HRH Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma (1926-2018)

A prince who fled to America as the Nazis marched through France, only to join up with the US Army and parachute back into enemy territory; a prisoner of the Viet Minh and nearly left for dead; a complicated love life involving two princesses and twins who were acknowledged to be the children of another man - this characterized the unique life of HRH Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma, who passed away on July 7 aged 92.

Michel was undoubtedly one of the last princes of the "old school" generation of European royalty, those born before the Second World War in a time when royal status still held some luster, even if it was steadily fading. For Michel and his family, the fact that they belonged to a deposed royal house did not mean they were left in the dark when it came to inter-royal mingling. Michel was a first cousin of King Boris III of Bulgaria, a nephew of Empress Zita of Austria, a first cousin of the former Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, brother-in-law of the late King Michael of Romania, son-in-law of the late King Umberto II of Italy, and second cousin of the Duke of Edinburgh. He came from indisputable royal stock, and yet he lived a life that would prove far more interesting and dynamic than most of his crowned contemporaries.

Born and raised in France, Prince Michel was the third child of Prince Rene of Bourbon-Parma and Princess Margaret of Denmark. His national identity proved somewhat complicated - as a scion of the Bourbon line that ruled over the small Italian duchy of Parma until 1859, he and his siblings were technically Italian royals. Yet his father (and his grandfather before him) raised the children to regard themselves as French, while their mother's background as a Danish princess led to erroneous reports in the press that they were in fact members of the Danish royal family.
Prince Michael with his parents, brothers Jacques and Andre, and sister Anne.

When Michel was fourteen, his family left France as Nazi Germany came marching in. Upon escaping to America, Michel's parents entered the work force to keep the bills paid, and his elder sister Anne even found employment as a clerk for a Macy's department store in New York City. With his father's approval, 17-year-old Michel returned to Europe with the US Army and was part of a parachute squadron to land in occupied France behind enemy lines. After the end of World War II, Michel went into service in French Indochina (today Vietnam), where he was captured by the Viet Minh. During eleven months of imprisonment, Michel was tortured, beaten, nearly starved, and watched dozens of his fellow prisoners die before a ceasefire between the French and the Vietnamese enabled his release.

Prince Michel and his first wife, Yolande.
The harrowing years at war prompted Michel to leave the army, and he indulged himself in that favorite past time of idle royalty - race cars. He made a considerable fortune in business and used his royal connections to gain French contracts with the Shah of Iran.

Michel's romantic life proved to be just as colorful. In 1951, he married the French aristocrat Princess Yolande de Broglie-Revel, with whom he had five children - Princess Ines of Bourbon-Parma, Prince Erik of Bourbon-Parma, Princess Sybil of Bourbon-Parma, Princess Victoire of Bourbon-Parma, and Prince Charles-Emmanuel of Bourbon-Parma. The year before his marriage, Michel fathered a daughter out of wedlock, Amelie, whom he legally acknowledged in 1997.

His marriage to Princess Yolande proved complicated, and they separated in 1966. Michel had begun an affair with another princess, albeit one who, unlike his wife who was merely nobility, was thoroughly royal -- Maria Pia of Savoy.

Princess Maria Pia of Italy with her two sets of twins. The younger twins are generally
regarded to be the biological offspring of Maria Pia and Prince Michel of
Bourbon-Parma, though Maria Pia's first husband, Prince
Alexander of Yugoslavia, legally acknowledged them as his own.
Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, or of Italy, was the eldest daughter of King Umberto II and Queen Marie Jose of Italy. Exiled after the expulsion of the Italian monarchy in 1946, Maria Pia entered into a suitably royal marriage with Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, a cousin of that country's deposed King Peter II. Maria Pia had given birth to twin sons by Alexander - Princes Dimitri and Michael - but the marriage had its issues, and she eventually strayed from her husband and engaged in an affair with Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma.

Prince Michel and Princess Maria Pia in later years.
Maria Pia would give birth to another set of twins - Prince Serge and Princess Helene of Yugoslavia - in 1963. They were legally acknowledged as the children of Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and thus bore his title and membership in his royal house. However, Maria Pia and Michel had already begun their affair by this time, and it is an open secret that Serge and Helene are, in fact, the biological offspring of Michel. Alexander of Yugoslavia acknowledged the twins as his legal children, but he never had a close relationship with them and by most accounts never treated them as his own.

Maria Pia and Alexander divorced in 1967, while Michel and Yolande remained legally married until 1999. After decades together, Michel and Maria Pia finally married in 2003.

Prince Michel's sister, Queen Anne of Romania,
and her husband, King Michael of Romania
Prince Michel was the last surviving member of his immediate family. His father died in 1962 and his mother in 1992. His eldest brother, Prince Jacques of Bourbon-Parma, was killed in a car accident in 1964. His youngest brother, Prince Andre of Bourbon-Parma, died in 2011. His only sister, Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma, was married to the exiled King Michael of Romania, who died in December 2017. Queen Anne passed away in 2016 and was granted a semi-state funeral in Bucharest.