"I flew in on the first flight as soon as I heard that my son Philip was in hospital. Thank God it was nothing serious – everything is fine now. I told my ex-husband, Crown Prince Alexander Karađorđević, that I was here and that I'd like to go to the court, but no – he didn't invite me, or Phillip, or Danica. The attempt to stand together as a family, and have Stefan spend some time with his grandfather, who barely knows him, failed. All this causes me a great deal of hurt because family is the most important thing. You can be a Karađorđević or anything else, you can bear all sorts of titles, but family comes first.
"I'm going back home feeling a bit sad, as I didn't win this small battle. That said, I'm also leaving happy, having seen that they are happy, which is the most important thing to a mother. Also, I saw that Philip and Danica are doing the right thing for Serbia," Princess Maria da Gloria of Orleans-Braganza, the first wife of Crown Prince Alexander Karađorđević and mother of princes Peter, Philip, and Alexander, said in her exclusive interview with Kurir.
Mother above all else
Maria da Gloria is a princess, countess, duchess – the titles make one's head spin, as does her full name, consisting of no fewer than 14 words. She is in a direct line of succession in the Brazilian and Portuguese dynasties, and only the blue blood of many dynasties runs through her veins. Living in a majestic villa in Seville, she is married to the Duke of Segorbe, who comes from a famous Spanish lineage. Their lives centre around castles and courts – a whole different world. And yet, she is so warm and approachable, as if she were one of us, someone from the neighbourhood. It is a delight to have a conversation with such a person. Moreover, she is a mother above all else, and a mother with a capital 'M', who came running to Belgrade as soon as she'd received the news that her little Philip was in hospital!
"Oh yes, sorry, Philip," she spoke in a deeper voice and with a more serious expression on her face, as he is the hereditary prince of the Karađorđević dynasty, as well as a husband and a father. But she is a mother above all else, and he is her child, and everything else comes second.
It is Sunday. Philip is feeling well and has been released from the Medical Centre. It is no accident at all that we have met at Oplenac to do this exclusive interview. Oplenac is the place where the leader of the First Serbian Uprising, Karađorđe, had his capital city built. That is the place of origin of it all, and it marks the start of their entire future.
"It's just beautiful. I never knew that King Peter I lived here as well – you can see his humane side," Princess Maria da Gloria said looking around. Her husband Ignacio, Duke of Segorbe, and her are a perfect combination, with her working as a decorator restoring old castles across Spain as part of the mission to preserve the Spanish cultural heritage, and him as an architect and academic.
We sit down under the shade of King Peter I's summer house, located next to his house, turned into a museum now. Welcoming guests, especially in Šumadija, invariably includes plum brandy.
The King's summer house
"Cheers! Cheers! You're going to get me drunk! I had two at the Patriarch's this morning," Princess Maria da Gloria smiled, raising the glass to her son Philip and her daughter-in-law Danica, as four-year-old little Stefan was running around on his bicycle.
Then we go to the church. The Princess makes the sign of the cross standing in front of the icon of Saint George. Karađorđe lies to the right, and King Peter to the left. They light the candles. All the Karađorđević's are in the crypt, together for a decade, and after decades of exile, albeit dead. If one stands in the middle of the crypt, right before the double-headed eagle, the perfect acoustics of the space creates an unreal echo of one's voice as the light refracts over one's face in a perfect fashion. And the Princess is enthralled, not least by the church door that weighs a tonne and half – cast from the weapons of the Serbian warriors – but can be moved with a single finger. At the end, which is also the beginning, the Karađorđević family tree is placed to the left of the door, including all the blue blood ties that they have.
"Mom, mom, look! There's you, and there's Brazil," Prince Philip said with pride.
We go back to the summer house and our conversation. It is the Princess's fourth time visiting Serbia. The first time was in 2005, when her ex-husband, celebrated his 60th birthday. Then in 2017, when she attended the wedding of Philip and Danica. A year later, she was there for the baptism of her grandson Stefan. And she is back now.
"I was having dinner in Venice with my husband last week [N.B. Now it is the week before last], when I got the message: "Philip is in hospital". On the next day, I took the first flight to Belgrade. Unannounced. It might not have been serious, but when your child is in hospital, you go. And I was completely taken by surprise! I went to the nursery to pick Stefan up. When he saw me, he had no idea what was happening and cried out, "Grandma mom, grandma mom!" and jumped! He introduced me to his teachers and friends," the Princess recounted.
The princess also went to the hospital, spoke to the doctor, and it all went well. And then she wanted to go to the court and gather up her family – father, son, and grandson. While the relations with her ex-husband and the family had for years been apparently cordial and maintained to an extent, when Peter III abdicated in favour of Philip, with the ceremony taking place in Seville in April, without Crown Prince Alexander in attendance, what little official ties that had been left were severed.
The Crown Prince did not object to the fact that the older brother was relinquishing his future throne to his younger brother, but he did mind that he had done that outside of Serbia and without him. However, Princess Maria da Gloria points out that she respects the decision of her son Peter, as her children's happiness comes first for her.
"Peter renounced the throne to Philip, and that is an act of patriotism. He himself had said that he wasn't ready to take over this duty. For me, the abdication is perfectly acceptable. Above all, bearing in mind Peter's happiness, but also – Philip is here, in Serbia. He has married a beautiful Serbian lady, who understands everything. Look, Danica even looks like me, she could be my daughter! My son Alexander has supported it as well. He and Peter told me, "Mom, whatever Philip needs, we will fight for him," the Princess said, adding:
"The relationship with Alexander (the father) is now a difficult story."
When we asked her if this had anything to do with Princess Katherine, the Crown Prince's second wife, who is seen as sowing discord in the Karađorđević family, she said:
"You should ask Prince Alexander, not me. He's almost never seen his grandson, and Stefan has been to Spain many times, for Christmas and other occasions. It's very sad. The attempt to be like a family, for Stefan to spend time with his grandfather, failed."
As is usually the case with blue-blooded people in these circles, who are usually related, it all started back in 1970.
"Prince Alexander and I are cousins, four times removed, via the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha dynasty. The ties are so very complicated that even I myself need time to remember all the princes and princesses that we are tied to," the Princess said as she reminisced about how she had met Karađorđević.
"Oh, my God, it was beautiful. I met Alexander at a dinner at my uncle and aunt's, the Count and Countess of Paris in Estoril. He had arrived with the King of Italy Umberto II, who we used to call Uncle Bip. This was a time of exile, with many kings and princes around. We became very good friends from the start. As he was in the UK Army, I went to Ireland, where he was stationed, to see him. We got engaged afterwards and I returned to Brazil to let my parents know. My mother was a devout Catholic, but the first thing she asked me wasn't about his religion but, "Is he taller than you?" "Of course he is."
The wedding took place in Seville in 1972, in Villa Manrique (Villamanrique de la Condesa), which the Princess's mother had inherited from the Orléans.
"Back then, Spain was an exclusively Catholic country, and it was difficult, unlike today. The Count of Paris, the King of Italy, they all intervened and managed to get the Bishop of Seville to approve that the wedding be conducted according to the Serbian Orthodox customs, which was the duty of Prince Alexander," the Princess recounted.
For the first two years, the couple lived in Brazil, where the prince took employment in the publishing business. His work subsequently took them to Chicago..
"That is where Peter was born on 5 February 1980. It was 40 degrees Celsius below zero on that day in Chicago! Two years later we moved to a place called Vienna, in Fairfax, Virginia. And so my sons Philip and Alexander were born in Vienna on 15 January 1982," Maria da Gloria said, smiling.
Soon after, the couple divorced in 1983. Maria da Gloria wishes to keep the reasons for herself as they are personal. She left for Spain, and Alexander was based in London.
"Our sons spent time with both myself and Alexander. There was never a war between us. On the contrary. In the beginning, Peter went to school in London, and Philip and Alex (Alexander) stayed with me. When they attended the nursery in Seville, they gained friends for life – brothers Carlos and Cristobal – who would defend them when older children picked on them for not speaking Spanish," the Princess reminisced. In 1985, she married the Duke of Segorbe, and they welcomed their daughters Sol (The Sun) and Luna (The Moon). Alexander married the Greek Katherine Batis in the same year.
Then all three of them moved in with their father, spending summer breaks with their mother.
"Five children together in a palace, in the countryside, an hour away from Seville. Sons, daughters, Brazilian relatives… Amazing. My father was the best grandfather – he would pull tricks and things would disappear. Now Stefan goes to the same place. All my children help each other, they would stop at nothing to save one another. Those are true brothers and sisters. We're essentially a very happy family. Thank God for that. We're unique too," said the Princess, who is now ready to fly back home, to Seville.
"I don't know if Philip will ever be king, but I do know that he will set an example and continue Karađorđe's tradition. That is his mission, and I know that he can carry it through. King or no king, what is important is that Serbia is strong with the Karađorđević family here. I'm leaving feeling happy, my children are well. And grandpa Alexander will come. I hope…"
MOTHER AND SON
Arguments over Nadal and Đoković
The only time when the mother and her son Philip are in conflict is when Nadal and Đoković play against each other.
"When Nadal played the last match at Wimbledon, I told Stefan, 'Let me watch my friend Nadal!' Little as he was, he says to me bluntly, 'My friend is Đoković!' However, nowadays I support Đoković," the Princess laughed as Prince Philip was impatiently watching the second set of the Đoković-Kyrgios match on his cell phone, which brought Novak the seventh Wimbledon title.
'Proud and beautiful'
According to the Princess, she finds the character of the people in Serbia the most interesting.
"Serbs are special. I've seen many Serbs in Chicago too. They know a great deal and are proud of being Serbian. You also have beautiful men and women. Philip's cousin Pablo came to his wedding and told me he got torticollis (wry neck) in Belgrade, because he kept turning left and right looking at the beautiful girls in the street!" the Princess said, adding that you could see a big difference between the Belgrade in 2005, when she first visited it and saw many wounds inflicted by bombing, and now, when everything is fantastic and clean."
SPENDING TIME WITH FRIENDS
'My friend Jelisaveta'
Maria da Gloria enjoyed the past couple of days with her grandson, but also with a great friend of hers – Princess Jelisaveta.
"She is amazing, has lots of integrity, and everybody recognizes her in the street. When we were in the Tašmajdan Park, a monarchist unknown to us paid for our coffee. People like her," said Princess Maria da Gloria, who was in the park with Stefan as well, and enjoyed the games he played with his friends.
A special language
"Although they're twins, Philip and Alexander are completely different – Philip's blood type is O, and Alex's is A. There are seven minutes difference between them. Philip has blue eyes, and Alex's are dark-coloured. Philip takes more after me both physically and otherwise, he is social, although some people say that he resembles King Alexander. As for Alex, he is like Karađorđe," the Princess straightened up, held herself firmly, and then recalled this:
"When Alex way playing with Luna, she destroyed his LEGO. He cried out: 'I wish she were a man so that I could punch her!' Alex is in Hawaii, far away, without any of his family. He misses Europe, so he might come here, as his business is conducted online anyway. Peter is a mixed sort of type – he lives in Seville, and I see him every day. He's a more difficult character, questions everything, but also has an exceptional sense of humour."
But twins wouldn't be twins if there weren't a special connection between them:
"When they were young, they had their own special language, which only they understood. Their word for water when we were out in the street was 'mi mi'. How sweet!" the Princess said.
A hired kid as a babysitter
The Princess also remembers anecdotes involving her sons and the house in Fairfax, whose basement she redecorated as a children's playing ground. Peter, who was about three, yelled out, "Mom, mom, a moving stick!"
"So I went downstairs, and it turned out it was a snake! I hate snakes! I picked up a broomstick, killed it, put it into a bottle, and took it to the zoo to see it was venomous," the Princess recounted. When they lived in Washington, and she and Alexander had to go to New York for two days, she found an incredible "babysitter" for the boys:
"They kept crying and asking for their mom and dad, so I rented a goat kid from the zoo!
"And then they stopped asking for us. It was the best babysitter that we have ever had. They made such a big fuss when I returned it – waterworks all around."
Jelena S. Spasic