Friday, February 3, 2012

Consort Profile: Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg

Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg was born Victoria Eugenie Julia Ena on October 24, 1887 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland to Prince Henry of Battenberg and Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom. Her father was the third son Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine by his morganatic wife Countess Julia von Hauke, a fact which put Princess Victoria Eugenie on a rather lower rung of the social ladder than other royals. On the other hand, her mother was the youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and royals did not come much more prestigious than that. She was named in honor of her grandmother, Queen Victoria, and her godmother the Spanish-born Empress Eugenie of France who was living in exile in Britain at the time after the downfall of the Second French Empire. She grew up at the court of Queen Victoria and Princess Ena (as she was called) grew to be a very lovely young lady, good natured but rather distant. Her mother, Princess Beatrice, considered her rather problematic as a youngster but she was well liked and her family, Queen Victoria included, were very protective of her.

Because her father came from a morganatic marriage many viewed Princess Ena as rather sub-standard. It was only by decree of Queen Victoria that she had been born “Her Highness, Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg” rather than the lower “Her Serene Highness”. Her mother had been allowed to marry only on the condition that she remain close to the Queen and few probably expected any great prospects for marriage for Princess Ena, no matter how striking her appearance might have been. However, her uncle, King Edward VII, to the joy of his sister, took it upon himself to throw her a lavish and popular “coming out” party in November of 1904. Just in the nick of time as it happened for in the summer of the following year Edward hosted a prominent visit by His Catholic Majesty King Alfonso XIII of Spain. The King of Spain was only nineteen-years-old but his love of sport, friendly and joking personality made him popular with King Edward and, after all, a king is a king. It was not, however, Princess Ena who first caught the eye of the young King of Spain; that was Princess Patricia, daughter of the Duke of Connaught. However, she was not fond of Latin temperaments and when visiting Spain and Portugal was disgusted by the national sport of bullfighting (silly girl). She would later marry a commoner and lose her royal status anyway.

It also cannot be denied that the Kingdom of Spain at that time was, sadly, far from being an attractive adopted homeland for marriage-minded royals. King Alfonso XIII presided over a country that had lost its last colonies in Asia and America in a disastrous war with the United States, his father had grown up in exile, regaining his throne only to die before the age of 30 and had just survived an assassination attempt. Social divisions were deep, rebellions and civil war near constant and the government was often corrupt and ineffective. In short, the Spanish monarchy had a reputation for being dangerously unstable and this was certainly not what most royal families wanted for their daughters of marrying age. Princess Patricia was certainly less than impressed, with Spain or King Alfonso, and was not too subtle in showing it. So, the young King looked elsewhere and finally his gaze fell on Princess Ena. Soon after their first meeting the smitten Spaniard was writing letter after letter and postcard after postcard to Princess Ena from Madrid, which went on for about a year as the Spanish court negotiated the terms of marriage with King Edward VII. It was all close to unprecedented for the two countries who had once been the most bitter rivals.

This was a bigger issue than most today would realize. Princess Ena, to become Queen of Spain, would have to convert to Catholicism. A number of high-ranking clerics in the Church of England objected to this, portraying the court of Alfonso XIII as a hot-bed of theocratic, ultramontane Catholic zealots (which no doubt would have surprised the Carlist rebels in Spain who considered the family of Alfonso XIII insufficiently Catholic). According to the Anglican prelates Madrid and Rome were hotbeds of corruption and pointed to the detrimental effects of Catholic rebellions in Portugal and Spain as proof that Catholic countries were dangerous and violent (presumably they ignored Catholic monarchies like Belgium or Italy because these were not confessional states). However, the Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury failed to de-rail the engagement and the wedding went ahead as planned. The Catholic Bishop of Nottingham presided when Princess Ena formally entered the Catholic Church in a low-key ceremony attended by most Spanish high officials and royals but boycotted by the British Royal Family. This is not to say that the British royals were in any way opposed to the match, indeed Princess Beatrice could not be dissuaded by any objections, however their attendance would have been problematic. Princess Ena lost her place in the British royal succession and, in fact, one could argue that the marriage would have been void in British law but it was stated that Princess Ena was of a “foreign” family and could slip through a legal loophole in the Royal Marriages Act.

Again, this did not mean the British Royal Family was in any way opposed to the match. In fact, King Edward VII raised Princess Ena to the status of “Her Royal Highness” prior to the marriage. The Prince and Princess of Wales (later King George V and Queen Mary) attended the wedding on May 31, 1906 at the Royal Monastery of San Geronimo in Madrid. The happy occasion was marred however as the royal newlyweds narrowly avoided death at the hands of a would-be assassin who hurled a bomb at the royal carriage as they were leaving the Church. It was a rather rude introduction to the new Queen of Spain about the level of violence and social unrest existed in the country she had just married into (during the Second Spanish Republic a street was actually named after the assassin by the Madrid city council). The newlyweds were happy enough but the marriage was not any more popular in Spain than it had been in Britain. Republicans hated all royals indiscriminately, Carlists did not consider Alfonso the true king anyway and would have disliked anyone he married as much as the King himself and among the supporters of the monarchy most were not thrilled with having a Queen from England who until recently had been a Protestant.

Things got better, for a while at least, when Queen Ena did her duty and produced an heir to the Spanish throne when Alfonso, Prince of the Asturias, was born on May 10, 1907. Everyone was thrilled, but the happiness was interrupted when the infant was circumcised and it was discovered that he had hemophilia. The bad blood of Queen Victoria had struck again and King Alfonso XIII was positively furious and blamed his wife for endangering the future of his family line (which was not resting on the most solid of foundations as it was). Ena was devastated and her marriage with Alfonso XIII was never the same again. Four more sons and two daughters were born to the couple but the King took a number of mistresses afterward and was never very close to the Queen again. For her part, Queen Ena did her best to carry on and do her duty as the Queen of Spain. She undertook numerous charitable activities to benefit the poor, education and especially nursing and hospital care. She took an active role in reforming the Spanish Red Cross and it can be said that the system of healthcare in Spain greatly improved because of her. In recognition of her great work Pope Pius XI awarded her the prestigious Golden Rose in 1923.

All the while, of course, things in Spain were spiraling out of control. While the moderate monarchists (supporting the King) and traditionalist monarchists (supporting the Carlist claimants) remained at odds the republicans became ever stronger and increasingly radical. In 1931 the republicans came to power as the feuding monarchists were sidelined by the communist and nationalist factions. Hoping to avoid a civil war, after the victorious leftists declared the birth of the Second Spanish Republic, King Alfonso XIII and his family left the country (without abdicating) and eventually settled in Rome. Queen Ena and the King eventually separated and the Queen returned to Great Britain. However, with monarchist supporters of King Alfonso backing the nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, the British (sympathetic to the republic oddly enough) encouraged her to leave the country and she settled in Switzerland. She saw her husband again in 1938 for the baptism of the baby boy who would one day become King Juan Carlos I. King Alfonso XIII died in 1941 and was succeeded by his son Don Juan, Count of Barcelona (the Prince of Asturias removed himself from the succession through an unequal marriage).

Queen Ena spent most of the rest of her life in Switzerland but remained a popular and active figure in royal circles. In 1968 she briefly returned to Spain (then under the rule of Generalissimo Francisco Franco) to stand as godmother for her great-grandson Prince Felipe (the current Prince of Asturias). She also took Princess Grace of Monaco under her wing when she was a new royal and still finding her footing. The Queen was also godmother of Prince Albert II of Monaco, Queen Fabiola of Belgium and the Duchess of Alba. Queen Ena died in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 15, 1969 at the age of 81, 38 years to the day that she had been forced to leave Spain. Her engagement was troublesome, her marriage often unhappy and her time as Queen of Spain was extremely tumultuous. That said, she did a lot of good in Spain while she was there and though she lost two sons to hemophilia, did her duty in ensuring that the Spanish Royal Family would go on and survive to see the monarchy in Spain restored. Originally buried in Spain, her grandson King Juan Carlos I had her moved to the Escorial in Madrid to rest alongside her husband and two sons, reuniting the family in death.


  1. She was a gorgeous woman, even elderly had a grace & countenance that came about because of her dignity and love for her adopted country.

    Too bad the country of Spain didn't see her many good qualities until later in life, after Franco had "taken over".

    She's my 3rd favorite consort after Queen Maud and Prince Albert.

    1. Happened than Prince Albert was her grandfather and Queen Maud was her first cousin.


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