of Savoy appointed Tomás Fernández de Medrano as his Secretary of State and War, Medrano's expertise in diplomacy and military strategy would have greatly benefited the duchy's political and military endeavours.[4] The broader conflict involving France and Spain ended with the Peace of Vervins (2 May 1598), which left the current but separate question of Saluzzo unsolved. After the Duke started talks with Spain, Henry threatened to return to war until, with the Treaty of Lyon (17 January 1601), Saluzzo went to Savoy in exchange for Bresse, Bugey, and Gex.[1]

Portrait by Jan Kraeck

In 1602 Charles Emmanuel attacked the city of Geneva. On 11 December that year, he led his troops to the city during the night and they surrounded the city walls by two in the morning. The Savoyard cuirassiers were ordered to dismount and climb the city walls in full armour as a shock tactic. However, the alarm was raised by a night watchman and Geneva's militia rose to meet the invaders. The attempted raid was a disastrous failure, and 54 Savoyards were killed, with many more captured. Charles Emmanuel's army retreated in a panic and the Savoyard prisoners were executed.

Savoyard armour captured by the Genevans after Charles Emmanuel's failed attack on Geneva

The heavy helmets worn by Charles Emmanuel's troops, with visors made in a stylized imitation of a human face, were known as "Savoyard" helmets after this notorious incident. A number of these suits of armour were captured by the Swiss and kept as trophies. The Geneva militia's successful defence of the city's walls is still celebrated as an act of heroism during the annual festival of L'Escalade.

Charles Emmanuel was one of the most wanted candidates for the crown of a restored Serbian kingdom, hypothetically presumed after a Christian crusade against the Ottoman Empire during planning for the Great Conspiracy of the late 16th and early 17th centuries under the auspices of Serbian Patriarch Jovan, Herzegovinian Duke Grdan and other chiefs of the Serb clans.[citation needed][disputeddiscuss][verification needed]. At the 1608 Council of Morača, during a gathering of representatives of the Serb clans and the Serbian Church, Charles was elected King of Serbia and invited to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy (as a precondition for being crowned by Patriarch John) and to vow to protect Orthodox Christianity.[verification needed][citation needed][disputeddiscuss]. The conspirators, bearing closely in mind the failures of the 1590 decade, did not want to expose themselves in any action before direct support from the West was forthcoming. Thus no broad uprising of the Balkan Christian peoples against the rule of the Ottoman Turks was sparked, as Charles Emmanuel lacked the financial resources to take the crown and restore the Serbian statehood extinguished in the 15th century.

In 1609, Charles Emmanuel came in contact with Albanian mercenaries like Giovanni Renesi, his brother Demetrio Renesi and a relative Don Joanne Renesi, who intended to revolt against the Ottomans at the Convention of Kuçi in 1614.

Alliance with France[edit]

With the Treaty of Bruzolo (25 April 1610), Charles Emmanuel allied with France against Spain, but the assassination of Henry IV changed the situation, as the treaty was not recognized by Marie de' Medici, who immediately assumed the regency for Henry's son Louis XIII, a minor. Continuing his intrigues, on the death in 1612 of Duke Francesco IV Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua who was lord of the Duchy of Montferrat, Charles Emmanuel caused the war of the Montferrat Succession by assaulting that district. This arrayed the Venetians, Tuscany, the Empire and Spain against him, and he was obliged to relinquish his conquest.[3] Charles Emmanuel obtained the help of French troops to free Alba from the Spaniards, in January 1617, as the new king resumed his father's alliance with Savoy. Ultimately, the conflict was solved by the treaty of Asti.

His sister Christine Marie was married to Charles Emmanuel's son, Victor Amadeus in 1619.

In the First Genoese-Savoyard War of 1625, Charles Emmanuel tried with the help of France to obtain access to the Mediterranean Sea at the expense of Genoa.[5] After Spanish intervention, the status-quo was restored in the Treaty of Monçon.

War of the Mantuan Succession[edit]

When the French occupied Casale Monferrato during the War of the Mantuan Succession in 1628, Charles Emmanuel allied again with Spain. However, when Richelieu invaded Piedmont and conquered Susa, the duke changed sides again and returned to an alliance with France. Then, after Philip IV of Spain sent two invasion forces from Genoa and Como under Ambrogio Spinola, Charles Emmanuel declared himself neutral, and in 1630 Richelieu ordered a French army to march into Savoy to force the duke to comply with the pacts. The French troops, soon backed by another army, occupied Pinerolo and Avigliana. The Savoy army under his son Victor Amadeus was defeated in Lower Valsusa.

In 1628 Giovanni Antonio Ansaldo, an agent of Charles Emmanuel, recruited and furnished with ample funds a group of Genoese conspirators led by Giulio Cesare Vachero who were to overthrow the Republic of Genoa and place the city under the protection of the Duchy of Savoy.[6] The plot failed and Vachero and his accomplices were sentenced to death.[6]

The duke died suddenly of a stroke, while campaigning during the second Monferrato war, at Savigliano in late July 1630.[1] He was succeeded by his son Victor Amadeus.[3]

Marriage and issue[edit]

In 1585, Charles married Catherine Michaela of Spain, daughter of Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth of Valois. They had:

In Riva di Chieri on 28 November 1629, he secretly married his long-time and official mistress, Marguerite de Rossillon, Marchesa di Riva di Chieri (bap. 24 December 1599 – 10 November 1640), with whom he had four children, legitimised after the wedding but without succession rights:[citation needed]

  • Maurizio (died 1645), Marchese di Poirino, Cavalry colonel.
  • Margherita (died 1659), Signora of Dronero, Roccabruna e San Giuliano, married Filippo Francesco d’Este, Marchese di San Martino in Rio (ancestors of Maria Teresa Cybo-Malaspina).
  • Gabriele (died 1695), Marchese di Riva, Cavalry lieutenant general.
  • Antonio (died 1688), Abbot of San Michele della Chiusa (1642), of Santa Maria d’Aulps (1645), of Altacomba (1653), of Fruttuaria di San Benigno (1660) and Casanuova (1687), Lieutenant General of the County of Nice (1672).

In addition, he had several illegitimate children:

— With Luisa de Duyn Maréchal, daughter of Jean-Marie de Duyn, called Maréchal, baron of Val d'Isère:

  • Emanuele (1600–1652), Marchese di Andorno and Valle 1621, Governor of Asti and Biella. Knight of the Order of St Maurice and Lazarus.

— With Virginia Pallavicino:

  • Carlo Umberto (1601–1663), Marchese di Mulazzano con Gonzole, married Claudia Ferrero-Fieschi, daughter of Francesco Filiberto Ferrrero' Fieschi, prince 1598 of Masserano and Crevacuore.
  • Silvio (died 1645), Abbot Commander of Santa Maria d’Entremont (1631), of San Lorenzo fuori le mura d’Ivrea (1642), Governor of Ivrea (1641).
  • Vitichindo (d. 1668 or 1674), priest.

— With Argentina Provana, daughter of Giovanni Francesco Provana, count of Bussoleno and Collegno, and Anna Maria Grimaldi:

— With Anna Felizità Cusani:

  • Ludovico Cusani (died 1684), Knight of the Order of Saint Maurice and Lazarus.

— With unknown mistress:

  • Anna Caterina Meraviglia (died 1660).


Charles Emmanuel's military campaigns ignited Italian nationalism and patriotism.

Alessandro Tassoni took up the defence of Charles Emmanuel. In quick succession he published anonymously two Filippiche addressed to the Italian nobility. He exhorted the nobles to discard their lethargy, unite and instead of fighting each other, join Savoy in ridding Italy of Spanish hegemony.[7]

At about the same time that Tassoni was inspired to write the Filippiche, Fulvio Testi, a young poet at the court of the duke of Este, published a collection of poems dedicated to Charles Emmanuel. Not all the poems were of a patriotic nature, but those that were, clearly revealed the feelings Charles Emmanuel had stirred in freedom-loving Italians.[7]

More than fifty years later Vittorio Siri still reminisced that “all Italy broke forth with pen and tongue in praises and panegyrics at the name of Carlo Emanuele, and in demonstrations of joy and applause that he had revived . . . the ancient Latin valor, wishing that he . . . [might] one day become the redeemer of Italy's freedom and the restorer of its greatness.”[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e Vester 2013, p. 7.
  2. ^ Kamen 1997, p. 249.
  3. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  4. ^ Tellez, Diego (2015-01-01). "Tomás y Juan Fernández de Medrano: una saga camerana a fines del s. XVI y comienzos del s. XVII". Berceo.
  5. ^ Storrs 1999, p. 24.
  6. ^ a b Ceccarelli, Alessia (2020). "VACCHERO, Giulio Cesare". Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Volume 97: Trivulzio–Valeri (in Italian). Rome: Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana. ISBN 978-8-81200032-6.
  7. ^ a b Emiliana Pasca Noether (1969). Seeds of Italian Nationalism, 1700–1815. AMS Press. p. 40.
  8. ^ Vittorio Siri, Memorie recondite (Paris, 1677), III, 367.


Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy
Born: 12 January 1562 Died: 26 July 1630
Regnal titles
Preceded by Duke of Savoy
Succeeded by