A historic reconciliation took place yesterday (Friday) in Naples, Italy, between rival branches of the former reigning royal house of Bourbon-Two-Sicilies, a division that began with a marriage.
Yesterday (January 24) in Naples, the day before the ceremony of Beatification of the Venerable Servant of God Maria Cristina of Savoy(mother of Francisco II, and much loved by the Neapolitans), the Duke of Noto and the Duke of Castro signed an act of reconciliation at 5:30 p.m., at the Excelsior Hotel.
[The Beatification ceremony will take place today at 11:00 a.m., at the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Naples.]
|Marlene A. Eilers Koenig Collection|
On February 14, 1901, Infanta Maria de las Mercedes of Spain, Princess of Asturias, married her second cousin, Prince Carlo of Bourbon-Two-Sicilies, nephew of the de jure King of the Two Sicilies. Carlo was elevated to the rank of Infant of Spain.
The marriage was not without controversy in Spain, as Carlo's father had strong ties to the conservative Carlist movement. But it was a marriage that was actively encouraged by Mercedes' mother, Queen Maria Cristina, and Infanta Isabel. Mercedes (1880-1904) held a unique position in Spain. Her father, King Alfonso XII's death in 1885 led to a succession crisis, as he had two young daughters, Mercedes, and Maria Teresa, and a young, pregnant widow, Queen Maria Cristina. If Queen Maria Cristina's third child was another daughter, Mercedes would succeed as Queen of Spain.
|Marlene A. Eilers Koenig Collection|
Young Alfonso suffered from illness and a weak constitution, and many assumed he would not survive childhood. Mercedes' position - and her marriage - remained paramount. It was important that the young infanta marry another Borbon if she were to become queen.
Infanta Mercedes and her younger sister, Infanta Maria Teresa, were presented into society at a ball hosted by Queen Maria Cristina at the Royal Palace. The two infantas had grown up in a conservative and restrictive atmosphere with few friends outside the palace. It is not a surprise that Mercedes fell in love with Prince Carlo, who was a guest at the ball. He asked her to dance, and she melted.
|Count of Caserta|
Mercedes was perplexed by the criticism. "I am happy to marry him, but I am also upset at those who have created such a fuss and made mother suffer for this ... all because his father fought alongside Don Carlos. Is this fair?" she wrote to her Aunt Infanta Paz.
Although streets were closed off and vast troops deployed throughout the capital, there were no major disturbances on the couple's wedding day. The couple were married on Valentine's Day, 1900.
The new Infant of Spain, Don Carlo(s) (1870-1949) was the second son of Prince Alfonso, Count of Caserta (1841-1934) and his wife and first cousin, Princess Maria Antoinetta of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. In 1894, following the death of the former king, Francisco II, Alfonso became claimant to the Two-Sicilies throne, and his eldest son, Prince Ferdinando, who married Princess Maria Ludwiga of Bavaria, became the heir and received the title of Duke of Calabria.
As the Count of Caserta believed that there was a risk that the Two Sicilies claim should be forgotten if his son became Spanish King Consort, Don Carlo was asked to sign a declaration renouncing his eventual right of succession to the Two-Sicilies Crown in a text known as the Act of Cannes. This was hastily drawn up and signed on December 14, 1900 and was the catalyst leading to the division within the family.
Shortly before the document was signed, the Count of Caserta and Queen Maria Cristina, Regent for her minor son, had agreed that "the only renunciation necessary was the one of former nationality." The Act itself was "in execution of the Pragmatic Decree" of 1759 which required a renunciation only if the Crowns of Spain and the Two Sicilies were united in the same person, even then quite a distant possibility as Carlo's elder brother would have a son, Ruggiero (who died aged thirteen), and several daughters, all of whom had a prior right to the Spanish throne by right of their great-grandmother, a younger sister of Ferdinand VII of Spain. Misunderstandings over the effects of this document have clouded the succession ever since.
Mercedes and Carlo were the parents of three children: Alfonso (1901-1964), Fernando (1903-1905) and Isabel Alfonsa (1904-1961). The children bore the titles Prince or Princess of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, and were also each accorded the title Infant of Spain.
The Princess of Asturias was pregnant with her third child when she became ill in October 1904. She was suffering from appendicitis, which her doctors first diagnosed as stomach cramps. This led to peritonitis, and early labor. Mercedes gave birth prematurely to a daughter, on October 16, and died the following day.
Carlo would remain in Spain as his three children remained initially under the care of Queen Maria Cristina. A year later, young Fernando died. The elder son, Prince Alfonso, did not become Prince of Asturias, although he was the heir presumptive to the Spanish throne and as such "Infante Heredero" until May 10, 1907, when Queen Victoria Eugenia gave birth to a son, Alfonso. A year earlier, King Alfonso XIII had married Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Don Carlo remained a widower for three years. In 1907, he married Princess Louise of Orléans, daughter of Prince Philippe, Count of Paris, whose mother was an Infanta and was herself created an Infanta at her marriage to Carlo. They had four children: Carlos (1908-1936), Maria de la Dolores (1909-1996), Maria de las Mercedes (1910-2000) and Maria de la Esperanza (1914-2005).
The middle daughter, Mercedes, would reaffirm the ties to the Spanish royal house, when in 1935, she married Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona, third son of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia. Their eldest son is King Juan Carlos of Spain, who remains close to his Two-Sicilies cousins.
The Count of Caserta, died on May 26, 1934, and he was succeeded as head of the house by his eldest son, Ferdinando Pio, who was the father of six children. Tragically, Prince Ruggiero, Duke of Noto, died young, in 1914 providing a second catalyst for a future succession battle.
|Duke of Calabria (Ferdinando Pius)|
Ranieri was the ninth child and fifth son of the Count and Countess of Caserta. He married his first cousin Countess Maria Carolina Zamoyska (whose mother was a Princess of the Two Sicilies and sister of the Countess of Caserta), and they had two children, Princess Maria de Carmen, and Prince Ferdinando, Duke of Castro. Prince Rainieri served briefly in the Spanish military.
|Prince Ranieri and his bride, Countess Maria Carolina Zamoyska (his first cousin)|
Fast forward to January 7, 1960. The Duke of Calabria has died, and the Duke of Castro (Ranieri) is declared head of the House, and recognized as such by nearly all of the members of the Bourbon-Two-Sicilies family. Some other heads of royal families also acknowledged the Duke of Castro as heir, notably the Count of Paris, King Umberto II of Italy and the Duke of Bavaria and later the Duke of Württemberg, and the Head of the Imperial House of Brazil.
|Duke and Duchess of Calabria (Prince Alfonso and Princess Alicia)|
A year later, in May 1965, the young Duke of Calabria, married Princess Anne of Orléans, a daughter of the Count and Countess of Paris. They are the parents of four daughters, and one son, Prince Pedro, Duke of Noto.
The division between the two branches has been at times nasty with friends and members of other European royal families forced to take sides.
|Duke of Castro (Carlo)|
|The Duchess of Castro with Princesses Maria Carolina, Duchess of Palermo and Maria Chiara, Duchess of Capri|
On March 20, 2008, Prince Carlo, Duke of Castro, succeeded to his father's titles. He has been married to Italian heiress Camilla Crociani since 1998. They live in Monaco with their two young daughters, Princesses Maria Carolina (2003) and Maria Chiara (2003). The Duke and Duchess of Castro are close friends with the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark and he is one of the God parents of the Crown Prince's younger daughter, Princess Josephine. He is also a Godfather of Prince Gaston of Orléans, whose father, Prince Jean, Duke of Vendome, is a first cousin of Prince Pedro, Duke of Noto (1968), only son of the Duke and Duchess of Calabria.
|Duke of Calabria (Carlos) & his eldest son, Pedro, Duke of Noto|
Such intertwined connections has led to further tension even among Prince Pedro's cousins. Settling family disputes, especially one that had its origins more than a century ago, can be tricky, and in the history of Europe's royal families have never before been settled by mutual agreement between members of the family.
The Duke of Noto and the Duke of Castro were determined to change this and in act of considerable courage the two families, close in age and with young children, decided to set aside past differences. Negotiations proceeded over a year, with a senior member of the Infante Don Carlos's Constantinian Order asked to assist in this process. These led to two meetings between the families (in Paris and Madrid) and an agreement was drawn up.
The signing of the act of reconciliation was done privately. The Duchesses of Noto and Castro were also present for the ceremony, as well as the Duke of Noto's mother, the Duchess of Calabria, the Duke of Noto's sisters, Maria and Inés, and their husbands, Archduke Simeon and Michele Carrelli Palombi, their aunt, Princess Teresa, Marquesa de Laserma, the Duke of Castro's sister, Princess Napoleon, Prince Casimiro of Bourbon-Two Sicilies and his wife Princess Margherita, and the Duke of Braganza.
The Infante Don Carlos, Duke of Calabria, 76, is not well, and could not be present for the ceremony.
The two families will recognize each other's titles, and the Duke and Duchess of Castro's two daughters have received the titles of Duchess of Palermo and Duchess of Capri.
At future occasions connected with the dynasty, the family members attending will represent the whole family and the heads of each branch will be considered equal, sharing their historic responsibilities. The whole family is determined not to reignite the dispute and instead to work together in a spirit of unity for the common good, in a spirit of Christian reconciliation inspired by the aims of the Constantinian Order.
|Duke of Noto|
|Prince Jaime, Duke of Capua|
This is a major achievement for the Dukes of Castro and Noto. They will now work together to unite the Constantinian Order and the administrations of the Two Sicilies Orders of St. Januarius and Francis I.
[All but the first two photographs were provided to me privately for the use in this news story.]