We were relatively safe in Morocco, owing to its Spanish dependency and the neutral position of Franco. The same could not be said for the members of our family who were scattered throughout Europe.
Like everyone, royalty suffered during the war. The real drama for most of these dynasties was having family members and loved ones on both sides. Take for example my mother’s sister, Anne of France, French through and through. She married an Italian royal duke, and consequently found herself in the enemy camp of her country of origin. The same goes for my cousin Irene of Greece, Greek to the bottom of her soul. She married another Italian prince, the Duke of Spoletta, and passed the war on the side of the country that invaded her homeland.
There are countless examples stemming from the High Middle Ages, the era when princes and princesses began marrying foreigners for political and diplomatic reasons. Early on, the issue of allegiance wasn’t a problem. These princesses were trained to marry not only the prince, but his country as well. It was their duty to be faithful to their new home and never to betray it for the profit of their native land. They were also trained to deal with their personal suffering.
I was shocked to discover that during the war many means of communication existed that allowed parents to stay in contact with their children spread throughout the continent. The postal service was still active and the airlines still operated. This was how my grandmother, in the middle of the war, was able to fly to Italy to visit her daughter and sister, the dowager of Aosta. Of course, if these official means weren’t available, there were always the monarchies that remained neutral, like Sweden, who could deliver and transmit messages and news.
Royalty was ill prepared for the unforeseen. One day, the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, had Mussolini arrested and fled to Rome. He cut the alliance of Italy with Germany and threw himself and his country into the arms of the Allies. Unfortunately, Victor Emmanuel III didn’t tell anyone what he was planning on doing, which meant that a number of his relatives now found themselves living in enemy territory. Such was the case with my aforementioned aunts and cousins Anne and Irene, and their children, who were placed in detention in Germany. According to them, they were threatened with execution everyday.
Finally, the war cost the Italian monarchy its throne. This after being forced to accept Mussolini and the German alliance. Most of the members of the Italin royal family were anti-fascist and anti-German, but a referendum, most likely rigged, expelled them from the throne.
In the allied camp, the English crown gained a prestige it had never known following the war. The courage of the king and queen, their dignified attitude, their patriotism and fortitude made them immensely popular, more than their predecessors had ever been.
Many sovereigns decided to stay put and make do after being invaded by the Germans. In Denmark, Christian X strolled daily through Copenhagen, famously wearing the yellow star that the Jews were forced to wear. He was unanimously respected and admired.
The same cannot be said of Leopold III of Belgium, who also stayed behind to try to make the best of the situation. He was ultimately placed under house arrest in his palace, and soon found love in the figure of his children’s governess, Liliane Baels. Widowed, he remarried in the middle of the war. The Belgians never forgave him for putting his passion ahead of his country. A crisis followed at the end of the war, and while the monarchy didn’t fall, Leopold III was replaced in favor of his son, Baudouin.
Other rulers emigrated, carrying with them the flame of their native land. Queen Wilhelmina of Holland was welcomed with open arms in the United States. She was a guest of Roosevelt and stayed at the White House, where she found herself nose to nose with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. The Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg found refuge in Canada as her children fought alongside the Allies.
King Haakon of Norway resisted as much as he could. His son Olaf fought in the Norwegian resistance. They finally left, but their courage kept them extremely popular.
Almost all the monarchies were anti-Nazi and fought alongside the Allies, but the question of allegiance was a delicate one for German princes. Germany was their homeland, and the Wehrmacht was their army, in which they fought for their county. Hitler, for propaganda reasons, was very respectful of the old imperial dynasty of Hohenzollern. He had an honor guard stationed at the Holland Chateau while Kaiser Wilhelm II was aging in exile. He himself was rather reticent of Nazism, as opposed to one of his sons.
The Catholic princes were all against the Nazis. The crown prince Rupert of Bavaria fought in the resistance, his family was thrown into a concentration camp. The Württemberg’s were set to be executed by the Nazis, fortunately the order from Berlin arrived after the Allies. Certain protestant princes, however, welcomed the Nazi cause. They received important posts within the Reich; one was even named as director of a concentration camp. When the winds turned against Hitler, he expelled all of the princes from the army. He planned on eliminating them, only he didn’t have the time.
Photographs by Justin Creedy Smith.