Princess Victoria Eugenie Julia Ena was born at Queen Victoria’s beloved Balmoral Palace in Scotland on October 24, 1887. One can only hope that the Queen, who notoriously did not allow bedrooms at Balmoral to be heated above 60° F, made an exception for the baby’s mother!
As daughter of the Queen’s stay-at-home daughter Princess Beatrice and her husband, Prince Henry of Battenberg, little Ena (as she was called—the name is Scots Gaelic, in honor of her place of birth) and her three brothers grew up in close proximity to the Queen (whom they called “Gangan”), who doted upon them and was almost a second mother to them. This was a good thing: just like her grandmother and mother, Ena lost her father at an early age when he joined the Ashanti Expedition in 1896 and died of typhoid en route to Africa.
Ena grew into a pretty, golden-haired girl; her uncle, King Edward, was very fond of her as well and took an interest in her future. Her matrimonial possibilities were slightly tarnished; her father was not of royal blood as his mother had been a commoner. But that didn’t stop the young King Alfonso XIII of Spain from being very interested indeed when he met Ena on a visit to England in 1905. Alfonso was on the hunt for a bride; when his first choice, Princess Patricia of Connaught, another granddaughter of Victoria, turned him down, he set his sights on Ena. She accepted his proposal in January 1906, began to prepare herself to convert to Roman Catholicism (which angered both English Protestant extremists and Spanish Catholic extremists), and set herself to falling in love with her not-very-prepossessing but very royal husband-to-be.
Unfortunately, it would not be a happy marriage. Ena’s wedding was nearly destroyed—literally—by an anarchist’s bomb; her wedding dress was soaked with the blood of her murdered guards. Within a year she bore a son and heir for Spain; but it was quickly found that the baby boy was a hemophiliac, as were several of Queen Victoria’s grandsons. The knowledge soured the relationship between Ena and Alfonso, and though she went on to bear him six more children (one was sadly a stillbirth), they were never again close and Alfonso became serially unfaithful. Also sadly, the Spanish people never took to their calm, phlegmatic, very British queen, who held herself as befit a granddaughter of Queen Victoria...but who never appealed to the dramatic Spanish temperament. Though she worked tirelessly on behalf of the Spanish Red Cross and for other causes such as poor relief and education, she was always regarded with suspicion by most of her subjects.
Moreover, European politics were in turmoil both during and after the first world war, and Spain was no exception; unrest through the twenties finally led to Alfonso’s voluntary exile (though not abdication) in 1931 after national elections swept the anti-monarchy Republicans into power. The family went to France; and soon after Ena and Alfonso separated.
Ena eventually settled in Switzerland after time in England and Italy. Her eldest and youngest sons, both hemophiliacs, died in car crashes in the late 1930s; her husband followed in 1941. Ena’s son Juan was the theoretical king of Spain, but the country itself remained firmly in the grip of Generalissimo Franco. Ena returned to Spain only once, a year before her death, to attend the christening of her great-grandson, son of Juan Carlos. She died a year later in spring of 1969, exactly 38 years to the day that she’d left Spain...but on her visit, she was gratified to be rapturously received by the Spanish people as La Reina...an acclamation she never received. Sadly, she didn’t live to see Franco declare her grandson Juan Carlos as his successor, nor to see him become King Juan Carlos I in 1975.