Princess Maria Cristina Ferdinanda di Borbone was the second child of Francis I, King of the Two Sicilies by his second wife, María Isabella of Spain. Maria Christina was born on April 27, 1806 in Palermo, Sicily. Her father was the son of Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies and Naples, and Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria. Maria Carolina was the thirteenth child of Empress Maria Theresa, making Francis I the nephew of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI of France. Francis I’s first marriage had been to his double first cousin, Archduchess Maria Clementina of Austria, the daughter of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1796. They had a daughter and a son together but only their daughter survived infancy. Maria Clementina died in 1801 from tuberculosis, so, Francis I married again in 1802 to his first cousin, María Isabella of Spain.
At the time of Francis I’s marriage to María Isabella, he was twenty-five but she was only thirteen. She was the youngest daughter of King Carlos IV of Spain and Maria Luisa of Parma and, despite her young age at the time of her marriage, her union with her cousin was a happy one. The two complimented each other and the Sicilian people loved the agreeable, cheerful María Isabella. Her husband especially liked how his young wife had no ambition, interest, or talent for politics, unlike his domineering mother, Maria Carolina of Austria. Francis I was fond of his wife but was constantly unfaithful to her, as he lived with his mistresses instead of his queen consort. When he succeeded his father as King of the Two Sicilies in 1825, he rarely participated in his own government and left the task of running the country to his favorites and police officials. He was also a very paranoid man and had an incessant fear of being assassinated, so he chose to be encircled by soldiers everywhere he went. Maria Christina had eleven full siblings, one half-sister, Princess Maria Carolina, Duchess of Berry, from her father’s first marriage, and various illegitimate siblings. Her full siblings include: Princess Luisa Carlotta, who married her uncle, Infante Francisco de Paula of Spain, Princess Maria Antonia, who married her first cousin, Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Teresa Cristina, Empress Consort of Brazil.
|Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies|
(Luis de la Cruz, 1831)
|Ferdinand VII, King of Spain|
(Vicente López, 1814-15)
|Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies with her husband,|
Ferdinand VII, King of Spain
(Luis de la Cruz, 1832)
So, just seven months after his third wife’s death, Ferdinand married his young niece, Maria Christina, on December 11, 1829 in Madrid. Since the marriage was so rushed and the couple, despite their blood relation, barely knew each other, it made for a rather awkward start to their lives together. At the time of the wedding, Maria Christina was twenty-three while her new husband (and uncle, and brother-in-law) was forty-five. The wedding was a grand affair and celebrations carried on until the start of the next year. Despite the initial discomfort between the couple, Ferdinand was quickly pleased with his new, beautiful and cheerful consort, who proved to have a great amount of influence over him. Maria Christina unwillingly became wrapped up in the political factions of the Spanish kingdom when she became the Queen of Spain, as she was supported by the moderates and liberals (advocates of the monarchy who hoped that Maria Christina could finally provide the long-awaited heir to the throne) and opposed by the absolutists. The absolutists, also known as the “Carlists”, wanted Ferdinand’s younger brother, Infante Carlos, Count of Molina, to succeed his brother instead of any possible children Ferdinand might produce. Maria Christina had an ally and friend at court in her sister, Luisa Carlotta, but the two competed for power and status amongst the Spanish courtiers with their rivals, Maria Francisca of Portugal (the first wife of Infante Carlos) and her sister, Maria Teresa, Princess of Beira (the second wife of Infante Carlos). Soon after the wedding, Maria Christina delighted both her husband and his political supporters when she became pregnant. The Carlists and Infante Carlos hoped that the child in the Queen’s womb would be a girl, as females could not inherit the throne, which would mean that Carlos would still be the heir apparent to his brother’s crown. But Ferdinand recognized this possibility and on March 29, 1830, he issued the Pragmatic Sanction, which made it possible for females to inherit the throne. Carlos and his party viciously opposed this decree but as they held no significant power to rival that of the King’s they could do nothing. On October 10, 1830, Maria Christina gave birth to a daughter, María Isabel Luisa, the future Isabel II. Less than two years later, on January 30, 1832, Maria Christina delivered another girl, Infanta María Luisa Fernanda. She had two sons as well but both died after less than a year.
Tragedy struck the royal family on September 29, 1833 when Ferdinand suddenly and unexpectedly died at the age of forty-eight, leaving his three year-old daughter, Isabel, to inherit the throne with her mother as her regent. Isabel’s succession was disputed from the start, as Carlos and his supporters refused to recognized a female monarch and proclaimed that Carlos himself was the true and rightful king. The Carlists even spun outrageous stories that on his deathbed, Ferdinand had actually proclaimed Carlos as his heir but Maria Christina was purposefully hiding this fact. They even said that the Queen herself had forged her late spouse’s signature to a decree that recognized Isabel as his heir. The dispute over the succession erupted into the Carlists Wars (a series of conflicts lasting from 1833-1876), which was fought over both the succession and the future of Spain itself. Those who supported Isabel and her mother wanted a liberal constitution and reformist social policies while the Carlists desired an absolute monarchy and a return to the traditional, conformist society of the past. Ultimately, it was the support and loyalty of Isabel’s army and her people that allowed her to emerge victorious in the first half of the Carlists Wars and keep her throne.
|Agustín Fernando Muñoz, |
1st Duke of Riánsares
But, just two months into Maria Christina’s regency, she made a shocking personal act on December 28, 1833 when she secretly married an ex-sergeant from her husband’s royal guard named Agustín Fernando Muñoz. The two had met and fallen in love during Maria Christina’s marriage to Ferdinand; however, they knew that they had to keep their marriage a secret for Maria Christina to remain her daughter’s regent. It was said that the two became attracted to each other when, according to one account, Muñoz stopped the runaway horses of her carriage. Another account records that their moment of attraction was less dramatic – it was simply when Muñoz picked up her fallen handkerchief. Although it was common knowledge at court that Maria Christina was romantically involved with the handsome and kind Muñoz (who thankfully had no political ambitions), their relationship was thought to be just an affair and not a legal marriage.
The couple had a total of eight children together, four girls and four boys:
- María Amparo Muñoz, 1st Countess of Vista Alegre (1834-1864) married: Prince Władysław Czartoryski – had issue
- María de los Milagros, Marchioness of Castillejo (1835-1903) married: Filippo del Drago, Principe di Mazzano e d’Antuni – had issue
- Agustín Muñoz, 1st Duke of Tarancón (1837-1855) died unmarried and without issue
- Fernando Maria, 2nd Duke of Riansares & Tarancon (1838-1910) married: Eladia Bernaldo de Quirós y González de Cienfuegos – had issue
- María Amalia, Marchioness of La Isabella (1840-1921) married: Agustin Fernando Muñoz y Sanchez, Duke of Riansares – had issue
- Juan Bautista, Count of Recuerdo (1844-1863) died unmarried and without issue
- Jose Maria, Count of Gracia (1846-1863) died unmarried and without issue
- Diego, Count of Recuerdo (1847-1868) died unmarried and without issue
Despite the couple’s attempts to keep their marriage a secret, the truth was eventually discovered. Maria Christina, who had once been loved by the Spanish people, became unpopular seemingly overnight. It didn’t help that her regency was being questioned at the time, as some didn’t believe that she truly supported her daughter’s Liberal ministers and their policies. In the long run, the scandal of the Queen Mother’s marriage to a low-ranking soldier became too much and the army, Queen Isabel II’s backbone of support, and the Liberal leaders of the Spanish government commanded that Maria Christina step down from her role as regent. Maria Christina complied on October 12, 1840 and left Spain with her husband and their children. The commander of the Spanish Army, General Baldomero Espartero, Count of Luchana, became Isabel’s new regent. Maria Christina and Muñoz initially went to Rome for a short period of time where the Pope granted them a dispensation for their morganatic union. The couple then left Rome to visit Maria Christina’s parents in Naples before journeying to Paris, where King Louis Philippe I of France (the father-in-law of her youngest daughter, Infanta María Luisa Fernanda) welcomed the Queen Mother with military honors and rewarded her with apartments in the Palais-Royal. Finally, in 1842, Maria Christina established her official residence when she bought the Château de Malmaison, the former home of Empress Josephine after her divorce from Napoleon.
|Isabel II, Queen of Spain|
(Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1852)
|Infanta Luisa Fernanda|
(Federico de Madrazo, 1848)