Monarchs and Presidents of Italy From 1861 to 2015

Ink portrait of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy.

The original uploader was Känsterle at Dutch Wikipedia / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

After a protracted campaign of unification, which encompassed several decades and a series of conflicts, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed on March 17th, 1861 by a parliament based in Turin. This new Italian monarchy lasted for less than 90 years, ousted by a referendum in 1946 when a slim majority voted for the creation of a republic. The monarchy had been badly damaged by their association with Mussolini’s fascists and by failure in World WarII. Not even a change of side could prevent the change to a republic.

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King Victor Emmanuel II (1861-1878)

Statue of Victor Emmanuel II on his horse with his sword lifted.

Ettore Ferrari  (1845–1929) / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont was in prime position to act when a war between France and Austria opened the door for Italian unification. Thanks to a lot of people, including adventurers like Garibaldi, he became the first King of Italy. Victor expanded this success, finally making Rome the capital of the new state.

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King Umberto I (1878-1900)

Sepia portrait of King Umberto I in full military regalia.

Studio Giuseppe e Luigi Vianelli (floruerunt 1860-1890 ca.) / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Umberto I’s reign began with a man who had shown coolness in battle and provided dynastic continuity with an heir. But Umberto allied Italy to Germany and Austria-Hungary in the Triple Alliance (although they would initially stay out of World War I), oversaw a failure of colonial expansion, and conducted a reign that culminated in unrest, martial law, and his own assassination.

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King Victor Emmanuel III (1900-1946)

Black and white photo of King Victor Emmanuel III taken in 1940.

Hulton Deutsch / Contributor / Getty Images

Italy did not fare well in World War I, deciding to join in search of extra land and failing to make headway against Austria. But it’s Victor Emmanuel III’s decision to give in to pressure and ask fascist leader Mussolini to form a government that began to destroy the monarchy. When the tide of World War II turned, Emmanuel had Mussolini arrested. The nation joined the Allies, but the king could not escape disgrace. He abdicated in 1946.

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King Umberto II (Regent from 1944) (1946)

Sepia photo of King Umberto II riding a horse in regal costume in 1928 as the then-Crown Prince.

Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Umberto II replaced his father in 1946, but Italy held a referendum the same year to decide on the future of their government. In the election, 12 million people voted for a republic and 10 million voted for the throne.

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Enrico de Nicola (Provisional Head of State) (1946-1948)

Black and white photo of Enrico De Nicola walking on a sunny day.

Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

With the vote passed to create a republic, a constituent assembly came into being to draw up the constitution and decide on the form of government. Enrico da Nicola was the provisional head of state, voted in by a large majority and re-elected after he’d resigned due to ill health. The new Italian Republic began on January 1st, 1948.​​

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President Luigi Einaudi (1948-1955)

Photo of President Luigi Einaudi sitting at his desk.

Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Before his career as a statesman, Luigi Einaudi was an economist and academic. After the Second World War, he was the first governor of the Bank in Italy, a minister, and the new Italian Republic’s first president.

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President Giovanni Gronchi (1955-1962)

Photo of Giovanni Gronchi and his wife riding in a carriage.

Hulton Deutsch / Contributor / Getty Images

After World War I, a relatively young Giovanni Gronchi helped establish the Popular Party in Italy, a Catholic-focused political group. He retired from public life when Mussolini stamped the party down, but returned to politics in the freedom after World War II. He eventually became the second president. He refused to be a figurehead, however, and drew some criticism for "interfering."

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President Antonio Segni (1962-1964)

Photo of President Antonio Segni sitting on a couch between two other men.

Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

Antonio Segni had been a member of the Popular Party before the fascist era, and he returned to politics in 1943 with the collapse of Mussolini’s government. He was soon a key member of the post-war government, and his qualifications in agriculture led to agrarian reform. In 1962, he was elected president, having twice been Prime Minister. He retired in 1964 due to poor health.

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President Giuseppe Saragat (1964-1971)

Photo of President Giuseppe Saragat casting a ballot in an election.

Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Giuseppe Saragat’s youth included working for the socialist party, being exiled from Italy by fascists, and returning at a point in the war where he was almost killed by Nazis. In the post-war Italian political scene, Giuseppe Saragat campaigned against a union of socialists and communists and was involved in the name change to the Italian Social Democratic Party, which had nothing to do with Soviet-sponsored communists. He was the government Minister of Foreign Affairs and opposed nuclear power. He succeeded as president in 1964 and resigned in 1971.​

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President Giovanni Leone (1971-1978)

Color photo of President Giovanni Leone walking past soldiers in dress uniforms.

Vittoriano Rastelli / Contributor / Getty Images

A member of the Christian Democratic Party, Giovanni Leone’s time as president has come under heavy revision. He’d served in the government frequently before becoming president, but had to struggle through internal disputes (including the murder of a former prime minister) and, despite being considered honest, had to resign in 1978 over a bribery scandal. In fact, his accusers later had to admit they were wrong.

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President Sandro Pertini (1978-1985)

Color photo of President Sandro Pertini standing behind his desk.

Vittoriano Rastelli / Contributor / Getty Images

Sandro Pertini’s youth included work for the Italian socialists, imprisonment by the fascist government, arrest by the SS, a death sentence, and then escape. He was a member of the political class after the war. After the murder and scandals of 1978 and after a considerable period of debate, he was elected the compromise candidate for president to repair the nation. He shunned the presidential palaces and worked to restore order.

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President Francesco Cossiga (1985-1992)

Photo of President Francesco Cossiga in a helicopter.

Vittoriano Rastelli / Contributor / Getty Images

The murder of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro looms large in this list. As Interior Minister,​ Francesco Cossiga’s handling of the event was blamed for the death and he had to resign. Nevertheless, in 1985 he became president. He remained in this position until 1992, when he had to resign over a scandal involving NATO and anti-communist guerrilla fighters.

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President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro (1992-1999)

President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro starting the opening session of Parliament.

Franco Origlia / Stringer / Getty Images

A long-time Christian Democrat and member of the Italian governments, Luigi Scalfaro became president as another compromise choice in 1992 after several weeks of negotiation. However, the independent Christian Democrats did not outlast his presidency.

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President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (1999-2006)

Dramatic color photo of President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi emerging from shadow.

Brendan Smialowski / Stringer / Getty Images

Before becoming president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi’s background was in finance, although he was a classicist at university. He became president in 1999 after the first ballot (a rarity). He was popular, but despite requests to do so, he demurred from standing a second time.

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Giorgio Napolitano (2006-2015)

Color photo of Giorgio Napolitano walking.

Simona Granati - Corbis / Contributor / Getty Images

A reforming member of the communist party, Giorgio Napolitano was elected as President of Italy in 2006, where he had to deal with the Berlusconi government and overcome a series of economic and political dislocations. He did so and stood for a second term as president in 2013 in order to secure the state. His second term ended in 2015.