Happy Birthday to Pope Francis, who turns 84 today! To mark the day, we are going to be taking an in-depth look at the Privilège du Blanc, the special Papal Privilege that allows certain Catholic Queens and Consorts to wear white in the presence of the Pope.
Traditionally, protocol for papal audiences required that women wear long black gowns with a black mantilla, with the colour signifying virtues of piety and humility. However, certain Catholic Queens and Consorts have traditionally been exempted from wearing black garments and are instead allowed the special Privilège du Blanc, to wear white in the presence of the Pope, which remains in affect despite papal protocol having changed over the years. Originally, the privilege was granted to all those with the style of Rex Catholicissimus: the Empress of Austria/Queen of Hungary, the Queen of Italy, the Queen of France, the Queen of Belgium, the Queen of Spain, the Queen of Portugal, the Queen of Bavaria, the Queen of Poland, the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and Grand Duchess of Lithuania, female Captain Regents of San Marino and a few German Princesses, but today the Privilège du Blanc is limited to the Queens of Spain and Belgium, the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, the Princess of Monaco, and the Princesses of the House of Savoy. We rarely see Royal Ladies exercise their privilege at the same time, but the Funerals and Inaugurations of Popes are notable exceptions, like we saw at the Funeral of Pope Paul VI in 1978 and the Inauguration of Pope John Paul II a few weeks later, and most recently for Pope Francis’ Inauguration in 2013.
Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain was the first Queen pictured in the Privilège du Blanc in recent times, wearing it with the Fleur-de-Lys Tiara for an Audience with Pope Pius XI at the Vatican in 1923. However, after being widowed and exiled from Spain, Queen Victoria Eugenie wore black for Papal Audiences, though she did wear her Mellerio Shell Tiara and the Cartier Diamond and Pearl Tiara.
While the then Princess Sofia wore black on a visit to the Vatican during her honeymoon in 1962 and a later visit to the Vatican in 1970, she first exercised her Privilège du Blanc for her first Papal Audience with Pope John Paul I, in 1977, two years after becoming Queen. Having had the privilege for over 45 years, Queen Sofia is the most senior royal lady with the Privilège du Blanc, having used it for papal audiences, visits, funerals, inaugurations, and masses, and retaining the privilege after King Juan Carlos’ abdication in 2014, most recently using it in 2016, and usually wears a long gown with a mantilla and peineta. While Queen Sofia did wear her orders: the Greek Order of Saints Olga and Sophia, the Spanish Order of Queen Maria Luisa and the Order of Charles III, unlike other Queens, she never wore a Tiara for her Papal Audiences.
The newlywed Crown Princess Letizia wore black with the Order of Charles III for her first visit to the Vatican in 2004, and first exercised her Privilège du Blanc, wearing a cream suit, for a Papal Audience with Pope Francis just a few days after the Accession of King Felipe VI in 2014.
It could be the case that the Privilège du Blanc was not granted to the Queens of Belgium on Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1922 and the Belgian Royal Family’s visit to the Vatican in 1930, but she could have also chosen not to exercise her privilege. The Princess de Réthy also wore black when she and King Leopold III had an audience with Pope Pius XII at the Vatican in 1950.
However, the Privilège du Blanc had been extended to the Queens of Belgium by the time of King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola’s first visit to the Vatican in 1961, for an Audience with Pope John XXIII just a few months after their wedding, when she wore the Privilège du Blanc with the Nine Provinces Tiara. Queen Fabiola wore her Spanish Wedding Gift Tiara for an Audience with Pope Paul VI in 1966, and continued to retain the privilege in through her widowhood, when there were three Queens of Belgium with the Privilège du Blanc.
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As a Princess, Queen Paola wore black for Papal Audiences, but began to use her Privilège du Blanc right after King Albert’s Accession in 1993, and has continued to use it, though she has also worn black, after the King’s abdication in 2013.
As Crown Princess, Queen Mathilde also wore black for papal visits, but she exercised her Privilège du Blanc for an Audience with Pope Francis in 2015, almost two years after King Philippe’s Accession.
While were not able to find any picture from Grand Duchess Charlotte’s visits to the Vatican, Grand Duchess Josephine Charlotte exercised her Privilège du Blanc with the Belgian Scroll Tiara for an Audience with Pope Paul VI in 1965, a few months after the Accession of Grand Duke Jean, and continued to exercise her Privilège for the rest of the Grand Duke’s Reign, though she also sometimes wore black.
Grand Duchess Maria Theresa has also frequently exercised her Privilège du Blanc for papal audiences, funerals, inaugurations and masses. Like Queen Sofia, the Grand Duchess also often wears a long gown and veil for papal audiences.
Princess Grace of Monaco always wore black on her visits to the Vatican, the Princess of Monaco did not traditionally have the Privilège du Blanc, but after Princess Charlene wore white on her first visit to the Vatican in 2013, it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI had given special dispensation to the House of Grimaldi ‘in accordance with prescribed ceremonial of the Vatican for Catholic Sovereigns’. Princess Charlene also exercised her Privilège du Blanc for an Audience with Pope Francis in 2016.
In 1929, the signing of the Lateran Treaty marked the the end of a 60-year feud between the Vatican and the Kingdom of Italy, and Pope Pius XI granted a special dispensation of the Privilège du Blanc to the House of Savoy, which was used by Queen Elena of Italy (wearing the Savoy Pearl and Diamond Tiara) and other female members of the family for audiences with Pope Pius XI at the Vatican in December 1929. The following month, after the Belgian Royal Family’s visit to the Vatican in 1930, the new Crown Princess Marie Jose wore her wedding dress for an Audience with the Pope at the Vatican following her wedding, as did Princess Maria Francesca of Savoy after her wedding in 1939. While members of the family exercised their Privilège du Blanc for events like the Christening of the Prince of Naples in 1937 and the Coronation of Pope Pius XII in 1939, others also wore black for Papal Audiences. In accordance with that special dispensation granted to the House of Savoy, despite the abolition of the Italian Monarchy, the Princess of Naples is the only non-reigning royal consort that exercises her Privilège du Blanc.
In addition to the Queens and Consorts we have discussed above, there have been a few other special cases when royal ladies have worn white for Papal Audiences. In 1935, there were three Spanish Royal Weddings in Rome, and all three of the brides; Infanta Beatriz, Princess of Civitella-Cesi, the Duchess of Segovia, and the Countess of Barcelona, wore white for audiences with the Pope Pius XI after their ceremonies.
In 1964, Princess Irene of The Netherlands (wearing the Bourbon-Parma Tiara) and Prince Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma had a Private Audience with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, following their Wedding at the Borghese Chapel in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.
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The Royal Watcher (@saadsalman719) October 08, 2020
The Royal Watcher (@saadsalman719) October 08, 2020
Liechtenstein is the last remaining Catholic monarchy that does not does have the Privilège du Blanc for their Princesses, and both Princess Gina and Princess Marie have worn Black for Papal Audiences. Maybe the Princesses of Liechtenstein could get a special dispensation like the Princesses of Monaco sometime in the future?
While we had intended to discuss the dress code for non-Catholic royal visitors to the Vatican, we think we’ll save that for a ‘Royal Visits to the Vatican’ article sometime next year, and leave you to explore some of our existing articles, which include the Queen’s visit to the Vatican in 1961, her State Visit in 1980, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret’s visit in 1959, the Prince and Princess of Wales’ visit in 1985 and the Prince and Duchess of Cornwall’s visit in 2017. We have also covered the Dutch State Visit to the Vatican in 2017, the Danish State Visit to the Vatican in 1964, Queen Margrethe’s State Visit in 1975, and Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary’s visit in 2018, the Swedish State Visit to the Vatican in 1991, King Paul and Queen Frederica of Greece’s visit to the Vatican in 1959 and King Constantine and Queen Anne Marie’s visit to the Vatican in 1966, as well as the Thai State Visit in 1960.