Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Beautiful May Queen of Italy

Monza, September 1930. Princess Maria-José of Belgium steps down from Borzacchini's Alfa Romeo car with the help of Prospero Gianferrari.

Queen Maria Jose of Italy was probably pleased when the first results of the referendum to decide whether Italy would retain the monarchy came out, but disappointment soon followed. The people voted for a republic in this referendum held after the Second World War, swayed by the former King Vittorio Emmanuell's links with Mussolini's hated and feared regime. His abdication in support of his son King Umberto II made no difference. The government sent the Savoys into exile and forbade the heirs from coming back for several years.

'The May Queen' was born in 1906, the daughter of King Albert 1 of Belgium and Duchess Elisabetta. Although her old aunt, the former Queen of Naples, told her not to marry that 'little Umberto of Savoy,' her parents planned for the marriage from when she was a child. They sent her to an Italian school and she also had a Florentine governess so that she would learn to speak Italian fluently. Young Maria Jose was not keen on an arranged marriage, but did her duty. The beautiful blue-eyed bride married the handsome army officer in 1930 in the Paolina Chapel at the Quirinale Palace in Rome.

Unfortunately, it was not a happy marriage, and the couple constantly bickered. However, they had four children, Maria Pia, Vittorio Emmanuel, Maria Gabriella and Maria Beatrice. Maria Jose hated Mussolini's Fascist regime and Mussolini had his chief of police keep her under surveillance. According to The Exiled Belgian Royalist, she was the kind of woman that Mussolini's regime disapproved. She was 'too thin, her hair was too short, she was too fashionable and she was too independent'. Maria Jose became President of Italy's Red Cross in 1939. During the Second World War, her relationships with famous people and her links with the Vatican helped her to forge ties with the Allies, but her pleas to Hitler to allow food supplies into Belgium and release Belgian POW's were in vain, as was her effort to broker a peace treaty with the US.

King Umberto only ruled for 27 days. After the war, the former Queen separated from him and lived in Switzerland with her daughters, and then in Mexico, while Umberto lived in Portugal. She wrote books about the House of Savoy and, an accomplished pianist herself, started a prize for musical composition. She returned to Italy in 1988. She died in 1994 in 2001.

Did Queen Maria Jose Have An Affair With Mussolini?

In 2011 an article in an Italian magazine suggested that the Queen had an affair with Mussolini! The evidence for this was in a letter to a journalist from the former dictator's youngest son Romano to a journalist in 2011. The affair was only short, but it was allegedly known to Mussolini's wife Rachele and caused her a lot of pain.

Another story appears to dispel this tale completely. Mussolini told his mistress Claretta Petacci that Maria Jose tried to seduce him on the beach at a seaside resort in 1937 but she was too thin and he didn't fancy her so he declined! Claretta thought that he would have boasted about an affair, if he had had one.

As the beautiful Queen hated Mussolini's regime and let her opinion be known and Mussolini often bragged about his mistresses, the story of this affair seems quite unbelievable. I think that we should give her the benefit of the doubt!

Beautiful song "Terra Promessa" about the May Queen by Petra Berger

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Queen's Official Birthday Celebrations

This is a bit late, I am sorry. It was sad to watch the Queen enjoying her birthday in such a lonely way.

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Queen's Broadcast During the War

When she was a young girl, the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) and Princess Margaret spoke to evacuated children during Children's Hour in the depths of the Second World War in 1940. The Queen said yesterday that her inspiring speech about coronavirus reminded her of that first broadcast.

The Queen's Inspiring Speech about the Coronavirus

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Prince Albert's Model Cottages

Prince Albert's Model Cottage Chloe Bowles [CC BY 2.0 (]

Prince Albert told his audience at a public meeting about the horrors of working-class conditions that 'wealth is an accident of society' and that those who are wealthy 'should intervene to ameliorate 'the evils produced by other accidents'. He had resolved to speak, in spite of being warned against it by Lord Russell, the PM, and the Queen actually helped him rehearse his address.

 In the mid-nineteenth century the working-classes certainly endured many evils, such as overcrowded conditions, long working hours, low wages and the dangers of nasty diseases, such as typhoid, cholera and rickets.  Moving to the cities for work meant that most lived in slums with several children sharing a room. Sometimes whole families lived in one room.  Poor relief was apparently not much help.After a tour of working -class conditions, Prince Albert was naturally horrified, and he resolved to do something about it. According to the historian Katy Layton-Jones, the Prince believed that if you could raise the quality of life for the working-classes, this would help to lessen social problems and social conflict. 1.

The Prince had been nominal president of the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes since 1844 but it was 1848, and he decided that it was time to act. He commissioned the construction of model working-class flats financed with his own money, and designed by the great architect Henry Roberts.  These buildings were extremely innovative, and became extremely influential, beginning the advance of improved public housing in Great Britain, America, and many other countries.

The neo-classical flats were built in a type of red brick, which had several advantages. It was fire-proof, damp-resistant, non-porous and cheap. Each flat had two levels, two living-areas, three bedrooms, a scullery, an airing cupboard and even an indoor toilet. The cottages also featured a central open staircase, and modern domestic appliances. The parent's bedroom was very large for the time. Comfort and privacy were emphasized.

These cottages were shown at Prince Albert's highest achievement, the Great Exhibition in 1851, where they could be seen free-of-charge.  The cottages were outside the Exhibition grounds but this didn't prevent 250,000 people visiting them! Visitors included the Queen and Charles Dickens. Soon after the model cottages were built, institutions such as the Peabody Trust, started construction of social housing based on this model. 

One model cottage may still be seen on Kennington Park Road, on the very spot where the Chartists gathered to fight for democratic reforms.

1. How Prince Albert Changed Britain for the Better

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Meghan Remembered The Commonwealth

Prince Harry was delightfully surprised by his beautiful bride's wedding veil. Meghan Markle wondered how she could surprise her prince, and decided to include a piece of every Commonwealth country in her dress. She wasn't sure how to do this, however, so the British designer Clare Waight Keller suggested that she have the signature flower from each country embroidered onto her veil.

The flowers came from all 53 countries, and were delicately appliqued onto the Duchess of Sussex's 16-foot veil which she wore with her Givenchy gown.  They included the golden wattle of Australia, the kowhai of New Zealand, the bunchberry of Canada and the daffodil of Wales (my favourite).  Meghan also requested that two of her favourite flowers be embroidered onto her veil - the wintersweet and the Californian poppy.  The wintersweet grows outside Kensington Palace, where she lived with Prince Harry. The Queen had all of the Commonwealth flowers embroidered onto her coronation gown in 1953, but there were only eight flowers then.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are Commonwealth Youth Ambassadors.

Australia's Golden Wattle      Melburnian [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]                             

The Wintersweet 

The Californian Poppy

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