On 15 September 1904, in the royal castle of Racconigi, in the Cuneo area, Elena of Montenegro gave birth to her first (and only) son, Umberto. Having the king of Italy as his father, Vittorio Emanuele III, seems to assure the small Umberto of a future of all respect, as a legitimate heir to the throne of the Kingdom. Exceptional events will intervene, however, to deeply mark the life of the scion of the House of Savoy and the same history of Italy: Umberto will be king, but very sui generis.
Raised under the banner of a strict military education, he graduated in law and started a rapid career in the armed forces. In 1930 he married Maria José of Belgium, with whom he had four children: Maria Pia, Vittorio Emanuele, Maria Gabriella and Maria Beatrice. Obtained in 1936 the rank of general, four years later assumes without conviction the command of the group of armies of the western sector. The war against France and England, alongside Germany, was in fact decided by Mussolini against the opinion of the Savoys who wanted the protraction of Italian neutrality. In 1942 he took command of the troops of southern and insular Italy: a decidedly marginal role, a consequence of his (and his wife's) less and less concealed dislike of Mussoloni and Hitler.
The Duce, aware of Umberto's hostility, goes in his turn to put him in the shadows and in bad light, favoring instead the Duke of Aosta - a collateral branch of the Savoy - on which he probably begins to aim for the succession to the throne. The fall of the fate of the Second World War determine the distrust of the Grand Council to Mussolini, July 24, 1943, and Vittorio Emanuele III allows the arrest by appointing Badoglio Head of Government.
On 8 September the Armistice between Italy and the Allies is signed, but the war continues, this time against the former German ally. Once Fascism has been overthrown, popular resentment now turns to the king and to the monarchy itself. Vittorio Emanuele III, in an attempt to save the crown, on June 5, 1944 renounces substantially the royal prerogatives appointing his son Lieutenant: it is the first step towards abdication, which will take place formally on May 9, 1946, less than a month after the referendum popular that will decide between monarchy and republic. The prince of Piedmont thus rises to the throne with the name of Umberto II and, among the very first of his acts, commits himself to allow the referendum, saying he is willing to accept any verdict.
But when the Supreme Court of Cassation announces the birth of the republic, and while the former monarchist Alcide De Gasperi are temporarily entrusted with the functions of Head of State, Umberto II spreads a proclamation in which he denounces fraud in the conduct of scrutiny operations. To avoid that the disturbances already exploded in Naples and in other cities degenerate in civil war, he decides to leave Italy for Cascais, near Lisbon, in Portugal, where he assumes the title of count of Sarre.
In this way he ended his reign, after just 24 days from the ascent to the throne, on June 2, 1946. Cotant fleetingness will be worth the mocking appellation of "King of May".
In Cascais, relations with Maria José, never idyllic, deteriorated further until the de facto separation: Umberto remained in Cascais with his daughters, while his wife moved to Merlinge, Switzerland, with little Vittorio Emanuele.
At the age of 60 he is suffering from a tumor that will accompany him slowly and painfully to death. Umberto II of Savoy dies in seventy-nine years in Geneva on March 18, 1983. In his will he decrees that the Holy Shroud, property of the Savoy for over four centuries, is given to Pope John Paul II; it also gives the Italian State the precious historical archive of the House of Savoy. His remains, together with those of Maria José, rest in the historic abbey of Hautecombe, in Haute-Savoie.