“King Umberto and I abstained from voting.”
This interview with the last Queen of Italy was made in the Summer of 1996, when Maria José had been back from Mexico for a year. She had lived there since 1991 in a house in Cuernavaca surrounded by eucalyptus plants and bougainvillea as the guest of her daughter Maria Beatrice and son-in-law Luis Reyna. At the time, it was said that she had left Switzerland over a series of disagreements with her son Vittorio Emanuele and daughter Maria Gabriella. Now Maria José is back in Geneva in Vittorio Emanuele’s home. As a sign of this newfound harmony, we find her surrounded by the entire family – her son, her daughter-in-law Marina, her grandson Emanuele Filiberto, and her daughter Maria Gabriella, all of whom live in Geneva. After her Mexican sojourn and the grief over the tragic death of her young grandson, Maria Beatrice’s son, the Queen seems to have once again found a bit of tranquillity in Europe.
Do you remember how you spent 2 June 1946?
With my conscience perfectly at peace.
How did the King react to the results?
I have to say that the first results from the referendum were favourable to the monarchy, as Alcide De Gasperi communicated to us through the Minister of the Royal House, Falcone Lucifero.
Was the King convinced that fraud had taken place during the counting of the referendum ballots?
The successive developments with the counting of the ballots certainly surprised everyone. But this is more of an issue having to do with historic research and the verification of documents.
Was the monarchy or the republic better in that moment for the good of Italy?
All I can do is remind you of the King’s message upon leaving Italy – better to be subjected to abuse of power than see more Italian blood spilled.
For whom did you and the King vote during the referendum?
We abstained from the vote.
How did the King feel in that moment when he realised he’d lost the throne?
The King responded to this question many times on his own.
In some biographies it is said that Umberto II was a king condemned or perhaps ready to accept defeat. Do you agree?
Absolutely not. He would have been an excellent king because, above all, he loved Italy.
Some historians criticise the Savoys for being weak against Fascism. Do you agree?
No. I don’t know how many of these historians can identify with what was happening in Italy in 1922.
When you left to go into exile, how did your close collaborators act? Were they all loyal or did they go over to the winning side?
Some were loyal and others weren’t. As always happens in these situations.
What is the last image of Italy that you remember?
I left Italy on board the ship Duca degli Abruzzi with my children. We all looked out at the Bay of Naples for the last time together from the bridge of the ship.
Many politicians in Italy would like to eliminate the constitutional ban that prevents the Savoys from returning to Italy. After fifty years, do you think this is an act of justice or a mockery that comes too late?
We are on the cusp of the year 2000. In two months, I will turn ninety, and I hope God lets me live long enough to see and be present the day my son and grandson can return.
You were allowed to return to Italy. Do you consider that a privilege?
I was very happy to return to Italy, a country I learned to love from a young age. But now I hope that this chance is given to all of the Savoys. I believe that exiles and banishments are regulations that don’t belong in a democracy and are far from Christian compassion.
La Stampa. June 1st, 1996