Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Queen Elena of Montenegro
The couple had met in Venice where the Prince of Montenegro mentioned that the Prince of Naples was looking for a wife, however it was in Russia that the paths of the two later crossed and where it had first been thought that the princess might have found an Orthodox husband. In 1888 the Tsarevich invited her to a ball at St Petersburg and some began to whisper that it might have been her rather than Alix of Hesse who would one day become Tsarina. However, at the ball she was rather too popular on the dance floor and sparked a fight that led to a duel between Prince Arsen of Serbia and Baron Carl Gustav von Mannerheim of Finland (who was wounded). This left a rather bad impression on the Russian court, nonetheless it was at the later coronation of Tsar Nicholas II that she met the Prince of Naples and the two were immediately love struck. The formidable Queen Margherita was more concerned with the diversity of the royal bloodline (fearing too many cousins being married) and so warmly encouraged the match.
It was no empty gesture when she set an example for Italian wives in giving up her gold wedding rings to aid the war effort in Africa when the League of Nations had put a trade embargo on Italy. Of course, the Fascists had arranged the whole thing but, in time of war, country came first and Queen Elena led the other ladies of the Royal Family in being the first to sacrifice. After dropping her cherished rings into the urn, replacing them with iron “patriotic” rings, she said, “These rings, symbols of our first joys, symbols of our extreme renunciation now, make the purest offering to our country. With them we invoke before God victory for the young sons of Italy who defend rights which are sacred. We pray for the triumph of Roman civilization in Africa.” This was, for the Queen, national and not political and, unlike her mother-in-law who was suspected of fascist sympathies, Queen Elena stayed away from politics for the most part. Her only intervention of any significance was when she urged the King to press Mussolini for the creation of an independent Kingdom of Montenegro in 1941 as her homeland had previously been absorbed by Yugoslavia after World War I. The Queen also intervened, after the German takeover of former Italian areas, to obtain the release of Prince Michael of Montenegro from German captivity after he refused to collaborate with the Nazis. She was, alongside her husband, as a result of the war briefly Queen of Albania and Empress of Ethiopia but these titles were renounced in 1943.