Friday, August 23, 2013

Ena, Spain's English Queen

Ena, Spain's English Queen is a 1999 biography written by Gerard Noel on Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, Queen of Spain

Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Beatrice, was never suppose to marry. She was intended to remain by her mother's side as her constant companion. But things don't always work out as planned. At the wedding of her niece, Princess Victoria of Hesse and by the Rhine, to Prince Louis of Battenberg, Beatrice met and fell in love with the groom's brother, Prince Henry of Battenberg. After much resistance and only after Prince Henry agreed to stay by his mother-in-law's side, Beatrice and Henry were married in 1885. The couple had a total of four children: three sons, Alexander, Leopold, Maurice, and one daughter. Their daughter was born in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, and was named Victoria Eugenie (after the last Empress of the French) Julia (after her paternal grandmother, the Countess Julia Hauke) and Ena (due to the fact that she was the first grandchild of Queen Victoria to be born in Scotland). She was known predominantly as Ena.

Victoria Eugenie and her brothers spent their childhood at Windsor Castle, Balmoral and Osborne House on the Isle of Wright where her father was serving as Governor General.. But Henry became frustrated that his life wasn't going any where and persuaded the Queen to allow him to fight in the Ashanti War in 1896. He died after contracting a fever en route. Ena's last letter from her father was him telling her what a wonderful place Spain was. Beatrice was devastated. Tragedy struck again in 1901 when Queen Victoria died. After the Queen's death, the Battenbergs moved to Kensington Palace.

In 1905, King Alphonso XIII of Spain was out in search for a bride. Alfonso was born six months after his father, Alphonso XII's, death. His mother, Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria, was his father's second wife and a poor replacement for the love of his life, Princess Mercedes of Orleans. Maria Christina served as regent until her son reach his majority in 1902. Now it was time for him to find himself a bride and all bets were pinned on Princess Patricia of Connaught. But despite the King's considerable charms, Patricia was not interested in the King and later married a commoner. Someone who did fall for Alphonso was Ena. He found her to be very beautiful (especially her light blonde hair) and the two began exchanging post cards. Maria Christina was against the match due to the obscure origins of the Battenberg family, her Protestantism and the risk that Victoria Eugenie could be a carrier of hemophilia (Her brother, Leopold, was a hemophiliac). But Alphonso held firm and proposed to the Princess of Battenberg at the Villa Mauriscot. She converted to Catholicism in 1906.

Victoria Eugenie and Alphonso married on May 31, 1906. After the wedding ceremony, an anarchist attempted to assassinate the King and Queen by throwing a bomb at them. The Queen was not harmed but her dress was covered with the blood of the guard who was on the side of the anarchist. Despite the poor start to her tenure as Queen, her marriage to Alphonso seemed to be happy.Within months of the wedding, Ena was pregnant and on May 10, 1907, she gave birth to Alfonso, Prince of the Asturias, or Alfonsito as he was called at home. While the Prince of the Asturias was being circumcised, the doctors noticed that he wouldn't stop bleeding. Alphonshito was a hemophiliac. Alphonso never forgave his wife for infected their children with that cursed gene.

The couple went on to produce seven children in total. Their second son, Jaime, was born perfectly healthy but at the age of four, he suffered from double mastoiditis that left him deaf and mute. Their next son was stillborn. Their last son, Gonzalos, was also a hemophiliac. Of their five sons, only Juan was perfectly healthy. The couple also had two daughters named after their grandmothers, Beatriz and Maria Christina. After the birth of Gonzalo in 1914, relations between the King and Queen were effectively over and the King instead let his eyes wander. The King's indiscretions deeply hurt the Queen, no less the fact that Ena's cousin, Princess Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, was helping procure women for the King. Despite the fact that their marriage was on the whole over, there were period where Alphonso would turn to his wife. His wife would always love him just not with the passion that he wanted.

During the First World War, Spain remained neutral but that didn't stop the tensions between the two different women in Alphonso's life. Maria Christina being born an Archduchess of Austria supported the Alliance while Victoria Eugenie being a grand daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom supported the Entente. This battle for the King's attention had been going on for some time as people who supported the old ways supported the Queen Mother while the younger generation flocked to Ena. This carried on until the Queen Mother's death in 1929 but at that point the couple was passed the point of no return. During the Great War, Ena dedicated herself to nursing, revolutionizing the entire institution in Spain.

The Spanish royal family was exiled on April 14, 1931, after municipal elections brought Republicans into power, leading to the Second Spanish Republic. Victoria Eugenie and Alphonso settled down in Italy but separated from there on out. She would often travel to England for brief spells. Abroad, Ena suffered many hard blows. In 1934, Gonzalo died after being in a car accident with his sister Beatriz. Alphonsito renounced his rights to the Spanish throne, married lower than his rank, divorced her, remarried and divorced the second wife, only to die at the age of 31 in a car accident. The family gathered together in 1938 for the baptism of Juan and his wife, Maria de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, eldest son, Juan Carlos. Alphonso died in 1941 after suffering a heart attack a few days prior.

Juan Carlos married Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark in 1962. Ena stood as godmother to her great-grandson, Infante Felipe. Spain's English Queen died in Lausanne on April 15, 1969. Six years later, Juan Carlos would return to Spain as its King.

I give this book 4/5. If you are unfamiliar with the story of Spain's English Queen, this book is a great starter. Before reading this book, I only had a general idea of who Victoria Eugenie was. Of course I knew that she was a carrier of hemophilia and that Alfonso XIII never forgave her for that but that's about it. In this book, you learn about so much about her namely her resilient character. It's interesting, filled with good information and generally well written. The only problem I had with the author's writing style was that he kept using the third person when referring to himself. After you've seen "the author" for the fifteenth time you can't help but think "You mean 'you'?". But that's just me being nit picky. The book's only flaw is that it doesn't explore Ena's relationship with any of her family members. It centers on her relationship with her husband. I would have loved to know more about her relationship with her mother or her children, especially her two hemophiliac sons. Ena, Spain's English Queen is a great starter that will leave you wanting to know more about this brave Queen. 

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