Marie-José, daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, was briefly Queen Consort of Italy as the wife of King Umberto II. Marie-José's short reign, from May 9, 1946, (the date of the abdication of her father-in-law, King Victor III Emmanuel), to June 2, 1946, (the date of the abolition by plebiscite of the Italian monarchy), earned her the affectionate nickname "The May Queen." Marie-José was rather touched by this title; as she said: "I was called the 'May Queen.' It is a name which does not displease me... For May is certainly a beautiful season, in our Italy."
During World War II, despite her father-in-law's compliance with Mussolini's regime, Princess Marie-José, an opponent of fascism, maintained secret contacts with the Allies. Through connections at the Vatican, she attempted to prepare the way for Italy to detach itself from Hitler's Germany and conclude a separate peace with the Allies. Italy did, of course, following the fall of Mussolini, eventually join the Allies, and suffered severely from Hitler's vengeance.
Marie-José was a woman of great intelligence, courage, vivacity, and patriotism; she deeply loved both her native country, Belgium, and her adopted country, Italy. Upon becoming Queen Consort of Italy, Marie-José and her husband, Umberto, prepared an address to the Italian women, who were emerging, like the rest of the nation, from the terrible sufferings and devastation of World War II. The Queen hoped to deliver the address, but, for political reasons, was prevented from doing so. Only weeks later, the monarchy would be abolished, and Marie-José and her family would be on the road to exile...
The address, however, is very touching. Here it is:
Nelle difficili e tragiche circonstanze nelle quali la corona d'Italia viene a cingere il mio capo, l'animo mio si volge a voi tutte, donne e madri italiane, nel sentimento di solidarietà coi vostri destini, partecipe di tutti i vostri lutti e di tutte le vostre più acute sofferenze. Commossa, sento crescere nel mio cuore le fierezza e l'amore per questa mia seconda Patria, così ammirevole e forte nella sventura.Alle donne di ogni regione d'Italia voglio che giunga l'espressione della mia passione di donna italiana e dell'augurio perché i sacrifici, le ferite dei vostri cuori straziati, le durezze della vita vostra e dei vostri figli siano garanzia e pegno di un domani migliore per la nostra Italia. A voi, donne italiane, simbolo di bontà et di gentilezza, spetta una parte nobilissima nell'opera di ricostruzione morale, di pacificazione degli animi, nella salvezza della civiltà cristiana.Per questa carissima patria, che è la terra benedetta nella quale sono nati ed educati i miei dilettissimi figli, io innalzo la mia preghiera fervida alla Vergine et Madre divina, preghiera che si fonde con la vostra, perché tutti Iddio ci benedica et perché salvi l'Italia.
Some of the rhetorical style of the period does not, perhaps, fit easily into English, but here is a translation; I have tried to convey Marie-José's sincere and tender devotion to her people:
In the difficult and tragic circumstances, in which the Crown of Italy has come to be placed on my brow, my spirit turns to you all, women and mothers of Italy, in solidarity with your destinies, participating in all your struggles and your most acute sufferings. Deeply moved, I feel growing in my heart pride and love of this country, my second homeland, so admirable and courageous in misfortune.To the women of every region of Italy, I wish to join the expression of my passion as an Italian woman, and of my wish that the sacrifices, the wounds of your anguished hearts, the hardships of your lives and of those of your children, will be the guarantee and the pledge of a better future for our Italy. To you, Italian women, symbol of goodness and kindness, there remains a very noble part in the work of moral reconstruction, of the pacification of spirits, in the salvation of Christian civilization.For this beloved country, which is the blessed land in which my dearest children were born and educated, I make an ardent prayer, to the Virgin Mother of God, a prayer which mingles with yours, so that God may bless us all and so that He may save Italy.