Victoria Eugenie Julia Ena, Queen of Spain, was born on October 24, 1887, at Balmoral. She was the first Royal Princess to be born in Scotland for 287 years and the only grandchild of Queen Victoria to be born in a year which celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of her reign. As the only girl in the family, she was adored by her father, Prince Henry of Battenberg, and her closest friends in her girlhood were her grandmother, Queen Victoria, and her godmother the Empress Eugenie. The Jubilee Baby, as Queen Victoria called her, inherited from her grandmother the love of animals. From her brothers – Alexander (known in the family as “Drino”), Leopold and Maurice – she learned to sit on a horse, to manage a boat and to wield a rod. Her father taught her to take an interest in various phases of philanthropic work connected with the Isle of Wight where her grandfather, Prince Albert, had built a holiday home. After the death of her father, she assisted and later relieved her mother of most of her duties. In 1905 she became a débutante and, accompanied her mother and Princess Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg, wherever she went she was acclaimed for her beauty and unaffected charm. Towards the close of her first season – while still in the first bloom of womanhood – the King of Spain, Don Alfonso, crossed the path of the young Princess, when he came to England as the guest of King Edward VII. At twenty-two, Don Alfonso was confident, intelligent and charming, an accomplished horseman and the epitome of a chivalrous knight – it was a small wonder then that he stole the heart of the beautiful British princess.
Don Alfonso was born on May 17, 1886, six months after his father’s death. He was acclaimed as the King of Spain at the moment of his birth. His mother, as Queen Regent, looked at the birth of her son as a sacred gift from her beloved dead husband. A few days later the christening took place in the Chapel of the Palace, and in gracious Spanish fashion, the Gallery of the Palace was opened by the order of Queen Christina so that even the poorest could witness the procession to and from the Chapel Royal. This was in a true democratic style. As at her husband’s burial, her daughters Mercedes and Maria Teresa stood by her – only this time to rejoice at the birth of a brother. The love of Don Alfonso and Princess Ena was soon an open secret and was rapturously received by the press and the people in both Britain and Spain. Their courtship was truly romantic and caught the public’s imagination. An idyllic couple, they exchanged small gifts and carved their names on the trees in the park.
On January 24, the neighbourhood of the Villa Mouriscot just inside the French border was crowded with motor cars, carriage and people on horseback assembled for the arrival of the King. From early in the morning newspaper reporters were chasing officials heading in the direction of the border town of Jean de Luz, hoping to see Don Alfonso. They soon spotted him in one of the powerful royal cars which carried him to Biarritz where he was met by Prince Alexander of Battenberg who accompanied him to the Salon where Princess Frederica of Hanover, Princess Henry of Battenberg and his beloved Ena welcomed him. The formalities over, Don Alfonso made his request for the hand of Princess Victoria Eugenie and that afternoon the party left the Mouriscot for a drive to give the Spanish population of Biarritz the chance to see the King and his future Queen.
On Friday, 27th January, Princess Victoria Eugenie in the company of King Alfonso, Princess Henry of Battenberg, the Marques de Viana and the Marques de Villalobar arrived in Spain to be greeted, at the Palace of Miramar in San Sebastian, by Queen Maria Cristina. That was their first meeting and the Queen warmly embraced her future daughter-in-law. Victoria Eugenie had to leave her future husband to return to Britain, but they were not apart for too long. It had been arranged for King Edward VII to spend some time in Biarritz and Ena would join her uncle. King Alfonso ordered that the apartment which would be occupied by Victoria Eugenie and her mother should be filled by masses of ferns which were to be sent daily from Valencia and Murcia. The two lovers also spent three idyllic weeks in the Isle of Wight. They went for country walks, picnics, family dinner parties – the couple’s privacy was preserved as the visit of King Alfonso was regarded as strictly private. Later Alfonso left for London to spend a few days with his beloved at Buckingham Palace . In England, as in Spain, the roads were jammed with people who had come to cheer and catch a glimpse of the betrothed.
On 7th March, Princess Victoria Eugenie was received into the Roman Church and at the request of the Queen-Mother, her sponsor, she took the additional names of “ Maria Cristina”. The wedding took place on Thursday, the 31st May, – a beautiful sunny day in Madrid. The Princess had retired early the night before and was awoken at dawn. An ancient Spanish custom was revived and a guard kept watch over the sleep of the Royal bride – the Duke de Lecera discharged this duty. At half-past six King Alfonso, wearing the uniform of an admiral, attended mass with Victoria Eugenie at the Prado Palace; he then took his bride-to-be to the Ministry of Marine where the Princess was dressed in her bridal robe. Queen Maria Cristina placed the bridal veil – of beautiful Alençon lace – over Victoria Eugenie. It had been worn by the Queen herself on her wedding to King Alfonso XII. Spanish custom requires that the bridegroom present the bride with her wedding dress, a custom that prevails in all ranks of society whether the husband be nobleman or commoner.
Advised and aided by his mother, the King had forty Spanish women embroidering the wonderful dress and mantle. The style of the dress was Louis Seize – the richest white satin and cloth of silver, trimmed with magnificent rose point. The beautiful mantle hung from the shoulders in Watteau pleats and was four-and-a-half metres long; the cloth of silver was sown with small fleurs-de-lis, the Bourbon emblem. Madrid was celebrating, brilliantly decorated with banners and shields with heraldic designs – the arms of Spain, Castile and Britain were everywhere. The streets were lined with people who wanted to take part in this great day along with the royal couple and all the Princes of Europe who had come to attend the wedding. The Church of San Geronimo had been chosen. The King’s procession was led by an Aide-de-Camp on horseback, followed by a mounted train of trumpeters, drummers, outriders and equerries. A cavalcade of horses represented the various regiments of which King Alfonso was Colonel. Then came the magnificent vehicles of the Grandees of Spain. Princess Victoria Eugenie waited to start until the head of the king’s procession had reached the Chamber of Deputies, and from there the procession became one.
The procession was breathtaking – not so much a military display as a royal progress in which the state coach represented the dynasty’s passage through the ages and its greatness and power. The Grandees each wore the splendid uniform of a maistrante – the military brotherhoods founded in the days of the Crusades. The carriages were drawn by plumed and splendid horses. King Alfonso arrived at the church at 10.35, wearing full costume – white satin breeches, patent-leather shoes and gold spurs. At quarter-past eleven, the band struck up the British National Anthem, and minutes later the bridal procession slowly advanced – Queen Cristina clasping Victoria Eugenie’s hand, while Princess Henry of Battenberg was half a pace behind on her daughter’s right. The marriage Service began, officiated by the Archbishop of Toledo, Cardinal Sancha, assisted by Dr. Brindle, the Bishop of Nottingham. n When it came to King Alfonso to answer the identical question to which Victoria Eugenie has already answered – “I desire”, “I consent” and “I accept” – the Princess betrayed emotion and looked towards her mother. The Bridal Mass began, the King and his new Queen kneeling as music filled the church. After the couple signed the Registry, each couple bowed and curtsied to the King and Queen – according to Spanish Court etiquette – in order of precedence, beginning with the lowest, . Then it was the turn of the Queen Mother to pay homage to her son and his bride, both of whom rose and returned the salutation. Just before midday, cannon announced to all that the King and Queen had left the church. The crowd assembled outside burst into cries of joy when, at last, they saw the coach of the Royal Crown containing the young couple, drawn by eight horses with nodding white plumes . Victoria Eugenie and Don Alfonso had won the hearts of the Spanish people. In far away Britain in the meanwhile, King Edward had commanded that the bells of St George’s Chapel, as well as those of Windsor Parish Church, rang merry peals in honour of the bride who has spent so many happy days with the late Queen Victoria.
But what had been an outpouring of joy turned into a cry of horror and anger, for that memorable day was marred by a terrible atrocity. The royal coach had just reached Calle Mayor when a bomb was hurled from one of the upper stories of a house. The bomb, enclosed in a bouquet, fell to the right of the carriage and exploded with terrific force, spreading death and destruction. Several were killed and many wounded; one of the horses was killed and the carriage was damaged – but, as if by a miracle, the King and Queen escaped unhurt. The King later gave details of what had happened: “The Royal carriage was proceeding very slowly and Victoria Eugenie, touched by the cheering of the crowd, bent her head towards the window of the carriage, waving with her hand on the right side.” On reaching Plaza de la Villa, Alfonso told his young bride that from then on the crowd would be on the other side of the coach. This saved her life as she bent towards her husband to be able to wave people on the left, turning away from the missile which was hurled to the left of the carriage.
The newlyweds transferred to the Carriage of Respect and Don Alfonso tried to turn Eugenie away from the dead and wounded but that was impossible as the carnage was everywhere. Again the King asked his bride if she was injured and she just replied: “No, I am not wounded, I was only thinking of you.” The terrible news had already reached the guest who had preceded the royal couple to the Palace. One of the guests pointed out to the King that this was the anniversary of the attempt in the Rue de Rohan in Paris when an anarchist threw a bomb at the President’s carriage carrying Don Alfonso and Monsieur Emile Loubet after a night at the Opera. He replied rather laconically: “Yes, I remember . . . I notice that the bomb has grown”. The day after the wedding King Alfonso drove to the hospital to visit the injured. On Friday the funeral of the Marquesa de Tolosa and her niece took place – both killed by the bomb. From all over the world messages of sympathy were sent to the King and Queen to express sorrow for the tragedy that had hit Spain on a day that had seemed to be made in Heaven. The very next day, the King and Queen – without escort – drove through the streets of Madrid to meet and reassure the people. That act of trust in his subjects won praise for Alfonso all over Europe. (Royalty Magazine Vol.1409)