There is a grave on the local cemetery of the French village of Chabrignac. Incised letters inform: Sa Majeste Nam Phuong Imperatrice D´Annam 1913 -1963.
She was fifty when the heart attack took her life.
Her fairy tale started far away from the place of resting. In another world.
Nam Phuong´s portrait, laquer painting. On display in Bao Dais Villa, Dalat. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski 2012
She was born as Marie Marie-Thérèse Nguyễn Hữu Thị Lan in region of Mekong Delta.
Or maybe as Mariette Jean as other sources claim.
Her hometown was Gò Công. One of many small towns of the region. At the time of her birth todays Vietnam was part of the French Indochine and divided in three parts; southern Cochinchina, central Annam and northern Thonkin.
Her family was wealthy and Roman Catholic. Father Pierre owned his riches thanks to his connections with the Archbishop of Saigon and the marriage to the dotter of a billionaire.
The French were ruling and setting standards than. Marie-Thérèse, or Mariette, was sent to France to be educated. Her parents found a private fashionable catholic school in Paris. She left Gò Công at the age of 12.
Ten years later, in 1934, she was known for the whole Indochina as a future wife of the Emperor Bao Dai.
The story has it that they first met on a ship between Indochina and Europe. It is also said that this acquaintance was not purely casual but encouraged by the French who preferred the Catholic and France-friendly wife for the Annamese Emperor.
The father of the future bride arranged a meeting for the couple in his villa in the city of Dalat. Mariette is described as beautiful, charming and intelligent girl. The Emperor enjoyed the rumour of being handsome, well educated and well mannered. Was it love? It could be.
To have more complete picture one has to be aware that the Annamese court was in a desperate need of money. It may be one of the reasons why the Emperor Bao Dai fought for Martiette to become his wife. Her beauty, charm and wealth were not enough. She was a Catholic and not so long before Bao Dai´s very own ancestors repressed and banned this group.
The matter was not easy and using todays measures might be seen as the potential conflict which could arise if the one of the European modern princes wanted to marry a Muslim girl. Not only Annamese elite was against this union.
The Emperor´s will had won. Beautiful Mariette from Gò Công became the Empress of Annam. By the announced edict, the only of all royal consorts, was she allow to bear this title. Maybe a proof of great devotion, maybe a part of the arrangement?
Except the wedding ceremony yet another one was held, the coronation of the future empress. Bao Dai himself granted her the crown and the yellow robe reserved exclusively for the sovereign. As a place of residence the couple chose the Kien Trung Palace within the Hués Forbidden City. Entering her future home Mariette was offered new name by her husband. From now on she was to be called Nam Phuong.
Section of a model of the Hué´s Forbidden City. Somewhere here, in the central part stood the Kien Thrung Palace. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012
They had five children, several villas, wealth and prestige. Some sources insinuate though that the marriage was stormy. A story has been mentioned about the wife of a French official being urgently called to Dalat in order to calm her friend, the Empress, who was about to use a gun towards her husband in some jealousy drama. They may also be some grains of truth behind the emperor being described as playboy.
Photo of the couple´s five children. On display at Dalat Villa.
Photo of the Emperor Bao Dai at the mantle piece in Dalat Villa. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012
Those family affairs with time had to cease in the blow of history. In 1945 the imperial city of Hué fell to the Ho Chi Minhs army. The emperor abdicated but the new government offered him a position of advisor.
Nam Phuong was still in Hué. With children she moved to An Dinh Palace, lavishly decorated building by the small river outside of the Citadel. After two years her husbands’ political carrier was over. The whole family left Vietnam for France.
An Dinh Palace, Hué. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012
While the former emperor stayed in the fashionable district of the city, his wife led a quite suburban life.
So far I have this much about the beautiful Empress Nam Phuong. She is still a well kept secret.
If You have some credible information to share, please do.