Friday, January 8, 2010

Wedding of Umberto & Marie-José

On January 8, 1930, Princess Marie-José of Belgium married the heir to the Italian throne, Prince Umberto of Savoy, at the Quirinal Palace in Rome. The wedding date, in accordance with the bridegroom's wish, coincided with the 57th birthday of his mother, Queen Elena. It was a hectic and exhausting day for the young couple.

Although Marie-José rose early in the morning, hours before the ceremony, she nearly arrived at the altar late. Defying superstitions, Umberto had come to see his bride before the wedding. With his attention to details and aesthetic perfectionism (traits Marie-José would sometimes find frustrating), he was infuriated to find that the sleeves on her gown had been sewed on the wrong way. Perhaps no one would have noticed, but the Prince insisted on remedying the situation (in the end, by having the sleeves completely removed, and replaced with long white gloves). It was ironic, as Marie-José had not even wanted to wear this gown, preferring simpler, more modern attire, but Umberto had insisted on the utmost grandeur. (He had, in fact, personally helped to design the dress, an elaborate creation of white and silver). "I look like a Madonna in procession!" the bride had muttered.

After all this delay, the nuptial cortège finally began to wind through the palace to the Cappella Paolina. As they passed by rows of (often dethroned) European royalty, King Albert I of Belgium, with his characteristic irony and humor, whispered in his daughter's ear: "There's alot of unemployment in our profession." At the altar, according to tradition, four princes of the House of Savoy held a veil, a symbol of purity and protection, over the bride and groom. By 11 am, Umberto and Marie-José were man and wife.

After the ceremony, the newlyweds made their way to another part of the palace to sign the marriage documents. Mussolini, who was present, wanted Marie-José to use the Italian form of her name, "Maria Giuseppina." The strong-minded young woman, however, much to her husband's embarrassment, stubbornly refused to do so. (She would always proudly sign herself "Maria José," creating an awkward situation for the Italian press. To avoid offending either Mussolini or the Princess, many journalists settled on dropping the second part of her name altogether).

The rest of the day was taken up with duties of protocol; appearances on the balcony, official visits, celebrations and applause. All very grand, but rather nerve-racking for Umberto and Marie-José, almost too tense and agitated even to touch the elaborate dishes at the banquet. At last, the couple were left alone together in the magnificent bridal chamber.

Early, the next morning, Umberto and Marie-José were seen praying together in the chapel, evidently in devout meditation. Perversely, this gave rise to malicious talk. Bizarre rumors began to circulate, to the effect that the Prince had made a vow of chastity, or, at any rate, that the newlyweds were surely not very ardent lovers! It was only the beginning of endless gossip about the couple.


Regolo, Luciano. Il re signore: tutto il racconto della vita di Umberto di Savoia. 1998. pp. 254-258


Lucy said...

Hi Matterhorn! Thanks so much for dropping by my place and writinmg such a nice comment..we haven't talked in a while!

Great post- I love reading about this couple. Good for her for standing up to Mussolini!
Thanks- and Happy New Year and Blessings to you and your loved ones:)

May said...

Thank you, Lucy, for your kind words and every blessing to you and your family, too!