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by Arnaud Leroy
The Roman times
The region known today as Savoy was conquered by the Roman Consul Domitius Ahenobarbus in 122-118 BP, and incorporated into the Provincia narbonensis. Among the local Gallic tribes, the Allobroges resisted to the invaders until the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar.
In 380, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 330 - c. 400) coined the word Sabaudia, or Sapaudia, which is the origin of the name of Savoy. However, the meaning of the word Sabaudia and the exact limits of the region it designated are unknown.
Savoy before Savoy: the Burgundian - Merovingian - Carolingian times
Very little is known on Savoy before the Middle Ages due to the lack of written sources and archeological remains. In 443, Burgundian tribes defeated by the Roman General Aetius (d. 454), were allowed to settle in Savoy and conversion of the region to Christianity began. The capital city of the Burgundian Kingdom was Geneva. King Gondebaut unified the Kingdom between 480 and 500. His son Sigismond rebuilt the St. Peter's cathedral in Geneva and founded in 515 the abbey of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune in Valais.
In 534, the sons of Clovis, King of the Franks, conquered the Kingdom of Burgundy, which was incorporated to the Merovingian Kingdom. A new Burgundian Kingdom appeared, which was in permanent struggle with its neighbours, the Alamans and the Lombards.
This period was characterized by the dispersion of power and the local emergence of strong powers, such as the Bishopric of Geneva and the abbey of Agaune.
In 843, Charlemagne's Empire was shared by the treaty of Verdun, and Savoy was allocated to Lotharingia, the median part of the former Empire. Lotharingia was rapidly dismembered. The southern part of Savoy was incorporated to the Kingdom of Provence, whereas its northern part was incorporated in 888 to the Kingdom of Transjurane Burgundy. The two kingdoms were merged in 947.
The ascension of the House of Savoy
Rodolphe III, the last King of Burgundy, died in 1032. The German Emperor Konrad II inherited the Burgundian domain in 1032. Humbert Blanches-Mains (White-Hands), a local lord of Burgundian origin, maybe already Count of Savoy, wisely supported Konrad and founded a feudal state. The Humbertians had to cope with the Counts of Geneva, whose root Gerold opposed to Konrad. The Genevois lineage ended in 1394.
The ascension of the Humbertians has been compared to the ascension of the Capetians in Ile-de-France. Humbert, and later his son Odon I allied with the Susa family and increased their domain on both sides of the Alps. In the end of the XIth century, Amédée I crossed the river Rhône and ruled Bugey. The princes of Savoy had powerful neighbours: the Dolphin of Viennois, the Count of Geneva, the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France. However, the princes of Savoy were able to preserve the independence of their domain.
Amédéee VI (1343-1383, the Green Count) incorporated Faucigny in 1355 and accepted the homage of the Count of Geneva. In 1365, he proclaimed himself perpetual and hereditary 'Vicar' of the Emperor, which placed Savoy under the official protection of the Empire and allowed Amédée to accept the homage of all the bishops of the region located between Grenoble and Geneva. His son Amédée VII (1383-1391, the Red Count) incorporated the County of Nice to Savoy.
Amédée VIII (1391-1440) was appointed Duke in 1416. The Duchy of Savoy then included Faucigny, Bresse, the Duchy of Chablais, the Duchy of Aosta (now in Italy), the Bishop's castle of l'Ile in Geneva, Moudon (now in Switzerland), a great part of the country of Bern (now in Switzerland), Nice and Genevois (Albanais, Annecy and Saint-Julien).
Amédée bought in 1401 the County of Geneva and eventually incorporated Piedmont (now in Italy) to Savoy. Amédée created a Resident Council and a Chamber of Accounting, and released the Statuta Sabaudia, a compendium of laws and administrative texts. In 1439, Amédée was elected Pope as Felix V by the Council of Basle. Considered as an anti-Pope, he resigned ten years later in order to help the solution of the Great Western Schism, ending his career as Bishop of Geneva and Pontifical Legate.
At that time, Savoy controlled the roads and passes of the Alps, and the Duke was nicknamed 'the gatekeeper of the Alps'.
The dismantling of Savoy
From 1439 to 1536, Savoy was ruled by young and unexperienced dukes. Charles III (1504-1553), François I's oncle and Charles V's brother-in-law, took the Austrian party. Geneva allied with Bern and Fribourg and forbid the Catholic religion in 1535. The Bishopric was transfered to Annecy, which became one of the capital cities of the Counter-Reformation. François I invaded Savoy in 1536. Valais invaded the country of Evian, and Bern invaded Chablais and a great part of Genevois. Having lost his entire domain, Charles III ran away to Vercelli, in Piedmont.
In 1559, the Duchy of Savoy was restored by the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, with Emmanuel-Philibert as the Duke. He created in Chambéry a Senate, on the model of the French parliaments and set up an organized tax system to support the rebuilding of the state. Chablais, the country of Gex and the bailiwicks of Ternier and Gaillard were reincorporated to Savoy in 1567. Believing that Chambéry was too close to the borders and threatened by potential invaders, Emmanuel-Phlibert transfered his capital city to Turin, in Piedmont, in 1556. Savoy became the province au-delà des monts (beyond the mounts).
The Catholic reconquest
Charles-Emmanuel I attempted to be the champion of Catholicism and had big political ambitions. Accordingly, King of France Henri IV invaded Savoy in 1600. Next year, the Duke had to exchange Bresse, Bugey, the country of Gex and Valromey againt the tiny marquisate of Saluzzo. In 1602, an assault against Geneva totally failed (the episode is known as l'Escalade) and Savoy had to recognize in 1603 the independence of Geneva (treaty of Saint-Julien).
Saint Francis of Sales (1567-1622) founded the Académie Florimontane in 1606 and the order of Visitation in 1610, with Sainte Jeanne-de-Chantal. Appointed Bishop of Geneva-Annecy, he reestablished Catholicism in Chablais. He is also considered as a main theologian and writer, probably one of the best users of the French language.
In the XVIIth century, Savoy was under permanent French threat. France occupied the duchy in 1690-1696 and 1703-1713. By the treaty of Utrecht (1713), Victor-Amédée II (1675-1730) was given the Kingdom of Sicily, which he exchanged in 1718 against the Kingdom of Sardinia. Under Charles-Emmanuel III, Savoy was occupied and trashed by the Spanish armies (War of Austrian Succession, 17425-1749).
However, the borders of the Duchy were stabilized and the organization of the state improved. The Dukes of Savoy, especially Victor-Amédée II, were considered as examples of wise princes, as opposed to their extravagant neighbours the Kings of France. Victor-Amédée reorganized the administration and appointed provincial Intendants, placed the municipalities under his control, and compiled the laws in the Royales Constitutions. Charles-Emmanuel III founded the cadastral survey in 1738, whereas Victor-Amédée III organized the redemption of the feudal rights in 1771.
The French Revolution and Empire
Victor-Amédée III could not prevent the revolutionary ideas to contaminate Savoy. An army commanded by general de Montesquiou entered Chambéry on 24 September 1792. The local Assemblée des Allobroges asked the incorporation of Savoy to France. The Convention ratified the incorporation on 27 November 1792.
Savoy was incorporated to France on 20 October 1793, and became the department of Mont-Blanc. However, the religious intransigence exported by the revolutionaries was not accepted, and uprisings took place in Thônes and Annecy in 1793. The King of Sardinia attempted a military reconquest, to no avail. In 1798, Geneva was annexated by the Directoire and became the capital city of the department of Léman.
Savoy was administratively reorganized during the First Empire. After the fall of Napoléon I, Savoy was once again occupied by the Austrian troops. The eastern part of Savoy was returned to the King of Sardinia. Victor-Emmanuel could recover his complete Kingdom after the Congress of Vienna (1816). By the treaty of Turin (1816), 24 villages were ceded to Geneva in order to form the enclaved canton of Geneva (<ch-ge.html>). The north of Savoy was a neutral zone: in case of war with France or Sardinia, the Swiss would be allowed to occupy this zone.
The Buon Governo
The 1815-1860 period was ironically nicknamed the Buon Governo (Good Government). Whereas everywhere in Europe progressive and nationalist ideas popped up, Savoy was a kind of anachronical enclave where a paternalist absolutism was maintained. Charles-Félix (1823-1831) preserved all the ancient laws. Charles-Albert attempted to modernize the institutions but waited until 1848 to edict a Statuto, based on the French charte of 1815. Under Victor-Emmanuel II, the House of Savoy abandoned its remote province and concentrated on the unification of Italy. Count Cavour (1852-1859) developed an anti-clerical and free-trade policy. In Savoy, the conservatives opposed Cavour whereas most of the population was attracted by neighbouring France.
The incorporation (annexion) to France
Since Savoy was nothing but a remote province of the Kingdom of Sardinia, the deputies from Savoy asked for 'the complete autonomy of Savoy, a country which in the past conquered Piedmont and does not want to remain its vassal anymore.'
Cavour and Napoléon III set up an alliance against Austria, by the secrete agreement signed in Plombières on 21 July 1858. After the battle of Solferino, the treaty of Turin (24 March 1860) included the incorporation of Nice and Savoy to France. In order to fight against pro-Swiss feelings in Chablais and Faucigny, a 'great free zone' (grande zone franche) was proposed for the north of the country.
The plebiscite was organized on 22-23 April 1860 and ratified (99.8%) the incorporation of Savoy to France, with preservation of the free zone. The official act of annexation was signed on 14 June in the castle of Chambéry. The next day, an Imperal decree created the departments of Savoie and Haute-Savoie.
The new border followed the watershed, and left the French-speaking valleys of Piedmont and Aosta in Italy. In 1945, General de Gaulle attempted to incorporate the Val d'Aosta to France, to no avail.
Ivan Sache, 4 January 2004
The flag of Savoie is a banner of its traditional arms, a white cross on red (de gueules à la croix d'argent - gules a cross silver), locally called the Cross of Savoy (la croix de Savoie).
The arms of Savoy have the same origin as the flag of the Sovereign Order of Malta. These may have been given by the Pope to Amédée of Savoy, when he was sent to fight the "Infidels" in the eastern part of the Mediterranean sea. A link with the Crusades is also possible.
Ivan Sache & Pascal Vagnat, 4 January 2004
by Ivan Sache
This flag can be purchased for five euros in souvenir shops in Annecy. The flag is red with the coat of arms of Savoy (Gules a cross argent). There is a black border around the shield.
Such a flag should never, ever, be considered as a flag of Savoy. The real flag of Savoy can be seen everywhere there, especially in Annecy, and is a simple and elegant banner of arms, a white cross on a red field. I cannot see any good reason but commercial to produce another flag of Savoy.
Ivan Sache, 17 May 2004Red dog casino