Thursday, April 12, 2012
Consort Profile: Tsaritsa Giovanna of Italy
Princess Giovanna and the Bulgarian Tsar Boris III first met in 1927 when the Tsar was touring Europe along with his brother Prince Kyril. According to Princess Giovanna the Bulgarian Tsar barely noticed her on this first occasion but the subject of marriage was later broached between Prince Kyril and the Princess’ sister Princess Mafalda. A few years later, on January 8, 1930, the two met again when they each attended the wedding of Princess Maria Jose of Belgium to Princess Giovanna’s brother Crown Prince Umberto of Italy. A marriage of Italian and Bulgarian royalty was nothing new, Boris’ father, Tsar Ferdinand, had married a princess of the former royal houses of Parma and the Two-Sicilies, however, just as with that marriage, religion was to be a source of difficulty for the staunchly Orthodox Bulgars and the staunchly Catholic Italians. Only recently the Kingdom of Italy and the Roman Catholic Church had been reconciled and the Church was adamant that Tsar Boris III had to agree that any future children be raised in the Catholic faith before they would accept a marriage between him and Princess Giovanna. This was a touchy subject. Boris III himself was supposed to have been a Catholic but, of course, the Bulgarians would have had none of that and he became Orthodox. Pope Pius XI no doubt worried that the same thing would happen again. Once again, a Bulgarian Tsar promised the Pope to raise any future children as Catholics in order to marry an Italian princess (though he refused to sign a contract to that effect) and, again, the Pope agreed and the marriage date was set.
The new Tsaritsa was a very down-to-earth wife, astonishing the world when she revealed that she personally cooked meals for herself and her husband, saying how the Tsar loved home cooking and that, “The secret of domestic happiness is to be found in the kitchen”. In 1933 the Tsaritsa gave birth to the couple’s first child, Princess Marie-Louise, and despite the promise Boris III had made to the Vatican, she was, as expected, immediately baptized into the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The Pope was rather upset at what he called “Balkan tricks” but nonetheless refrained from excommunicating the Italian Tsaritsa who remained a devoted Catholic throughout her life but always extremely reverent and respectful toward the Orthodox faith of her new country. In 1937 there were huge public celebrations, complete with torchlight celebrations, in honor of the birth of an heir to the throne, Prince Simeon. However, the happy mood of the Royal Family could not endure for long as the war clouds continued to gather across Europe. When Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, Britain and France declared war and for the second time in the 20th Century the world came apart in a torrent of death and destruction.
Hitler was furious at how uncooperative the Bulgarian Royal Family was and when the Tsar suddenly fell ill and died in 1943 after a visit with Hitler (in which the Fuhrer flew into a rage when the Tsar refused to participate in his invasion of Russia) many suspected the Nazi leader of having the Tsar poisoned. Tsaritsa Ioanna was grief-stricken and all the more concerned to see her 6-year-old son proclaimed Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria with three regents to act for him. If his father had been murdered, what fate might be in store for his son if they aroused the anger of the Nazis? However, the ultimate threat was not to come from Germany. The Nazis lost their war and despite Bulgaria not being involved in the invasion of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria was still invaded by the Red Army and doomed to become a Soviet satellite-state. In 1945 Bulgaria was taken over by the Communists, the three regents were murdered and a referendum was staged in order to justify the abolition of the monarchy. With only 24 hours given to them, Tsaritsa Ioanna gathered her children and fled into exile, first with her father, King Vittorio Emanuele III in Egypt and then finally to Spain where Generalissimo Francisco Franco was welcoming to any victims of communist aggression. Later she moved to Portugal to be near her exiled brother King Umberto II of Italy. However, she never ceased to be a Bulgarian queen, having a Bulgarian Orthodox chapel built alongside her residence.