10 April 2013

Wedding Wednesday: Princess Irene's Gown

HRH Princess Irene of the Netherlands and HRH Prince Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma
April 29, 1964
Rome, Italy

Queen Beatrix's 1966 wedding to Claus von Amsberg caused some protests, but the fuss wasn't anything new for the Dutch royal family. Just two years earlier, Beatrix’s younger sister Princess Irene caused a far bigger headache with her choice of spouse: Prince Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma, Carlist claimant to the then-vacant Spanish throne. The controversy surrounding the second daughter of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard began in January 1964, as rumors swirled that Irene, who had studied in Madrid, was engaged to a Spaniard (the identity of the lucky gentleman remained a secret to the public at first). And the controversy continued to grow amidst rumor and misinformation made all the worse by conflict and misunderstanding between the Dutch government, the Dutch royal court, the bride, and the groom plus his strong-willed family. It was nothing short of a public relations disaster, one which we can really only scratch the surface of here.
Religious controversy was just one issue facing the marriage. A report emerged that Irene had secretly converted to Catholicism; the report was denied by the royal court, only to be proved true by the publication of a photo of Irene praying in a Catholic church in Spain. Old religious differences were reignited, and many simply couldn’t understand why the princess had kept her conversion a secret. (For some, her rebaptism proved an additional sticking point.) Her change in religion created problems for the government too, as Irene was (initially) still in line for the Protestant Dutch throne.
But religion was only part of the problems Irene’s marriage caused for the Dutch government. A potential future sovereign married to someone with an active claim on another throne was an issue, one the Bourbon-Parma family did not understand. Endorsing the politics of Carlism or the Carlist claim to the Spanish throne would have been an affront to the Spanish government, and the Dutch government didn’t want their royal family wrapped up in that propaganda. Irene made matters worse with her own political statements. She gave an interview praising conditions in Spain which came across as approval of General Franco and painted her as woefully ignorant of the downside of his regime. After their engagement was officially announced, she publicly supported her husband’s claim to the throne and his politics, and the government formally distanced itself from her actions. She even pulled out of a planned state visit to Mexico with her family at the last minute, adding to the impression that Irene had chosen her future husband over all else.
Not even the official engagement announcement was without scrambling and confusion. Carlos Hugo's family had the engagement announced on Spanish radio, catching the Dutch off guard – particularly since Queen Juliana had recently made a public statement that Irene was not going to go through with her engagement. In the end, the couple married in the Borghese chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. (The Bourbon-Parmas hoped Pope Paul VI would perform the ceremony; he declined, but received the couple for an audience right after the ceremony.) Irene gave up her place in the line of succession as there was no government approval for her marriage. No members of the Dutch royal family or Dutch diplomatic representatives were present at the wedding; the family watched the televised ceremony at the home of Prince Bernhard’s mother, though apparently technical difficulties prohibited them from seeing the full broadcast. Juliana spoke to her daughter via telephone before she left for the ceremony.
The couple making their way through the crowds outside, and a detail of the lace on the top
Lost in the midst of all this mess seems to be the very thing we usually come here to talk about: the wedding dress! The gown for this much-anticipated wedding came from Balmain. The white silk creation with three-quarter length sleeves included a bolero-style top which accentuated the bride’s slender waistline. It’s both a very 1960s silhouette and one that doesn’t date easily, and a look I’ve come to really love.

Video: the wedding, followed by the papal audience
The gown flowed out to a lengthy train – perhaps a little too lengthy, as it was apparently damaged as the couple attempted to make their way through the circus scene happening outside of the church. A touch of home was included in the Bruges lace used to trim the gown, which was a Dutch royal family heirloom; the lace was also used on the wedding gown of Irene and Carlos Hugo’s daughter Princess Carolina. Irene wore a long tulle veil anchored with the impressive Bourbon-Parma diamond tiara which had been given to her as a wedding gift. Unfortunately, years later the tiara was reported stolen and was never recovered or replaced.
As eventually happens with almost all controversies, the fuss died down and the couple were included in family events as the years went on. Their political activism continued, but the eventual restoration of the Spanish monarchy with Juan Carlos at the head put even more space between reality and the Carlist claims. Eventually, their marriage died down too; after having four children together (Carlos, twins Margarita and Jaime, and Carolina), they divorced in 1981. Carlos Hugo remained on good terms with his wife's family until he passed away in 2010. Irene returned to the Netherlands, and now also has a farm she turned into a sanctuary in South Africa.

What do you think of Irene's dress?

Photos: gahetNA/geheugenvannederland/ANP