Princess Mafalda of Savoy was a glamorous princess who met a very tragic end. I suggest you grab a box of tissues before reading more.
Mafalda of Savoy was born on November 19th, 1902, in Rome. She was the second daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, and his wife, Elena of Montenegro. I’ve done a lot of research on both sides of Mafalda’s family before I even decided to write this. I’ve mainly researched Margherita of Savoy, Mafalda’s paternal grandmother, and Mafalda’s mother, Elena of Montenegro. Those two women were the first two queens of Italy.
After Italy was (finally) unified, the King of Piedmont-Sardinia was pretty much the one who annexed all the other little kingdoms on the peninsula. It’s a very complicated matter and would take about 3,000-ish posts to talk about, but the only thing that’s important when studying Mafalda is the fact that Italy was unified, and the King of Piedmont-Sardinia was the King of Italy.
So who was the King of Piedmont-Sardinia? King Victor Emmanuel II, Mafalda’s great- grandpa. By the way, the kings of Italy didn’t start their numbering over, meaning that King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia didn’t become Victor Emmanuel I of Italy. He was still Victor Emmanuel II. Then, once he died, his son, Umberto I, succeeded him. And another “by the way”, their dynasty was called the “House of Savoy”, which is where Mafalda gets her title, “Mafalda of Savoy”.
Umberto’s wife, Margherita of Savoy, was his first cousin if you can’t tell from her title. They had a very unhappy marriage, and only managed to have one son. After having that son, their duty was done and they continued to not get along. Who was that son? Mafalda’s father, Victor Emmanuel. Anyways, the monarchy was super unpopular, while Margherita was very popular. Margherita pretty much saved the monarchy from being abolished, but there was no way for her popularity to save her husband from being assassinated. King Umberto was doing a lot of stuff that makes me feel like he should’ve been assassinated: massacring protestors and awarding the general who ordered that the protestors should be fired on, trying to take Ethiopia while neglecting Italy’s trashed-up economy — stuff like that. So, in 1900, King Umberto I was assassinated.
This wasn’t one of those weird situations where the king gets killed and his son is still, like, five. Victor Emmanuel III was already in his thirties. He was happily married to Elena of Montenegro, a member of the royal family of Montenegro. Elena’s father, Prince Nicholas I of Montenegro, inherited the throne from his uncle, and in 1910, he made himself the first King of Montenegro. Elena’s older sister, Zorka, married the future King Peter I of Serbia. Her other older sisters, Milicia and Anastasia, were Russian grand duchesses and were the ones who introduced mystic Grigori Rasputin to Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra. While husband-hunting, Elena met Victor Emmanuel, then the heir to Italy, and they quickly fell in love and married. They had a much happier marriage than Margherita and Umberto’s, even though there were no children for the first few years of their marriage.
Before Victor Emmanuel III became King of Italy, they hadn’t had any children. After his ascension, Elena was pregnant every year or so. In 1901, Yolanda of Savoy was born. After Yolanda came Princess Mafalda Maria Elisabetta Anna Romana of Savoy, which is a ton of names. In 1904, Elena and Victor Emmanuel had their first and only son, Umberto. After Umberto, two more sisters were born. First came Giovanna, who married Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria — that marriage becomes a teensy bit important to Mafalda’s story, don’t forget it. The couple’s last child, Maria Francesca, was born in 1914, and she married a Prince of Bourbon-Parma.
Now that we’ve met her siblings and her family, let’s (finally) meet Mafalda. Mafalda was the Italian version of the name “Matilda”, which meant “mighty in battle”. Mafalda’s very well-educated mother, Elena, loved music, poetry, and art. Mafalda, who was very close to her mother, wrote her own poetry. I’m sure Elena would’ve loved to read her daughter’s poems. Mafalda was a very energetic and bright young girl.
During World War I, Queen Elena served as a nurse and sold signed photos of herself to raise money for the war effort. Teenage Mafalda often went to visit wounded soldiers with her mother. I like to think that Mafalda learned a lot from her mother, and could come up with solutions that were just as creative as Elena’s.
Mafalda had a very happy childhood and early life. She had crushes on many royal relatives, but she ended up marrying Prince Philipp, the Landgrave of Hesse. A Landgrave is a sort of duke, but German noble titles are confusing, as I’ve said in countless other posts. Philipp (which is spelled with two p’s at the end) was the grandson of Frederick III, the German Emperor. Fun fact: Frederick III had been married to Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria. Just like most of us, Mafalda was born after Queen Victoria’s death, so yeah, fun fact. Philipp had five brothers and no sisters. His two older brothers fought and died in World War I. Philipp also fought. Just remember that: royalty wasn’t spared the horrors of war.
Three fun facts about Philipp: He had a twin brother, Moritz, and his father, Frederick Charles, was elected King of Finland. How, exactly? Well, Finland became independent after the Russian Revolution (it had previously been part of Russia), and they decided they wanted a King. They chose Frederick Charles, for some reason, and he became King of Finland… for about two months. Also, Philipp’s mother, Margaret, was the daughter of Kaiser Frederick III and Victoria, Princess Royal. That made Margaret the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and the sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Mafalda and Philipp met, and even though their families had fought on opposing sides of World War I, and that he was Protestant and she was Catholic, they fell in love. They quickly got married. Philipp may have been bisexual, and probably had an affair with a British poet. Looks like he liked poets. That was probably before marriage because he seems to have loved Mafalda. They had four children: Moritz, Henrich, Otto, and Elisabeth. They were born in 1926, 1927, 1937, and 1940, respectively. Elisabeth, the last child, was born in 1940, just before the horrors of the Second World War would knock on the Hesse family’s door.
During World War I, life went on for just about everyone except those who got involved. Those who died and commanded the conflict were just about the only ones impacted by it. The royals who were toppled in the aftermath certainly were impacted, but most of them (except the Romanovs) were allowed to keep their heads and go live in exile.
But this time, we can all agree that it was different. This time, a weird guy with an even weirder mustache was causing trouble. This time, the Nazis were here. In 1930, Philipp had joined the Nazi Party. In 1932, he joined the SA. His younger brother later joined the SS. They were royals, so they had some contact with Hitler himself. And Hitler despised Mafalda. She was called “the worst bitch in the entire Italian royal house” by the Minister of Propaganda. Poor Mafalda. They grew more and more suspicious of her once Benito Mussolini, now the leader of Italy even though Mafalda’s father was still around, sided with the Axis (which, by the way, meant that Italy was allied with Germany). They thought she was working against them with the Italians or something like that.
So, what was going on for Mafalda’s parents in Italy? Disaster. The Italian economy wasn’t doing so well, and there was no way the country was ready for the war Mussolini had dragged them into. The king, Victor Emmanuel III, still held enough power to pretty much fire Mussolini and begin negotiating with the Allies. Italy was pretty much not a part of World War II anymore (I say “pretty much” because the whole thing was very complex, but all you need to know is that Italy wasn’t fighting anymore). On September 8th, 1943, the royal family said “we’re not fighting anymore, sorry if you’ve been having fun.”
Well, Hitler wasn’t happy that his powerful ally, Italy, wasn’t fighting for him anymore. And while Italy was still Hitler’s ally, it had done a lot of stuff to piss him off. One of the biggest things? Jews had been living in Italy for a while, and Mussolini wasn’t killing and deporting them as much as Hitler would’ve liked. After the Italians made peace, Hitler held northern Italy and persecuted all the Jews he wanted. Southern Italy was like, “no”, which continued to piss Hitler off.
Where was Mafalda when this whole mess was going on? In Bulgaria. Well, if you’re like me when I researched this, you’re utterly confused. Why would an Italian princess go to Bulgaria? Well, it’s because her younger sister, Giovanna, had married Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria. Tsar Boris had died recently, and kind and caring Mafalda decided to go comfort her sister. While in Bulgaria, she was told that Italy had pretty much stopped fighting and she learned of her family’s situation. Her children were safe in the Vatican, but Philipp had been arrested, and Hitler was just waiting for the perfect moment to get Mafalda behind bars as well.
The Nazis took one look at thin, innocent Mafalda, and were like: “Oh my God, ENEMY.” Rome’s German police commissioner told her that her husband had left her a super-important, not-to-be-seen-by-anyone-else message and that she should come to Rome immediately to collect it. Mafalda said goodbye to her sister and made her way to Rome. Mafalda was already trying to get out of Bulgaria to see her family again. She wasn’t expecting what happened next, not at all.
Mafalda got to see her children once before she was arrested. Why? Hitler said that Mafalda had known about the peace her parents made with the Allies and that Mafalda should’ve told them. She was sent to Munich and Berlin, where she was questioned, then to Buchenwald concentration camp. A woman named “Frau von Weber” was sent to the camp, who was, of course, Mafalda. Some thought she was just the ordinary Frau von Weber. Others knew she was Mafalda of Savoy, Landgravine of Hesse. Prince Philipp of Hesse was also sent to a concentration camp, because if they threw Mafalda away, Philipp had to join her in the garbage can.
In shack number 15, Mafalda was miserable. She had never weighed very much and had always been thin, but now, her situation was much worse. She was given food, but it wasn’t good quality food, and most of us know what happens when we eat trashy food when we’re not used to it. Mafalda definitely would’ve suffered stomach pains, and she must have felt terribly hungry. She didn’t even weigh a hundred pounds. The poor woman must have had terrible headaches.
The Allies bombed the camp’s ammunition factory on August 24th, 1944, which seems like a pretty dumb move to me. Mafalda and the others hid in an open trench, which also seems like a pretty dumb move, but they didn’t have anywhere else to go. Once the bombings were over, lots of lives were over as well. Mafalda was one of the lucky ones who survived.
But Mafalda was badly wounded. Her left arm was completely gone (there’s no word to describe how terrible it was). Mafalda might have been gravely wounded, but she was still alive. The Italian princess who never did anything terrible enough to deserve it would have to suffer to death. Mafalda knew that she wasn’t going to live much longer.
Mafalda, who was in bad shape and had no hope of recovering, was taken to the camp’s brothel/infirmary. I’m not even joking, the brothel and the infirmary were the same place in this concentration camp. Hitler, who had not an ounce of humanity in him, did not allow Mafalda to be operated on until a few days later.
The wound turned gangrenous, and the surgeons in the infirmary (who weren’t even real surgeons) knew that they had to amputate Mafalda’s right arm. They might not have been real surgeons, but they knew that they had to amputate her arm.
On the night of August 26th, 1944, Mafalda was operated on. It must have been very painful for Mafalda. Maybe it’s good that she did not live much longer. She bled out and died on the night of August 26th and 27th. She was just forty-one. Her forty-second birthday would’ve been in a few months.
Hitler had wanted her and her family out of the way, so it was said that he had just let Mafalda bleed out and die. Seriously, this guy was more brutal than I thought. I think I’ll get a large portrait of Mafalda and smack him in the head with it.
Mafalda’s husband was still alive and was being held at the Flossenbürg concentration camp, and later Dachau. After the war’s end, he was held prisoner by the Allies but was eventually released. He died in 1980. All of Mafalda’s children lived long lives.
And Mafalda was dead, gone, and forgotten. The good and loving little princess who didn’t do anything wrong had suffered until she died. I think I’m going to cry real tears now.