EMMANUEL PHILIBERT (1528-1580), duke of Savoy, son of Charles III. and Beatrice of Portugal, one of the most renowned princes of the later Renaissance, was born on the 8th of July 1528. Charles, after trying in vain to remain neutral in the wars between France and the emperor Charles V., had been forced to side with the latter, whereupon his duchy was overrun with foreign soldiery and became the battlefield of the rival armies. Prince Emmanuel took service with the emperor in 1545 and distinguished himself in Germany, France and the Low Countries. On the death of his father in 1553 he succeeded to the title, little more than an empty one, and continued in the emperor's service. Having been refused the command of the imperial troops in Piedmont, he tried in vain to negotiate a separate peace with France; but in 1556 France and Spain concluded a five years' truce, by which each was to retain what it then occupied. This would have been the end of Savoy, but within a year the two powers were again at war. The chief events of the campaign were the successful resistance of Cuneo, held for the duke by Count Luserna, and the victory of St Quentin (1557), won by Emmanuel Philibert himself against the French. At last in 1558 the powers agreed to an armistice, and in 1559 the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis was made, by which Emmanuel regained his duchy, but on onerous terms, for France was to occupy several Piedmontese fortresses, including Turin and Pinerolo, for not more than three years, and a marriage was arranged between the duke and Margaret, duchess of Berry, sister of the French king; while Spain was to garrison Asti and Vercelli (afterwards exchanged for Santhià) until France evacuated the above-mentioned fortresses. The duke's marriage took place in Paris a few months later; and after the French evacuation he re-entered his dominions amidst the rejoicings of the people. The condition of Piedmont at that time was deplorable; for wars, the exactions and devastations of the foreign soldiery, and religious antagonism between Catholics and Protestants had wrought terrible havoc. "Uncultivated," wrote the Venetian ambassador, quoted by E. Ricotti, "no citizens in the cities, neither man nor beast in the fields, all the land forest-clad and wild; one sees no houses, for most of them are burnt, and of nearly all the castles only the walls are visible; of the inhabitants, once so numerous, some have died of the plague or of hunger, some by the sword, and some have fled elsewhere preferring to beg their bread abroad rather than support misery at home which is worse than death." There was no army, the administration was chaotic, and the finances were in a hopeless state. The duke set to work to put his house in order, and inaugurated a series of useful reforms, ably assisted by his minister, Niccolò Balbo. But progress was slow, and was accompanied by measures which abolished the states general, the last survival of feudal liberties. Savoy, following the tendency of the other states of Europe at that time, became thenceforth an absolute monarchy, but without that transformation the achievement of complete independence from foreign powers would have been impossible.
One of the first questions with which he had to deal was the religious difficulty. The inhabitants of the Pellice and Chisone valleys had long professed a primitive form of Christianity which the orthodox regarded as heretical, and had been subject to numerous persecutions in consequence (see Waldenses). At the time of the Reformation they had gone over to Protestantism, and during the wars of the 16th century the new religion made great progress in Piedmont. The duke as a devout Catholic desired to purge the state of heresy, and initiated repressive measures against the Waldenses, but after some severe and not very successful fighting he ended by allowing them a measure of religious liberty in those valleys (1561). At the pope's instigation he recommenced persecution some years later, but his duchess and some German princes pleaded successfully in favour of the Protestants. He next turned his attention to getting rid of the French garrisons; the negotiations proved long and troublesome, but in December 1562 the French departed on payment of 100,000 scudi, retaining only Pinerolo and Savigliano, and Turin became the capital once more. There remained the Bernese, who had occupied some of the duke's territories in Savoy and Vaud, and in Geneva, over which he claimed certain rights. With Bern he made a compromise, regaining Gex, the Chablais, and the Genevois, on condition that Protestantism should be tolerated there, but he renounced Vaud and some other districts (1566). Disagreements with the Valais were settled in a similar way in 1569; but the Genevans refused to recognize Savoyard suzerainty. Emmanuel reformed the currency, reorganized justice, prepared the way for the emancipation of the serfs, raised the standing army to 25,000 men, and fortified the frontiers, ostensibly against Huguenot raids, but in reality from fear of France. On the death of Charles IX. of France in 1574 the new king, Henry III., passed through Piedmont on his way from Poland; Emmanuel gave him a magnificent reception, and obtained from him a promise that Pinerolo and Savigliano should be evacuated, which was carried out at the end of the year. Philip of Spain was likewise induced to evacuate Asti and Santhià in 1575. Thus, after being more or less under foreign occupation for 39 years, the duchy was at last free. The duke rounded off his dominions by the purchase of Tenda and Oneglia, which increased his seaboard, and the last years of his life were spent in fruitless negotiations to obtain Monferrato, held by the Gonzagas under Spanish protection, and Saluzzo, which was a French fief. He died on the 30th of August 1580, and was succeeded by his son Charles Emmanuel I. As a statesman Emmanuel Philibert was able, business-like and energetic; but he has been criticized for his duplicity, although in this respect he was no worse than most other European princes, whose ends were far more questionable. He was autocratic, but just and very patriotic. During his reign the duchy, which had been more than half French, became predominantly Italian. By diplomacy, which, although he was a capable and brave soldier, he preferred to war, he succeeded in freeing his country, and converting it from a ruined and divided land into a respectable independent power of the second rank, and, after Venice, the best-governed state in Italy.
The most accurate biography of Emmanuel Philibert is contained in E. Ricotti's Storia della monarchia Piemontese, vol. ii. (Florence, 1861), which is well done and based on documents; cf. Claretta's La Successione di Emanuele Filiberto (Turin, 1884).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)