Ines De La Cuetara, ABC News
(ROME) — Italy may have abolished its monarchy 75 years ago, but having no real power hasn’t stopped its royal family from feuding.
Direct descendants of Italy’s last king are divided over who should lead the family. For thousands of years, only men in the family could rule. All that changed when the current head of the royal House of Savoy, Vittorio Emanuele di Savoia, issued a decree on his granddaughter’s 16th birthday granting her the power to eventually lead the family.
Princess Vittoria di Savoia — who is also a rising star on Instagram — is now the first woman in 1,000 years to become the family figurehead.
“I think it’s a very important act, especially now in 2021 where women are standing so much for their rights,” she told ABC News in her first ever on-camera interview.
Vittoria’s father, Emanuele Filiberto, prince of Venice, said the move is a sign of the times.
Surely enough, Vittoria’s rise in royal ranks comes as more and more royal women across Europe are taking over their countries’ thrones.
“I think the next generation of royalties in Europe will mainly be women because if you look at Spain, if you look at Sweden, if you look at Norway, if you look at Belgium, England, well, we have a fantastic example with the Queen,” he said.
But, of course, there are those who oppose the young princess.
In Russia, a separate branch of the family refuses to accept the new rules. Prince Aimone di Aosta, Vittoria’s distant cousin, declined ABC News’ request for comment, but told the New York Times Vittoria’s claim is “totally illegitimate.”
Vittoria’s father disagrees. He said the reason some don’t support Vittoria is because they wish they had her power.
“They were thinking without me having a male heir that finally it would come to them, but I think today times have changed, and we must stand with times and with modern times. So it’s normal that they’re not happy, and it’s very sad for them,” Emanuele said.
The Aostas are now contesting Vittoria’s claim through an age-old institution known as the Consulta dei Senatori del Regno, which Emanuele said was dissolved when the monarchy was abolished.
“Once my grandfather left Italy the Consulta died, so they recreated a fake Consulta with the same name to make believe,” Emanuele said.
The infighting between the Savoias and Aostas has gone on for decades, with Emanuele’s father even reportedly punching one of his cousins over the feud at the future king of Spain’s wedding.
“No, he did not punch him, he just gave him a nice, perhaps a bit too violent cuddle,” Emanuele joked.
The irony, amid the royal drama, is that there’s no actual throne to fight over; Italy abolished its monarchy in 1946, with the last royals deemed too close to infamous dictator Benito Mussolini.
The Savoy family was eventually forced to go into exile, leaving behind their kingdom and numerous palaces built over the years by their ancestors. They were allowed to return to Italy in 2002, but Emanuele said the initial exile is further proof his side of the family is next in line to the (defunct) throne.
“We were in exile by the Italian Republic. We were the ones to go into exile because if monarchy were to come back, my father would have been king,” he said.
The family argues this fight is about much more than an imaginary crown, it’s about the family’s dynastic orders. Emanuele compared his royal family to a charitable organization and said they serve to promote Italy’s interests around the world.
“Everything I do, I do it for Italy,” he said.
“The role of the monarchy is to have someone above politics. It’s like a flag. The queen or the king is a person that represents all the people of this country,” he said.
It’s why he thinks it’s a shame the duke and duchess of Sussex decided to step back from their duties as members of the British royal family.
“It’s not a red carpet, it’s not a movie scene, it’s real life, but another side I think she was prepared. She knew where she was going, so I personally think it’s sad to spit in the plate where you eat,” he said.
Speaking of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s exit from the monarchy, the prince of Venice said he believes the royal platform is too important to give up.
“Perhaps it’s difficult to understand in America, but when you come from a royal family you grow up with those titles, with those values, with those duties, and it’s part of you and to lose the titles, to lose what he (Prince Harry) was born to be — it’s extremely difficult. It’s a pity to give up,” said Emanuele. “They had so much to give to England, so much to do in England.”
Emanuele is now working on several documentaries on the House of Savoy, and is franchising his Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, “The Prince of Venice.”
As for Vittoria, she is now preparing to become the family figurehead. No princess lessons are involved, but she is spending time learning about her family history and getting to know Italy.
“I feel and I know that I have big responsibilities and I’m preparing myself for it,” she said. “We still have so much more to do and I’m very, very grateful and I will fight for this.”
Her father has pushed her to develop a good work ethic, which is why she recently interned at the Hotel Alfred Sommier, “cleaning the rooms and serving dinner at the restaurant,” according to Emanuele.
“It’s very important. It’s important to work. It’s important to realize that gaining money is difficult and you must be respectful,” he said.
Despite the controversy surrounding her position as a royal, Vittoria has no plans to relinquish her claim to the Aostas.
And while it currently doesn’t look like monarchy will make a true comeback in Italy, Emanuele said, “Never say never.”
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