Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Affair of the Spanish Marriages

 Arrival of Queen Victoria at the Chateau d'Eu in 1843by Eugène Lami, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Queen Victoria loved the beautiful setting of the Chateau d’Eu in Normandy, and had fun playing with elegant French fashions and makeup in the third episode of the Season Two of the series “Victoria”. She was disappointed with the French King Louis Philippe, however, over the question of the ‘Spanish marriages’. What really happened? Was the King really so  cunning and untrustworthy?

King Louis Phillipe 1 of France by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1840 Queen Victoria discussed the question of the future King of Spain with Lords Melbourne and Palmerston. England did not favour any possibility of a Bourbon marrying the young Spanish Queen Isabella (only 10) because of the Peace of Utrecht. According to this, the throne should be passed down from Philip V and his descendants. Prince Leopold of Coburg was the British choice for the husband of Queen Isabella, but Louis Phillipe liked the idea of his sons (the Montpensiers) marrying the Queen and her sister, the Infanta.

Lord Aberdeen (the new Foreign Minister) hoped that the Queen’s visit to France in 1843 and 1845 would lead to an Entente Cordiale. 1843 was after all the first time that an English monarch had visited France since Henry VIII in the 1520s! But the marriages remained an ongoing concern. Prince Albert wrote to Peel: ‘Let us show that we are neither afraid of him [the French King], nor prepared to be made dupes of’. [i]

In 1845 Louis Phillipe and his Foreign Minister Guizot made a bargain that the King would not advance one of his own sons for the Queen if England did not push Prince Leopold. He also agreed that his son would not marry the Infanta until the Queen had an heir, so that a Bourbon would not succeed to the throne.

However, Lord Palmerston annoyed the King by sending a despatch listing the candidates for the husband of the Queen, who was now 16. He included the Prince of Coburg, annoying Louis Phillipe. To the chagrin of the British, the French King soon arranged for the poor Queen to marry Francisco, Duke of Cadiz, who was reportedly gay and impotent, and for his own son to marry the Infanta. A double marriage was held on October 10, 1846. He hoped that Queen Isabella would have no children so that the Infanta’s future son would inherit the throne. Queen Victoria sympathised with the French King’s son Antoine who did not want to marry the Infanta  until he could ‘see how she turned out’.

Aberdeen wrote to Prince Albert that: ‘The marriage of the Duke of Montpensier is really an affair of little importance to England and it an event with which in itself we have no right to quarrel’.[ii]

Queen Victoria didn’t take that view, however. She couldn’t understand how Louis Phillipe could ‘wantonly throw away the friendship of one who had stood firm by him with sincere affection,  for a doubtful object of personal and family aggrandisement,’ she wrote after the marriages were announced. [iii]

Antoine supported the Spanish revolutionaries against his own sister-in-law in 1868 but he saw his daughter Mercedes succeed to the throne after she married her first cousin King Alphonso XII.









[i] Weintraub, Stanley. Abert, Uncrowned King. John Murray, London, 1997. p.149


[ii] Ibid., p.245

[iii] Seton-Watson, Robert. Britain in Europe 1789-1914, a Survey of Foreign Policy. CUP Archive, 1945, p. 245







Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Did King Richard III Want To Marry His Own Niece, Elizabeth of York?


The people at court quickly stifled their gasps when they saw the young and beautiful Princess Elizabeth dressed like Queen Anne. As she was of ‘the same shape and complexion’ it was obvious that she was wearing one of the Queen’s dresses. Although Princess Elizabeth had been invited to court for the Christmas celebrations, she had effectively been declared illegitimate, and only royals were permitted to wear rich gold and purple silks. Why was she dressed in one of the Queen’s gorgeous dresses? More importantly, why was King Richard III paying her so much attention at these Christmas celebrations? Magnates and prelates were reportedly astonished.

King Richard, frightened by his rival Henry Tudor, had been attempting to reconcile with the powerful Woodvilles, the former Queen’s family, even with some of those formerly declared traitors, such as Robert Radcliffe. Even Thomas Grey, Princess Elizabeth’s half-brother fled from Henry Tudor in Europe, presumably intending to join Richard. He was taken into custody at Lyon Castle by Henry’s troops.

Who lent the eighteen-year old Princess the magnificent clothes, and why? Probably King Richard himself lent her the clothes, people thought, because the Queen was supposed to be the most finely dressed woman at the celebrations, so it was unlikely to be her. The Queen may have been naïve, intending to be kind. However, it was all very odd.

Gossip About The Relationship Grows

When Queen Anne became ill soon afterwards, and Richard was known not to be sleeping with her, gossip went through the roof. Speculation arose that the King even wanted to annul the marriage, or even wanted her to die, so that he could marry Elizabeth. Vergil wrote that Queen Anne cried and asked Richard ‘why he wanted to be rid of her’. However, Richard consulted doctors about her illness, and he probably did not want to be close to her because the disease was perhaps contagious.

King Richard and Elizabeth certainly had reasons to want the marriage. By marrying Elizabeth, Richard would legitimise his kingship, probably get rid of his rival, or strike him a big blow. He would be likely to have more sons as well. (His only son had died). The prospect of being Queen probably looked attractive to young Elizabeth, who had had a fraught life so far. Her mother was regarded as ambitious, as well.

Marriage between an uncle and a niece was forbidden under canon law, but could be granted for ‘great and pressing reasons. In 1496 Ferdinand II, King of Naples, received a dispensation to marry his aunt.

King Richard gave or lent the young princess two books, Tristan, and Boethius. In Boethius she wrote the King’s motto in her handwriting, Loyaulte me Lie. She made a mistake despite careful handwriting and corrected it later, inserting the ‘y’. Perhaps she had accepted him as King?

The alleged letter sent by the Princess to John, Duke of Norfolk in 1485 is yet more evidence, according to some. This was shown to the antiquary, George Buck, in the 17th century, but the original was never found, and there are different versions of the wording. Apparently, according to Chris Skidmore’s extract of the letter, she wrote that she was Richard’s, ‘in body and in all’, and intimated that she feared that the Queen would never die. In the language of the time, ‘in body and in all’ may have just meant that she was completely loyal to the King. However, she referred to negotiations in ‘the cause of the marriage with the King’, which may have meant that he was making negotiations for her marriage to someone else. King Richard had secretly begun negotiations to marry Joanna of Portugal, and for Elizabeth to marry a Portuguese prince. According to Chris Skidmore, he was clearly looking elsewhere for a wife. It is hard to take a letter like this too seriously when the original was not found.

The King Denies The Rumours

Queen Anne died on March 11, 1485, on the day of a great eclipse of the sun. She was not buried at the Neville family mausoleum, and her funeral only cost a few hundred pounds. However, the Crowland chronicler wrote that she was buried with honours befitting a Queen, so we should not read too much into her funeral costs and burial place.

Rumours quickly spread that Richard had poisoned his wife, however, intending to marry Elizabeth. The gossip even travelled to France. Richard felt the need to defend himself to the council. Ratcliffe and Catesby warned him that the people of the north would rebel if the marriage took place, and that they had twelve Doctors of Divinity to tell him that the Pope would not grant a dispensation.

Richard even denied the rumours in public in the hall of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in front of the mayor, aldermen and several people, expressing his grief and displeasure. He said loudly and clearly that he had never thought of marrying Elizabeth, and that anyone who spread these lies would be punished by the mayor. He also had letters denying the rumours sent across the country.

Soon afterwards, King Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII. He married Princess Elizabeth of York in 1486, beginning the Tudor dynasty.


Skidmore, Chris. Richard III Brother Protector King. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. London, 2017.

Weir, Alison. Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen. Jonathan Cape. London.2013


(The video is from the crazy and wildly inaccurate series, but very enjoyable "The White Queen").







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

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