While he was heir apparent, holding the title of Prince of Naples, the future King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy was sent off to attend military studies in Naples. It was there, upon going out into the world, that he met a beautiful young woman, the princess M. It is he who tells this story.
She was beautiful and extremely wealthy. Unfortunately, she was an orphan and living under the guardianship of her aunt and uncle who, until her marriage, were in full control of her immense fortune.
As she approached adulthood and was expected to marry, it was they who picked out a fiancé to their liking. The said fiancé promised in writing that he would not interfere with the administration of the young lady’s fortune, which would continue to be managed by her aunt and uncle.
She did not love her fiancé, but she was obliged to marry him. They remained together only a short time. However, long enough for the prince of Naples to cement his friendship with the unfortunate young woman, who did not have many friends. He then went on leave to visit his parents. When he returned, he learned that the young princess M. had died suddenly.
What had happened? From what he could gather, she had gone to the castle to visit her aunt and uncle and returned in excruciating pain. And very quickly, some hours later, she died, her skin covered in black spots.
Her aunt and uncle were so powerful that no one dared to publicly question them about what caused her death. There was no autopsy, no investigation. She was buried in haste, and her aunt and uncle were able to enjoy her immense fortune, in peace.
What could have happened? Had her husband expressed reluctance to obey her aunt and uncle? Or had their greed grown to the point that they wanted to get their hands on her entire fortune, without the obstacle, no matter how innocent, that the young princess posed?
In her will, she had indeed left her entire fortune to her beloved aunt and uncle. The public indignation rose like a volcano, but it was impossible to find neither witnesses nor accusers; the uncle was too powerful, he was feared. And then there was the prenuptial agreement that left control of the fortune to him. No one dared to insist. People just let it go.
Two months later, the prince of Naples, still stunned by the sudden and dramatic death of his friend, returned to her residence late one night. He wasn’t thinking of princess M. as he passed in front of her palace, where he had so often visited her. He discretely noticed a woman on the first floor, leaning out over the balcony. He didn’t give her a second look, finding it all very normal. Then, after travelling some distance, he remembered an odd detail. Behind the woman leaning over the balcony, the shutters were closed. So, how was she able to get out onto the balcony?
He retraced his steps, stopped in the middle of the road, and lifted his eyes. The woman was still there. He recognized the young princess M., his friend that had been laid to rest two months prior. His eyes were fixed on hers, and her sad expression seemed to call out to him, to ask him something. Victor-Emmanuel, frozen by this vision, remained still for several minutes, while the young woman slowly bowed down to him. He took pleasure in noticing every detail. She was dressed in white, but her hands and face were covered in dark marks, the ones she had when she died. He noticed a large ruby on one of her fingers, one he had never seen before, and suddenly, she disappeared. He stood alone in the middle of the road, his eyes fixed on the empty balcony with the closed shutters.
“We, the House of Savoy, aren’t cowards, but at that moment, I learned what fear was. My knees trembled beneath me, and it was with great difficulty that I managed to return home. May God keep me from ever having such an experience again. After that night, I insisted on the details of the death of Princess M… I was told that, for some inexplicable reason, she was buried wearing the magnificent ruby I had seen on her finger.”
P.S. The details of the ghost that had such a profound effect on the future Victor-Emmanuel III were recounted to me by his grand-daughter, Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, who heard the story directly from her family.
Extract from the memoirs of Mrs Hugh Fraser “A Diplomat’s Wife in Many Lands.”