The Christian Empress of Viet-Nam
Marie-Therese
Nguyen
Huu Hao
Empress
Nam-Phuong
of Viet Nam
           The first Empress of Vietnam was born Marie-Therese Nguyen Huu Hao on December 4, 1914 in Saigon, which was then the primary city of the French colony of CochinChina. Her parents were His Excellency Pierre Nguyen Huu Hao, Duke of Long My and Duchess Marie Le Thi Binh. Like the rest of her family, she was a Christian and devoted member of the Roman Catholic Church. Due to the wealth of her family she was able to go abroad for her education and studied at the Convent des Oiseaux in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Once she returned to Viet Nam she became one of the most famous beauty queens of Indochina and was brought to the attention of HIM Emperor Bao Dai, nominal ruler of Viet Nam, who was in search of a bride.
            Although he was certainly never one to miss a pretty face, it was Marie-Therese's intelligence which most impressed the Emperor. Having been educated in the best schools in France as well as with the most esteemed traditional scholars in Viet Nam, he found none of the other high-born ladies of sufficient intelligence to match him. However, with Marie-Therese, he found someone who was just as educated in the style of the west as well as the east to convince him that this was the woman for him, with beauty as well as brains. She was introduced to the Emperor by Governor-General Pasquier, and he was pleased to find that she was talented in music and shared his interest in sports.
            There were problems however. Emperor Bao Dai had already angered the queen mother and grandmothers by firmly deciding to abolish the harem and take only one wife. Now, the
Empress-Dowager Tu Cung was even more opposed to the idea of her son marrying a Christian (she herself was a priestess of the Cao Dai religion). There was also the problem of the Church. Marie-Theres wished to have a traditional Catholic ceremony, but it proved impossible to obtain a papal dispensation since the future heir to the throne would have to participate in Confucian rites and could not be raised as a Catholic.
            Finally, the two were married in a civil ceremony on March 20, 1934. The people of Viet Nam were overjoyed with their new queen consort, particularly the ties she represented with Cochinchina, reminding everyone that Viet Nam was still one united nation from north to south. On March 24, 1934 Emperor Bao Dai raised his wife higher than any woman in Vietnamese history with the name and title of Nam Phuong (southern perfume) Empress of
Viet Nam. The succession was secured on January 4, 1936 when Empress Nam Phuong gave birth to their first child, Crown Prince Bao Long.
           There were other children, and Empress Nam Phuong was always present, as no other queen before her had been, in the life of her country. One of her favorite projects was serving as patroness of the Vietnamese Red Cross. On June 18, 1945 she was further elevated from the style of 'Her Majesty' to 'Her Imperial Majesty' and after the end of World War II she served as a member of the Reconstruction Committee for Viet Nam. However, when the Communist takeover led to chaotic conditions, she left Viet Nam and took the children to France.
            Since the Emperor had abdicated, she now could raise the children as Catholics, sending them to the best private schools. She attended to family affairs while the Emperor was busy dealing with the French and nationalist parties in the establishment of an anti-communist government in the south.
The Empress, with her children and confessor in France
           Empress Nam Phuong could, no doubt, have been of even greater service to her country in the troubled years to come, but her life was cut short with her death on September 15, 1963 at Chateau La Pesche, Chabrignac, Juillac, France.
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