Amalio III, Prince of Mantua

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Amalio III Sovereign Prince of Mantua
Amalio and his consort, Princess Sofia, 1975.
Reign 22 October 1925 - 5 May 1978
Investiture 26 October 1926
Predecessor Prince Juan María
Successor Fabiola, Princess of Mantua
Spouse Sofia de Saer
Issue Fabiola, Princess of Mantua
Princess Elida, Dowager Countess Agia
Royal House Montillet
Father Prince Juan María
Mother Marina del Viretta
Born 18 December 1893
Cavaletta Palace, Mantua
Died 5 May 1978 (Aged 85)
Villa Zeiler, Mantua
Buried Prince's Crypt, Basilica on the Rock, Mantua

Amalio III (Amalio Juan María Donato Pedro Fabio; 18 December 1893, Cavaletta Palace, Mantua - 5 May 1978, Villa Zeiler, Mantua) was the reigning Sovereign Prince of Mantua from 1925 until his death in 1978. He was best known for his playboy lifestyle, conservative views and his development and promotion of Mantua as a tourist destination. He was married to Sofia, Princess de Saer (1906 - 1995) for 45 years and was succeeded by his eldest daughter, Fabiola.

Early Life

Prince Amalio was born at the Cavaletta Palace at 12.30pm on the 18 December 1893, the eldest son of Prince Juan María and Marina del Viretta. He had four siblings; Carlos, later Baron de San Pablo (1895 - 1970), Princess Mafalda of Mantua (1897 - 1968), Prince Nicolás of Mantua (1899 - 1978) and Princess Fabiola of Mantua (1900 - 1998). He was baptised on Christmas Day at the Basilica on the Rock. The children were raised in the nursery of the Alcatadena Palace by a Ravarian governess, Fraulein Schteller but most of Amalio's early education was provided by a series of private tutors. Unlike his siblings, he was given additional tutoring in subjects such as constitutional law but did not attend university. Between the ages of 18 and 25, he served with the Imperial Alexandrian Navy eventually reaching the rank of Commodore. He returned to Mantua in 1918 and was given his own private residence in Debarros, the Villa Montillet. He became a member of the Royal Council at the age of 21 and carried out official duties from the age of 25 until his accession in 1925 at the age of 32.


In January 1925, Prince Juan María was diagnosed with throat cancer. As a result, an unofficial regency was established in which much of the day to day handling of state affairs was conducted by the Royal Council chaired by (as he then was) Hereditary Prince Amalio. This was not technically constitutional but as the diagnosis given to the Royal Court was optimistic, it was felt that there was no need to establish a formal regency via a bill in the National Council. The government supported this move and the Prince moved into the Cavaletta Palace so as to carry out the duties of the monarch from the Sovereign Prince's official residence. In September 1925 he hosted the official visit of Emperor Louis XVII of the Alexandrians, the first time he officially acted as the formal host to a foreign head of state. His father died suddenly at 7am on the 22 October 1925 at the age of 62. Amalio later said, "I had not expected to become head of state quite so soon. We all felt we had more time to prepare but those few months I had before my accession proved vital. I actually understood what was required and what was expected of me". The Prince was formally invested as Prince Amalio III on the 26 October 1926.

Marriage & Family

Amalio and his wife Sofia, pictured in 1948.

The Prince's marriage had been an issue of much speculation since his accession. He had turned 30 in 1923, long past the age when most members of the Princely Family had married. In fact, until his accession Amalio was having a relationship with Magdalena Rualez, daughter of the Keeper of the Prince's Treasury. Rualez was not considered suitable as a potential bride however and so upon his accession to the throne, Amalio ended the relationship. The Rualez family left court service in 1926 and moved permanently to Alexandria. In 1929, the Prince began a relationship with Doña Blanca De La Rosa, the daughter of the owener of the Hotel Palmeras in San Leopoldo. Whilst not his equal, De La Rosa was considered acceptable to the Royal Council in that she was Roman Catholic, had never been married before but was also well known in Mantuan society and was well liked. The Prince did make formal enquiries in 1932 as to whether he would be forced to contract a morganatic marriage with De La Rosa but before the Royal Council could formally reply (informal letters between members exist in the State Archives), the relationship had ended.

On 2 August 1932, the Prince met 26 year old Princess Sofia de Saer, a daughter of Alexandrian aristocrat Prince Andrés de Saer. The de Saers had been raised to Princes from Dukes sometime in the 16th century and were a wealthy and well respected family. Within 8 months, the Prince had formally asked for the Royal Council's permission to marry Sofia and the pair were married at the Basilica on the Rock, San Leopoldo en la Piedra on 4 April 1933. The couple spent their honeymoon on St George's Island where the Prince purchased a holiday villa for his wife, Sofia Lodge. The couple would regularly holiday there for the rest of their lives.

The couple had two children:-

Succession and Petty Abdications

Amalio III's Monogram.

Though meetings had been held with the Royal Council on the issue of the succession, there had been no formal acknowledgement of the fact that the Prince and his wife had only had girls. Under the strict salic succession laws of Mantua, only males could inherit and so upon Amalio's accession in 1925, his younger brother Carlos had become Hereditary Prince. But in 1949, the widowed Prince Carlos asked his brother for permission to marry again, this time to Margarita da Silva, a divorcée. Whilst Amalio had another brother, Prince Nicolás had taken himself out of the line of succession by his marriage to Adelaide Berlitz-Scheer in 1930. Therefore, the marriage of Prince Carlos in contravention of the succession laws would have left Mantua with no heir which would have been considered a constitutional crisis. Amalio had been considering introducing the concept of allowing for female succession shortly before his eldest daughter's 18th birthday and so asked his brother to consider waiting a few years before making his relationship with Da Silva formal. Carlos declined but offered to marry Margarita morganatically which would (he suggested) allow him to take up his position as Sovereign Prince if required, however Carlos had no heirs and there was a fear that the House of Montillet would become extinct as a morganatic marriage would remove any children the couple had from the line of succession automatically. Amalio therefore rejected this proposal.

With these avenues exhausted, Carlos asked his brother to consider the possibility of allowing him to marry Margarita when Princess Fabiola turned 21. He suggested that in this way, he could still serve as Regent if required but he would be free to marry in the future which would allow the National Council time to consider amending the succession laws in favour of his niece. Prince Amalio asked his brother to wait for a period of 6 months so that he could put this proposal to the Royal Council and the government to determine how likely their support would be. Carlos agreed but within 2 months, he left Mantua for Alexandria where he married Margarita da Silva on 7 July 1949. Carlos wrote to his brother to inform him of his marriage to Margarita Da Silva the following day. Upon receiving the letter, Amalio convened an emergency meeting of the Royal Council on the morning of 10 July 1949. According to one council member present at the meeting; "The Prince was visibly angered and clearly hadn't had much sleep. The whole situation troubled him deeply and later that same week, I met with him privately to discuss the moving of a bill to change the succession laws as [Prince Carlos] had put us in the territory of a constitutional crisis. Amalio said to me, "That bastard brother of mine will never know the trouble he's caused and what's worse is that he wouldn't give a damn even if he did". I didn't know whether to agree or not but even then, I noted that he was still very bitter over what Carlos had done". Later the same year, the house laws were amended to allow for female succession and in 1978, Princess Fabiola succeeded her father as Head of the House of Montillet.

Amalio's reign was not without it's struggles. As well as the crisis caused by Prince Carlos' marriage in 1949, the Prince used his power of veto over the National Council several times when it came to reform of social laws which he felt contravened the teachings of the Church. In 1966, he first used the Prince's right to a 'Petty Abdication', electing to abdicate temporarily for the period of 24 hours to allow for the passage of the Divorce Reform Bill without being forced to grant his assent to it. He would use this right five times during his reign; 1966, 1969, 1970, 1973 and 1976. It earned him the unfavourable nickname of 'the Petty Prince' in some world newspapers which Amalio is said to have despised. "I may be petty", he is quoted as saying, "But at least I have morals which is more than the bloody press do".

Relationship with Maritza Zeiler

In 1943, the 50 year old Prince began a love affair with Maritza Zeiler that would last for the rest of his life. Zeiler was a 32 year old Ravarian opera singer who had performed several times at the Prince Amalio II Opera House in San Leopoldo and had struck up a friendship with Prince Nicolás and his wife Adelaide who herself was Ravarian and knew of Zeiler's international reputation as a great mezzo-soprano. In his unofficial biography of Princess Sofia, author Luis Marín claims that following her miscarriage in 1940 (which the Princess herself confirmed in a 1989 television interview), Sofia began to suffer with severe depression. Court archives show that between 1940 and 1945, the Princess spent the vast majority of her time staying with her brother Hereditary Prince Michael at the Saer family mansion in Rio Grande, Alexandria. She was especially close to her sister-in-law Maria and later said that it was Maria's support that allowed her to return to full health and return to Mantua. In her absence, Prince Amalio visited his brother and sister in law often and first met Zeiler in 1942 but it took another year for the relationship to become intimate. Zeiler was unmarried and considered her affair with the Prince as a casual dalliance that would not last. However, even after Princess Sofia returned to Mantua in 1945, the Prince sent her love letters almost daily and even arranged for her to have a small villa in Debarros near to that of his sister Princess Fabiola. He dined at the Villa Zeiler every Friday evening but the pair were never seen in public together, neither did Maritza attend court functions at this time.

Their relationship came to a temporary end in 1948 when Zeiler married Curt Jaegfrüler and the pair rented an apartment in Monzberg, Ravaria. Zeiler's personal archive shows no letters passed between the couple for two years, with the exception of a request sent to Prince Amalio to sell the Villa Zeiler as Maritza would not be returning. The Prince ignored the request and when Maritza's marriage to Jaegfrüler ended in divorce in 1953, she returned to Mantua to live at the Villa once more when frequent visits by the Prince resumed. According to Zeiler's sister Augusta, Princess Sofia learned of the relationship some time between 1955 and 1960 but did not pass comment privately. In 1961, she even invited Zeiler to give a command gala performance at the Alcatadena Palace, the first time she was formally received by the Prince. In a 1972 letter to her sister in law Fabiola, Princess Nicolás said, "We dined with Soffy (Princess Sofia's nickname within the Princely family) and Niko mentioned the little chanteuse b/cos I am told that [Amalio] is very rarely away from the villa these days and that it is causing unpleasantness. She pretended not to hear and asked if we had thought any more about Maffi's memorial. It is a subject non grata". In the Zeiler archives, another letter from Princess Nicolás exists in which she urges Zeiler to "give a little space and perhaps not visit the villa (or HSH) for a few months as it may become an issue none of us wish to discuss outside of the family". Zeiler accordingly left Mantua for the second time in 1973 but returned just a year later. This time, she was welcomed as a frequent guest at the Alcatadena Palace but never visited the Cavaletta Palace where Princess Sofia lived. Their relationship continued until Amalio's death.

Later Life

In 1975, the Prince celebrated his Golden Jubilee - the first Mantuan monarch to reach such a milestone. Over the course of four days, there were huge public celebrations and the Prince took the unprecedented step of giving a television interview. He was asked about the future of the monarchy to which he replied, "We aren't old relics waiting to be dug up and put into a museum. If people don't want us, we'll go. But I think we serve a purpose and people seem to like having us around. So what's the problem?". When asked what role his wife had played in his reign, he paid a rare public tribute to her and said, "She has been, without a doubt, the perfect consort. She is someone much respected, much loved and I have been incredibly fortunate to have such a kind and understanding wife as her". Perhaps making reference to his relationship with Maritza Zeiler (which by now was common knowledge in Mantua), he said "When two people start out together, they promise to do their best. Sometimes they don't quite make it but they do try. And that's what we've done for all these years. We have tried to do our best for the country, for our family and for each other". Two weeks later, the Prince fell whilst at the Cavaletta Palace and broke his right knee which was replaced. The last public photographs of Princess Sofia and her husband together were of the Prince and his wife leaving the hospital waving to well wishers. They appear to have become permanently estranged after this time.

It is unclear as to when the Prince's health problems began but in 1972 he underwent a heart operation in a Port-Réal hospital. It was later disclosed that the Prince was suffering from aortosclerosis but that his health was being monitored and he was in good spirits. In 1977, he was admitted to hospital suffering from pleurisy but recovered well. During these last years of his life, the Prince spent an increasing amount of time at the Villa Zeiler. He rarely saw his wife but kept his weekly luncheon appointments with his two daughters, Fabiola and Elida. Princess Elida said in an interview given in 2010 that at their last meeting, the Prince had said that he felt extremely tired and that he had expressed concern that he may not live much longer. This meeting took place in July 1976 after which time, ill health prevented the Prince from making his weekly luncheon appointments with his daughters, though he did speak with them by telephone every consecutive day. It was suggested by Juan Marín that Princess Fabiola would refuse to accept calls that came from the Villa Zeiler, something later confirmed when the documents surrounding Amalio's death were made public under the Freedom of Information Bill 2005.

In 1976, the Prince once again invoked his right to a petty abdication in opposition to the Decriminalisation of Homosexuality Bill passed by the National Council which had been condemned by church leaders. The Prince had been contacted privately by the Cardinal-Archbishop of San Leopoldo urging him to veto the bill but Amalio refused, instead opting to abdicate temporarily so that he would not have to give his assent. He did however write privately to the Chief Minister explaining that whilst he personally did not believe that homosexuality should remain a criminal offence, he could not in all good conscience oppose the church on moral issues. This letter was not made public for 30 years and led to Amalio gaining a reputation for holding very socially conservative views. Whilst it is true that the Prince was a firm opponent of abortion and issues such as divorce, his private correspondence shows that he made an effort to remain a-political and that in some cases, he voiced concern that his decision not to give royal assent to bills that contravened the teachings of the church may have given rise to the notion that he was opposed to the government. Nonetheless, he was prepared to abdicate temporarily in 1977 when the National Council tried to pass a bill which would have made possession of cannabis legal. The bill was opposed by the church and the Prince felt that it was hypocritical for him to approve the bill when his wife had set up a charity that was focused on drug prevention. The bill was eventually withdrawn and the Prince did not have to use his right to a petty abdication again.


Prince Amalio's death was the subject of much gossip and press interest for many years. Officially, the Prince died at 3.00am on 5 May 1978 at the Cavaletta Palace. He was 85 and had suffered a major heart attack, dying peacefully in his sleep. But five years after his death, the Alexandrian gossip magazine Les Yeux interviewed a former chauffeur to the princely family who suggested that the Prince did not die at the Cavaletta Palace, rather that he had died at the Villa Zeiler and that Princess Sofia had not been told the truth to prevent upsetting her. Les Yeux had been criticised the year before for breaking rank and publishing details of the Prince's relationship with Maritza Zeiler. Zeiler sued the publication and won damages but now the magazine was back with an eye-witness account that she could do nothing but deny in a public statement. Drafted on the advice of the Palace, Zeiler said that she had no knowledge of the chauffeur's account of events and that she did not wish to re-open what she referred to as "intrusive and scandalous press fiction about my friendship with the late Prince and his wife". When Zeiler died in 2002, she left her entire estate (including her personal archives) to her nephew, Otto. When Otto Zeiler died in 2012, the archives were sold at auction and for the first time, the relationship between Amalio and Maritza was confirmed publicly in the few remaining letters not destroyed by Maritza's nephew. Within the archives (and in conjunction with state archive files which were released under the 35 year rule in 2013), the chauffeur's account of Amalio's death was confirmed. Further details were also given which had never been seen in public before and which contradicted the official inquest and entry on the Prince's death certificate issued in 1978.

On 2 May 1978, the Prince was too ill to attend the public celebrations for his daughter Fabiola's 43rd birthday and released a statement wishing her well and expressing "sincere regret that [he] would miss the celebrations". This began a flurry of speculation about Amalio's health. On 3 May, he left the Alcatadena Palace for the last time and made the 43 minute by car to the Villa Zeiler. On the way, he asked the chauffeur to stop at the Abbey of San Leopoldo en la Piedra and spent around 30 minutes visiting the grave of his sister Mafalda who had died ten years earlier. The Prince had missed the ten year anniversary memorial held for her the previous week again owing to ill health and so the chauffeur did not consider this request to be unusual. Once at the Villa Zeiler, the chauffeur was told to wait until needed. At around 7pm, he drove the Prince and Maritza Zeiler to a small beachfront restaurant in Debarros where they had a meal together. They returned to the villa three hours later. It was the last time the Prince would be seen in public. The following morning, he complained of back pain and took to bed. A doctor was called and examined the Prince. The doctor later told the inquest that he believed that he was the last doctor to see the Prince alive and that he found him to be "sitting in the lounge in good health but complaining of back pain for which I prescribed zopiclone". However, in the confidential report given by the doctor, it was confirmed that the Prince was in fact in bed and non responsive.

Following the memorial mass for Princess Mafalda on April 29th, Princess Sofia had left Mantua for St George's Island where she often holidayed with members of her family. She was due to stay at the villa there for a month to recuperate from a small operation to her left wrist. She last spoke to her husband at 1.10am on the 30th to confirm her arrival. She was therefore contacted by the court doctor to inform her of Amalio's condition. "In my opinion", he wrote, "it was crucial that Her Serene Highness returned to the palace as soon as possible because I did not consider that the Prince would live more than a few days". But Princess Sofia made no arrangements to fly back to Mantua. According to Zeiler's private statement given to the coroner, the Prince had eaten a little soup at around 8pm and had asked for a cognac. After drinking it, he fell asleep and did wake up. Zeiler discovered the Prince's body the next morning at 7.45am. He had died at 3.00am.

Immediately, Zeiler asked her housekeeper to place a call to the Private Secretary of Princess Fabiola but there was no response as the offices of the Cavaletta Palace did not open their external telephone lines until 9am. Zeiler therefore telephoned Prince Nicolás who was staying in Monzberg. Unable to help, Nicolás called the Chamberlain of the Cavaletta Palace who arranged for the roads to be closed throughout San Leopoldo to allow a hearse to take the body of the Prince from the Villa Zeiler to the Cavaletta Palace where it was claimed he had died. His body was then moved to the Basilica on the Rock to lay in state awaiting his funeral ten days later. The funeral itself was attended by many Heads of State and representatives of international organisations and charities. Princess Sofia flew back to Mantua two days after her husband's death and refused to leave his side, holding a private vigil for her late husband for 48 hours.

Prince Amalio III was buried in the Prince's Crypt at the Basilica on the Rock following his funeral on 15 May 1978. Princess Sofia was buried alongside him following her death in 1995 aged 89. Amalio made provision for both his wife and his mistress in his will. As Princess Sofia would not be entitled to an appanage after his death and therefore it was important for him to leave her a set sum of money in his will, which he did. Private papers show that the Prince also made provision for Maritza Zeiler, allowing her to keep her villa for her lifetime and granting her a payment of E1.2m. He also requested that his daughter create her a Countess but this request was ignored by Princess Fabiola after her succession. When Zeiler died in 2001, she was cremated and her ashes scattered at Lake Monzberg.

Titles and Styles from Birth to Death

  • 18 December 1893 - 27 August 1911: His Serene Highness Prince Amalio of Mantua
  • 27 August 1911 - 22 October 1925: His Serene Highness the Hereditary Prince of Mantua
  • 22 October 1925 - 5 May 1978: His Serene Highness The Sovereign Prince of Mantua, Duke of San Leopoldo en la Piedra