World War I, and all the horrors and ugliness associated with it, may also have helped instill in Princess Marie-Jose a greater love for the opposite; for beauty, beautiful art, beautiful music, for a more liberal world and a total aversion to conflict and bloodshed. With the course of her life set before her, she looked toward the future hoping for the best. The Prince of Piedmont was already known as one of the most handsome young royals in Europe and as Princess Marie Jose grew up she developed a rather unrealistic expectation of the Savoy heir as the perfect prince charming, an image encouraged by those around her. In fact, the two had vastly different backgrounds and upbringings. Princess Marie Jose loved to play with her father as a child and, particularly through the influence of her mother, was given a very liberal education, an appreciation for simplicity, tolerance and new ideas. Prince Umberto, on the other hand, was raised to be a soldier, given a military education, had the glorious family history of the House of Savoy stressed upon him and his duty to carry on that illustrious legacy. Interactions with family were kind but correct and it had not be so long ago that royal children were still required to bow in the presence of their father the King and address him by his royal title. Things were not quite that formal for Umberto but undoubtedly the history, forms and grandeur of the monarchy were stressed much more heavily in Rome than in Brussels. The princess was an informal girl who very much ‘marched to the beat of a different drummer’. When thinking of Italy she most likely envisioned the romantic aspects; the art, the music and the way the ordinary people loved life. She was probably not quite so prepared for the orderly, regimented court and elaborate ceremony of the Savoy monarchy.
When Italy was divided between the Allied occupation in the south and the Nazi-backed Fascist puppet state in the north, Princess Marie Jose took her children and escaped over the border but continued to support the fight against the Nazis by smuggling weapons and supplies to the partisans (which included communist and also non-communist anti-Fascist groups). One partisan group even wanted to name her their “commander” but she declined the offer. When her husband succeeded to the throne on May 9, 1946 as King Umberto II, the couple reunited in Rome where she briefly reigned as Queen consort of Italy. Although there was really no romance at all between the two anymore, both were people of duty and were committed to putting their own problems aside for the good of the country. However, from the very start the new King and Queen faced a combined opposition made up of the communists on one side and the ambivalent Allies on the other. The communists attacked the King Umberto II and Queen Marie Jose by often using the propaganda first dreamed up by the Fascists. Again, some of this has gained acceptance in the popular portrayal of the “May Queen”. Some, for example, have come to believe that she was an extremely reluctant Queen consort, very gloomy and resigned to the total collapse of the Kingdom of Italy. However, the truth was quite the contrary. Queen Marie Jose was under no illusions about the difficulties Italy faced but she envisioned something much better, lifting the people out of the ruins of the war and restoring the glory, beauty and creativity, artistic and scientific of the Renaissance period.
She had not had an easy life, although much of it looked very glamorous. Her childhood was dominated by war, her marriage was not a very happy one, another war ruined her hopes for the future and she was forced to leave her adopted country. Relations with her children were not always the best afterwards and she was often lonely. However, she endured it all as simply part of the duty that accompanies royalty. Her mother had given her curiosity, compassion and an open mind. Her father had given her courage, devotion to duty and a ‘never quit’ attitude. She was a great lady and would have undoubtedly been a great Queen. It is to the detriment of Italy that she was not given a chance to fully prove herself in that role.