Sofia, Princess de Saer

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Sofia Princess Consort of Mantua
Duchess of San Leopoldo en la Piedra
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Tenure 4 April 1933 - 5 May 1978
Predecessor Marina del Viretta
Successor Count Jaime Zubero y Idali
Spouse Prince Amalio III
Issue Fabiola, Princess of Mantua
Princess Elida, Dowager Countess Agia
Royal House Montillet
Father Andrés, Prince de Saer
Mother Carlotta de Tualdo y Tora y Malciena
Born 1 July 1906
Palacio de Saer, Rio Grande, Alexandria
Died 19 October 1995 (Aged 89)
The Cavaletta Palace, Mantua
Buried Prince's Crypt, Basilica on the Rock, Mantua
Signature

Sofia, Princess Consort of Mantua (born Sofia Maria Elena Carlotta Francesca Rita Concepta Vittoria, Princess de Saer, 1 July 1906, Palacio de Saer, Rio Grande, Alexandria; died 19 October 1995, Cavaletta Palace, Mantua) was the daughter of an Alexandrian aristocrat who married Amalio III of Mantua and served as his consort for 45 years. She was the mother of the incumbent Sovereign Princess of Mantua, Princess Fabiola and her sister, Elida, Countess of Agia. The Princess was much loved in Mantua and was regarded as one of the most popular members of the Princely Family. She died in 1996 at the age of 89. Through her paternal line, she was a distant descendant of Emperor Louis XIV, the first Emperor of the Alexandrians. Through her maternal line, she was a descendant of Prince Fabio II of Mantua.

Early Life

She was born Princess Sofia Maria Elena Carlotta Francesca Rita Concepta Vittoria de Saer, Doña Tualdo y Tora y Malciena on 1 July 1906 at the Palacio de Saer, Rio Grande, Alexandria. She was one of eleven children born to Prince Andrés de Saer and his wife Carlotta de Tualdo y Tora y Malciena. Her siblings were Hereditary (later Prince) Michel de Saer, Princess Gina de Saer, Princess Anna Maria de Saer, Prince Alfonso de Saer, Prince Leopoldo de Saer, Prince Alejandro de Saer, Princess Xavia de Saer, Princess Elena de Saer, Prince Sebastián de Saer and Prince Emiliano de Saer. The de Saers were an ancient Alexandrian noble family with dynastic ties to the royal houses of Alexandria and Mantua and much of Sofia's early life was spent at the family's estate, the Palacio de Saer, in Rio Grande, Alexandria. Her father would later serve as Governor of the Costa Verde between 1910 and 1923. From birth, the children of the de Saer family were of huge public interest with many of the girls considered eligible to marry into the Imperial Family of Alexandra. Many spoke of them as "the Six Little Empresses", though none of Prince Andrés' children actually made marriages with the Carillo family.

Princess Sofia was sent to a private girl's school before attending a finishing school in the Ravarian Alps. At the age of 21, she began a relationship with the Baron de Lizarraga (1900 - 1987) but ended the relationship two years later, rejecting his proposal of marriage. She was the last of her siblings to marry.

Marriage & Family

On 2 August 1932, Sofia met Prince Amalio III of Mantua and the couple were soon romantically involved. Amalio was 13 years her senior and it was well known that he was under pressure to marry. 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:-

Their marriage was not altogether a happy one. In 1940, Sofia suffered a miscarriage and was forced to undergo a hysterectomy a year later which left her severely depressed. She left Mantua to live with her brother at the Palacio de Saer for nearly five years, during which time contact with her husband and daughters was severely limited. The Princess was privately treated by a psychiatrist. She would later speak openly about her battle with depression as part of her work with a drug abuse prevention charity in Mantua, hinting at the fact that she had struggled with alcoholism during that period. She was known not to drink alcohol after this time. In her absence from Mantua, her husband began his long love affair with the opera singer Maritza Zeiler. Whilst Princess Sofia knew about the affair, she never confronted her husband on the issue and would often pretend not to hear if those within the princely family questioned her about it. When her husband died in 1978, she was content to allow Zeiler to attend the funeral.

Public Life

During her tenure as Princess consort, Sofia carried out a busy schedule of official engagements. Her chosen causes were drug abuse prevention and women's issues. However, she was also the first member of the Princely Family to become directly involved with an HIV/AIDS charity and when asked by a journalist if she knew that the patients she had visited were gay men, the Princess said, "Their preference is of no concern to me or to you. They are seriously unwell and they need our help and love which I am very happy to give if you cannot". Her public image was described by one journalist as "sweet as a candy cane but twice as hard". Whilst she was extremely popular, like her daughter Fabiola she did not welcome press intrusion into her life. She also scolded a member of the National Council during a private dinner party when he joked that he paid more tax than the Princely Family did to which the Princess replied, "Perhaps. But we are of more use than you are and what we do, we do for our country. Not for ourselves". She had a dislike of the Reformista Party and it's politicians and whilst always officially politically impartial, it was known that she favoured the Libertad Party. Despite protestations from Reformista politicians, the Princess continued to invite Libertad politicians to her home for dinner parties even when they were not in government. She responded by insisting that her guests were friends who just happened to be politicians. When a Reformista suggested that it was no coincidence that all of her friends seemed to be Libertad politicians, the Princess replied, "Maybe they are just more likeable people than Reformistas?"

Private Life

File:Sofia65.jpg
Princess Sofia, 1966.

Following her husband's death in 1978, the Princess retained her office at the Cavaletta Palace but vacated her suite of rooms and permanently moved into the Alcatadena Palace which was considered her official residence and made available for her use almost exclusively. Whilst other members of the Princely Family stayed there often, they were considered to be there as her guest and the Princess extensively remodelled and redesigned the Palace at her own expense. She even installed a new swimming pool where she would swim each morning before attending mass at the Alcatadena Chapel with members of the public. In widowhood, she was not expected to carry out a formal programme of public engagements but whilst she reduced her workload, she did not relinquish any patronages she held. Indeed, by 1985 she had acquired many more. The Princess was surrounded by a devoted team including Maitre d'Auslier (the Comptroller of her household) and Baroness Margarita Lascielle (her Lady in Waiting) who were responsible for her day to day needs. Lascielle later (with royal approval) wrote an account of life with Princess Sofia in which she said, "The Princess always woke up early, 4am on most days, and would go for a walk along the beach. Then she would come back and swim before the 7am mass. She came home for a light breakfast and then would launch herself into some kind of project or engagement for the day which she felt was useful. She didn't smoke or drink but she did like very rich food. On one occasion, she invited the chaplain of the palace for dinner and he telephoned ahead to inform me that he was a vegetarian. When I took the menu to Her Serene Highness, she said, 'No no, this is all fish, we must have something else' and she ordered the kitchens to serve roast suckling pig. The chaplain was too impolite to refuse and ate the meal. Afterwards, Princess Sofia said to him, 'There now. That wasn't so bad was it? I really don't think it's a good thing to be fussy over one's food when so many have to go without food'. The Chaplain said it was the nicest meal he'd ever eaten and the next time he came, requested the same dish again!".

The Princess was extremely religious and considered herself to be an ordinary parishioner in Alcatadena. She never used the private chapel in the Palace and preferred to worship with members of the public, even belonging to a weekly rosary group which she attended without fail every Thursday evening. She had a special devotion to St Rita of Cascia, Patron Saint of Impossible Causes and wished to name her eldest daughter after the saint but deferred to her husband's request that they name their eldest daughter after his sister Fabiola. Sofia had warm relationships with her husband's siblings with the exception of Carlos, Baron de San Pablo whom she described as "a horrid selfish little man". Even before his widowhood and his later decision to marry Margarita Da Silva, the two had never enjoyed a close friendship and it was rumoured that when Carlos' first wife Yvetta died, Sofia remarked, "Yvetta will go to heaven. Lucky for her, she'll never have to see Carlos again".

Fabiola was known for her generous nature. If she heard of someone in financial difficulty, she would send money anonymously in order to help. When she heard that a local school had claimed that it could not sufficiently teach history because it could not afford new books, she paid for a new library to be established in the town. During a drive in the hills of San Leopoldo in the early 1980s, she saw an elderly gentleman resting by the roadside and asked him if he was okay. He explained that his bicycle had broken and he always walked to the top of the mountain to light a candle for his late wife in the Basilica on the Rock. The next day, the elderly gentleman found a new bicycle waiting for him at the Basilica. Her generosity sometimes proved to be a fault. In 1990, she had to be stopped from giving one of her servant's her car which belonged to the Princely Family and which she only had the use of by special arrangement. When she was told that she couldn't make the gift, she bought the car from the Keeper of the Treasury and gave it to her servant anyway.

Despite her popularity, she could be unpredictable. On more than one occasion, she was known to order her staff to throw buckets of water over the gates of the Alcatadena Palace if she heard that people were looking through in the hope of catching sight of her. She was also known for driving at high speed around the island and ignoring police warnings, much to the frustration of officials who were then put in the awkward position of giving the Princess a ticket which she always refused to pay.

The Princess was a keen animal lover and at the time of her death, owned 5 dogs (all King Charles Cavalier Spaniels) and 8 cats. The animals were all given silver collars and members of the public who saw them wandering around near to the Palace were informed that they could pet the animals but shouldn't feed them. When the Princess saw a man kick one of her cats, she is said to have appeared almost from nowhere and kicked the man sharply in the shin before seizing the cat and returning to her palace in a fury. The man was so embarrassed that he left the town.

Finances

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Princess Sofia's Monogram.

During her tenure as Princess consort, Sofia was entitled to an annual appanage of E500,000 a year. This came to an end upon the death of her husband, even though she continued to carry out public engagements. In 1980, her daughter Fabiola requested that her mother's appanage be restored by the National Council as part of the Public Finances Bill that year. The move was heavily criticised in Mantua given that Princess Sofia had already received a sizeable sum of money in her husband's will, the details of which were made public in 1979. The Mantuan government agreed that Princess Sofia should receive funds if she was to continue to carry out public engagements but was only willing to allow an appanage of E250,000 a year. The law on royal appanages was clear that widowed consorts received no allowance and the National Council rejected proposals to change the existing arrangements. They did however agree to the E250,000 a year sum as an additional extraordinary payment for the period of ten years, which was paid to Princess Sofia between 1982 and 1992.

The Princess' extravagant spending habits were well known and caused some concern privately among the princely family and some quarters of the government. In 2003, it was reported that Princesses Fabiola and Elida had inherited no money from their mother, indeed Princess Fabiola had been forced to settle the Princess' debts at a cost of E1.6m. The Princess had a particular interest in jewellery and is said to have spent millions at Bliché where she was regarded as one of their most loyal customers. According to records obtained by Les Yeux in 1998, Sofia's last purchase from Bliché was a E986,000 ruby and diamond parure consisting of a tiara, ring, bracelet, three brooches and a necklace which was given to Alexandra Widhoezl when she married Sofia's grandson Hereditary Prince Amadeo of Mantua in 1991.

Later Years and Death

Princess Sofia refused to give up any patronages or official roles she held until ill health forced her to publicly retire at the age of 87 in 1994. She developed osteoporosis in the late 1980s and from 1990 was confined to a wheelchair. Her church attendance was unaffected however she could no longer visit the Basilica on the Rock which raised a public debate about how accessible San Leopoldo mountain was for those with disabilities. In 2005, the Princess Sofia Funicular opened to solve the problem for those who wish to visit the top of the mountain but previously could not. Her last public appearance was in 1995 when following the baptism of her great-granddaughter Princess Sofia (named in her honour), she allowed the press into the Alcatadena Palace for the first time to record footage of the infant Princess with her great-grandmother who was brought to see Sofia immediately after the ceremony. She remarked to the press, "Here is a new Sofia for you. Treat her kindly please. This old Sofia won't be here to make sure you do so please do as you're told".

On the 18 October 1995, it was reported that she had been admitted to the Princess Marina Hospital in Alcatadena and was seriously unwell. She had suffered a stroke from which she died at 2am on 19 October 1995. She was 89 years old. Her death saw a major outpouring of public grief and her funeral was better attended than that of her late husband. As she lay in state, members of the public laid white roses at the foot of the catafalque on which her coffin was placed. So many roses were placed by the bier that the Basilica had to move the rows of seats for those attending Sofia's state funeral back to accommodate them. In 1996, a year after her death, her daughter Fabiola announced the creation of the Princess Sofia Medal which is awarded for humanitarian efforts. Sofia was laid to rest alongside her husband in the Prince's Crypt on the Basilica on the Rock.

Titles and Styles from Birth to Death

  • 1 July 1906 - 4 April 1933: Her Highness Princess Sofia de Saer, Doña Tualdo y Tora y Malciena
  • 4 April 1933 - 5 May 1978: Her Serene Highness the Princess Consort of Mantua, Duchess of San Leopoldo en la Piedra
  • 5 May 1978 - 19 October 1995: Her Serene Highness Princess Sofia, Dowager Princess Consort of Mantua

Honours and Arms

Arms

As Princess consort, Sofia used a coat of arms which impaled the main coat of arms of her husband to the dexter, with her father's coat of arms to the sinister. As is traditional with the armorial bearings of consorts, the coronet of her husband appeared in the upper left quadrant and her coronet featured three white feathers, the feminine form of coronets used in Mantuan Heraldry. Her arms were mounted on the collar on the Grand Order of San Leopoldo as her highest Mantuan honour. The coat of arms of the Saer family were incorporated to honour her ancestry, these being three white boars crowned with a princely coronet on an azure background. Though born a Princess, she was not born to a reigning royal house and so she did not qualify for the ermine division which would usually appear on the coat of arms of a Princess of the Blood in the upper left quadrant. The lower left quadrant featured the green parrot of Mantua, collared and chained. The Princess' arms, cast in bronze and then gilded, appeared on the gates of the Alcatadena Palace during her residency there. They were removed a year after her death when the Palace became the official residence of the Hereditary Prince. One of the mouldings was placed above the Princess' tomb in the Prince's Crypt, the other was placed in the Princess Sofia Memorial Chapel in the church in Alcatadena in which she worshipped.

Honours

National Honours

Sofia, Princess de Saer
Preceded by
Marina del Viretta
Princess Consort of Mantua
1933 - 1978
Succeeded by
Jaime, Count Zubero y Idali