It would be a bit of an understatement to write that King Umberto II of Italy (1904 – 1983) had a complicated relationship with his children, at varying times and in different circumstances. The king’s marriage to Queen Marie José (1906 – 2001; née Princess of Belgium) was not a success. Umberto and Marie-José quietly separated after they went into exile in 1946; the deeply Catholic couple never divorced and remained on very cordial terms. Over the decades, it became clear that Umberto had minor issues with the behaviour of his daughters, the three princesses: Maria Pia (b.1934), Maria Gabriella (b.1940), and Maria Beatrice (b.1943).
However, King Umberto’s most complex father/child relationship was with his only son, Vittorio Emanuele (b.1937), the Prince of Naples. For over a decade, the king and the prince were caught up in the latter’s persistent intention on contracting a morganatic marriage to which his father could not legally grant his consent. The first object of Vittorio Emanuele’s affection was Dominique Claudel. The second object of Vittorio Emanuele’s adoration was Marina Doria, who the prince morganatically married in 1971.
|Prince Victor Emanuel of Savoy and his first fiancée Dominique Claudel.
Photograph (c) La Stampa.
Beginning in the early 1960s, King Umberto II of Italy wrote a series of letters to his only son Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples. The king also wrote to his wife Queen Marie José, so that the queen would be aware of the issues that their son was bringing to the forefront by his insistence on wedding a young woman without the consent of the Head of the Royal House (i.e. his father the King). In the correspondence, King Umberto made it clear that he could not, and would not, consent to the marriage of the Prince of Naples with an unequal spouse. The first object of Vittorio Emanuele’s affection was Dominique Claudel, the granddaughter of French poet Paul Claudel (1868 – 1955). The prince and Dominique Claudel were in a relationship between 1958 – 1962.
On 24 January 1960, King Umberto II sent a very brief note to his wife Queen Marie José. The English-translation of the text reads as follows:
D. J. [Dear José,]
Vigliano and Prunas are taking my letter to Vittorio. As agreed I am enclosing a copy for you.
I am sure that you will make Vittorio understand the importance of this letter!
Nice, 24 – I – ‘60
P.S. If I can, I would like to return to Courchevel at the end of February. I hope to find Vittorio there too.
The king was attempting to solicit the queen’s support in guaranteeing that their son took to heart the contents of the letter that the king had written to the Prince of Naples, Umberto and Marie José’s only son, on 25 January 1960.
|King Umberto II’s letter to his son dated 25 January 1960.
Cascais, 25 January 1960
As I told you last November in Cascais, and now that there has more and more talk in the last few days (leaped upon by the Italian and foreign press) of the likelihood of your marriage to Miss Dominique Claudel (rumours which can cause considerable damage to you, to me and to the entire family), I am writing to you to make perfectly sure that you are aware of the situation you would find yourself in if you were to marry Miss Claudel.
A situation which involves the laws of our House, in force for 29 generations and respected by 43 Heads of the Family, my predecessors, who have all succeeded in accordance with the Salic law through marriages contracted with the families of Sovereigns. As the 44th Head of the Family I have no intention, any more than I have the right, to change the law in spite of my affection for you. But even if I were to fail in my duty and proceed, it would be completely useless since nobody would be prepared to recognize the validity of my attempt.
As a consequence of your marriage to Miss Claudel you would be deprived of any right to succeed as Head of the House of Savoy and as pretender to the throne of Italy, losing your titles and rank and finding yourself reduced to the condition of a private citizen.
In so doing all your rights would immediately pass to my nephew, Amedeo the Duke of Aosta.
Such an irrevocable decision, which I would be forced to make with firmness and with pain, I would communicate to each and every member of our House, and to all the Sovereigns and Heads of the Royal families. It would likewise be made known to the Italians, especially in regard to the forfeiture of your present title of Prince of Naples.
In view of the affection I have for you and care for your happiness, I should like to hope that you will give your attention to the serious decisions of life, and particularly those which are definitive, since for me and for the religious traditions of our House matrimony is an indissoluble sacrament. Therefore the decision you make today will either open or close your prospects of succession to every right I possess.
An affectionate embrace,
P.S.: Since you aware of all the elements for the decision you take, I would like you to be quite clear about what the consequences will be regarding your material inheritance; any consideration of a material character must of course come second to those of a moral character:
I. By changing my present will my legacy will eventually be divided into equal parts between you and your sisters, since there would no longer be any reason for special treatment in your favour;
II. The same obviously applies to any other source of income which through heredity, donation or any other cause of which you might in due course come into possession;
III. Persons who have arranged to make you their sole heir as my successor have already communicated to me that they immediately intend to revoke their decision;
IV. The Italian friends who have helped me over these difficult years have already given me to understand, quite firmly too, though in a respectful form, that they would suspend any further transfer, and this would probably compel me to reduce your monthly cheque. Not to mention the serious damage this decision of our Italian friends would mean for your sisters.
V. At the same time the eventual rights that I am entitled to as Head of the House, obviously could not be passed on to you.
Read and confirmed Vittorio Emanuele di Savoia
An addendum that extrapolates upon the contents of King Umberto’s letter of 25 January 1960 to his son is provided below:
Explanatory note to the King’s letter of 25 January 1960.
Although King Umberto II’s letter is perfectly clear and exhaustive as to meaning and consequences, it might be worthwhile to highlight one aspect.
Amongst other thing, the king writes: “I do not intend, nor do I have the right, to change” the law on marriages in the family. This sentence does not simply lay stress on the sense of “I do not want, and, even if I wanted, I am unable.” Actually it carries a much wider and definitive meaning which indicates the king’s unwillingness to grant consent to a marriage which, in his view, inadequately represents the image of the Royal House, and consequently the king finds himself in the position of being unable to change the dynastic law which, if broken, inflicts the sanction of loss of dynastic rights. Obviously this destitution also hits the direct descendents, i.e. any male child of the marriage who, even before birth or conception, is powerless to acquire any rights of the kind.
Ultimately, in explaining, beyond any possible misunderstanding, the exact significance of the dynastic norm, the force of which being confirmed, King Umberto refers to the automatic process of the distinctive mechanism of the sanctions, which in the first place results in the “immediate” loss, as he puts it, of dynastic rights, and therefore requires no further provision. On the other hand, as the king explains, since the dynastic law refers to a religious, catholic marriage, whether with civil effect, originating in an unbreakable bond, either in the case where the royal consent is granted, or in the case where royal consent is absent, the effects (positive in the first place, negative in the second) are definitive and irrevocable.
It is hardly necessary to point out that a marriage which is solely civil, like Victor Emmanuel’s in Las Vegas, constitutes a twofold violation of the family law.
Equally plain, in view of what has been said and expressly stated by the king, is the identity of the successor named by the dynastic law of the House of Savoy, i.e. the king’s “nephew,” Prince Amedeo of Savoy, Duke of Aosta.
Source: Explanatory note
The Prince of Naples responded to King Umberto’s letter on 15 April 1960 – three months after it was received. Vittorio Emanuele’s letter to his father read as follows:
I can hardly fail to recognize the scrupulousness with which you have so patiently and carefully explained the situation in which I would find myself if I should decide to renounce my prerogatives and marry a woman – whoever she might be – who is not of royal blood. Day by day the situation becomes clearer to me on the moral side as well as the strictly dynastic issue. Also the consequences as regards inheritance are now becoming more and more apparent. I can only acknowledge your scrupulous attitude and thank you with all my heart. Now it is my turn to review the question, to meditate and come to a decision.
I would also like to take the opportunity to thank you for your offer of a chance to take my mind of these matters, such as the trip to Africa, and perhaps to Argentina. But as I have already told you I want first to try another way, by becoming a “broker”.
As soon as I have the concrete elements in hand, i.e. after the discussions in Geneva with Merryl Lynch & Co. I shall let you know how it turns out.
Cascais, 15 April 1960.
P.S. Please excuse this typewritten letter, but as you know my hand is still in plaster.
Subsequent missives from the king to his son concerned Vittorio Emanuele’s romance with Marina Doria (b.1935). The king stressed on several occasions that his consent would be impossible to give due to the fact that Marina was not of equal rank to Vittorio Emanuele. Furthermore, Umberto noted that he believed he would be in violation of the laws governing the succession of the Royal House of Savoy if he did consent (even if he was personally inclined to do so, which he was not) to the Prince of Naples marrying Marina Doria.
In July 1963, Vittorio Emanuele di Savoia and Marina Doria gave an interview to the Italian magazine Oggi. In the article, the couple discussed their plans to marry. When word of this interview reached King Umberto in Portugal, he sent his son the following letter:
I just came across your interview in “Oggi”: If this truly represents your state of mind – and I must ask you to let me know as soon as possible with the utmost clarity – the thing I particularly regret is that you felt no need to talk or write to me beforehand, since parts of the matters in discussion directly concern me.
While I am expecting a letter from you about your matrimonial projects, I can only repeat word for word what I wrote to you 23 January 1960 concerning a similar situation.
As you very well know I am solely motivated by my affection for you and my desire to assure for you the best of futures, but one which can never contrast with the way we have always done things in our family.
I embrace you
Cascais, 18 July 1963.
Second copy of the letter, to be returned to me signed on receipt
[handwritten by Vittorio Emanuele]
Vittorio Emanuele di Savoia
The interview does not correspond to what I think.
[Editor’s note: this letter concerns Marina Doria.]
In an attempt to overcome his father’s opposition to his desired marriage, Vittorio Emanuele proclaimed himself “King of Italy” as “Re Vittorio Emanuele IV” on 15 December 1969. The Prince of Naples thus attempted to dethrone his own father, His Majesty King Umberto II.
Vittorio Emanuele IV
King of Italy
With the affection of a son but the loyalty of a king, having reached the legal age of majority, and therefore maturity of intellect and heart, by Our serious knowledge and will, upon the advice of Our council, we have formulated the following principles for safeguarding the nation and the Dynasty:
Art. 1 – The Statute of the Kingdom, sanctioned and issued under the law n. 674 on 4 March 1848 by Our magnanimous forebear, Carlo Alberto, was extended to all the States of the Kingdom of Sardinia and became the fundamental Statute of the Kingdom of Italy with the law of 21 April 1867 no. 1.
Art. 2 – The laws of 27 July 1860, 17 August 1867, 11 April 1870 and 11 May 1871, sanction a xxx [meaning] to Act. 1 of the Statute which accomplished the entire freedom of the Italian State x from any interference on the part of the Church.
Art. 3 – Nothing, however, had ever been added to the Statute to question its “perpetual and irrevocable” character, when on 25 June 1944 – in the reign of Our magnanimous forebear, Vittorio Emanuele III – the Lieutenant General of the Kingdom, with his own Edict n. 151, instituted a constituent assembly to discuss “the new State constitution.”
With another Edict law of 16 March 1946 n. 28 the Lieutenant established that the monarchical- representative form of the State government would be submitted to a “referendum of the people” which was carried by a simple majority of the votes, and was thus replaced by a republican form. Hence the Statute was not legitimately abrogated but xxxxxstatly violated and consequently it remains to this day “the fundamental, perpetual and irrevocable law of the monarchy.”
Art. 4 – Acts which Our beloved and for me x xxx Fxxx Ma [?] later performed, being King of Italy, such as the dissolution from the oath of loyalty to His Person by the Royal Armed Forces; the consequent succession of His powers on the part of the government which He himself considered rebellious, as well as using irregular practices in scrutiny; and His departure – to all appearances voluntary – from the national territory on the conclusion of the Farewell military ceremony held for the event, constitute an unquestionable abdication from the Throne.
Art. 5 – Under article 2 of the Statute “ipso pure” we would succeed Him in his condition as virtual Sovereign of the Kingdom of Italy and as sole legitimate pretender to the Throne.
Art. 6 – This succession having taken effect, we are also entitled to assume the right of legitimate Head of the Savoy Dynasty, and such rights as we shall exercise from this time forth, tempered only by the discretion that the physical and moral state of His Majesty, the ex-King Umberto II advises Our conscience as son.
Signed in Geneva, on the 15 of the month of December of the year 1969.
Royal Edict n. 1
The day after he “dethroned” his father, on 16 December 1969, Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy issued a “royal decree” in which he conferred upon his fiancée Marina Ricolfi Doria the title of Duchess of Sant’Anna di Valdieri. Vittorio Emanuele took this action so that his intended, Marina Doria, would be considered an “equal bride” if he married her. The second royal degree of “Il Re Vittorio Emanuele IV” can be read below:
Vittorio Emanuele IV, King of Italy
By virtue of art. 79 of the Statute of the Kingdom
Upon Marina Doria Ricolfi the title of Duchessa di S. Anna di Valdieri has been conferred.
Signed in Geneva On the 16 December in the year 1969
Royal Edict n. 2
Vittorio Emanuele di Savoia [entirely written by hand]
King Umberto II of Italy died on 18 March 1983 at Geneva, Switzerland. The executors of his estate were the following persons: HM King Simeon II of Bulgaria, HRH Landgrave Moritz of Hesse, and Baron Guibert d’Udekem de Guertechin. King Simeon of Bulgaria (b.1937) was Umberto’s nephew through his sister Princess Giovanna’s marriage to King Boris III of Bulgaria. Landgrave Moritz of Hesse (1926 – 2013) was Umberto’s nephew through his sister Princess Mafalda’s marriage to Langrave Philip of Hesse. Guibert d’Udekem de Guertechin was a Belgian aristocrat.
|The Statement of the Savoy Family on 5 December 1983.
On 5 December 1983 at Cascais, the widowed Queen Marie-José of Italy as well as her daughters Princess Maria Pia, Princess Maria Gabriella, and Princess Maria Beatrice all signed a statement purporting to recognise their son/brother Vittorio Emanuele as Head of the Royal House of Savoy. The statement was co-signed by the three executors of the late king’s will. It was filed at Lausanne on 7 December 1983. The English translation of the statement read as follows:
The undersigned heirs of H.M. the King, Umberto II, recognize that Prince Vittorio-Emanuele, as Head of the House of Savoy, is Grand Master of the Most Holy Order of the Annunciation and the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, and that he is the keeper of the Great Collars of the Order aforementioned.
Cascais, 5 December 1983
Maria Pia of Savoy
Maria Gabriella of Savoy
Maria Beatrice of Savoy
Simeon of Saxe-Coburg
Moritz of Hesse
Lausanne, 7 Dec. 1983
Following is the original text of the document in French:
Les héritiers soussignés de S.M. le Roi Humbert II reconnaissent que le Prince Victor-Emmanuel, en tant que Chef de la Maison de Savoie, est Grand Maître du très Saint Ordre de l’Annonciade et de l’Ordre des Saints Maurice et Lazare, et qu’il est dépositaire des Grands Colliers du premier Ordre.
Cascais, le 5 décembre 1983
Maria Pia de Savoie
Maria Gabriella di Savoia
Maria Beatrice di Savoia
Simeone di Sassonia Coburgo
Maurizio d’AssiaGuibert d’Udekeim
Copie ou photocopie certifiée conforme à l’original Lausanne le 7 DEC. 1983
|Princess Silvia and Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy.
Photograph (c) Real Casa di Savoia.
|Princess Silvia, Prince Amedeo, and Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy.
Photograph (c) Real Casa di Savoia.
|Princess Maria Gabriella, Prince Aimone, and Prince Amedeo of Savoy in 2009.
Photograph (c) Real Casa di Savoia.
On 8 March 2005, Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy wrote a letter to a person close to the Royal Family. In her letter, the princess make it clear that she, her sisters, and her mother, had no right to acknowledge her brother Vittorio Emanuele as the Head of the Royal House of Savoy upon the death of King Umberto in 1983. The text of her communication is found below:
|Princess Maria Gabriella’s letter of 8 March 2015.
As for my Father’s last will and testament, I can confirm that my sisters and I made a declaration in Vittorio’s favour in regard to the dynastic orders, to prevent his feeling entirely excluded from the moral heritage of our House as resulted from the King’s dispositions. We put our signatures to this declaration on 5 December 1983, but, on further consideration, neither we, nor our mother, nor the executors of the will, had the power to do so.
8 III 2005
|Princess Maria Beatrice of Savoy’s letter to her sister Princess Maria Gabriella.
31 March 2007.
On 31 March 2007, Maria Beatrice sent a letter to her sister Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy. In this communication, Maria Beatrice affirmed to her sister Maria Gabriella that they had no power to recognise their brother as the successor of their father. The letter from Maria Beatrice to Maria Gabriella may be found below, in its Italian/English/French forms.
|Princess Silvia, Prince Amedeo, and Princess Maria Beatrice of Savoy.
Photograph (c) Real Casa di Savoia.
Letter from H.R.H. Princess Maria Beatrice of Savoy to her sister, H.R.H. Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy.
Having read your letter of the eighth of March 2005 about our recognition in Vittorio’s favour concerning the question of the Orders, I find myself entirely in agreement.
I embrace you, Maria Beatrice
31 March 2007
Lettera di S.A.R. la Principessa Reale Maria Beatrice di Savoia alla sorella S.A.R. la Principessa Reale Maria Gabriella di Savoia.
ho letto la tua lettera dell’otto marzo 2005 a proposito del riconoscimento a favore di Vittorio per gli Ordini con la quale mi trovi pienamente d’accordo.
Ti abbraccio, Maria Beatrice
31 marzo 2007
The French translation of the March 2007 letter from Maria Beatrice of Savoy to Maria Gabriella of Savoy is as follows:
Lettre de S.A.R. la Princesse Marie-Béatrice de Savoieà sa sœur S.A.R. la Princesse Marie-Gabrielle de Savoie.
Ma chère Ella,
J’ai lu ta lettre du 8 mars 2005 concernant la reconnaissance faite à Victor à propos des ordres dynasti- ques; je suis en complet accord avec elle.
Je t’embrasse, Marie-Béatrice
31 mars 2007
Dear Ella and Titti,
Being aware of certain speculations on the part of the press concerning the letter of 5 December 1983 of which we were the joint signatories, I wish to confirm that my participation should not be understood as an opportunity to express any kind of value that could be of use to the dynastic succession of your House; particularly as the document exclusively regarded the custody of the Great Collars of the Most Holy Annunciation.
Your old and very affectionate cousin,
Care Ella e Titti,
Consapevole di certe speculazioni giornalistiche al riguardo della lettera che abbiamo sotto- scritto insieme, il 5 dicembre 1983, confermo che colla mia adesione non ho inteso dare alla stessa alcun valore utile alla successione dinastica della vostra Casa, tanto più che quel documento riguardava soltanto la custodia dei Grandi Collari della Santissima Annunziata.
Vostro vecchio ed aff.mo cugino
The French translation of the letter from King Simeon II of Bulgaria to Princess Maria Gabriella and Princess Maria Beatrice is as follows:
Chères Ella et Titti,
À propos de certaines spéculations journalistiques sur la lettre que nous avons signée ensemble le 5 décembre 1983, je tiens à confirmer que par cette adhésion je ne souhaitais aucunement lui attribuer à ce texte une quelconque utilité concernant la succession dans votre Famille, d’autant plus que le document en question concernait seulement la garde des Grands Colliers de l’Ordre de la Très Sainte Annonciade.
Votre vieux et très aff. cousin
|Landgrave Moritz of Hesse’s letter to Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy.
22 May 2007.
|Queen Sofía of Spain and Landgrave Moritz of Hesse in 1999.
Photograph (c) Presse-Foto-Seeger.
MORITZ LANDGRAF VON HESSEN
22 May 2007
Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy
The letter dated 5 December 1983, which we issued after the will of King Umberto II was opened, has recently become widely know to the public, but for purposes that have no connection whatever with those originally intended. Actually its sole purpose was to allow Vittorio Emanuele temporary custody of the Great Collars of the Most Holy Annunciation, and was certainly not meant to imply any kind of dynastic recognition. All the more so since it had nothing at all to do with the King’s will, but merely to satisfy an incidental and provisional need, as Vittorio Emanuele knew perfectly well when he accepted the task on this understanding. Besides this it is quite obvious that none of the signatories had the power to confer roles and positions of the House of Savoy, or to change the will of the King.
MORITZ LANDGRAF VON HESSEN
22 maggio 2007
Principessa Maria Gabriella di Savoia
La lettera in data 5 dicembre 1983, che abbiamo rilasciato dopo l’apertura del testamento del Re Umberto II, è stata divulgata di recente con finalità che non erano affatto quelle originarie. Essa in realtà serviva soltanto per consentire a Vittorio Emanuele di custodire temporaneamente i Grandi Collari della Santissima Annunziata in vista della destinazione definitiva e non intendeva fare alcun riconoscimento dinastico, tanto più che non si ricollegava in alcun modo al testamento del Re ma solo a esigenze di carattere contingente e transitorio, come Vittorio Emanuele, che si era impegnato in tal senso, ben sapeva. Del resto è ben evidente che nessuno dei firmatari aveva il potere di confe- rire ruoli e cariche di Casa Savoia o di cambiare le volontà del Re.
MORITZ LANDGRAF VON HESSEN
22 mai 2007
Princesse Marie Gabrielle de Savoie
La lettre datée du 5 décembre 1983 que nous avons signée après l’ouverture du testament du Roi Humbert II, a été récemment rendue publique dans une intention qui n’est absolument pas celle pour laquelle elle a été écrite. Elle permettait uniquement à Victor-Emmanuel d’obtenir la garde temporaire des Grands Colliers de l’Ordre de la Très Sainte Annonciade, dans l’attente de leur des- tination définitive et ne visait en aucun cas une quelconque reconnaissance dynastique. C’est d’autant plus vrai qu’elle n’était aucunement liée au testament du Roi mais seulement à des exigences pratiques et temporaires, comme Victor-Emmanuel, qui avait pris des engagements dans ce sens, le savait par ailleurs très bien. Du reste, il est bien évident qu’aucun des signataires n’avait le pouvoir de conférer des fonctions et des charges de la Maison de Savoie, ni de changer les volontés du Roi.
There is no doubt that King Umberto II of Italy did not grant consent for his son, Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, Prince of Naples, to contract a civil marriage with Marina Doria at Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, on 11 January 1970. Furthermore, the king did not give his son approval to religiously wed Marina Doria in the ceremony that was held at Tehran, Iran, on 7 October 1971. Umberto had made it clear to Vittorio Emanuele that if the Prince of Naples married in contravention to the laws governing the royal house, then Vittorio Emanuele would give up his own dynastic rights, as well as that of any offspring.
|Prince Amedeo and Princess Claudia, Duke and Duchess of Aosta, on the occasion of their wedding in 1964.
Indeed, if his only son married unequally, King Umberto had made it well-known that the king’s successor would be his “nephew” Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta. In 1964, Amedeo of Savoy wed Princess Claude d’Orléans, a daughter of the Count and Countess of Paris. King Umberto of Italy acted as a witness at Amedeo and Claude’s wedding. Amedeo and Claude had three children: Princess Bianca (b.1966), Prince Aimone (b.1967), and Princess Bianca (b.1969). In 1982, when he was still a minor, Prince Aimone received the collar of the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation from his grand-uncle King Umberto.
When King Umberto passed away in 1983, Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, attended His Majesty’s funeral. Almost twenty years later, when Queen Marie-José died in 2001, the late Duke of Aosta was one of the most prominent mourners of Her Majesty.