Marie-José of Belgium

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Marie-José of Belgium
Marie-Jose of Belgium, Queen of Italy.jpg
Queen consort of Italy
Tenure9 May 1946 – 12 June 1946
Born(1906-08-04)4 August 1906
Ostend, Belgium
Died27 January 2001(2001-01-27) (aged 94)
Thonex, Switzerland
(m. 1930; died 1983)
IssuePrincess Maria Pia
Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples
Princess Maria Gabriella
Princess Maria Beatrice
Full name
Marie-José Charlotte Sophie Amélie Henriette Gabrielle
HouseSaxe-Coburg and Gotha (until 1920)
Belgium (from 1920)
FatherAlbert I, King of the Belgians
MotherDuchess Elisabeth in Bavaria
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Marie-José of Belgium (Marie-José Charlotte Sophie Amélie Henriette Gabrielle; 4 August 1906 – 27 January 2001) was the last Queen of Italy. Her 35-day tenure as queen consort earned her the nickname "the May Queen".

Early life[edit]

Marie José, aged 9

Princess Marie-José was born in Ostend, the youngest child of King Albert I of the Belgians and his consort, Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria. During the First World War, she was evacuated to England where she was a boarding pupil at the Brentwood Ursuline Convent High School in Brentwood, Essex. She later attended the College of the Santissima Annunziata in Florence, Italy, where she first met her future husband.[1]

In 1924, Marie-José attended her first court ball. For the occasion she was given an antique pearl and diamond tiara that had originally been owned by Stéphanie de Beauharnais.[2]

Marriage and children[edit]

Monza, September 1930. Princess Maria-José of Belgium steps down from Borzacchini's Alfa Romeo car with the help of Prospero Gianferrari.

On 8 January 1930, she married Crown Prince Umberto of Italy, from the House of Savoy, at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, and so became Princess of Piedmont (Italian: Principessa di Piemonte).

Among the wedding gifts was a turquoise and diamond parure, worn by the bride at her pre-wedding reception,[3] and a diamond bow worn as a sash decoration at state occasions.[4]

The couple had four children:[5]

Princess of Piedmont[edit]

In October 1939, Princess Marie-José was made President of the Red Cross in Italy. The Princess and Duchess of Aosta attended the ceremony where Marie-José was installed as President of the Italian Red Cross.

During the Second World War she was one of the very few diplomatic channels between the German/Italian camp and the other European countries involved in the war, as she was the sister of Leopold III of Belgium (kept hostage by the German forces) and at the same time, as the wife of the heir to the throne, close to some of the ministers of Benito Mussolini's cabinet.[1] A British diplomat in Rome recorded that the Princess of Piedmont was the only member of the Italian Royal Family with good political judgment.

Mussolini's mistress, Claretta Petacci, claimed in her diary that in 1937 the then princess and wife of the heir to the throne tried and failed to seduce the dictator at a beach resort near Rome. However, Mussolini's son, Romano, claims that the princess and dictator entered into a sexual relationship.[6]

In 1943, the Crown Princess involved herself in vain attempts to arrange a separate peace treaty between Italy and the United States; her interlocutor from the Vatican was Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, a senior diplomat who later became Pope Paul VI. She also interceded with Adolf Hitler to ask for mercy towards the people of Belgium. [1]

Her attempts were not sponsored by the king and Umberto was not (directly, at least) involved in them. After her failure (she never met the American agents), she was sent with her children to Sarre, in Aosta Valley, and isolated from the political life of the Royal House.

She sympathised with the partisans, and while she was a refugee in Switzerland, smuggled weapons, money and food for them. [1] She was nominated for appointment as chief of a partisan brigade, but declined.

Queen for a month[edit]

Styles of
Queen Marie-José
Armoiries Princesse Marie José de Belgique Reine d'Italie.svg
Reference styleHer Majesty
Spoken styleYour Majesty

Following Italy's defection to the Allied side in the war, her discredited father-in-law, King Victor Emmanuel III, withdrew from government. Her husband became acting monarch under the title of Lieutenant General of the Realm. He and Marie-José toured war torn Italy, where they made a positive impression. However, King Victor Emmanuel III refused to abdicate until only weeks before the referendum.

Upon the eventual abdication on 9 May 1946 of her father-in-law, Marie-José became Queen consort of Italy, and remained such until the monarchy was abolished by plebiscite, on 2 June 1946.[1]

Umberto and Marie-José had been widely praised for their performance over the last two years, and it has been argued that had Victor Emmanuel abdicated sooner their relative popularity might have saved the monarchy. Following the monarchy's defeat (54–46%), she and her husband left the country for exile on 13 June 1946.


In exile, the family gathered for a brief time on the Portuguese Riviera, but she and Umberto separated. She and their four children soon left for Switzerland where she lived most of the time for the rest of her life, while Umberto remained in Portugal. However, the couple, both devout Catholics, never divorced. The republican constitution not only forbade the restoration of the monarchy, but also barred all male members of the House of Savoy, as well as former queens consort, from returning to Italian soil.[1]


For some time, she lived in Mexico with her daughter, Princess Marie-Beatrice, and her grandchildren.[7]

Marie-José returned to Italy after her husband's death in 1983. She herself died in a Geneva clinic of lung cancer at the age of 94, surviving her two brothers and some of her nieces and nephews.[8]

The funeral was held at Hautecombe Abbey, in Savoy in the south of France, and attended by 2000 mourners. Among them were Albert II of Belgium, Juan Carlos I of Spain and Farah Pahlavi, the last Empress of Iran.[9] She was buried in Hautecombe Abbey alongside her husband.

Musical foundation[edit]

Like her mother, Queen Elisabeth, Marie-José inspired a musical contest. In 1959 she established the Fondation du prix de composition Reine Marie-José. It awarded its biennial prizes for the first time the following year. The first prize at the 1960 Concours was awarded to Giorgio Ferrari for his Quatuor à cordes avec une voix chantée. Subsequent prize winners have included William Albright (1968), Georg Katzer (1978), and Javier Torres Maldonado (2000). The 2017 prize was awarded to Jaehyuck Choi.[10]


National dynastic honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]

Arms and monogram[edit]

Portrayal of Marie in the arts[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Cope, Rebecca. "The extraordinary life of the beautiful, and radical, last Queen of Italy". Tatler. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  2. ^ "An antique and pearl tiara". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  3. ^ "Fine antique turquoise and diamond parure". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  4. ^ "Antique diamond bow". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  5. ^ "Genealogy of the Royal Family of Italy (House of Savoy)". Archived from the original on 28 October 2009. Retrieved 9 September 2005.
  6. ^ "Mussolini 'had affair with Italy's last queen'". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  7. ^ "Worldroots". Archived from the original on 25 February 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  8. ^ "Italy's last queen dies". BBC. 6 June 2018.
  9. ^ "Funeral of Queen Marie-José of Italy in Hautcombe/France on February 2nd 2001". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  10. ^ Historique du Prix, Retrieved 10 May 2017
  11. ^ "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  12. ^ [1] Archived 10 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "King Umberto II of Italy & Marie-José". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  14. ^ a b "Queen Marie-José wearing the Roman Catholic orders of the golden spur and starry cross" (JPG). Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  15. ^ "Photographic image of Queen wearing ring" (PNG). Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  16. ^ "King Umberto II of Italy & Marie Jose". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  17. ^ "Photographic image". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  18. ^ "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  19. ^ "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  20. ^ Berger, Petra (12 June 2011). "Terra Promessa" (in Italian). Retrieved 4 September 2018 – via YouTube. Clip from the DVD Live in Concert (2004)

External links[edit]

Marie-José of Belgium
Cadet branch of the House of Wettin
Born: 4 August 1906 Died: 27 January 2001
Italian royalty
Preceded by
Princess Elena of Montenegro
Queen consort of Italy
9 May – 12 June 1946
Monarchy abolished