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Bragança or Braganza, town (1991 est. pop. 15,624), capital of Bragança dist., NE Portugal, in Trás-os-Montes. It is of interest because of its castle, seat of the Braganza family, long the royal family of Portugal (1640-1910).
Maria Pia de Saxe-Coburgo-Bragança (Lisbon, March 13 1907 - Verona, May 6 1995) was the name assumed by a lady who claimed to be an illegitimate child of King Carlos I of Portugal. She also claimed that Carlos had recognized her as his daughter and given her the same rights and honours as legitimately-born princes of Portugal. From 1957 she claimed the right to use the royal title Duchess of Braganza and made an active claim to be the rightful queen of Portugal. In 1983 a Portuguese court declared that she had failed to present sufficient evidence to establish King Carlos I as her father. She is also known by her literary pseudonym Hilda de Toledano.

Birth and baptism

Maria Pia was born in Portugal to Maria Amélia Laredó e Murça, the daughter of a wealthy Brazilian couple who had moved to Europe. Maria Amélia's parents are sometimes given the title "baron", but they did not actually hold any noble title; their wealth, however, may have allowed them to use such a title unquestioned.

Maria Amélia was not married at the time she gave birth to her daughter on March 13,1907. Maria Pia claimed that, shortly thereafter, she was taken by her mother and grandparents to Madrid, Spain. There, she said, she was baptised in the Church of Saint Fermin dos Navarros on April 15 1907 and that the baptism was registered at the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and Saint Aloysius. She claimed that her baptismal registration recorded that her father was "D. Carlos de Sassonia-Coburgo y Savoya de la Casa de Braganza de Portugal". This clearly refers to King Carlos I of Portugal, who at the time was married to another woman, Princess Amélie of Orléans.

The original baptismal registers of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and Saint Aloysius were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. In 1939 the Vicar-General of the Diocese of Madrid-Alcalas issued a baptismal certificate to Maria Pia with information provided to him at that time by Don Antonio Goicoechea y Cusculluela, a member of the Spanish parliament and the Governor of the Bank of Spain, who had reportedly been present at the baptism. Subsequently Maria Pia used this baptismal certificate as evidence for her claim to be the recognised daughter of King Carlos.

Maria Pia also claimed that in the archives of the Diocese of Madrid-Alcala there was a copy of a document signed by King Carlos March 14 1907 in which he recognised Maria Pia as his daughter and that "she may be called by my name and enjoy from now on the use of this name with the honours, prerogatives, rank, obligations and advantages of the princes of the House of Braganza of Portugal". Like the baptismal certificate, the original of this document did not survive.

Marriages and children

In 1925 at the age of eighteen Maria Pia married Francesco Javier Bilbao y Batista, a Cuban playboy twenty years her senior. He came from a rich family of cattle breeders. Since Bilbao was divorced, the marriage was a civil one only and took place in the Cuban embassy in Paris. They had one daughter, Fátima Francisca Xaviera Iris Bilbao of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha Braganza, in 1932, but she was reportedly developmentally disabled.

Maria Pia lived briefly with Bilbao in Cuba, before returning to Spain. Bilbao died November 15 1935. Francisca died unmarried in 1982.

To escape the Spanish Civil War, Maria Pia moved with her mother to Rome. In 1939 she married Giuseppe Manlio Blais, a general in the Italian carabinieri. At the time, members of the carabinieri were forbidden from marrying foreigners. The marriage was, therefore, celebrated clandestinely, and was not registered civilly until August 5, 1946. The union proved much happier and together they had a daughter, Maria da Glória Cristina Amélia Blais of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha Braganza, born in 1946. Maria Cristina married the Spanish sculptor Miguel Ortíz y Berrocal (1933-2006) and together they lived in Verona and had two sons: Carlos Miguel Berrocal of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha Braganza (born 1976) and Beltrão José Berrocal of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha Braganza (born 1978).

Blais died in 1983. In 1985, Maria Pia married Antonio João da Costa Amado-Noivo (January 28, 1952 - December 29 1996). At the time of the wedding, Maria Pia was 78, Costa 33.

Literary career

Like many society ladies Maria Pia supplemented her income by writing. In the early 1930s she had a number of articles published in two Spanish newspapers Blanco y Negro and ABC.

In 1937, Maria Pia wrote her first book La hora de Alfonso XIII (The Hour of Alfonso XIII) published in Havana, Cuba, by Ucar, Garcia y Companía. This work, written in Spanish and published under the name "Hilda de Toledano", is a defence of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who was living in exile at the time.

In 1954, Maria Pia wrote Un beso y ... nada más: confidencia consciente de una pecadora inconsciente (A Kiss and ... Nothing More: Conscious Confidences of an Unconscious Sinner) published in Madrid by Plenitud. This work was also written in Spanish and published under the name "Hilda de Toledano". It is a novel, but one which clearly draws heavily upon certain incidents in the life of the author.

In 1957, Maria Pia wrote Mémoires d'une infante vivante (Memoirs of a Living Infanta) published in Paris by Del Duca. This work, written in French and published under the name "Maria Pia de Saxe-Cobourg Bragance", is an autobiography. It marks the first attempt of Maria Pia to receive widespread public recognition for her claim that she was the illegitimate daughter of King Carlos I of Portugal. In the book, however, Maria Pia makes no claim to any dynastic rights. The book closes with the sentence, "I claim no sceptre but my pen, no crown but that bequeathed by my father and mother: my dignity." Instead, Maria Pia suggests that the rightful heir to the Portuguese throne should be Princess Isabelle d’Orléans, eldest child of Henri, comte de Paris.

Active claim to the Portuguese throne

For at least several decades Maria Pia had claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of King Carlos I, and even to be entitled to the style "Her Royal Highness" and the title "Infanta". It was not, however, until 1957 that she claimed to be the rightful queen of Portugal in succession to Manuel II, the son of Carlos I (and the purported half-brother of Maria Pia) who had died childless in 1932.

On July 15, 1957 a group of Portuguese monarchists, led by a man called João António da Costa do Cabedo, addressed a petition to Maria Pia of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha Braganza, asking to claim the throne (which reads as follows):

"We, the undersigned, considering:

  • a) the precarious and anguishing situation in which lives, presently, the people of Portugal;
  • b) the absolute lack of freedom and rights of the Portuguese People, originating in the present police state;
  • c) the existing difficulties to the moral, intellectual and artistic development of our People;
  • d) the failure of the human results proclaimed by the idealists who contributed to the implantation of the Republic, which idealists were later substituted by opportunist elements.

We ask permission of Your Royal Highness to continue considering that:

  • 1. Portugal must be again a Monarchy, the monarchy that led us, oriented us and served us during eight centuries and is so deeply rooted in the soul of our beloved People;
  • 2. The Portuguese People deserves a better fate, and to enjoy the Rights that assist all free nations and individuals, in this second half of the XXth Century;
  • 3. It was Monarchy that made, from a small territory on the banks of the Douro river a great Country, that gave new worlds do the World;
  • 4. Being Your Royal Highness the only descendent of our ever-lamented Monarch, His Majesty the King, D. Carlos I, so tragically assassinated.

We beg Your Royal Highness to accept, in Your Royal Person, the restoration of the Portuguese throne, as our Queen and Liege. Hoping that Your Royal Highness will give us the grace of being in reality, as she is already in our hearts: HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN, D. MARIA III."

In 1958 she went to Portugal where she was received by the President Francisco Craveiro Lopes; the Prime Minister, António de Oliveira Salazar, however, refused to meet her. In the presidential elections that year Maria Pia supported the failed candidacy of Humberto Delgado. She continued to support Delgado after he went into exile in Brazil.

From this point forward Maria Pia used the title "Duchess of Braganza". She attracted the support of a small minority of monarchists who were actively opposed to Salazar. The majority of monarchists supported Duarte Nuno, who also used the title Duke of Braganza and was widely recognised as such both in Portugal and throughout Europe by other royal houses. Duarte Nuno had encouraged monarchists to support Salazar in the hope that Salazar might eventually restore the monarchy in Portugal just as Francisco Franco did in Spain in 1975.

For over a century the supporters of the Miguelist line who favored the descendants of King Miguel had fought with the supporters of the Braganza-Saxe-Coburg and Gotha line from which descended the direct heirs of Queen Maria II. Duarte Nuno belonged to the branch of the Portuguese royal family descended from King Miguel, whose usurpation of the throne from his niece Queen Maria and autocratic rule led to the exile and exclusion of his heirs from the succession under the terms of the Portuguese constitution of 1838 (repealed in 1950 under Salazar.) The Miguelist line was historically associated with an autocratic monarchy, as opposed to the constitutional monarchy of Maria II and her sons Pedro and Luís along with her grandson Carlos, and his son King Manuel II. Maria Pia played on the rivalry in monarchist circles between the Miguelists and the constitutionalists, presenting herself as the "constitutional" (i.e. liberal) candidate. The support given to Salazar by Miguel's senior male-line heir at the time, Duarte Nuno in the 1950s enabled Maria Pia even more to represent herself as the liberal and democratic claimant to the Portuguese throne.

Maria Pia was very active in her claim to the Portuguese throne. Articles about her appeared in Italian and Portuguese newspapers. In February 1965 she went to Portugal to visit the tomb of King Carlos. As she was leaving Portugal and returning to Spain, she was arrested and held in custody overnight. She was released without charge at the request of the Italian embassy.

Maria Pia mixed frequently with the jet set idle rich. She claimed that for many years she maintained an ongoing friendship with the exiled King Alfonso XIII of Spain and his son Infante Jaime, Duke of Segovia but this is strongly denied by the first wife of the latter, Emmanuela de Dampierre. Much correspondence exists between Maria and members of European royal families recording her efforts to gain legitimacy within royal circles, but most of the replies were merely polite but unsupportive.

Legal case about the baptismal certificate

In October 1966 Duarte Nuno petitioned an ecclesiastical court of the Diocese of Madrid-Alcala to remove the name of King Carlos from the baptismal certificate of Maria Pia. Duarte Nuno claimed that there was no evidence that King Carlos was the father of Maria Pia. It is unusual for a baptismal registration to record the father of an illegitimate child. The Roman Ritual instructs the officiating priest only to record the father’s name if the father himself requests it or if he is known to be the father from some public authentic document (Titulus XII, caput II). Clearly King Carlos was not present at Maria Pia's baptism, but Maria Pia claimed that the copy of the document purportedly signed by Carlos granting her the rights of the princes of Portugal was sufficient justification in ecclesiastical law for Carlos to be named her father on her baptismal certificate.

In February 1972 the case between Duarte Nuno and Maria Pia moved up to the Sacred Roman Rota, the normal appeal court for the Roman Catholic Church. On December 6 1972 the court found against Duarte Nuno on the grounds that he did not have legal standing in the case, being only the second cousin twice removed of King Carlos. The court did not address the primary question of whether there was sufficient evidence for Carlos being Maria Pia’s father and thus named as such on the baptismal certificate. It did, however, question the necessity of changing a certificate which was over seventy years old.

Had the Roman Rota found in favour of Duarte Nuno, his supporters could have said that the court had determined that Carlos was not Maria Pia’s father. Since the court found against Duarte Nuno, the supporters of Maria Pia were able to say that the court had affirmed the validity of her baptismal certificate and therefore the validity of her claimed parentage – neither of which in fact actually occurred. The court found only that Duarte Nuno did not have the legal standing to bring such a case: "Patres Auditores de Turno ... decreverunt negative, seu non constare de legitimatione actoris ad causam".

Legal case about property in Portugal

In 1982 Maria Pia filed a claim for the restitution of the private real property of the Royal House of Portugal. It was rejected by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice at Lisbon on 14 April 1983. The Court found that Maria Pia had not established the identity of her father, despite the presentation of the same baptismal certificate presented to the court at the Vatican.

Transfer of rights to Rosario Poidimani

In 1985 Maria Pia decided to name as her heir Rosario Poidimani, a member of what he claimed to be a Sicilian noble family - in spite of the fact that she had a living daughter and two grandsons.

On December 2 1985 Maria Pia signed a document purporting to amend the Portuguese Constitution of 1838, and recognising Poidimani as her eventual heir. On February 19 1986 she signed a second document affirming that there was a blood relationship between her and Poidimani – but not stating exactly what this relationship was.

On April 3 1987 Maria Pia signed a document abdicating her claim to the Portuguese throne and transferring her rights to Poidimani. Several weeks after the document was signed, Maria Pia and Poidimani held a ceremony in Portugal confirming the abdication. In the abdication document she stated that the reason for her action in favour of Poidimani was that she has been "totally deprived of the support of my descent".

Since 1987 Poidimani has styled himself "H.R.H. Dom Rosario of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha Braganza, 22nd Duke of Braganza", and has been active in promoting his claims. He maintains an office in Vicenza, Italy where he lives, but also reportedly visits Portugal regularly. He claims to be a descendant of Luis I of Portugal and a male-line descendant of the Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Blind.

In December 2003 Poidimani brought a libel suit in Italy against Guy Stair Sainty on account of his published analysis of the claims of Maria Pia and Poidimani, A Brief Response to Statements Made by the Supporters of the late Maria Pia de Saxe-Coburg-Bragança, her Grandson Carlos Miguel Berrocal y Blais, and her Alleged Cognate Rosario Poidimani in Respect of their Claims to the Throne of Portugal In August 2004 the court ruled that Poidimani was not entitled to any financial compensation from Sainty .

Poidimani and Roberto Cavallaro, and six others of his close collaborators were arrested in Italy on 22 March 2007 and charged with fraud, forging documents, extortion, and criminal association. The Italian tax police seized 712 fake diplomatic passports, 600 fake diplomatic IDs, 135 forged CD plates and they also took away his throne. ;


Maria Pia died in Verona in 1995. She was buried with her second husband General Blais in the Cimitero Monumentale of Verona.


Maria Pia's claims, and those of Rosario Poidimani, hinge upon the truth or falsehood of the following:

  1. that she was the daughter of King Carlos I;
  2. that Carlos I gave her succession rights to the Portuguese throne;
  3. that she could alter the succession in favour of Rosario Poidimani.

There are no original documents which might support the first and second claims. Maria Pia's baptismal certificate from 1907 was destroyed and there is only a copy of the document in which Carlos I supposedly granted succession rights to Maria Pia.

There is no record of any relationship between Maria Pia's mother Maria Amelia Laredó e Murça and King Carlos I. On the other hand, King Alfonso XIII of Spain and his son Infante Jaime, Duke of Segovia seem to have had an ongoing friendship with Maria Pia; her supporters have interpreted this relationship as an affirmation on the part of Alfonso and Jaime that they recognised Maria Pia as Carlos' illegitimate daughter.

Traditionally, the only way in which an illegitimate child of a Portuguese monarch could have been made legitimate and take his or her place in the line of succession was if his or her parents subsequently were married. At the time of Maria Pia's birth, Carlos was married to Queen Amelie and had two sons with her. Children born of adultery were specifically excluded from the line of succession.

Carlos I was the constitutional king of Portugal. He did not claim autocratic power, but instead ruled according to the Constitutional Charter of 1826 which stated that the succession to the throne passed only to legitimate descendants. The Constitution, including all matters of succession, could only be amended by the Cortes. Even if Carlos had signed a document granting succession rights to Maria Pia, it would have had no legal value at all.

Just as Carlos could not unilaterally change the Constitutional Charter and grant Maria Pia succession rights, neither could Maria Pia (even if she were rightful queen of Portugal) unilaterally change the Constitution and grant succession rights to Rosario Poidimani above her daughter and grandsons.

Further reading

  • Jean Pailler. Maria Pia: A Mulher que Queria Ser Rainha de Portugal. Lisbon: Bertrand, 2006. ISBN 972-25-1467-9. The standard biography of Maria Pia (currently only available in Portuguese) written by a man who also wrote a biography of King Carlos I.
  • Soares, Fernando Luso. Maria Pia, duquesa de Bragança contra D. Duarte Pio, o senhor de Santar. Lisbon: Minerva, 1983. A defence of Maria Pia's claims.
  • Maria Pia de Saxe-Cobourg Bragance. Mémoires d'une infante vivante. Paris: Del Duca, 1957. Maria Pia's own account of the first half of her life.


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