Marie Jose was briefly Queen Consort of Italy. She earned her affectionate nickname the May Queen from her short 24-day reign from May 9th, the day her father-in-law, King Victor Emmanuel III abdicated, to June 2nd, 1946, when the Italian monarchy was abolished by referendum. Marie-José is said to have been rather touched by this title, remarking I was called the May Queen. It is a name which does not displease me... for May is certainly a beautiful season in this Italy of ours.
The Queen was born Marie-José Charlotte Sophie Amelie Henriette Gabrielle de Saxe Coburg-Gotha, Princess of Belgium on August 4th, 1906, at a royal villa near Ostend. She was the last child of Prince Albert, the future King of the Belgians, and his wife, the former Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria, a niece of Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
Groomed for a royal marriage to the future king of Italy, the Princess was sent to the convent school at Poggio Imperiale outside Florence. It was at this time she first met Umberto, Prince of Piedmont, who would later be crowned Umberto II, the last king of Italy. In 1929, the Prince arrived in Brussels to announce their engagement. The wedding was celebrated on January 8th, 1930, at the Quirinal Palace.
The Mona Bismarck Foundation
will present, for the first time in France, an exhibition of ceremonial court mantles and gowns part of the Queen's trousseau, or wedding chest. When Queen Marie-José left Italy in the wake of the 1946 referendum, several trunks traveled with her. Inside them one of her attendants had carefully packed a collection of gowns and mantles which, over the previous sixteen years, had accompanied the Princess of Piedmont on her official duties. Sixty years later they are still in perfect condition.