24 September 2017

Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma - exiled princess

Vote for republic forced King's daughter to leave

Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma, pictured in 1963
Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma,
pictured in 1963
Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma was born into the Italian royal family on this day in 1934, the grand-daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III.

Her father, Umberto of Savoy, would himself become King on her grandfather’s abdication but reigned for just 34 days in 1946 before Italy voted to become a republic and the royals were effectively thrown out of the country.

Italians could not forgive Victor Emmanuel III for not doing enough to limit the power of the Fascists and for approving Benito Mussolini’s anti-semitic race laws. The constitution of the new republic decreed that no male member of the House of Savoy could set foot in Italy ever again.

It meant that Princess Maria Pia, the eldest of Umberto’s four children, had to leave Italy immediately along with her brother and two sisters and all the other members of the family, bringing to an abrupt end the life she had known until that moment.

Born in Naples, where the Villa Rosebery, once the property of the British prime minister, the Earl of Rosebery, had been renamed Villa Maria Pia by her doting father, the 11-year-old princess was removed to Cascais in Portugal.

When her parents separated almost immediately after leaving Italy – as strict Catholics, Umberto and Marie-José never divorced – she divided her time between Portugal and her mother’s home in Switzerland.

Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, as she was then, pictured with her first husband,  Alexander of Yugoslavia
Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, as she was then, pictured
with her first husband,  Alexander of Yugoslavia
This changed in 1954 after she was invited to a cruise hosted by Queen Frederica of Greece on the yacht Agamemnon, where she met Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia.  They were married the following year and settled in Paris.

They had four children – two sets of twins, born in 1958 and 1963 – and lived a comfortable life.  Maria Pia was much photographed and came to be regarded as a symbol of Italian style.  Unlike the males in the Savoy line, she was allowed to return to Italy, where she was a regular customer of the Sorelle Fontana fashion house in Rome and would buy shoes from Alberto Dal Cò, the uncle of the three Fontana sisters.

She also wore dresses designed by her fellow Neapolitan, Emilio Schuberth, and would go to Capri to the boutique of Emilio Pucci.

For a while she was a model for Vogue magazine and worked as a journalist on another magazine, Novella 2000, revealing a talent for writing she claimed she inherited from her mother.

Among the many people she interviewed was the artist Salvador Dalì, with whom she became close friends.

Princess Maria Pia is still actively involved with charities
Princess Maria Pia is still actively involved with charities
Like that of her parents, however, her marriage to Prince Alexander ultimately broke down.  They divorced in 1967.

By that time she had begun an affair with Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma and was already living with him when she and Alexander divorced. They have remained together since, although they were not married until 2003.

Michel, whose ancestry goes back to the establishment of the House of Bourbon-Parma in Italy in 1731, had been separated from his first wife, Yolande of Broglie-Revel, since 1966 but they did not divorce until 1999.

He and Maria Pia were married in a civil ceremony in Manalapan, Florida, close to the mansion they owned in Palm Beach.

In recent years they have divided their time between homes in Neuilly-sur-Seine, just outside Paris, and Palm Beach, although the 91-year-old Michel has recently become too frail to leave France.

Unlike her brother, Vittorio Emanuele, who did the reputation of the family no good in various scandals, Maria Pia had led a life free from controversy and is recognised, in Florida in particular, for her work with charities and her keen interest in promoting the preservation of the historic, architectural and cultural heritage of Palm Beach.

The Villa Rosebery overlooks the sea at Marechiaro
The Villa Rosebery overlooks the sea at Marechiaro
Travel tip:

The Villa Rosebery, which sits in 16.3 acres (6.6 hectares) of land in Marechiaro on the northern side of the Bay of Naples, came into the possession of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, the former Liberal prime minister of Great Britain, in 1897.  In 1909, he presented the building to the British government for the use of the British Ambassador to Italy. In 1932 the British government in turn presented the building to the Italian State and the villa was used as a summer royal residence until the royal family were exiled in 1946.  It was then used by the Accademia Aeronautica until 1949, after which it was unoccupied until it became an official residence of the President of the Italian Republic in 1957.

Piazza di Spagna, viewed from the Spanish Steps
Piazza di Spagna, viewed from the Spanish Steps
Travel tip:

The House of Fontana still exists today, with its headquarters close to Piazza di Spagna, one of the most famous squares in Rome, situated at the foot of the much-photographed Spanish Steps. The square and steps take their name from the Embassy of Spain, situated close by. The steps were built to provide access from the embassy to the church of Trinità dei Monti.

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