Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy

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Charles Emmanuel I (Italian: Carlo Emanuele di Savoia), (12 January 1562 – 26 July 1630), surnamed the Great, was the Duke of Savoy from 1580 to 1630. He was also nicknamed Testa d'feu ("Head of Fire") for his rashness and military attitudes.



He was born in the Castle of Rivoli in Piedmont, he was the only child of Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy and Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry. He became duke on 30 August 1580.

An ambitious and self-esteeming person, he followed a policy of expansion for his duchy. In the autumn of 1588, taking advantage of the civil war weakening France during the reign of his first cousin Henry III, he occupied the Marquisate of Saluzzo, which was under French protection. The new king, Henry IV, demanded the restitution of that land, but Charles Emmanuel refused, and a war ensued. The broader conflict involving France and Spain ended with the Peace of Vervins (May 2, 1598), which left the current but separate question of Saluzzo unsolved. After the Duke had started talks with Spain, Henry threatened to reopen the war until, with the Treaty of Lyon (January 17, 1601), Saluzzo went to Savoy in exchange for Bresse and other territories over the Alps. By terms of the treaty, the eradication of Protestants was to be carried on in the Duchy.

In 1602, Charles Emmanuel attempted to besiege the city of Geneva. On December the 11th of that year, he commanded his troops to the city during the night, and they surrounded the city walls at 2:00 AM. The Savoyard cuirassiers were ordered to dismount and climb the city walls in full armour as a shock tactic. However, the alarm was raised by a night watchman and Geneva's militia rose to meet the invaders. The attempted raid was a disastrous failure, and 54 Savoyards were killed, and many more were captured. Charles Emmanuel's army retreated in a panic and the Savoyard prisoners were executed.

The heavy helmets worn by Charles Emmanuel's troops, which featured visors made in crude imitation of a human face, were henceforth known as "Savoyard" helmets after this notorious incident. A number of these armours were captured by the Swiss and kept as trophies. The Geneva militia's successful defense of the city's walls is celebrated to the present day as an act of heroism with the annual festival of L'Escalade.

With the Treaty of Bruzolo (April 25, 1610), Charles Emmanuel allied with France against Spain, but the assassination of Henry IV changed the situation, as the treaty was not recognized by Marie de' Medici, who immediately assumed regency for Henry's son Louis XIII, a minor. Nevertheless, Charles Emmanuel obtained the help of French troops to free Alba from the Spaniards (January 1617), as the new King Louis XIII resumed his father's former alliance with Savoy. His sister Christine Marie was married to Charles Emmanuel's son, Victor Amadeus in 1619.

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