In 1985 an elderly lady of nearly 80, living with her sister in a modest home at 722 Cadima Ave. in Coral Gables, received an unexpected invitation. The invitation, which came from King Juan Carlos of Spain, invited her to a royal funeral at the El Escorial Monastery. The ceremony was for the entombment of His Royal Highness Alfonso of Borbon, Prince of the Asturias, the heir to the Spanish throne, and later styled the Count of Covadonga. What made the royal invitation unusual was that Edelmira Sampedro-Robato, the lady in question, was not only that that she had once been wed to Alfonso, or that in 1933 the prince had renounced his rights to the abolished Spanish throne in 1933 to marry her, that the couple had divorced in 1937 after a tempestuous marriage of four years, but that Alfonso had, by 1985, been dead for nearly 40 years. If those reasons were not enough for her surprise, Alfonso, shortly before his untimely death had remarried, and divorced. Edelmira respectfully declined the invitation.
Edelmira was born in Sagua La Grande, Cuba, on March 5, 1906, daughter of a Cuban merchant and his wife, elite members of Havana society. It was while visiting Lausanne in 1932 that Edelmira, 26, and Alfonso, 25, first met, at a Lausanne sanatorium, where the Prince was being treated for hemophilia. After the couple saw each other at a cinema one evening they rapidly fell in love. This presented a problem to the royal family, but then Alfonso had always been a bit of a dilemma. The eldest son and heir of Alfonso XIII and his wife Victoria Eugenie (Ena) of Battenberg, he was only an infant when it was discovered he suffered from hemophilia, an often-fatal disease which prevents blood from clotting.
This discovery created a crack in his parents’ marriage, as the disease, which only affects males, is inherited through the female line. In this case, Alfonso’s affliction came from his being a great-grandson of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. A mere bruise could easily be fatal. He and his brother Gonzalo, also a hemophiliac, were kept dressed in specially tailored jackets to prevent injuries. Gossip even had it that the trees in the royal park were padded for their protection. As often the case with hemophiliacs, this protection led to willful, reckless behavior.
With mounting political upheaval, the royal family fled Madrid in 1931 and Alfonso XIII was deposed, with General Franco seizing power. The royal family divided – Ena settling in Great Britain and Switzerland and Alfonso XIII in Paris and Rome. There were many rumors that Franco was considering Alfonso as his successor, but just as many contradictory ones that the prince would renounce his rights. All the talk was soon academic when Alfonso, who already had a reputation as a playboy, announced his intention to wed Edelmira.
The royal family was aghast. From Paris, Alfonso XIII took away Alfonso’s five cars, slashed his monthly allowance and forced him to formally renounce his rights of succession, although he was granted the courtesy title of Count of Covadonga. Alfonso didn’t care. “I love her and I want to marry her. Let Juan [his next eldest brother] have the throne”. Invitations to the nuptials from the Count were returned “with regret” and none his family attended the wedding, which took place at Ouchy, Lausanne, on June 21, 1933.
The union was doomed from the start. With Edelmira’s consuming jealousy, Alfonso’s constant bouts with hemophilia and philandering, the marriage was marked by frequent headline separations. In 1937 she accused him of having an affair with another woman. In New York, Alfonso asked for an annulment, while, retreating to Havana, Edelmira filed for divorce, which was granted on May 3, 1937. Edelmira had been correct – Alfonso was having an affair with Cuban fashion model Marta Esther Rocafort-Altuzarra, whom he married in a lavish Havana ceremony less than a month after his divorce. The couple would separate just two months later, in September 1937, and divorced in New York the following January.
Moving to Coral Gables, Alfonso died following a minor car accident on Biscayne Boulevard due to his hemophilia, on September 6, 1938. At his parents’ instructions, he was entombed in a private ceremony at Graceland Cemetery Mausoleum, on the border of Coral Gables. Neither of his former wives or members of his family attended the ceremony.
In a change of attitude from her in-laws, Edelmira retained the title Countess of Covadonga, and lived in Havana. For over 60 years she refused all interviews, and never remarried. By all accounts the Spanish Royal family treated her with respect and accorded her the rights and status of a royal widow. She would even be bequeathed some lovely jewelry in Queen Ena’s will when she died in 1969.
Edelmira lived in Havana until the Cuban Revolution, when she left her native country and settled with her sister in Coral Gables. A respected member of the local Cuban community, she died in Coral Gables on May 23, 1994, and was buried at Woodlawn Park Cemetery, over 4,000 miles from the final resting place of the charming prince who had been her husband.