Victoria Eugenie, Queen of Spain (1887-1969)
– Victoria Eugenie
Victoria Eugenie Julia Ena was born at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, on 24 October 1887 and was the only daughter of Henry of Battenberg and Beatrice, Princess of the United Kingdom.
Victoria Eugenie, known as Ena, was styled Her Highness from birth as her grandmother, Queen Victoria, had issued a Royal Warrant granting the higher style to all the children of Prince Henry and Princess Beatrice. As the son of a morganatic marriage, Henry had inherited the Prince of Battenberg style from his mother, however it meant he had the lower rank of His Serene Highness.
Victoria Eugenie was named after her maternal grandmother and her godmother, Eugénie de Montijo, the last Empress Consort of the French, and Ena was an old Gaelic name which was given to the baby princess as she was born in Scotland. Victoria Eugenie was baptised in the Drawing Room at Balmoral, however all of her godparents were absent due to the location and they had to be represented by someone else. Since her mother was still acting as her grandmother’s secretary, Victoria Eugenie grew up in the Queen’s household and spent most of her childhood at Windsor Castle, Balmoral and Osborne House. After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, her widowed mother moved into Kensington Palace and began the mammoth task of editing the Queen’s journals.
In 1905, King Alfonso XIII of Spain made an official visit to Buckingham Palace, however he was really looking for a bride. Alfonso’s first choice had been Patricia of Connaught but she did not return his interest so when he noticed Victoria Eugenie at a formal dinner held in his honour, he was intrigued enough to make enquiries about her. When Alfonso returned to Spain, he sent postcards to Victoria Eugenie and spoke of her fondly to his mother, Maria Christina of Austria who was not impressed. Maria Christina did not consider Ena’s family to be royal as the Battenbergs were low-ranked but most of all, she was worried Victoria Eugenie would be a carrier of haemophilia since her brother, Leopold, was affected.
Queen Consort of Spain
Since Alfonso would not be persuaded to marry another, Maria Christina finally gave her blessing and wrote to Beatrice requesting a meeting with Edward VII. Victoria Eugenie and Beatrice traveled in Biarritz on 22 January 1906 where they met Alfonso at the Villa Mauriscot and the young couple spent a few days together before moving on to San Sebastián where Victoria Eugenie was introduced to Maria Christina. After Alfonso had returned to Spain, Victoria Eugenie and Beatrice went on to Paris where the princess was to be instructed on the Catholic faith and her final conversion took place on 5 March 1906 at Miramar Palace in San Sebastián. As a Catholic, Victoria Eugenie would now be excluded from her place in the British line of succession as a consequence of the Act of Settlement, however any non-Catholic descendants would still have their place.
Although the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 requires descendants of George II obtain the British sovereign’s prior permission to marry, the Privy Council decided Edward VII need not grant official consent to minimise any negative reaction from the public to Victoria Eugenie’s conversion. Since Victoria Eugenie’s parents had been married before her father’s naturalisation had been completed, it was decreed her mother had married a foreign national and as a result, Victoria Eugenie was not bound by the Royal Marriages Act. However, Edward VII did issue a Royal Warrant whereby Victoria Eugenie was entitled to be styled Her Royal Highness from 3 April 1906.
Victoria Eugenie married Alfonso at the Royal Monastery of San Jerónimo in Madrid on 31 May 1906, however the day was marred by an assassination attempt as the royal procession was heading back to the Royal Palace. An anarchist threw a bomb at the royal carriage but Victoria Eugenie’s life was saved because she had turned her head to look at St. Mary’s Church. Victoria Eugenie’s wedding dress was spotted with the blood of a guard who was riding beside the carriage and many saw it as an ill-omen which made the new Queen unpopular before she’d even started. Victoria Eugenie’s popularity was improved when she gave birth to her first child, Alfonso, Prince of Asturias, on 10 May 1907 but joy soon turned to despair when a circumcision revealed the boy was haemophiliac. Maria Christina’s fears had become a reality and Alfonso was alleged to have never forgiven his wife, however four more sons and two daughters were born.
After their youngest son, Infante Gonzalo, was discovered to have haemophilia as well, Alfonso blamed Victoria Eugenie and their marriage began to disintegrate. Alfonso began to have numerous affairs and forbade his wife from taking their children to England to see their grandmother, Beatrice, who Alfonso also blamed for carrying the disease afflicting his sons. Victoria Eugenie threw herself into her charity work and helped reorganise the Spanish Red Cross which finally endeared her to the Spanish people.
On 14 April 1931, the Spanish Royal Family were forced into exile after the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic and they settled in France and Switzerland. Victoria Eugenie and Alfonso separated and she divided her time between England and Lausanne where she purchased a chateau, the Vieille Fontaine. On 15 January 1941, an ailing Alfonso transferred his rights to the Spanish throne to his third son, Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona, and then he died on 28 February 1941. Juan never did become king but the throne was eventually passed to his son, Juan Carlos I on 22 November 1975. Victoria Eugenie was finally able to return to Spain for the baptism of her great-grandson, Felipe, in February 1968.
Victoria Eugenie died in Lausanne on 15 April 1969 and was buried in the church of Sacré Coeur in Lausanne. On 25 April 1985, Queen Victoria Eugenie’s remains were returned to Spain and re-interred in the Royal Vault in the Escorial, next to her husband, Alfonso XIII, and not far from her sons, Infante Alfonso, Infante Jaime, and Infante Gonzalo.