Sunday, August 5, 2018

Luxarazzi 101: Prince Consort Felix - Early Years

He was the longest serving consort of Luxembourg, as well as the first and only person who has married a reigning monarch of the Grand Duchy. Today we begin the first in a four-part series about the Luxembourg's first - and to this date only - male consort, Felix of Bourbon-Parma.

Bourbon-Parma family c. 1894
Felix is the baby in the center of the photo
Felix was born on September 28, 1893, in Schwarzau am Steinfeld, Austria, near the border of what is today the Czech Republic. He was the sixth child of Robert, the deposed Duke of Parma, by his second wife Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal. Robert claimed descent from both the French and Italian royal families. The couple had a total of twelve children in addition to the twelve Robert had with his first wife Maria Pia, an Italian princess. The large family made their home at a string of various properties in Austria, France, and Italy. Though his father considered the family first and foremost French, Felix and his siblings grew up speaking Italian, French, Portuguese, English, German, and Spanish, a reflection of their mixed lineage and cosmopolitan upbringing. 

Felix as a soldier during
the First World War
Felix was born into a family notable not only for its size, but also its wealth – Robert was able to retain a great deal of his capital and properties despite the loss of his ducal throne. The family moved among the various homes via a personal train with sixteen coaches carrying their belongings. Several of Felix’s half-siblings were born with mental disabilities, which later caused legal battles among his siblings over the control of power and money within the family. 

The sibling closest in age to Felix was Zita, who later became the last Austrian Empress. Among his other siblings and half-siblings were Maria Luisa, princess consort of Bulgaria; Xavier, Carlist pretender to the Spanish throne; and Sixtus, the engineer of a failed attempt at peace negotiations during World War I. Felix also descended from the Portuguese royal family through his mother. Maria Antonia was the sister of Maria Ana, the consort of Grand Duke Wilhelm IV of Luxembourg. This gave Felix and his siblings many cousins, including Wilhelm’s six daughters. Duke Robert died in November 1907, shortly after Felix’s fourteenth birthday.

Felix was educated together with his siblings at home by various private tutors. At the age of ten, he was sent to Stella Matutina, a Jesuit school in Feldkirch. He continued his education in Brixen (Tyrol) where he lived with the Countess Kinsky, at a Jesuit school in Vienna before receiving his Matura certificate at a school in Mödling, Lower Austria. Afterwards, Felix was sent to England where he attended Stonyhurst College to prepare for his future university studies. Felix intended to attend Oxford University but during his summer holidays in Austria, World War I broke out.

Prince Felix in 1917
Felix then attended the Viennese Military Academy before enlisting in the Austrian Army as "Felix Bourbon" with his brother René at the outbreak of the war. He served as an officer in the Austrian 15th Dragoons, seeing combat mostly in Italy. The war divided the family, as at least two of Felix’s brothers served in the Belgian Army. From the outset of the war, Felix stated that while he had no fears of combat he would not fight against the French, whom he considered his countrymen. 

Felix was noted by his fellow soldiers for his competent command and brave service, earning both the Medal for Bravery and the Iron Cross. In 1918, he saved the Austrian Emperor (Karl, his brother-in-law) from drowning after Karl's boat capsized in the fast-moving Isonzo river. While several man drowned, Felix held the Emperor's head above the water so both could be pulled back to safety. While receiving a medal for his bravery, he did not like discussing the incident for the rest of life considering it his natural duty. Felix officially left the Austrian Army on November 5, 1918, shortly before the signing of the Armistice ending the war.

Despite the great wealth of the Bourbon-Parma family, Felix’s personal holdings were quite modest. This was due to the fact that Robert’s fortune went mostly to his disabled eldest son Enrico, but was controlled by Felix’s half-brother Elias. As a younger son, Felix had little inheritance or political power, forcing him to make his way through life by his own means. 

Felix and Charlotte
at the time of their engagement
Felix had long been close to his cousin Charlotte, of whom he was two years older. The exact circumstances of courtship and date of the actual engagement between Charlotte and Felix are unclear. The union may have been at least partially engineered by the bride's mother Maria Ana; the engagement of Charlotte's sister Antonia to the much older Rupprecht of Bavaria was deeply unpopular with the French due to the war. Although Felix fought with the Axis powers during the war, he had significant and direct ties to French royalty as well. His refusal to fight against French troops may also have helped appease Luxembourgish and French anger toward the marriage. During the war, Prince Felix had made headlines in Luxembourg after a leaked telegram mentioned him as one of the first Austrian to enter the city during the Siege of Przemyśl, the longest siege of World War I. Prince Felix, however, was nowhere near Przemyśl during the time.

There is plenty of indication that Charlotte and Felix also married for love. The two were rumored to have become much closer following the wedding of Felix’s sister Zita and future Emperor Karl of Austria in 1911. The couple may have become engaged during the war, but kept this news quiet due to Felix’s position in the Austrian Army and the German occupation of Luxembourg. Multiple news sources of the time note the engagement as early as 1915. The couple got officially engaged on October 6, 1918, though only their families knew at the time. Pope Benedict XV provided a dispensation in December 1918 allowing the couple to marry. This was necessary as Felix and Charlotte were first cousins.

Following the engagement announcement, Charlotte issued a statement insisting that the marriage was indeed a love match. She made it clear that she was not forced into the engagement by anyone, and that she was interested in marrying only Felix. Felix is noted as requesting permission from the Allied occupiers to visit Charlotte in Luxembourg as early as January 1919. He again requested permission in August 1919, yet he was not allowed to travel to the Grand Duchy until mid October. 

The wedding was formally announced on October 30, 1919, and set to take place at Château de Berg out of concern for possible protests of the marriage based on Felix's war service. However, the couple was persuaded to marry in Luxembourg City instead in hopes of raising the spirits of the people with a grand celebration. The wedding ceremonies marked the first time a reigning sovereign had married within the Grand Duchy and the first large celebration held in the country since the end of the war.

Felix officially became a Prince of Luxembourg on November 5, 1919, as a result of a grand ducal decree secured by a vote within the Chamber of Deputies after some debate. The next morning the civil ceremony was held at the Grand Ducal Palace with Luxembourg City Mayor Jean-Pierre Lucas (Luc) Housse presiding. As was typical for a civil ceremony, the gathering was small, simple, and attended only by a limited group of the couple's immediate family and a few government officials.

The religious wedding was conducted later that day at Notre Dame Cathedral by Monsignor Sebastiano Nicotra, the Papal Nuncio to Luxembourg. Felix's brothers Sixtus and Xavier stood as witnesses to the wedding. While a large crowd of spectators was present outside the cathedral, there were reportedly few cheers when the couple emerged from the cathedral. The occupation of the Grand Duchy by Axis powers during the war clearly still stung in the hearts and minds of the people. Thankfully however, the day did not end on a sour note: during the reception at the Grand Ducal Palace, Felix and Charlotte were called to the balcony several times that evening to greet well-wishers.

No comments:

Post a Comment