Thursday, August 7, 2008

Otto & Maria - Romance or not?

Rumors about a possible marriage between Archduke Otto and Princess Maria of Savoy, the youngest child of King Vittorio Emanuele and Queen Elena, began in late 1930. The marriage was certainly encouraged by Il Duce - Mussolini. According to Gordon Brook-Shepherd's Uncrowned Emperor, a biography of Archduke Otto, as early as January 1931, Empress Zita, through her emissaries, explored the possibility that the Italian dictator might be amenable to influence Germany "in the matter of a Habsburg restoration." Mussolini "heaped praises on Otto, describing him as good-looking, well-mannered and serious in disposition." He also suggested that Otto would be an "ideal match" for Maria. Zita was planning to meet the Italian royal family that summer at San Rossore, so Mussolini suggested that Otto come too. The response was evasive, as Otto had no intention of marrying the 16-year-old princess.
Princess Maria was not the first princess who received media attention as a possible bride for Otto. In 1929, when Zita moved her family to Belgium so Otto could attend Louvain University, newspapers reported that the real reason for the move was a proposed marriage between Otto and Princess Marie-José, the only daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth. It was said that the Pope approved of the marriage, but the marriage story was "considered to be one of the periodical rumors regarding marriage plans for the Princess and is not considered worth denying formally."
In June 1931, the Hungarian legation told reporters that Empress Zita had invited the "legitimist chiefs" of Hungary to come to her villa near Parma in July "to discuss negotiations" for a marriage between Otto and Maria -- and to discuss, too, placing Otto on the throne.
A year later, in May 1932, Viennese newspapers published "unconfirmed reports" of a forthcoming engagement between Otto and Princess Maria of Bavaria, daughter of Prince Franz, younger brother of Crown Prince Rupprecht. The Bavarian princess was said to be fluent in Hungarian as she and her family spent much of each year at the family castle, Sarvar, in Hungary.
The Maria of Italy rumors returned in the fall of 1934, when Maria's parents met with Zita in Viareggio. Both families apparently approved the engagement between Otto and Maria, but agreed that it could not be announced until Otto's position was heir to the thrones of Austria and Hungary was clarified. Zita's brother, Felix, and his wife, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, were also present for the family gathering. It was Prince Felix who confirmed that the engagement had been approved.
The Italian sovereigns, who were accompanied by the 19-year-old Princess Maria, arrived at Villa Pianore with little fanfare. Empress Zita and her guests talked for an hour, and "details connected with the betrothal were quickly settled. Zita then introduced seven of her eight children to her guests. Only Otto was not present for this meeting. The 21-year-old Archduke was hunting elk in Sweden.
Despite the fact that no engagement was actually announced, the New York Times featured a profile of Maria, describing her as an "accomplished young woman who likes to combine the gayety of music and outdoor play with the studious pursuits as coin collecting." She was a numismatist, sharing the hobby with her father. She was said to play the piano well, and is "also a singer of some attainment."

The rumors of a marriage did not abate through 1934. Maria celebrated her 20th birthday on December 26, 1934. But "it was understood generally that the engagement would not be announced officially until Otto's claims to the Austrian crown were unsettled," according to a report in the New York Times (December 27, 1934.)
It was unlikely that the two families were truly serious about a marriage. The alleged engagement rumors lasted for about eight years, but a true insight into the rumors came in 1933, when Mussolini's paper Popolo d'Italia described the rumors as "colossally absurd.....The news that Master Otto is against fascism leaves us completely indifferent. Fascism has such a doctrine, force, novelty and future that it can't enter the petrified brain of this relic of the past."
In the 1930s, Maria was also reported to be marrying Prince Sigvard of Sweden, the divorced King Carol II of Romania, and Prince Cyril of Bulgaria, whose older brother, King Boris III, was married to Maria's sister, Giovanna. Tongues began to wag in the summer of 1932 when Prince Cyril visited the Italian royal family at San Rossore.
San Rossore was not too far from Villa Pianore in Viareggio, where Empress Zita and her family spent their summers. Zita's younger brother, Louis, was a frequent visitor to the villa. The Bourbon-Parma prince was often a guest at San Rossore, where he met Princess Maria. Their engagement was officially announced on November 14, 1938. Princess Maria was 24, and her future husband, 39.


Cabri said...

In the 1930ies Otto von Habsburg had changes to regain the throne. Of corse that was far from easy.

I am not sure how in 1930 when the engagement with the Italian Princess was under consideration Mussilini could have helped with the German Government. Hitler came to power only in 1933.

However, Hitler courted the monarchist-conservative parts of society in order to gain support, but he never thought about a restoration of the monarchy - neither in Germany nor in Austria.

The annexation of Austria was called "Unternehmen Otto"- quite ironic or symbolic. Otto has asked the then Chancellor of Austria to cede the chancellorship to him in order to lead the resistance.

Marlene Eilers Koenig said...

The first news stories about a possible engagement came in 1930 - and the comments about Germany were made in 1931 - before Hitler ...