Elena of Montenegro (Serbian: Јелена Петровић Његош / Jelena Petrović Njegoš; 8 January 1873 – 28 November 1952) was Queen of Italy from 29 July 1900 until 9 May 1946 as the wife of King Victor Emmanuel III. As Victor Emmanuel's wife, she briefly claimed the titles Empress of Ethiopia and Queen of the Albanians; both titles were dropped when her husband formally renounced them in 1943. Elena was the daughter of King Nicholas I and Queen Milena of Montenegro. With the opening of the case for her canonization, she was made Servant of God by the Catholic Church in 2001.

Elena of Montenegro
Servant of God
Queen consort of Italy
Tenure29 July 1900 – 9 May 1946
Empress consort of Ethiopia
Tenure9 May 1936 – 5 May 1941
Queen consort of the Albanians
Tenure16 April 1939 – 8 September 1943
Born(1873-01-08)8 January 1873
Cetinje, Montenegro
Died28 November 1952(1952-11-28) (aged 79)
Montpellier, France
Burial
Spouse
(m. 1896; died 1947)
Issue
Names
Jelena Petrović-Njegoš
HousePetrović-Njegoš
FatherNicholas I of Montenegro
MotherMilena Vukotić
ReligionRoman Catholic
prev. Eastern Orthodoxy
SignatureElena of Montenegro's signature
Portrait of young Elena in 1888, by Vlaho Bukovac
Portrait of Elena as Princess of Napoli

Biography

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Early life

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She was born in Cetinje, at the time the capital of the Principality of Montenegro. She was raised in the values and unity of the family; the conversation at the table was conducted in French, and politics and poetry were discussed with equal ease; habits and relationships in the Petrović-Njegoš family did not stifle the spontaneity of characters and personalities.

She was tutored by the Swiss governess Luisa Neukomm von Hallau (1852–1931), between the ages of six and twelve, after which she was educated at the Smolny Institute in Saint Petersburg in Russia until the age of 18.[1] She was interested in pastel painting, hunting and fishing. She also attended the Russian Imperial Court and collaborated with the Russian literary magazine Nedelya by publishing poems.

Elena was described as shy and reserved but also rather stubborn. Very attached to traditions, with a sensitive soul and a lively and curious mind, she was endowed with a strong love for nature: her favorite flower was the cyclamen. She was a very tall woman of 195 cm (6 feet 4 inches).

Engagement

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In Italy, Queen Margherita worried about the marriage of her only son, the future king, and in agreement with Francesco Crispi, who was of Albanian origin and eager for a greater influence for Italy in the Balkans, they arranged the meeting between the two young people. In April 1895 Elena attended the International Art Exhibition in Venice (at which she was presented to the king and queen of Italy) and the opera – where she was presented to Prince Victor Emmanuel.

After another meeting in Russia, on the occasion of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II, Vittorio Emanuele formulated the official request to Elena's father, Nicholas I. On 18 August 1896, Elena and Victor Emmanuel became engaged during a visit of Victor Emmanuel in Cetinje.

Marriage

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Being of Orthodox religion, Elena, for reasons of royal opportunity and to support Queen Margherita, mother of Vittorio Emanuele, left Montenegro. On 21 October 1896, with Vittorio Emanuele, she landed in Bari, where at the basilica of St. Nicola, before the wedding, she converted to Catholicism from Orthodox Christianity, although her father would have preferred the conversion to be proclaimed after the marriage. Her mother was so distressed that Elena had changed her religion, that she refused to come to the wedding ceremony in Rome.

Queen

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Elena in nurse's uniform, 1915–1918

On 29 July 1900, following his father's assassination, Victor Emmanuel ascended the Italian throne. Officially, Elena assumed her husband's whole titles: she became Queen of Italy, and after Mussolini's occupations of Albania and Ethiopia she assumed the titles of Queen of Albania and Empress of Ethiopia.

Elena was described as dignified but natural and simple, and kept the simple habits of her youth in Cetinje. She did not enjoy social life and entertainment or the life of public royal representational duties, but preferred to live a simple, quiet family life. She was described as a loving parent, devoted in giving her children a simple upbringing, designed to prevent them from feeling superior to other children because of their birth.

To her appearance, Queen Elena was described in 1911:

"No Queen in Europe to-day, save the Tsaritsa and Queen Victoria Eugenie, looks more a Queen than Elena. She is stately and tall, with a statuesque poise that anywhere singles her from the throng. Her hair is as black as midnight forest depths, her eyes as luminous as live coals. Her skin is like unto olives, and her hands firm and strong and large. Her shoulders are broad and she holds them squarely. The impression the woman gives is of unusual physical strength. Nor could this well be otherwise in view of her athletic training."[2]

On 28 December 1908 Messina was hit by a disastrous earthquake. Queen Elena helped with the rescuers. She visited the scene, organized for the wounded to be taken to a Hospital ship and assisted personally to their care as nurse; she also organized a fundraiser for the victims in Rome.[1] This helped to increase her popularity within the country.

World War I

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Elena was the first Inspector of the Voluntary Nurses for the Italian Red Cross from 1911 until 1921. She studied medicine and obtained a laurea honoris causa. She financed charitable institutions for people with encephalitis and tuberculosis, former soldiers and poor mothers. She was deeply involved in her fight against disease, and she promoted many efforts for the training of doctors, and for research against poliomyelitis, Parkinson's disease and cancer.

During World War I Elena worked as a nurse and, with the help of the Queen Mother, she turned the Quirinal Palace and Villa Margherita into hospitals, which functioned from July 1915 until 1919. To raise funds, she invented the "signed photograph", which was sold at the charity desks. At the end of the war, she proposed to sell the crown treasures to pay the war debts. In 1920, she founded the Elena di Savoia foundation for scholarships to the orphaned children of former railway workers or soldiers; she suggested that every woman in Italy donated some of her jewelry to the children whose fathers had been sacrificed for the nation, and she started by donating some of her own.[1]

On 15 April 1937 Pope Pius XI gave her the Golden Rose, the most important honour given to a Catholic lady at the time. Pope Pius XII, in a condolence telegram sent to her son Umberto II upon the queen's death, defined her as a "Lady of charitable work".

World War II

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In 1939, three months after the German invasion of Poland and the declaration of war by the United Kingdom and France, Elena wrote a letter to the six European Royals women, two of the monarch’s and the other four consorts still neutral (Queen Alexandrine of Denmark, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, Queen Ioanna of Bulgaria (her daughter) and Queen Maria, Queen Mother of Yugoslavia) to avoid the great tragedy World War II would become.

She influenced her husband to lobby Benito Mussolini, Prime Minister of Italy, for creation of the independent Kingdom of Montenegro in 1941. In 1943 she subsequently obtained the release from a German prison of her nephew, Prince Michael of Montenegro, and his wife, Geneviève. Prince Michael had been imprisoned after refusing to become King of Montenegro under the protection of Italy.

On 25 July 1943 Victor Emmanuel III had Benito Mussolini arrested. The king left Rome on 9 September to flee to Brindisi with the help of the Allies and Elena followed her husband in his escape. In contrast, on 23 September their daughter Mafalda was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, where she died in 1944.

 
Tommaso di Lorenzo after Carlo Brogi, Maria Elena, Queen of Italy, 1903, engraving

Exile and death

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Following the war, on 9 May 1946, Victor Emmanuel III abdicated in favour of their son Umberto, and the former king assumed the title of Count of Pollenzo. On 2 June 1946 a referendum resulted in 52 percent of voters favouring an Italian republic over the monarchy. The republic was formally proclaimed four days later, and the House of Savoy's reign over Italy formally ended on 12 June 1946. Elena and Victor Emmanuel III went to Egypt, where they were welcomed with great honor by King Farouk, but forced to live the rest of their lives in exile. Victor Emmanuel III died a year later of pulmonary congestion in Alexandria. Elena stayed in Egypt a short time before moving to France. There, in Montpellier, she was diagnosed with a severe form of cancer, and died in November 1952 of pulmonary embolism while having surgery to treat it.[3]

65 years after her death, on 15 December 2017, the remains of Elena were repatriated from Montpellier, to the sanctuary of Vicoforte, near Turin. The remains of Victor Emmanuel III were transferred two days later from Alexandria, and interred alongside hers.[4]

Beatification process

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In recognition of her great faith and the charitable activities she supported, Pope Pius XI bestowed on her the highest honour at that time for a woman, the Golden Rose of Christianity, twice, in 1930 and 1937. In 2001, on the occasion of the opening of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the death of Queen Elena, the bishop of Montpellier opened the diocesan process for her beatification.[5] With the opening of her cause, she has been accorded the title Servant of God.

Children

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King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and Queen Elena had 5 children:

  1. Princess Yolanda Margherita Milena Elisabetta Romana Maria of Savoy (1901–1986), married to Giorgio Carlo, Count Calvi di Bergolo (1888–1978), with issue;
  2. Princess Mafalda Maria Elisabetta Anna Romana of Savoy (1902–1944), married to Prince Philipp of Hesse (1896–1980) with issue;
  3. Prince Umberto Nicola Tommaso Giovanni Maria of Savoy, Prince of Piedmont, later Umberto II, King of Italy (1904–1983) married Princess Marie José of Belgium (1906–2001), with issue.
  4. Princess Giovanna Elisabetta Antonia Romana Maria of Savoy (1907–2000), married to Boris III, King of Bulgaria (1894–1943), with issue;
  5. Princess Maria Francesca Anna Romana of Savoy (1914–2001), who married Prince Luigi of Bourbon-Parma (1899–1967), with issue.

Arms and monogram

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Honours

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National

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Foreign

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References

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  1. ^ a b c ELENA di Savoia, regina d'Italia. di Isabella Bellini – Enciclopedia Italiana (1932)
  2. ^ Durland, Kellogg: Royal romances of to-day, New York, Duffield, 1911
  3. ^ Paolo Griseri (17 December 2017). "Il fascismo, le leggi razziali, la fuga". La Repubblica. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  4. ^ Nicole Winfield. "Remains of Exiled Italian King to be Returned after 70 years". ABC News. Archived from the original on 17 December 2017. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  5. ^ "28 novembre – Serva di Dio Elena di Savoia, Regina d'Italia". forum.termometropolitico.it. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "SAVOIA". Genmarenostrum.com. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  7. ^ "König Vittorio Emanuele III. und Königin Elena von Italien, King and Queen of Italy". Flickr.com. 14 June 2009. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  8. ^ "Official Visit Of The House Of Savoy To Pius Xi Pictures". Getty Images. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  9. ^ "Photographic image". Imgc.allpostersimages.com. Archived from the original (JPG) on 26 October 2017. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  10. ^ "Photographic image" (JPG). Numismaticatrionfale.com. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  11. ^ "Ritter-orden", Hof- und Staatshandbuch der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie, Vienna: Druck und Verlag der K.K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1918, p. 328
  12. ^ "Mussolini In Spotlight Over Affair Claims Pictures". Getty Images. Archived from the original on 16 April 2016. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  13. ^ "The Glittering Casa Savoia, a selection of Italian royal pictures (4)". Angelfire.com. 1 January 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2016.[self-published source]
  14. ^ "The Glittering Casa Savoia, a selection of Italian royal pictures (6)". Angelfire.com. 1 January 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2016.[self-published source]
  15. ^ "Български: Азбучник на ордена "Свети Александър", 1912–1935 г., XIII том".
  16. ^ "صفحه پیدا نشد | دوران قاجار". Archived from the original on 11 May 2020. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  17. ^ 刑部芳則 (2017). 明治時代の勲章外交儀礼 (PDF) (in Japanese). 明治聖徳記念学会紀要. p. 157.
  18. ^ "The Royals Of Italy After A Reception On Campidoglio Pictures". Getty Images. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
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  Media related to Elena of Montenegro at Wikimedia Commons

Elena of Montenegro
Born: 8 January 1873 Died: 28 November 1952
Italian royalty
Preceded by Queen consort of Italy
29 July 1900 – 9 May 1946
Succeeded by
Ethiopian royalty
Preceded by Empress consort of Ethiopia
(Not internationally recognised)
9 May 1936 – 5 May 1941
Succeeded by
Albanian royalty
Preceded by Queen consort of Albania
16 April 1939 – 8 September 1943
Title abolished