Friday, February 3, 2012
Consort Profile: Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg
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.
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.
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.