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About Carlos Hugo de Bourbon-Parma
HRH Prince Carlos Hugo, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, who has died aged 80, was the titular head of the House of Bourbon-Parma, a branch of the House of Bourbon, and well known for pressing his Carlist claim to the throne of Spain; he was even better known for his sensational marriage to Princess Irene of the Netherlands, the beautiful daughter of the doughty Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard.
The controversy surrounding the marriage occupied the press for many months and caused a constitutional crisis in the Netherlands. Princess Irene, Queen Juliana’s second daughter, secretly converted to Catholicism in 1963 — something discovered only when she was photographed kneeling at Mass in Madrid. Immediately there were suspicions that she was engaged to a Catholic, and Prince Carlos Hugo was identified as that man.
It was considered the worst possible union on account of the historic antipathy between the two nations and Franco’s support of the Nazis . Queen Juliana immediately sent a private secretary to Madrid to dissuade Irene from marrying “a Fascist”. The Princess agreed to fly home — at which point the Queen, believing that the wedding was off, broadcast this fact to the nation on the radio.
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Irene, meanwhile, went into hiding in a convent. She then took a suite of rooms near Carlos Hugo, and the two communicated by standing at their respective windows and exchanging hand signals; she feared that her telephone was tapped and that she might be kidnapped by the Dutch government.
Franco then received Carlos Hugo, perhaps seeing benefits and prestige in an alliance with the House of Orange. Finally, in February 1964, Prince Bernhard flew to Spain and brought the young couple back to the Soestdijk Palace in the Netherlands, where they had a heated discussion with the prime minister, Victor Marijnen.
With Carlos Hugo demanding a huge Catholic wedding, Queen Juliana thought the marriage would bring down the monarchy. Though Princess Irene declared her marriage to be a way of ending religious strife, Marijnen refused government approval. While the Queen continued to try to sabotage the wedding, the young couple flew to Rome for an audience with Pope Paul VI.
Queen Juliana was then due to go to Mexico on an official visit, taking Princess Irene with her. Again the Princess failed to show up at the airport. She then declared herself a Carlist supporter, attending a rally in Spain, and promptly lost any vestige of Dutch support.
The couple were married in Rome on April 29 1964 by Cardinal Paolo Giobbe, former Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands, with no members of the Dutch royal family present. They then settled in Madrid. The Princess instantly forfeiting her claim to the Dutch throne.
Matters eventually calmed down, and Queen Juliana and Carlos Hugo’s father were pictured holding the couple’s first-born son, Carlos, at his baptism in 1970. Another son and two daughters followed, but the couple divorced in 1981.
The Duchy of Parma had been established by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 after a complicated war of succession . King Ferdinand VII of Spain died without a male heir in 1833, and appointed his daughter Isabella to follow him. The King’s younger brother, Don Carlos, refused to recognise Isabella II’s rights, and instigated the first Carlist war, which lasted until 1839.
From him descended the Carlist claimants, who were supported only by the most reactionary of the Spanish nobility. As Time magazine pointed out at the time of the marriage crisis in 1964: “Descended from him [Don Carlos] is a list of chronically unsuccessful Carlist pretenders, including Irene’s fiancé.”
Carlos Hugo was born in Paris on April 8 1930 and baptised with the copious names of Hugues Marie Sixte Robert Louis Jean Georges Benoît Michel. In 1963 he was re-baptised as “Carles Hugues” by judgment of the Court of Appeal of La Seine, France.
He was the elder son of Xavier, Duke of Parma, and his wife, Madeleine de Bourbon-Busset, and educated at the Sorbonne and Oxford. His uncle Felix was the husband of Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg; one aunt married King Ferdinand I of the Bulgarians, while another, Zita, was the last Empress of Austria.
Carlos Hugo’s father was the seventh son of Duke Roberto I (who had 24 children) and had become head of the family after the deaths of two mentally diminished half-brothers and another half-brother and his unmarried son. Duke Xavier publicly claimed the throne in 1952 and, in 1957, declared his son and heir Prince of the Asturias and Duke of San Jaime. In February 1964 Carlos Hugo assumed the title of Duke of Madrid. He succeeded his father in 1977, claiming the thrones of Parma, Etruria and Spain. He also claimed to be head of the Constantinian Order of St George.
Following Duke Xavier’s death, Carlos Hugo styled himself Carlos VIII. To be a pretender when General Franco was in power was something of a lost cause (he consistently dismissed the claim), but the family took it seriously. In 1967 both Carlos Hugo and his father were banned from Spain as potential threats to the unity of the state.
Franco appointed Prince Juan Carlos (grandson of the last King, Alfonso XIII) as his successor and he duly became King when Franco died in 1975. A year later, ever ready to denounce the royal incumbent, Carlos Hugo re-entered Spain and attended a Carlist party celebration at Montejurra. This turned into a massacre when two Carlist sympathisers were shot dead by terrorists of the Far Right.
In 1979 Carlos Hugo abandoned his claims and became a naturalised Spanish citizen. The following year he left the political arena. In 2002 he donated the archives of the House of Parma to Spain’s national archives. But on September 28 2003 he suddenly reasserted his claim, with declarations of new titles for his children .
In 2002 Carlos Hugo came to London to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in Westminster Abbey. (She had been a godmother to Princess Irene.) In February 2008 it was announced that he was suffering from cancer, and he died in Barcelona on August 18. His coffin was taken to lie in state in the Fagel Dome in The Hague in the Netherlands.
On August 28 he will be interred in the crypt of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata in Parma. Princess Irene survives him, along with their four children.
Carlos Hugo, Duke of Parma and Piacenza's Timeline
April 8, 1930
Paris, Ile-de-France, France
April 29, 1964
Borghese Chapel, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, Italy
January 27, 1970
Radboud Hospital, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
August 18, 2010
Barcelona, CT, Spain
Santa Maria della Steccata, Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Italy