1 June 2018

Iolanda of Savoy - banished princess

Sister of Italy’s last monarch lived quiet life in seaside villa

A photograph of Princess Iolanda of  Savoy as a young woman
A photograph of Princess Iolanda of
Savoy as a young woman 
Princess Iolanda of Savoy, the eldest daughter of Italy’s wartime king Vittorio Emanuele III, was born on this day in 1901 in Rome.

Along with the other members of the Italian royal family, she left the country in 1946 after a referendum over whether to turn Italy into a republic gained the support of 54 per cent of those who voted.

The new constitution specifically banned the male heirs of the House of Savoy from setting foot on Italian soil.  Her brother, Umberto II, who had been made king when his father abdicated in May 1946, shortly before the vote, had the crown for just 27 days. He left for Portugal, never to return to his homeland.

The decision to send male members of the family into exile was essentially the new republic’s punishment for Vittorio Emanuele having allowed the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini to run the country as a dictator.

Vittorio Emanuele, who was king for 46 years, was tainted in particular by his approval of Mussolini's anti-semitic race laws by which all Jewish students were expelled from schools and Jews were banned from public office and forbidden to marry outside their race.

The collapse of the monarchy meant a dramatic change of lifestyle for Iolanda, who was one of five children born to her mother, Queen Elena of Montenegro.

The King and his young family: from the left Iolanda, Queen Elena, Maria Francesca, Mafalda and Umberto
The King and his young family: from the left Iolanda, Queen
Elena, Maria Francesca, Mafalda and Umberto
There were once plans to put her forward as a suitable match for the Crown Prince of England, the future Edward VIII.  In the event, Edward VIII gave up his throne for Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee, and Iolanda, a sporty girl who excelled at swimming and riding, was courted by Count Giorgio Carlo Calvi of Bergolo, a cavalry officer who would go on to become a general in the Italian army.

They were married at the Palazzo Quirinale in Rome in 1923 and lived in a Savoy residence in the town of Pinerolo, southwest of Turin, where they raised a family of five children.

Calvi was one of the officers closest to Vittorio Emanuele during the Second World War and was placed in control of Rome as it became an “open city” following the armistice the Italians signed with the Allies in 1943.

He was arrested by the Germans towards the end of the War and interned in a hotel in Austria before being allowed to join Iolanda and the family, who had by then moved to the relative safety of Switzerland.

Giorgio Carlo Calvi of Bergolo, who was married to Iolanda in 1923
Giorgio Carlo Calvi of Bergolo, who
was married to Iolanda in 1923
After the constitution was announced, Iolanda, Calvi and their children joined her father in exile in Egypt, where Vittorio Emanuele died in 1947.

Unlike the male descendants, who would remain in exile until Umberto II’s son, also called Vittorio Emanuele, and grandson Emanuele Filiberto, were allowed back in 2002, the female descendants were able to return to Italy without restriction.

There was no public role for Iolanda, but she and her husband were able to start a new life at a maritime villa on the coast of Lazio on the Copacotta estate, formerly owned by the Savoy family before being taken over by the state. She died in a clinic in Rome in 1986

Fate took Iolanda’s sisters on very different paths. Mafalda, who was a year and a half younger, married a grandson of the German Emperor Frederick III and went to live in a castle not far from Frankfurt.

Her husband was a member of the Nazi party, yet she was suspected by Hitler of being a spy, or at best a subversive, and after Italy’s surrender in 1943 she was arrested and placed in a concentration camp, where she died the following year from wounds suffered in an Allied bombing raid on a nearby armaments factory.

Iolanda's sister, Mafalda, whose life  was to end tragically in 1944
Iolanda's sister, Mafalda, whose life
was to end tragically in 1944
Giovanna survived but was possibly lucky to do so.  Born in 1907, she married Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria and while living in Sofia she helped facilitate the escape of many Jews from the country after Bulgaria announced they were siding with the Axis powers in the War.

After her husband died in 1943, suffering unforeseen heart problems soon after a meeting with Hitler, she remained in Sofia until the end of the conflict, only to be told by the new Communist government in 1946 that she had 48 hours to leave. She too went to Egypt, and from there to Madrid and finally Portugal, where she lived with her exiled brother, Umberto, who kept a house there for 37 years.

The youngest sibling, Maria Francesca, married Prince Luigi Carlo of Bourbon-Parma and lived in Cannes, France. Although she and her husband were briefly imprisoned by the Germans before the Allies liberated France, their life was relatively uneventful.

The Cathedral of San Donato at the heart of Pinerolo
The Cathedral of San Donato at the heart of Pinerolo
Travel tip:

Nestling in an attractive setting among hills and valleys with an Alpine backdrop, Pinerolo is about 50km (31 miles) southwest of Turin. Positioned on what was an important trade route between Italy and France, the small city has a well preserved medieval centre and several important museums. The Cathedral of San Donato is an interesting church, having a symmetrical facade in three parts, featuring rose windows and a gothic style entrance with two statues. The city has a strong sporting tradition. It was a base for the Winter Olympics in 2006 and is a frequent stage in the Giro d'Italia cycle race.

The beach at Copacotta is a rare stretch of unspoilt sand
The beach at Copacotta is a rare stretch of unspoilt sand
Travel tip:

The old Savoy hunting estate of Copacotta, which can be found only 25km (16 miles) or so to the southwest of Rome, not far from Ostia, is now part of the presidential estate of Castelporziano, one of the three residences of the President of the Italian Republic, together with the Palazzo Quirinale in Rome and Villa Rosebery in Naples. Adjoining the estate is Copacotta beach, a long sweep of natural, undeveloped shoreline that includes the best preserved unspoilt area of sand dunes in the whole of Italy.

More reading:

Vittorio Emanuele III abdicates

Umberto II, the last king of Italy

Mussolini's last stand

Also on this day:

1675: The birth of the great dramatist Francesco Scipione

1819: The birth of Francis V, the last reigning Duke of Modena


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