Princess Victoria Eugenie Julia Ena of Battenberg (known as Ena) was born on October 24, 1887, at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the only daughter of Prince Henry of Battenberg and Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria. The infant princess was named for her grandmother Queen Victoria and for her godmother Eugénie de Montijo, the Spanish-born French empress and widow of Napoleon III, who lived in exile in the United Kingdom. To her family, and the British general public, she was known by the last of her names, as Ena. She was christened in the Drawing Room at Balmoral Castle on November 23, 1887.
Ena had 4 brothers. Raised in her grandmother’s household, the family moved constantly between Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle, and Osborne House. In January 1896, Ena’s father died of malaria while en route to fight in the Ashanti War. Following his death, Queen Victoria gave the family apartments at Kensington Palace where they lived while in London. After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, Kensington Palace became their primary residence, along with Osborne Cottage on the grounds of Osborne House.
In 1905, Ena met her future husband, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, while he was on a State Visit to the United Kingdom. The two soon began corresponding and quickly became smitten with each other. However, several issues needed to be resolved before they could consider marriage. First was the looming threat of hemophilia. Ena’s brother Leopold was suffering from the disease, so there was a very good chance that she might bring it to the Spanish royal family. However, with little known about the disease at the time, Alfonso didn’t seem to be too concerned. The bigger obstacles were Ena’s religion and (as far as Alfonso’s mother was concerned), less than royal bloodline. However, Ena willingly agreed to convert to Catholicism, and her uncle, King Edward VII, elevated her rank to Royal Highness so there could be no question of an unequal marriage. These seem to have appeased the Dowager Queen and the engagement was announced.
The couple married on May 31, 1906, at the Royal Monastery of San Jerónimo in Madrid, in a wedding attended by many royals from around the world. The marriage was not, however, without incident. While the wedding procession was returning to the Royal Palace, an assassination attempt was made on the King and his new Queen. Both Alfonso and Ena were unharmed, however, several guards and bystanders were killed or injured. After the birth of their first son, Alfonso, it was discovered that he was suffering from hemophilia. Despite having known the risks beforehand, King Alfonso blamed Ena, and it began a rift in their marriage which would never fully heal. In the end, only their first and last sons had the disease.
Ena threw herself into her new role as Queen and began working with charities that supported the poor, promoted education, and took a particular interest in nursing and hospital care. She would later be instrumental in reorganizing the Spanish Red Cross and is often credited with helping to advance the healthcare system in Spain. Despite a somewhat rocky relationship at first, she soon became greatly admired and loved by the Spanish people.
Following the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931, the family went into exile. Settling first in France, and then Italy, the couple soon went their separate ways. Ena returned to London, taking up residence at 34 Porchester Terrace, to be close to her mother. In 1938, she would reunite with her husband in Rome, for the christening of their grandson, Juan Carlos. The following year she left London and returned to Rome. Despite their separation, she was concerned about Alfonso’s diminishing health and wanted to be nearby. Alfonso died in February 1941, surrounded by his family. Less than a year later, she was forced to leave Italy, as members of Mussolini’s government were accusing her of spying.
She settled in Lausanne, Switzerland, at the Hotel Royal. Several years later, in 1947, Ena purchased a villa – Vieille Fontaine – in Lausanne. It was here, in 1961, that she welcomed the media to announce the engagement of her grandson, Juan Carlos, and Princess Sophia of Greece.
By most accounts, Queen Victoria Eugenie’s later life was spent enjoying her grandchildren and keeping up her rather busy social schedule. Shortly after Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco, Ena took the young Grace under her wing, helping her adjust to her new royal life. A lifelong friendship ensued, and Ena was asked to be godmother to their son, Prince Albert II. She was also godmother to Queen Fabiola of Belgium and the late Duchess of Alba.
In February 1968, Queen Ena returned to Spain for the first time since going into exile in 1931. Staying at the Palace of Liria with her goddaughter, the Duchess of Alba, Ena was there to serve as godmother to her new great-grandson, the current King Felipe VI. She was deeply touched by the crowds who came to greet her wherever she went and tried to see as many things as she could during her short visit. After the christening, she allegedly took General Franco aside to discuss the future of the monarchy, and particularly the succession to the throne.
Several different stories exist about the actual conversation, but she had previously stressed that it would probably be best to skip over her son, Juan, and entrust the future of the monarchy, and Spain, to Juan Carlos.
Her trip to Spain would be one of her last public appearances. She returned to her home in Switzerland, and soon her health began to fail. Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, Queen of Spain, passed away on April 15, 1969, at her home, surrounded by her family. Ironically, it was 38 years to the day that she had been forced to leave Spain in 1931. Her funeral was held at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Lausanne, and she was buried in the nearby Cemetery Bois-de-Vaux. In April 1985, her grandson, King Juan Carlos, had her remains returned to Spain where they were interred in the Pantheon of the Kings in the Royal Crypt of the Monastery of El Escorial.
In this portrait she is wearing the Fleur de Lis tiara, called La Buena, and diamond encrusted earrings which would become parte of the "joyas de pasar" a group of jewels left by Ena to be worn only by future queens of Spain