Turtle Bunbury

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NB: For more on Miss Penelope Smith's family, see sections on Smyth of Ballynatray, Ponsonby of Kilcooley Abbey and the Earls Mouncashell.

A Scandalous Affair - Princess Penelope (1815 – 1882)

The author of the 1853 Tourists Illustrated Handbook for Ireland advised his readers that ‘Ballynatray is the birthplace of Miss Penelope Smyth, now Princess of Capua, and whose family feuds with her Royal relatives are matters of much Neapolitan, not to say European, notoriety’. The gossips of Europe had indeed enjoyed considerable discourse over the serious rupture which Miss Smyth brought upon the ancient Royal House of Bourbon. In one corner stood Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicily’s. In the other, his younger brother, Carlo Ferdinado di Borbonne, Prince of Capua. At the heart of this fraternal squabble was the slender young Penelope Caroline Smyth, second daughter of Grice and Mary Smyth of Ballynatray. She was born in 1815, the year of Waterloo, and grew up on the banks of the Blackwater in the new house at Ballynatray. Contemporaries considered her beautiful. She featured in a popular pictorial tome called 'Some Fair Hibernians'.[24] In 1830 she had been proposed to by a son of Sir John Edmond Browne but declined.

In a Nutshell

The essence of the scandal was that the dashing Prince fell in love with beautiful Penelope, eloped to Scotland and married her at Gretna Green. The King, his brother, refused to recognise the marriage because Penelope was not of Royal blood. The aggrieved Prince sought to change his brothers’ heart. The King would not relent. The Prince and his Irish Princess abandoned Sicily and settled in Malta where they raised two children. In 1862, after the collapse of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, King Ferdinand’s son and successor finally gave the Royal seal of approval to the marriage and recognised the couple as Prince and Princess of Capua.

Carlo, Prince of Capua (1811 – 1862)

Capua is a town in Italy. The ‘Prince of Capua’ was a title given to second sons of Sicilian Kings since the golden age of King Roger II (1093–1154). Prince Carlo de Borbonne was born in Palermo on 10th November 1811. His father was Francesco I, King of Naples (1777 – 1830). His mother was the Infanta of Spain. When his father died in 1830, Carlo’s elder brother succeeded as Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicily’s (1810 – 1859).

The Mysterious Penelope

It is not clear when or how the Prince and Penelope were introduced. It seems her sister was engaged to marry an Italian noble by name of Prince Cimitelli. The love between seems to have been entirely genuine but they came under immense pressure from the outset due to the differences in class between a Prince of the House of Bourbon and a mere Irish girl. That said, there seems to have been considerable debate amongst her contemporaries as to where Penelope actually came from. In ‘Some Fair Hibernians’, for instance, she is described as ‘Miss Smith of Beltrae, Co. West Meath’. Others claimed she was from Devon while others whispered of America. A contemporary went so far as to write:

‘Of her beauty there can be no question, and as second daughter in a family of eight children, she was, shortly before her elopement, regarded as one of the prettiest girls in Exeter while she was a resident in an ordinary middle-class house in the suburbs of the capital of Devonshire. Her fortune was £20,000 and her virtue very much in evidence, as prior to her disappearance with her Royal swain she is said to have been privately united to him at the Royal Vilia of Marlia, near Lucca’.

The talk of her Exeter origins is, of course, twoddle, but the marriage in Lucca may have more credibility. They were certainly the marrying kind.

The Times Takes Note

The first public record of the affair came on February 4th 1836 when The Times told its readers that ‘Miss Penelope Smith, who eloped with Prince Charles of Naples, is from Cork in the south of Ireland’. It went on to say, fasley: ‘She has a sister who is, it is said, affianced to the Prince Cimitelli’ before concluding rather prudishly that ‘the Prince is a married man and we have never heard of the lady’s death’.

On 8th March following, Richard Smyth received an irate letter from the manager of the Pantechnicon Carriage Makers in Belgrave Square claiming that Penelope, professing herself a good friend of Sir Charles Ogle, had borrowed approximately £45 in cash from them shortly before she skidaddled to Naples. The manager suggested to Richard that he felt ‘abused’ but was confident that ‘from the high respectability of your family, you will facilitate a prompt arrangement of the account’. It was by no means the last time Richard was called upon to sort out his errant sister’s financial affairs and there seems to have been considerable debate between her and the other siblings, particularly Henry Smyth at Castle Widenham.

I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do and I Do

In March 1836, Penelope wrote to her brother Richard at Ballynatray explaining how she had been received in a ‘most cordial manner’ by Carlo’s sister Marie Christina, the Regent of Spain. ‘She embraced me several times and repeated that I should call her ‘Sister’ and not ‘Majesty’!! She is a most amiable person and assured me she would do all in her power to serve me [acceptable] to the King of Naples and her mother.’ The Queen’s entreaties were evidently not quick enough and, on April 5th 1836, Carlo and Penelope arrived at Gretna Green in Scotland and were married.[25] Peculiarly, the marriage registry suggests they were married twice more at Gretna before they left in June. On 7th May 1846, for example, the registration particulars, evidently written by the Prince, state: ‘Carlo Ferdinando Borbone, Principii de Capoa, from the Parish of Castello Nuovo, County and States de Napoli de Italia: to Penelope Carolino Smyth, from the Parish of Temple Michael, County Waterford, Ireland, daughter of the late Guie Smyth, Esquire. JOHN LINTON’.[26] The witnesses were Richard Linton, Jan. Bell and Archdeacon McSween. Indeed, the couple’s Las Vegas tendencies ensured they were married on a further three occasions - in Madrid, in Rome (by Cardinal Wold) and, ultimately, in London. [27]

A Mere Commoner

Armed with their miscellaneous marriage licences from Rome, Madrid and Gretna Green ceremonies, the couple applied for a licence to marry according to the forms of the Church of England. However, the Sicilian Ambassador intervened with a caveat from Carlo’s brother, King Ferdinand, counselling that ‘by decrees of the Sicilian Kingdom, no valid marriage could be contracted by a Prince of the Blood Royal without the consent of the Reigning Sovereign’. The crux of the problem was that their union was not recognised under Sicilian law because Ferdinand refused to give them his consent. He considered Penelope a commoner. It was a treasonable offence to treat her as a Royal. She was duly relegated to the quasi-royal position of a morganatic wife and was thus allowed no share in her consort's official dignity. The Court of Canterbury were obliged to uphold the contention and refused to grant the marriage licence. Carlo and Penelope responded by holding yet another marriage ceremony, this time in the well-to-do Church of St. George at Hanover Square in London.

The Mesalliance

As news of the King’s refusal to consent spread across Europe, society eagerly awaited the next move by the Prince and his bride. The multi-married couple were dubbed the ‘misalliance’. On 22nd October 1836, The Times gave the first hints:

‘The King of Naples seems to have abandoned his intention of travelling. The sister of Miss Penelope Smith (Princess of Capua) has just been married to a nobleman of that city’.

Five days later, on 27th October, the paper delightedly reported:

‘The intelligence from Naples [confirming] the audacious attempt by Miss Penelope Smith who has entreated the Prince of Capua to crown her Queen of Sicily. It was rumoured that M. de Houdetot, the King’s Aide-de-camp, had been ordered this morning to set out in all haste for Naples. The General was at a quarter to 2 at the Ministry of Marine, regulating the departure of several vessels intended to reinforce our naval station on the coast of Sicily’.

Exile to Malta

Penelope’s actions seem to have been about to provoke a major diplomatic incident. The Times certainly deemed the story important enough to run on page 3, second only to an account of a breakdown in the Russo-Prussian peace talks taking place in Berlin. But the Prince and Princess do not seem to have had much passion for the limelight. Despondent and hurt, they abandoned Naples and made their way to the island of Malta in the autumn of 1836. They employed a Russian architect to build them a new palace called Selma Hall in the town of Sliema.[28] They remained as exiles in Malta for the next fourteen years, raising at least two children - Francesco (Ferdinando Carlo) di Capua, the Count di Mascali, (1837 – 1918) and Vittoria di Borbonne (1838 – 1895).

Diplomatic Negotiations

Absence from Naples did not stop them from trying to make the King see right. On Thursday December 13th 1838, the long overdue arrival of the Paris papers (Le Siècle) in England enabled The Times to update its readers on the latest from Naples.

‘It is rumoured in several of the London political circles that a reconciliation is about to be effected between the Prince of Capua and his brother, the King of Naples, through the interference of a member of the Royal Family of the both Sicilies. The young prince is to be allowed to return to Naples, where his brother promised that he should be treated with all the honours and privileges due to his birth, and that his wife (Miss Penelope Smith) should obtain a rank and title similar to that of the Princess of Leignitz, the wife, by the left hand, of the King of Prussia. It appears, even, that an understanding is on the point of being entered into respecting the eventual rights of the children born of the marriage of the Prince of Capua with the daughter of an Irish gentleman. The arrival of Prince Napoleon in England suddenly broke off relations. The Prince of Capua from that day would make no concession. He required that his wife be treated as a princess, and that their children enjoy the rights they would be entitled to if born of a mother of Royal blood. In short, the Prince of Capua put forward such inadmissible pretensions, that it is evident that his Royal Highness is resolved on running the chances of a pretender. In England the Prince of Capua and Louis Napoleon are now called ‘the two pretenders’. Who would have expected this six months since? The ability of Mr. Molé, it must be confessed, works miracles’.[29]

Chevalier Vesace

On Wednesday December 25th 1839, The Times seized upon a story in the Cologne Gazette to reveal how the Chevalier Vesace had been sent on a mission from Naples to London ‘to negotiate a reconciliation between the King of Naples and his brother, the Prince of Capua’. The King, said the paper, had ‘consented to advance some 40,000 ducata to pay his brothers debts’. It was also suggested that Penelope is ‘to have the title of the Duchess of Villalta’. Again these talks amounted to nothing and Penelope certainly never became the Duchess of Villalta.

An Italian Contessa?

On Thursday February 18th 1841, The Times published a latter that had appeared in Le Presse some three weeks earlier. The letter stated that the ‘Queen of the French’ (aka Queen Amelia, the consort of Louis Philippe) had united with the Dowager Queen of Naples in an attempt to reconcile the King of Naples with his brother.

The author of the letter anticipated a successful outcome. He also stressed that the King of Naples had ‘never objected to his brother making a love match’. Indeed, he went on, the King was so well informed of the Prince’s intention to elope that on the very moment that he ‘was about to cross the frontier with Miss. Penelope Smith, a captain of gendarmerie handed him a letter, written by His Majesty, advising him to consider the consequences of the act he was about to commit’. The correspondent claims that there were ‘state reasons’ behind the King’s refusal to bestow the titles of Prince and Princess on his brother’s children. Moreover, he was not in a position to give in to the Prince’s demand that his wife, a commoner, be granted a title that would make her superior to the Archduchess of Austria, wife of the Prince of Salerno (the King’s uncle), or the Princess of Sardinia, wife of the Count of Syracuse (the Prince of Capua’s younger brother). ‘His Majesty could not yield to such a demand without wounding the susceptibilities of the Courts of Vienna and Turin, and it was this consideration alone that compelled the King to oppose the Prince’s demand’.

The Smyths of Ballynatray may have waggled an eyebrow or two at the correspondents final suggestion that the King, ‘wishing to prove to his brother that he is willing to make every concession compatible with etiquette and political considerations’ was prepared to raise Penelope to the rank of Countess and ‘to give her precedence over all the ladies of the Court except those of royal blood’. [30] As head of the family, Richard Smyth was certainly embroiled in regular correspondence with his sister who was seeking to cash in on any inheritance she might get from Ballynatray to sustain her life on the continent. Unfortunately this correspondence, part of the papers held by the National Library of Ireland’s Manuscript Department, is largely illegible today.

A Royal Retort

However, the following week, there came a retort from the Prince’s camp in The Times. The author quoted Section 1, Article 14 of the Code Civil of Naples: ‘The foreign woman who married a Neapolitan shall follow the condition of her husband’. Thus, the author concluded, it was not up to the King whether he was prepared to grant Penelope the rank of Countess or not. It was simply ‘a matter of course that the Princess of Capua take the station that the law points out as hers’. The author further scoffed at the King’s offer to make Penelope a mere Countess, adding that it was only a few months since the King, through Lord Palmerston, had offered to create her ‘Princess of Mascali’.[31] The letter concluded that neither Carlos nor Penelope had much interest in returning to Naples. They were however, ‘extremely desirous of receiving the very large income (22,000l a year) to which the Prince is entitled as a prince of the blood royal, and as a legatee under the will of his father, the late King, and for his pay and emoluments arising out of the public employments he held, which have been withheld since his marriage in 1836, and of which I am told the Prince and his family stand very much in need’. [32]

Death of the Capuas

Carlo and Penelope left Malta on 22 August 1850 and returned to Italy with their son, Francesco[33], and daughter, Vittoria[34]. Prince Carlo died at Turin aged 50 on 22nd April 1862, four months after Penelope’s brother-in-law, Henry Wallis of Drishane Castle.

The kingdom of the Two Sicilies collapsed in 1860 and , shortly after Carlo’s death, Victor Emmauel II, the king of the newly united Italy formally recognised their marriage and granted Penelope the royal residence of Marlia near Lucca in Tuscany. The Duchess di Mascali [Marescata], as she became, died at the neo-classical Chateau de a Marlia in 1882. A tablet erected to her memory in St Mary’s Collegiate Church in Youghal reads as follows:

In memoriam Her Royal Highness Penelope Caroline, Princess of Capua, daughter of Grice Smyth of Ballynatray, Co. Waterford, born 19th July 1805, died 13th December 1882. The beloved wife and faithful widow of His Royal Highness Carlo Ferdinando di Borbonne, Prince of Capua, who died 2nd April 1862. This memorial devoted to a devoted and lamented mother is erected by her loving and beloved son and daughter, His Royal Highness Prince Francesco Carlo di Borbonne and her Royal Highness Victoria Augusta Ludovica Isabella Amelia Philomina Helena Penelope did Borbonne Capua.

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord’.

With thanks to Elena Turk.