Sunday 2 January 2022

A Ruritanian page from the history of the Second World War.


By Ghitta Carell (1899-1972)

I was in Rome at the New Year and after watching the Nutcracker had dinner in a fairly good restaurant near the Rome Opera (Trattoria Antica Boheme). The aged Italian president stood and mouthed his New Year's message to the nation with the sound off.

When in Italy I always regret Italian unification, despite having this year read Mack Smith's eulogistic biography of Mazzini. I have no sympathy for the House of Savoy particularly but it seemed obvious that if you have a parliamentary system a constitutional monarch is so much better than a president, not only for romantic or conservative reasons but for a management consultant's reasons. 

This led me to look up the Italian royal family and I learnt some interesting things.

The last Queen of Italy - the former Princess Marie-José of Belgium - 'the May Queen' who only reigned from 9 May 1945 to 2 June, when the monarchy narrowly defeated in a referendum - was educated in the Ursuline Convent school in unromantic, lower middle class Brentwood, Essex, during the First World War.

She was a looker. She was very much more attractive to my eyes than Marie of Romania.

When Adolf Hitler invaded her native Belgium, she quickly organised a meeting with Hitler to plead for better treatment of her brother, King Leopold III, under house arrest and the Belgians. He refused her requests but praised her eyes as 'the colour of the German sky'. 

Marie-José said of Hitler 'You could tell straight away he was a cretin and a madman'.

Interesting. I don't see how he could have been a cretin - he was certainly a remarkable man - but certainly mentally odd and without culture. But then  I did not meet him and she did, twice, before and during the war.

She also said she might have killed him if she had had a pistol, saying: 'I think I would have had the strength to do it.' 

Perhaps, but she did not smuggle a pistol into the meeting.

The Queen was on the far left and not far off being a Communist, but had an affair with her father-in-law's Prime Minister, Mussolini, until he chucked her. In 1942 she plotted a royal coup against him, hoping to negotiate a peace deal with the US using the future Pope Paul VI as an intermediary and supplying the Italian Resistance with both money and arms. 

She was told by the King to stay out of politics, but he did as she wanted one year later and after many deaths.

Although Belgian before she married, she was a much better Italian patriot than Musso or the blackshirts. Although I also found on the net Alberto Moravia opining that Mussolini didn't do a bad job at home and only did badly abroad. 

I suppose had he not gone to war in 1940 in the hope of some territory in Savoy he would have died in his bed like Franco. 

Hitler would have done much better had Italy remained neutral and might even have defeated Bolshevik Russia and won the war.

Queen Marie-Jose's son, the heir to the throne, became an arms dealer, was tried for murder, acquitted and then allegedly admitted to the crime on film. He gave up his claim to the throne.


  1. "but it seemed obvious that if you have a parliamentary system a constitutional monarch is so much better than a president, not only for romantic or conservative reasons but for a management consultant's reasons."

    According to another of Dennis Mack Smith's books, the army was competent and ready to suppress the March on Rome, the government wished the army to do so, and the king overrode them both. Constitutional monarchy is fine when the monarchic role has been reduced to Bagehot's "dignified" component, and will quietly agree to create peers as necessary.

    1. Thank you. My ignorance of Italian history is profound. But would things have been different had Italy had a president as head of state in 1922? It depends on whether he had less power than the King and on who he was and what he decided, I suppose. Had the Papal States (and other Italian states perhaps) still existed Musso would have not been a factor on Europe.

  2. 'he was certainly a remarkable man - but certainly mentally odd and without culture'

    A remarkable cretin.

    1. Hee hee. We understands what she meant, but he was obviously intelligent - he was a Lenin who was his own Marx.

    2. 'he was obviously intelligent'

      Smart. As in 'street smart'. Were he intelligent, you know, we all would be speaking German now.

    3. Ha ha. He was not, of course, interested in world domination and Romanians or Englishmen speaking German. He wanted domination of Central and Eastern Europe and especially European Russia (by Russia I mean Czarist Russia). As Timothy Snyder said he was not a normal nationalist like Antonescu, Pilsudski etc. Snyder calls him a racial anarchist (but then Snyder expected Donald Trump to instal a dictatorship so one can't follow him blindly). I suppose a right-wing dictatorship in Germany was very likely to happen, as throughout Eastern Europe -the anti-democratic reactionaries had no legitimate monarchy to support - and it was inevitable that Germany would seek to overturn the borders to her east. (Even Gustav Streseman didn't guarantee them. He hoped to rewrite them when the time came, though not by force.) But Hitlerism was not in the least to be expected, any more than Leninism could have been expected - the great man theory of history is the correct one - the Marxist theory of ineluctable forces is silly.

    4. Talking of Stresemann this is interesting, from the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on 'the Locarno era and the dream of disarmament'.

      'As the decade of the 1920s came to a close, most Europeans expected prosperity and harmony to continue. Briand even went so far as to propose in 1929 that France and Germany explore virtual political integration in a European union, asking only that Germany confirm her 1919 boundaries as immutable. But Stresemann died suddenly on Oct. 3, 1929, and three weeks later the New York stock market crashed. In the storms to come, the need for firm, material guarantees of security would be greater than ever. But on June 30, 1930, in accordance with the Young Plan, the last Allied troops departed the German Rhineland for home.'
      A European Union consisting of France, Germany and Benelux in 1930 would have been a good idea.

  3. 'She was very much more attractive to my eyes than Marie of Romania'

    Are you having trouble seeing clearly with your current glasses? Are you experiencing eye strain or headaches? Are the lenses on your glasses scratched? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to get a new glasses prescription or maybe even an entirely new set of glasses.

  4. 'She was a looker'

    1. That's not a good one.

    2. Marie Jose and Umberto during their marriage ceremony

      Ferdinand and Marie, the Crown Prince and Princess of Romania, pictured after their 1893 marriage