"You are the woman of my heart," Axel Munthe wrote to Princess Victoria of Sweden. This may seem cliched now, but these words only made the unhappy princess fall more in love with the young doctor.
Axel Munthe, who later wrote the wonderful book, The Story of San Michele, completed his medical studies in quick time and became famous after a long struggle to become successful. He acquired friends in high places and a beautiful villa on the sun-lit Italian island of Capri, where he was recommended by the Swedish ambassador as a personal physician to the sickly princess.
Princess Victoria was unhappily married to Prince Gustaf of Sweden and Norway when she met Axel Munthe. They travelled to romantic Venice where they probably began their long affair. The princess didn't have much in common with Prince Gustaf was fairly dull and uncultured - his main interest seems to have been hunting. She and Axel both enjoyed music - she was a very accomplished pianist, apparently. He had a good tenor voice so they gave evening concerts. She was also an excellent photographer and artist. They both also loved animals. She liked dogs and Munthe famously saved many birds on Capri from being hunted and killed in a very cruel manner.
In those days, being a little too close to one's doctor, wasn't seen as unethical apparently, and the princess's family approved of her relationship with Munthe. They found it difficult to cope with Princess Victoria's very bad health and probably thought that Italy's pleasant Mediterranean climate would rejuvenate her.
Princess Victoria travelled to Capri often in the winters, sometimes with her husband, and bought a two-story farmhouse called Casa Caprile. She made quite an impression on the locals in her elegant clothes of 'Capri wool'. She loved leaving the harsh Swedish winters, and attributed her better health to Italy, writing that:
“I flee the snow like the swallows,” the Queen wrote, adding, “If I couldn’t spend the winter on Capri, I would die.” According to an article in Capri Review Magazine : "Every autumn she seemed reborn, rediscovering enthusiasm and a zest for life."
Munthe was divorced and could easily have remarried. He complained about being pestered by hysterical women who followed him about in The Story of San Michele. It sounds very vain but it was quite true! Some of the women that fell in love with him were quite impressive. The wealthy American, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, for example, was very cultured and Munthe was taken by her desire to help the poor. However, Jangfeldt, Munthe's biographer thinks that he was too much in love with the princess to consider anyone else as a wife. Charlotte became Mrs.Bernard Shaw.
After many years and when he was quite old, Munthe suddenly decided to marry. He probably felt that his relationship with the princess was one of friendship by this time. It wasn't a love-match but he was very rich and may have wanted children to inherit his money. He married a much younger English woman and had two sons.
The marriage wasn't happy. Hilda, his wife, didn't like staying on Capri and became very jealous of Victoria and even Munthe's maids. They eventually divorced.
Victoria became Queen shortly after this marriage and didn't stay at Capri as often.
She and Munthe fell out somewhat over her strongly pro-German feelings during the First World War (he was an Anglophile). However, she was really the love of his life and he was with her when she died in 1930 in Sweden.
Munthe dedicated The Story of San Michele to Queen Victoria shortly before she died:
Protector of oppressed animals
Friend of all dogs.
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