On Monday, the royal world said farewell to Archduchess Margherita of Austria-Este, the Italian princess who married a son of the last Emperor of Austria. Today, to celebrate her life, we’ve got a look at her impressive bejeweled legacy.
The late archduchess was born Princess Margherita of Savoy-Aosta. She was the elder of two daughters of Prince Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta, and Princess Anne d’Orléans. Her father, who died during World War II, was a cousin of the King of Italy, and her mother was a daughter of Prince Jean d’Orléans, who was a pretender to the French throne. Margherita was born in 1930 in Naples. She was raised in Italy alongside her younger sister, Princess Maria Cristina. Her wartime childhood was tumultuous, as historian Marlene Koenig shared in her obituary for the princess.
Though she had been rumored as a possible bride for King Baudouin of Belgium, Margherita ended up marrying another fellow royal. In August 1953, 23-year-old Princess Margherita announced her engagement to 38-year-old Archduke Robert of Austria, a member of another exiled royal family. Robert was the second son of Karl I, the last Emperor of Austria, and Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma.
Robert was two when his parents ascended to the imperial throne of Austria-Hungary. Karl gave his young son the title of Archduke of Austria-Este, which he used for the rest of his life. (The title had previously belonged to Archduke Franz Ferdinand.) Robert’s parents lost their throne in 1918, when he was four years old, and Emperor Karl died in 1922. Afterward, Robert and his mother and siblings lived a peripatetic life in exile, spending time in Spain, Belgium, France, the United States, and Canada. During the war, Archduke Robert lived in Britain.
The wedding of these two descendants of former reigning families was celebrated in France in December 1953. In the town of Bourg-en-Bresse, the couple were wed in a pair of ceremonies: a civil wedding at the town hall, and a religious wedding at the Church of Saint-Nicolas-de-Tolentin de Brou. King Umberto II of Italy walked Princess Margherita down the aisle at the wedding. The wedding was one of the largest gatherings of displaced and exiled European royals since the war, and the couple made a striking pair as they walked down the aisle. The bride was six feet tall, and the groom was four inches taller.
Archduke Robert and Archduchess Margherita were married for 42 years, and they had five children: Archduchess Maria Beatrice, Archduke Lorenz, Archduke Gerhard, Archduke Martin, and Archduchess Isabella. The family settled in Paris, where Robert worked at a bank. Several of their children married into other royal families. Archduchess Maria Beatrice married Count Riprand of Arco-Zinneberg (a great-grandson of the last King of Bavaria); one of their six daughters, Countess Olympia, recently married Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon. Archduke Martin married Princess Katharina of Isenburg (a sister of Princess Sophie of Prussia). And Archduke Lorenz made the most glittering marriage of all: he married Princess Astrid of Belgium, daughter of King Albert II and Queen Paola, in 1984. In 1995, his father-in-law elevated him to the title of Prince Lorenz of Belgium.
Because Prince Lorenz is a member of a reigning royal family, Archduchess Margherita was often photographed with the extended Belgian royal family on important occasions. In the image above, she’s second from the left (between King Albert and Prince Lorenz) during the celebrations of the eighteenth birthday of her grandson, Prince Amedeo, in 2004.
Here, in 2009, she wears pearls at the Senlis Cathedral in France as she and her son, Archduke Martin, attend the wedding of Prince Jean d’Orléans and Philomena de Tornos.
One of Archduchess Margherita’s last prominent public appearances came in 2014, when she attended the wedding of her grandson, Prince Amedeo of Belgium, and Elisabetta Rosboch von Wolkenstein in Rome.
Margherita passed away on Monday, January 10, 2022, in Switzerland. She was 91 years old. She is survived by her five children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and her younger sister.
Archduchess Margherita leaves behind a glittering bejeweled legacy. Her jewelry collection included several tiaras and other important pieces of royal jewelry. On her wedding day, she wore a tiara featuring two rows of diamonds topped with rows of round brilliants, and a floral central element. The tiara doesn’t have an established provenance, but to my eye, it certainly looks like it could have been made during the first half of the twentieth century.
The tiara has also been worn by several other members of Margherita’s family. Both of her daughters, Archduchess Maria Beatrice and Archduchess Isabella, also wore the tiara for their weddings. It’s also been worn by two of her daughters-in-law, Archduchess Katharina and Princess Astrid, for gala occasions.
Archduchess Margherita also inherited the magnificent Savoy-Aosta Tiara, a diamond floral jewel that belonged to her mother. Margherita wore it herself for the nuptials of her erstwhile suitor, King Baudouin of Belgium, in 1960. Eventually, the tiara was passed down to her eldest son, Prince Lorenz of Belgium. It’s now worn by his wife, Princess Astrid. On occasion, they loan it to other family members as well. Countess Anna Therese of Arco-Zinneberg, one of Margherita’s granddaughters, notably borrowed the tiara for her wedding in 2018.
Archduchess Margherita’s collection also included at least one more tiara: this diamond and pearl bandeau, which belonged to her grandmother, Princess Hélène d’Orléans. It can also be worn as a choker necklace. In 2019, Margherita’s granddaughter, Countess Olympia of Arco-Zinneberg, wore the bandeau in Paris for her wedding to Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon.
And last, but certainly not least, is the rather astonishing Savoy-Aosta Emerald Necklace. It also belonged to Margherita’s grandmother, Princess Hélène d’Orléans, and passed to Margherita through her mother, Princess Anne. Today, the necklace is worn by Princess Astrid of Belgium, who made a memorable appearance in the jewel at the pre-wedding gala for Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel of Sweden in June 2010.