On a recent morning in Venice, Countess Bianca di Savoia Aosta Arrivabene, a descendant of what used to be the Italian royal family, is watering the roses in her palatial garden. Suddenly she stops. She smells something iffy coming from the shed, she explains. Glancing around with her wolfish blue eyes, she darts toward it. “Aha! The gardener must have seen a mouse,” she says, crouching into the shed’s dark recesses and digging out bags of old garbage herself. “He’s terrified of them, so whenever he sees one, I have to clean up and make sure there are none left before he resumes his job.”
The 41-year-old Bianca, whom most people call by her first name, is used to taking care of things herself. With five children and a successful career as chief representative of Christie’s in the Veneto region, she leads a full life. It is a life, however, that has been made more complicated in the past few years by the fact that members of her family have had their sometimes racy private lives scrutinized by the Italian press.
It all started in October 2005, when her father, Amedeo, the Duke of Aosta, spoke on national television about having fathered an illegitimate child with a much younger woman. Although Kyara van Ellinkhuizen, the 39-year-old woman in question, had given multiple interviews about the affair, it was Amedeo’s own confession that caused the greater stir. A descendant of the first king of Italy, the Duke of Aosta belongs to what is commonly considered the most aristocratic—and best-looking—branch of the former royal family. (The monarchy was abolished in the aftermath of World War II.) Although his longtime second wife, Silvia Paternò di Spedalotto, stood by his side during and after the teeth-clenching interview, his persona as a respectable, quiet gentleman farmer in Tuscany was tainted by the publicity. Ginevra, the Duke’s child with van Ellinkhuizen, is now 18 months old. She lives with her mother and has been officially recognized as the Duke of Aosta’s daughter.
In June 2006 scandal struck again. Prince Victor Emmanuel IV of Savoy, a cousin on Bianca’s father’s side and the would-be king of Italy, was torpedoed by accusations regarding financial corruption and an involvement with illegal gambling and prostitution. Victor Emmanuel was indicted and imprisoned for several weeks, but the charges were subsequently dropped. This was not his first brush with the law. In 1978 he allegedly shot a 19-year-old German named Dirk Hamer, who died four months afterward. Thirteen years later, Victor Emmanuel was acquitted in a French court.
The turn of events has created a rift within the Italian monarchist movement, rekindling an age-old feud between the two branches of the family, both of which claim their right to the would-be kingdom. Although a return to the monarchy in Italy is a most unlikely scenario, leading monarchists have placed Bianca’s father and her brother Aimone, who works in Moscow and is engaged to Olga of Greece, as the first in line of succession to Italy’s throne.