Queen Dona Maria Pia remembered

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

When criticised by the Portuguese parliament over her lavish and extravagant lifestyle, Portugal’s penultimate Italian queen, Dona Maria Pia, remarked: “If they want a queen then they’ll damn well have to pay for one”.

The feisty fashion icon of the 19th century was also reputed to have said of the Duke of Saldanha, who forced her husband’s hand in nominating him effective prime minister in 1870 after surrounding the palace with troops, “if were the King, I’d have him shot”.

She was, for all her spend-thriftiness, much beloved by the Portuguese people because of her extensive charitable works and never really recovered from the trials and tribulations of having to go into exile, where she died in Italy 100 years ago.

Last week, a round of lectures and seminars into the Life and Times of Maria Pia was launched at the queen’s former residence, the Ajuda Palace by expert and palace director, Isabel Silveira Godinho, who gave an entertaining lecture on her growing up, betrothal and marriage by proxy in Italy and arrival in Portugal as the wife of King Luís I.

Born in Turin on October 16, 1847, Maria Pia de Saboia would later be known in her adopted country as ‘The Angel of Charity’ and the ‘Mother to the Poor’. During the opening commemorations, 200 assembled guests were able to admire some of the original gifts and dowry pieces given to the princess on the occasion of her marriage, including several gold and enamel pieces inspired by classical antiquity, enclosed in an exquisite chest.

Even Queen Victoria of England sent an expensive bracelet with inset cameos which, like all the other gifts, had the price tag attached! No doubt for insurance purposes.

Maria Pia was the second daughter of King Victor Emanuel II of Sardinia and Piemonte who in 1861 became king of a united Italy.

Her eldest sister married a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, and most of her other siblings either became monarchs or married monarchs.

Marking the anniversary of her death, Ajuda Palace will also be holding a number of conferences on various aspects of Portugal during the second half of the 19th century and the transition to the 20th century.

The queen’s personality, her history and times, the politics of the era, and the customs and fashions will also be discussed.

The timetable for other conferences can be found at