Vittorio Emanuele was born in Turin on March 14, 1820, the eldest son of Carlo Alberto, king of Sardinia, and Maria Teresa of Habsburg. As is necessary for an heir to the throne, he is sent to military discipline: at the age of eleven he is the captain of riflemen, in 1831 he is general and in 1846 he was promoted to lieutenant general.
In 1842 he married Maria Adelaide, daughter of the Viceroy of Lombardy-Veneto, Archduke Ranieri of Habsburg. From the marriage born Umberto, Clotilde, Maria Pia, Oddone and Amedeo. He distinguished himself in the first war of independence of the years 1848-1849, in Goito, as commander of the Reserve Division, receiving the gold medal award. It is immediately opposed to the paternal policies of openness to the liberal instances; ascended the throne, however - after the abdication of his father, which occurred in 1849 - softens his intransigence respecting many concessions bestowed by Charles Albert, beginning with the Statute.
On 20 November, after having dissolved Parliament because it was against the peace agreements with Austria and on the eve of the new elections, he published the audacious "Proclamation of Moncalieri", conceived by Massimo d'Azeglio, with whom he urged voters to prefer moderate exponents with the almost explicit threat of a coup.
Vittorio Emanuele II works for the reorganization of the state accounts, renews the army, promotes public education, promotes trade especially with Great Britain gaining a great popular consensus. In 1852 the count of Cavour becomes prime minister, whose statistic skills will allow the king to carry out his unification projects: it is Cavour, in short, the true architect of the unification of Italy.
Between the two there is immediately a relationship of mutual convenience, there being no feelings of friendship: in fact, there will be moments of friction and the king, on occasion, will prevent Cavour from implementing some of his programs.
After the Crimean War and the subsequent Congress of Paris of 1856, which sees for the first time the Kingdom of Sardinia counted among the European powers, it allies with France and, as agreed in 1858 in Plombieres by the Prime Minister, takes part in the second war of independence, until the armistice of Villafranca in which Lombardy is recognized.
The marriage of his daughter Clotilde with Gerolamo Bonaparte strengthens the ties with Napoleon III. Immediately after, following the popular uprisings and the consequent plebiscites, Tuscany and Emilia became part of the kingdom, even if in return it was forced to cede France to Nice and Savoy.
Victor Emmanuel II comes into conflict with Cavour at the start of the shipment of the Thousand of Garibaldi, in 1860, which he sees with a favorable eye, contrary to the prime minister. The enterprise of the red shirts is worth the annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In September he entered the Papal States occupying the Marche and Umbria.
With a law of March 17, 1861 assumes the title of king of Italy, bringing to fulfillment that great historical enterprise that will be worth the recognition of "father of the fatherland". The following are years of consolidation of the kingdom.
In 1865 King Vittorio Emanuele II transferred the capital from Turin to Florence and implements important reforms, including the promulgation of the civil code and the abolition of the death penalty. In 1866, an ally of Prussia, he initiated the third war of independence, with which he also annexed the Veneto. On 20 September 1870, after the collapse of the French Empire and the withdrawal of the troops from Rome, invoking the "September Convention" of 1864, he sent General Cadorna who, through the breach of Porta Pia, entered the eternal city thus making to the kingdom its definitive and historical capital.
From that moment his influence on Italian politics is gradually diminishing. In 1876, with the commission of Agostino Depretis to form the new government, he opened a new political season, sanctioning the first left-wing government in Italy.
Vittorio Emanuele II, first king of Italy, died in Rome on 9 January 1878, at the age of only 58.