Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg

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Princess Victoria Eugénie of Battenberg

Her Serene Highness Victoria Eugénie Julia, Princess of Battenberg (24 October 1887-15 April 1969), a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, was the queen consort of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and the paternal grandmother of the current King of Spain, Juan Carlos.

She was born at Balmoral Castle, the second child and the only daughter of HSH Prince Henry of Battenberg and HRH Princess Beatrice of Great Britain and Ireland, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Her father was the product of a morganatic marriage between Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine and Julia von Hauke. She was named for her two grandmothers and for her godmother, Empress Eugénie, the Spanish-born widow of the former Emperor of the French Napoleon III; the princess was known to her family as Ena.

Princess Ena grew up in Queen Victoria's court. It is said that Victoria only allowed her daughter Beatrice to marry if she still continued to stay by her side and be her companion and personal secretary. Princess Ena therefore spent her childhood at Windsor Castle, Balmoral, and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Prince Henry, however, died in 1896 after contracting fever in Africa. After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Battenbergs moved to London and took up residence in Kensington Palace.

In 1905, Princess Victoria attended a dinner party hosted by her uncle, Edward VII in honour of King Alfonso XIII of Spain. The Spanish king took a fancy to the young German princess, and began a courtship. There was some opposition to a potential marriage.

Queen Maria Cristina, Alfonso's mother, did not approve due to the obscure origins of the Battenberg line and Victoria's lowly HSH title. Also it was pointed out that Victoria was a potential carrier of haemophilia, the affliction carried out through Queen Victoria's female descendants. Victoria's brothers, Prince Leopold of Battenberg, and Prince Maurice of Battenberg were known to be sufferers.

On 9 March 1906, the Spanish Royal Household announced the engagement of King Alfonso XIII (17 May 1886-28 February 1941), the posthumous and only son of Alfonso XII of Spain and his second wife, the Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria, later Queen Regent of Spain.

The news raised concern among many Spaniards because the prospective bride was a Protestant and not sufficiently royal. Princess Victoria Eugénie had been baptised into the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, having been born at Balmoral, but was also in communion with the Church of England. And while she was a female-line granddaughter of Queen Victoria, on her father's side she was a morganatic scion of the Grand Ducal House of Hesse. Her background hardly seemed worthy in the eyes of many Spaniards to follow in the footsteps of the Bourbons and the Habsburgs who had provided the majority of Spanish queens since the sixteenth century.

The princess removed the first obstacle when she agreed to undergo instruction to be received into the Roman Catholic Church. She was rebaptised by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham at San Sabistian in Madrid two days before her wedding, taking the additional names Maria Cristina. Her uncle, King Edward VII, removed the second obstacle to the marriage when he issued Letters Patent on 3 April 1906, granting her the style and attribute of Royal Highness.1

Accompanied by her widowed mother, Princess Henry of Battenberg, and her cousins, the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King George V and Queen Mary), Princess Victoria Eugénie married King Alfonso at St. Geronimo (Jerome) in Madrid on 31 May1906.

After the wedding ceremony, the royal procession was heading back to the Royal Palace when an assassination attempt was made on the King and the new Queen (now called "Queen Victoria Eugenia" or less formally "Queen Ena"). A bomb was thrown from a balcony at the royal carriage. Queen Ena's life was saved because, at the exact moment the bomb exploded, she turned her head in order to see St. Mary's Church, which Alfonso was showing her. She escaped with her dress spotted with the blood of a guard who was riding beside the carriage.

After the inauspicious start to her reign as Queen of Spain, Ena became isolated from the Spanish people and was unpopular in her new land. Her married life improved when she gave birth to a son, Prince Alfonso, and heir to the Kingdom of Spain. However while he was being circumcised, the doctors noted that he did not stop bleeding - meaning he was haemophiliac. In all, King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia had seven children, five sons and two daughters:

  • A stillborn son (1910).

After the birth of her children, the Queen's relationship with the King deteriorated. Alfonso had numerous affairs, including one with Ena's own cousin.

The queen devoted herself to work for hospitals and services for the poor, as well as to education. She was also involved in the reorganization of the Spanish Red Cross.

The Spanish royal family went into exile on 14 April 1931 after municipal elections brought Republicans to power in most of the major cities, leading to the proclamation of the second Spanish Republic. The King had hoped that his voluntary exile might avert a civil war between the Republicans and the Nationalists. The royal family went to live in France and later Italy. Queen Victoria Eugenia and her husband later separated, and she lived partly in Britain and partly in Switzerland. In 1939, after World War II started, the queen was asked to leave the United Kingdom, as she was no longer a member of the British royal family. She purchased a chateau, the Vielle Fontaine, outside of Lausanne, Switzerland.

In 1940, the whole family gathered in the Italian capital for the baptism of Don Juan's eldest son, Juan Carlos of Spain. On 15 January 1941, Alfonso XIII, feeling his death was near, transferred his rights to the Spanish crown to his son Don Juan, Count of Barcelona. On 12 February, Alfonso suffered the first heart attack. Alfonso died on 28 February 1941.

She returned briefly to Spain in February 1968, to stand as godmother at the baptism of her great grandson, Infante Don Felipe, the son of Infante Don Juan Carlos de Borbón y Borbón (later King Juan Carlos I of Spain) and Princess Sofia of Greece and Denmark (later Queen Sofia).

Queen Victoria Eugenia died in Lausanne on 15 April 1969, exactly 38 years after she had left Spain for exile. She was interred in the church of Sacre Coeur in Lausanne. On 25 April 1985, the Spanish Royal Household returned her remains to Spain. Her remains were reinterred in the Royal Vault in the Escorial, outside Madrid, next to the remains of her husband, Alfonso XIII, and her sons, Infante Don Alfonso, Infante Don Jaime, and Infante Don Gonzalo.

Her grandson Juan Carlos is the present King of Spain.

1 By Royal Warrant of 13 December 1886, Queen Victoria granted the children of Prince Henry of Battenberg and Princess Beatrice the style of Highness. This style was only in effect in Great Britain, not Hesse and by Rhine, where as Princes and Princess of Battenberg they were only entitled to the style Serene Highness.

References

"Queen Victoria Eugénie, Granddaughter of Queen Victoria (Obituary)," The Times, 16 April 1969, p. 12, column E.

"Franco at Bourbon Prince's Baptism," The Times, 9 February 1968, p. 4, column 4.

Marlene A. Eilers, Queen Victoria's Descendants (New York: Atlantic International, 1987).de:Victoria von Battenberg

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