Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Servant of God Princess Maria Clotilde of Savoy
From the time she was quite young Princess Maria Clotilde was known for her modesty, piety and good nature. Her mother was a very devout Catholic woman and impressed upon her the importance of religion, the Church and good moral character, lessons she learned well. However, the Princess did not have much time for childhood. As was the fate of princesses everywhere her marriage was soon the subject of political considerations. At this time, the French Second Empire was the largely dominant power on the continent and King Victor Emmanuel II had it impressed upon him constantly that the goal of a united Italy required the good will of the French Emperor Napoleon III. A Savoy-Bonaparte marriage seemed like just the thing to help bind Paris and Turin together; something which the House of Savoy at least would have thought absolutely unthinkable in the past. Arrangements were soon being made for Princess Maria Clotilde to marry Napoleon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte, son of Jerome Bonaparte the one-time King of Westphalia.
No two people could possibly have been less suited to each other. He was an anti-clerical liberal who liked lavish parties and fast living; a big man with big appetites. She was a deeply religious conservative who preferred peace and quiet, a small woman with a big heart, bound by royal duty to serve God and the people. He liked to party, she liked to pray, his instincts were ambitious, her instincts were charitable. Princess Maria Clotilde was, needless to say, a very unhappy wife. Yet, she had finally agreed to the marriage because of her devotion to royal duty and in so far as the politics of the match were concerned the marriage worked out well. Plon-Plon (as her husband was known) was a tireless advocate for French intervention in Italy on the side of Piedmont-Sardinia and the Italian nationalist movement. The policies of Emperor Napoleon III regarding Italy were not entirely consistent (his wife constantly urging him in the opposite direction) but French support against Austria was crucial in the eventual triumph of the House of Savoy and the unification of Italy.
Princess Maria Clotilde therefore had the satisfaction of knowing she had done her duty as her father wished but it is doubtful how much that meant to her when her daily life was filled with such unhappiness. She gave Plon-Plon three children; Prince Napoleon Victor in 1862 (who later married Princess Clementine of Belgium), Prince Louis in 1864 and Princess Maria Letizia in 1866 who later married the one-time Savoy King of Spain Amedeo I. She was devoted to her children and was a very good mother but her husband caused her no end of grief with his numerous affairs which was difficult for a proud Savoy princess to take. However, she was nothing if not a woman of duty and proved she could and would endure almost anything that her royal duties demanded of her. It was small comfort that most of the French disliked her husband as much as she did and one thing the French and Italians both agreed on was that he was not worthy of such a good, dutiful wife. However, she carried on, devoting herself to prayer and charity which also earned her a great deal of respect and affection among the people of her adopted country.
No one who ever knew her could not sympathize with her for all she had to endure in her life nor could they not but admire her for the stoic pride with which she did endure it. The Princess was a responsible woman, a woman of deep faith, great compassion and devotion to duty. She strove at all times to carry out her responsibilities to God, her country, her family and her people. She had a very magnificent sense of what it really means to be royal. For her, to be royal was to be the servant of her people and she showed that by enduring an unhappy marriage and in her many, many years spent helping the less fortunate. She was an example and an inspiration and, as such, it is entirely fitting that she has since been declared a Servant of God and her cause for beatification is currently underway.