Historical Oddities: The Kingdom of Tavolara

The Kingdom of Tavolara was a tiny sovereign nation on the island of Tavolara off the northeast coast of Sardinia. The kingdom was founded in the early 19th century. While the island had been uninhabited for a long time, a shepherd named Giuseppe Bertoleoni moved to the island in the early 1800s. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the island of Sardinia was given to the House of Savoy as part of the newly formed kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont. When king Charles Albert of Sardinia-Piedmont visited the island, Giuseppe supposedly impressed the king with his education. Shortly afterward, Charles Albert gave Giuseppe a royal charter to the island and recognized him as King Giuseppe of Tavolara and Tavolara as a sovereign state.

After Giuseppe was made king of the island, he brought his two wives and their families over to live on the island. The Italian government attempted to try Giuseppe for bigamy, but failed because of his title. Giuseppe continued ruling the island until his death in 1845, when he was succeeded by his son king Paolo I. Paolo I and his family were visited by Italian patriot and republican Giuseppe Garibaldi during this time. After the unification of Italy, king Paolo successfully sought recognition from the new Italian king Victor Emmanuel I, and Tavolara remained independent. The Italian government also paid the kingdom for land on the northeastern end of Tavolara for the construction of a lighthouse there. Paolo continued to rule the small island until his death in 1886. Paolo’s wife, Pasquala Favale, acted as his regent between 1882 when he fell ill and his death. Paolo and Pasquala’s tomb lies in a graveyard on the island.

Paolo was succeeded by his son, Carlo I. In 1900, the British naval vessel HMS Vulcan visited the island, and the Royal Navy obtained a portrait of King Carlo and his family to hang in Buckingham Palace as part of Queen Victoria’s collection of royal portraits. However, King Carlo lost the will and ambition to rule the kingdom by 1904, wishing to return to the life of a fisherman. Carlo was persuaded to rule for another twenty years, though he rarely spent time on the island. Upon his death in 1927, his sister Mariangela took up the crown of Tavolara.

Mariangela ruled Tavolara for only seven years until her death in 1934. After Mariangela’s death, the claim over Tavolara passed to the king of Italy and the island, now with approximately 50 inhabitants, lost its sovereignty. However, Mariangela’s nephew Paolo II still claimed the title of king of Tavolara. While the island was never formally annexed, Italy occupied the island in 1962 after Paolo II’s death and built a NATO radio installation there. When the NATO radio station was put on the island, most of the population was forced to leave Tavolara. Now, the island is largely a nature reserve and is somewhat popular with tourists for its beaches and scuba diving. The current claimant, Paolo II’s son Tonino Berteleoni, is an Italian citizen and owns a restaurant on the island.

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One Response to Historical Oddities: The Kingdom of Tavolara

  1. Buzz Hoerr says:

    Great job Charlie! Never knew this story.

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