The historical land of Savoy emerged as the feudal territory of the House of Savoy during the 11th to 14th centuries. The historical territory is shared between the modern republics of France, Italy, and Switzerland.
Installed by Rudolph III, King of Burgundy, officially in 1003, the House of Savoy became the longest surviving royal house in Europe. It ruled the County of Savoy to 1416 and then the Duchy of Savoy from 1416 to 1714.
The territory of Savoy was annexed to France in 1792 under the French First Republic, before being returned to the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in 1815. Savoy, along with the county of Nice, was finally annexed to France by a plebiscite, under the Second French Empire in 1860, as part of a political agreement (Treaty of Turin) brokered between the French emperor Napoleon III and King Victor Emmanuel II of the Kingdom of Sardinia that began the process of unification of Italy. Victor Emmanuel's dynasty, the House of Savoy, retained its Italian lands of Piedmont and Liguria and became the ruling dynasty of Italy.
The region occupied by the Allobroges, a Celtic people became part of the Roman Empire. The name Savoy stems from the Late Latin Sapaudia, referring to a fir forest. It is first recorded in Ammianus Marcellinus (354), to describe the southern part of Maxima Sequanorum. According to the Gallic Chronicle of 452, it was separated from the rest of Burgundian territories in 443, after the Burgundian defeat by Flavius Aetius.
Early and High Middle Ages
By the 8th century, the territory that would later become known as Savoy was part of the Kingdom of the Franks, and at the division of Francia at the Treaty of Verdun in 843, it became part of the short-lived kingdom of Middle Francia. After only 12 years, at the death of Lothair I in 855, Middle Francia was divided into Lotharingia north of the Alps, Italy south of the Alps, and the parts of Burgundy in the Western Alps, inherited by Charles son of Lothair. This latter territory comprised what would become known as Savoy and Provence.
From the 10th to 14th century, parts of what would ultimately become Savoy remained within the Kingdom of Arles. Beginning in the 11th century, the gradual rise to power of the House of Savoy is reflected in the increasing territory of their County of Savoy between 1003 and 1416.
The County of Savoy was detached de jure from the Kingdom of Arles by Emperor Charles IV in 1361. It acquired the County of Nice in 1388, and in 1401 added the County of Genevois, the area of Geneva except for the city proper, which was ruled by its prince-bishop, nominally under the duke's rule: the bishops of Geneva, by unspoken agreement, came from the House of Savoy; this agreement came to an end in 1533.
Duchy of Savoy
On February 19, 1416, Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor, made the County of Savoy an independent duchy, with Amadeus VIII as the first duke. Straddling the Alps, Savoy lay within two competing spheres of influence, a French sphere and a North Italian one. At the time of the Renaissance, Savoy showed only modest development. Its towns were few and small. Savoy derived its subsistence from agriculture. The geographic location of Savoy was also of military importance. During the interminable wars between France and Spain over the control of northern Italy, Savoy was important to France because it provided access to Italy. Savoy was important to Spain because it served as a buffer between France and the Spanish held lands in Italy. In 1563 Emmanuel Philibert moved the capital from Chambéry to Turin, which was less vulnerable to French interference.
In 1714, as a consequence of the War of the Spanish Succession, Savoy was technically subsumed into the Kingdom of Sicily, then (after that island was traded to Austria for Sardinia) the Kingdom of Sardinia from 1720. While the heads of the House of Savoy were known as the Kings of Sardinia, Turin remained their capital.
French Revolutionary Wars
Savoy was occupied by French revolutionary forces between 1792 and 1815. The region was first added to the département of Mont-Blanc, then in 1798 was divided between the départements of Mont-Blanc and Léman (French name of Lake Geneva.) In 1801, Savoy officially left the Holy Roman Empire. On September 13, 1793 the combined forces of Savoy, Piedmont and Aosta Valley fought against and lost to the occupying French forces at the Battle of Méribel (Sallanches). Two-thirds of Savoy was restored to the Kingdom of Sardinia in the First Restoration of 1814 following Napoleon's abdication; approximately one-third of Savoy, including the two most important cities of Chambéry and Annecy, remained in France. Following Napoleon's brief return to power during the Hundred Days and subsequent defeat at Waterloo, the remaining one-third of Savoy was restored to the Kingdom of Sardinia at the Congress of Vienna to strengthen Sardinia as a buffer state on France's southeastern border.
From 1815 until 1860 Savoy was part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.
Annexation to France
The French Second Republic first attempted to annex Savoy in 1848. Corps were dispatched from Lyons and invaded the capital of Savoy, Chambéry, and proclaimed the annexation to France. On learning about the invasion countrymen rushed to Chambéry. The corps were chased away by the local population and many were massacred.
In order to secure an alliance against Austria in the wars of unification of Italy, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia Camillo Cavour met in secret with the French emperor Napoleon III on July 21, 1858 in Plombières (Vosges). During the discussion, Cavour promised that Sardinia would cede the County of Nice and Duchy of Savoy to France in exchange for military support in a planned war against Austria. Though this was a secret arrangement, it quickly became widely known.
The treaty annexing Nice and Savoy to France was signed in Turin on March 24, 1860 (Treaty of Turin). In the northern provinces of the Chablais and Faucigny, there was some sympathy for annexation to neighboring Switzerland, with which the northern provinces had longstanding economic ties. To help reduce the attractiveness of Switzerland, the French government conceded a free-trade Zone that maintained the longstanding duty-free relationship of northern Savoyard communes to Geneva. The treaty was followed on April 22–23 by a plebiscite employing universal male suffrage, in which voters were offered the option of voting "yes" to approve the treaty and join France or rejecting the treaty with a no vote. The disallowed options of either joining Switzerland, remaining with Italy, or regaining its independence, were the source of some opposition. With a 99.8% vote in favour of joining France, there were allegations of vote-rigging, notably by the British government, which opposed continental expansion by its traditional French enemy.The correspondent of The Times in Savoy who was in Bonneville on April 22 called the vote "the lowest and most immoral farce(s) which was ever played in the history of nations". He finished his letter with those words:
I leave you to draw your own conclusions from this trip, which will show clearly what the vote was in this part of Savoy. The vote was the bitterest irony ever made on popular suffrage. The ballot-box in the hands of those very authorities who issued the proclamations; no control possible; even travellers suspected and dogged lest they should pry into the matter; all opposition put down by intimidation, and all liberty of action completely taken away. One can really scarcely reproach the Opposition with having given up the game; there was too great force used against them. As for the result of the vote, therefore, no one need trouble himself about it; it will be just as brilliant as that in Nice. The only danger is lest the Savoy authorities in their zeal should fare as some of the French did in the vote of 1852, finding to their surprise rather more votes than voters inscribed on the list.In his letter to the ambassador of Vienna Lord A. Loftus, the then Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell said "Voting in Savoy and Nice a farce ... we are neither entertained or edified".
The annexation was promulgated on June 14, 1860. On August 23, 1860 and March 7, 1861, two agreements were signed between the French Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia to settle the remaining issues concerning the annexation.
In 1919, France officially (but contrary to the annexation treaty) ended the military neutrality of the parts of the country of Savoy that had originally been agreed to at the Congress of Vienna, and also eliminated the free trade zone – both treaty articles having been broken unofficially in World War I. France was condemned in 1932 by the international court for noncompliance with the measures of the Treaty of Turin regarding the provinces of Savoy and Nice.
In 1960, the term annexation having acquired negative connotations in France, particularly after Germany's 1871 annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, the annexation was renamed Rattachement de la Savoie à la France (Incorporation of Savoy to France). It was the latter term which was used by the French authorities during the festivities celebrating the 100th anniversary of the annexation. Daniel Rops of the French Academy justified the new title with these words:
Savoy has begun to solemnize the feasts in 1960, commemorating the centenary of its incorporation (rattachement) to France. It is on purpose that the word incorporation (rattachement) is highlighted here: the Savoyards attach great value to it, and it is the only one they have resolved to use in the official terminology of the Centenary. In that, they are infinitely right. Yesterday another term that was used: annexation. Looking at it more closely it was wrong! Can we say annexation when we talk about a decision which was approved by 130,889 voters over 135,449? [...]. Savoy was not annexed [...] but actually incorporated freely and by the will of its inhabitants.
A former French deputy, P. Taponnier, spoke of the annexation:
In late March 1860, the betrothal ceremony of Savoy to France took place in Tuileries Palace [...], a ceremony which was a pact of love and fidelity [...] it is with free consent that she [Savoy] gave itself to France by a solemn plebiscite which our leaders can ignore neither the terms nor the commitments. [...] May the bells of our cities [...] in Savoy vibrate in unison to glorify, in this magnificent Centenary, the indefectible commitment of Savoy to France. The Savoyards did not feel Italian. Besides, they spoke French. This explains why in 1858–1859 when rumours ran of the Plombières secret agreement, where Napoleon III and Cavour decided of the fate of Savoy, the Savoyards themselves took the initiative to ask for the incorporation (rattachement). [...] Incorporation, not annexation [...] The incorporation was an act of free will, in the logical order of geography and history [...].