Vittorio Emanuele II was king of Sardinia from 1849, on 17 March 1861, he assumed the title King of Italy to become the first king of a united Italy, a title he held until his death in 1878. The Italians gave him the epithet Father of the Fatherland (Italian: Padre della Patria).
He became King of Sardinia in 1849 when his father had abdicated the throne after a humiliating military defeat by the Austrians at Novara. Victor Emanuel was immediately able to obtain a rather favorable armistice at Vignale by the Austrian commander, Radetzky. The treaty, however, was not ratified by the Piedmontese chamber, and Vittorio Emanuele retaliated by firing Prime Minister Claudio Gabriele de Launay, replacing him with Massimo D'Azeglio. After new elections, the peace with Austria was accepted by the new Chamber of Deputies. In 1849 he also fiercely suppressed the revolt in Genoa, defining the rebels as a "vile and infected race of canailles".
In 1852, he appointed Count Camillo Benso of Cavour Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia. This turned out to be a wise choice as Cavour was a political mastermind and a major player in Italian unification in his own right. Victor Emanuel II soon became the symbol of the Italian Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement. He was especially popular in the Kingdom of Sardinia because of his respect for the new constitution and his liberal reforms.