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Jewish Families Ennobled
by the Savoy Kings

The unfortunate --and perhaps unforeseen-- events of the Fascist era have overshadowed a general recognition of the historically tolerant treatment of religious minorities by the Savoy sovereigns.

As early as the twelfth century, the Waldensians, the religious group founded by Peter Valdes of Lyon and considered by some historians to be the first Protestant church, were granted refuge in Piedmont by the Count of Savoy. Though the House of Savoy itself remained adamantly Roman Catholic, this singular gesture did little to endear the dynasty to the Papacy. While the Holy See might tolerate the continued presence of large Muslim populations in the Normans' Kingdom of Sicily, it was less willing to accept a new Christian sect in Piedmont.

Whatever the Crown's rapport with the Pope may have been, its relationship with the Waldensian community was not always an easy one; in 1686, at the urging of the French (who for geographical and social reasons excercised an undue political influence over Piedmont in those days), Vittorio Amedeo II (1) authorized military action against several Waldensian towns, resulting in a number of civilian deaths. In 1848, however, the more liberal King Carlo Alberto, as part of his Statuto (Constitution), decreed an Act of Emancipation granting Jews, Waldensians and other non-Catholics of his realm the same religious rights as Roman Catholics. Consequently, Torre Pellice, in the province of Turin, became the center of Waldensian activity. For perspective, one need only consider that in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies the establishment of Protestant parishes was virtually prohibited during this same period, though there were a few Orthodox churches, and small Anglican parishes had been permitted in Naples and Palermo in gratitude of British military assistance rendered during the Napoleonic wars.

Yet, Carlo Alberto's act was not unprecedented in the House of Savoy. In 1430, Amedeo VIII had decreed laws protecting Jews in the Statuto ("statutes") of his Kingdom, and while tolerance is not the same thing as full equality, this was a noteworthy move for the Middle Ages.

It should also be observed that Piedmont was spared the worst horrors of the Inquisition. Nevertheless, most of the Savoy sovereigns were devoutly Catholic, if not fanatically so, and Catholicism was the official state religion of their dominions --Savoy, Piedmont, Sicily, Sardinia, and later all Italy. (2) The portrayal of King Vittorio Emanuele II as an almost "Protestant" personage was an image crafted by liberal unificationists to distinguish him from his pious Neapolitan kinsman, King Francesco II of the Two Sicilies, and, of course, from Pope Pius IX. That the first King of Italy died in a state of excommunication (despite some contrary claims advanced to embellish his public image) was in fact much lamented, even though the Kingdom regularised its relations with the Vatican only in 1929 with ratification of the Lateran Treaties.

Nineteenth-century records of nobiliary creations by the Savoy kings indicate a development all but unknown in the other Italian states (the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma, the Duchy of Modena, and the Papal State), namely the ennoblement of subjects of the Jewish faith. (3) This was appropriate, and perhaps long overdue, considering the achievements of these citizens.

With a decree of 17 October 1858, Abramo Franchetti, a banker born at Livorno in 1805, was created a baron. Baron Franchetti was an early investor in Piedmont's railroads.

By a decree of 29 December 1860, Jacob Abram Todros was created a baron. Born at Turin in 1791, where he died in 1867, he was the son of Leone Todros. Baron Todros was a "banchiere in sete," a silk dealer, who bolstered this industry in Piedmont. In 1811 he wed Sara, daughter of Israel Bachi, and had issue.

On 26 July 1863, Donato Salomone Montel, son of Jacob Samuele Montel of Alessandria, was created a baron.

With a decree of 14 January 1864, Davide Leonino of Genoa was created a baron. The title was matriculated to Giuseppe Samuele dei Baroni Leonino, a resident of Casale, on 6 December 1876.

On 10 April 1864, Giacomo Giorgio Levi and his brother Angelo Adolfo Levi, both of Venice, were created barons.

In 1866, Giacomo Lumbroso of Livorno, son of Abramo, was created a baron. The family was reputed to have been of "Egyptian" origin, but they had lived in Italy for generations.

On 1 December 1892, Moise Zecut Levi di Veali of Turin, son of Israel Levi di Veali, was created a baron in recognition of philanthropic works, "atti di beneficenza."

By a royal motu proprio decree of 14 April 1927, Alessandro Artom, son of Israele, was created a baron. Isaac Artom, a Piedmontese recognised as a nobleman, was the Secretary and confidant of Count Camillo Benso di Cavour.

Like most Italian baronial creations of this period, these titles were created without predicati (territorial designations) and are transmitted by male primogeniture.

NOTES

1) He was later King of Sicily and, subsequently, King of Sardinia, and one of the more distinguished of the Savoy monarchs. Return.

2) Obviously, these are generalities. In considering the attitudes of a family over numerous generations, and through various lines, one must likewise consider that while a certain man might be particularly devout, his grandson might be less so. A recent example is that, by most accounts, Vittorio Emanuele III was not particularly devout but his son, Umberto II, certainly was. Return.

3) This information was drawn from various sources, including Il Patriziato Subalpino, by Antonio Manno (Florence 1895), Enciclopedia Storico-Nobiliare Italiana, by Vittorio Spreti (Milan 1935) and Dizionario Stroico-Blasonico by G.B. Di Crollalanza (Pisa 1886), which the reader may wish to consult for additional information on these families. The author also reviewed records at the Archive of State of the Province of Turin and the Central Archive of State at EUR (Rome). Return.

© 1996 L. Mendola


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