Saturday, June 18, 2016

María Isabella of Spain: Queen of the Two Sicilies

Infanta María Isabel de Borbón y Borbón-Parma was the eleventh child of King Charles IV of Spain and his wife, Maria Luisa of Parma. She was born on July 6, 1789 at the Royal Palace of Madrid. Her father was the son of Charles III of Spain and Maria Amalia of Saxony while her mother was the daughter of Philip, Duke of Parma and Princess Louise Élisabeth of France. María Isabel’s parents were first cousins, as her paternal and maternal grandfather were brothers (they were the sons of Philip V of Spain and his second wife, Elisabeth Farnese). María Isabel’s father was a popular monarch who constantly portrayed himself as a powerful and absolute ruler.  He was known to be an extremely strong man who had a kind personality, yet he was slow to learn and was rather gullible. In contrast to the dominating persona he showcased in public, he actually took little part in governing his kingdom and left his royal duties to his wife, who ruled over her husband like no other. Queen Maria Luisa was as unpopular, unlike her spouse, and, since her husband placed his job in her hands, she in turn gave this power to her favorite, the prime minister, Manuel Godoy. Those who were against Godoy and the Queen spun rumors that the two were lovers and that María Isabel was not the King’s daughter but Godoy’s instead. However, both outrageous accusations were total lies. Although María Isabel had thirteen other siblings, only six of these brothers and sisters survived into adulthood.

María Isabel's parents - Charles IV, King of Spain & Maria Luisa of Parma
Anton Raphael Mengs
Her surviving siblings were:
  • Carlota Joaquina of Spain, Queen of Portugal & Brazil (1775-1830) married: John VI of Portugal & King of Brazil – had issue
  • Infanta María Amalia of Spain (1779-1798) married: Infante Antonio Pascual of Spain – no issue
  • María Luisa of Spain, Duchess of Lucca (1782-1824) married: Louis I, King of Etruria – had issue
  • Ferdinand VII, King of Spain (1784-1833) married: (1) Maria Antonia of Naples & Sicily – no issue, (2) Maria Isabel of Portugal – had issue, (3) Maria Josepha Amalia of Saxony – no issue, (4) Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies – had issue
  • Infante Carlos, Count of Molina (1788-1855) married: (1) Maria Francisca of Portugal – had issue, (2) Teresa, Princess of Beira – no issue
  • Infante Francisco de Paula of Spain (1794-1865) married: (1) Princess Luisa Carlotta of Naples and Sicily – had issue, (2) Teresa de Arredondo y Ramirez de Arellano – had issue

María Isabel was pampered by her parents and grew up with all the fittings of a princess, but her birth and childhood coincided with troubled times throughout Europe. Spain was in a period of political disorder due to Charles IV’s lack of participation in his own government and the unpopularity of Godoy. France had erupted into revolution that sent shockwaves through the Continent and all the nearby royal kingdoms (Queen Maria Luisa’s cousin was the doomed King Louis XVI). In 1799, Napoleon secured control of a chaotic France and soon crowned himself as Emperor. In December of 1800, his younger brother, Lucien Bonaparte, came to Spain as the new French ambassador and María Isabel’s mother was quick to present her young daughter as a possible wife for Napoleon, although he was already married at the time. Regardless, Napoleon thought little of the Spanish royal family and he didn’t believe they had a firm grasp on their own throne. He even said, though not to the faces of the King and Queen of Spain, “If I would have to remarry, I wouldn’t look in a house in ruins for my descendants”.
María Isabella of Spain
(Francisco Goya, 1800)
After it became clear that Napoleon had no interest in marrying María Isabel, Queen Maria Luisa began searching for another royal suitor for her daughter’s hand, as she desperately wanted her beloved child to wear a crown. She desired to marry her daughter to her paternal first cousin, Prince Francis of Naples and Sicily, whose wife had died just a few months previously. The idea was that if María Isabel married Prince Francis of Naples and Sicily, and her brother, the future Ferdinand VII, wed Francis’s sister, Princess Maria Antonia, then the double marriage of the two pairs of first cousins would bring the Kingdom of Naples closer to Spain. Francis was a great prospect – as the eldest son of Ferdinand I, King of Naples and Sicily and Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria (a sister of Marie Antoinette), Francis was his father’s heir, which meant that Queen Maria Luise’s wish of her daughter becoming a queen would come true. While Francis’s father (also the younger brother of María Isabel’s father) approved of the match, Francis’s mother was less inclined towards marrying her son to his first cousin. She hated France and loathed that fact that Spain had become close to Napoleon. She also took issue with María Isabel’s young age, as she was not yet a teenager at the time of the betrothal. Even in the nineteenth century where princess were typically married before adulthood, María Isabel’s age of twelve considered to soon for marriage in this period. However, it was vital that Spain and Naples create an alliance through marriage immediately to strengthen their ties, as both kingdoms had to stand together against the rising power of Napoleon if they wanted to survive. Therefore, the marriage contracts of María Isabel and her older brother, Ferdinand, were signed in April of 1802 and a proxy marriage was carried out in Madrid on María Isabel’s thirteenth birthday.
The Family of King Charles IV of Spain and Maria Luisa of Parma
(Francisco Goya, 1800-01)
A month later, María Isabel and her family traveled to Barcelona where the couples (María Isabel and Francis with Ferdinand and Maria Antonia) met for the first time. A double wedding was held on October 4, 1802, upon which both couples were officially married. After the wedding festivities concluded eight days later, a thirteen year old María Isabella (who changed her name to the Italian "Maria Isabella") and her new husband, the twenty-five year old Francis, left Spain for Francis's familial home in Naples. At first, when Maria Isabella arrived at the royal court of Naples, she was not accepted very enthusiastically. The people were unimpressed with their new Crown Princess’s appearance. She was rather short and plain-featured with an extremely youthful face that made her seem even younger than her thirteen years. She was even described by one contemporary as “little, and round as a ball”. Her mother-in-law, Queen Maria Carolina, who had disliked the marriage of her son to his cousin from the start, never warmed to Maria Isabella (it didn’t help that she had been close to her son’s late first wife, who was also her niece). When she first met her new daughter-in-law, she wrote quite unkindly:
Francis I, King of the Two Sicilies
(Vicente López y Portaña, 1829)
     “A fine, fresh, healthy face, not Bourbon in the least, but white and red, with black eyes. She is stout and sturdy, yet her legs are very short…. She is null in every respect, knowledge, ideas, curiosity. Nothing, absolutely nothing…. She speaks a little Spanish but neither Italian nor French, and only monosyllables, Yes or No, indiscriminately. She smiles all the time, whether she is pleased or not...Francis's child aged four has far more intelligence…. She knows nothing except a little piano…. She is an automaton which might acquire certain attitudes but never real maturity. Were I the ambitious, intriguing woman I am said to be, I should be enchanted to have such a daughter in law who will never become anything, but I am too conscientious for that. I tried every means to mold her as a companion for her husband, even if this may turn her against myself. Believe me this child is a tight present, for she will neither ennoble nor improve our race. All the numerous Spanish clique, all their projects and schemes, have received a knock out blow by the arrival of this Princess and her perfect nullity.”

Maria Isabella, Crown Princess of Naples
(Giuseppe Cammarano, 1819)
Rather harsh, considering Maria Isabella’s tender age of thirteen and her daunting situation of suddenly being thrown into a unfamiliar country, which she was expected to reign over one day. Since Maria Isabella was so young and lacked experience in government and education, she took no interest or part in politics. Instead, she focused on her duty as a consort – bearing heirs to the throne. She had a good relationship with her husband and the couple was considered to be a good match for each other. Francis always treated his young wife with compassion, although during his life he lived with his various mistresses and was never faithful to her. Despite this, and the fact that Francis sired various illegitimate children, Maria Isabella never complained. As a result of her marriage to Francis, she became a stepmother to his only child from his first marriage, Princess Maria Carolina, who was just nine years her junior. Maria Carolina would go on to marry the Duke of Berry, Charles Ferdinand, who was the son of Charles X of France, and have issue. Maria Isabella was fifteen when she gave birth to her first child in late 1804, a daughter named Luisa Carlotta. A further eleven children followed in quick succession, giving Maria Isabella and her husband a total of six daughters and six sons. Impressively for the time, all twelve children survived to adulthood. The age gap between her oldest and youngest child (who she had when she was thirty-eight) was twenty-three years

Maria Isabella and Francis’s children:
  • Princess Luisa Carlotta of Naples & Sicily (1804-1844) married: Infante Francisco de Paula of Spain – had issue
  • Princess Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies (1806-1878) married: (1) King Ferdinand VII of Spain – had issue, (2) Agustín Fernando Muñoz, 1st Duke of Riánsares – had issue
  • Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies (1810-1859) married: (1) Maria Cristina of Savoy  - had issue, (2) Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria – had issue
  • Charles Ferdinand, Prince of Capua (1811-1862) married: Penelope Smyth – had issue
  • Prince Leopold, Count of Syracuse (1813-1860) married: Princess Maria of Savoy – had issue
  • Princess Maria Antonia of the Two Sicilies (1814-1898) married: Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany – had issue
  • Prince Antonio, Count of Lecce (1816-1843) died unmarried and without issue
  • Princess Maria Amalia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies (1818-1857) married: Infante Sebastian of Portugal and Spain – no issue
  • Princess Maria Carolina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies (1820-1861) married: Infante Carlos, Count of Montemolin – no issue
  • Princess Teresa Cristina of the Two Sicilies (1822-1889) married: Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil – had issue
  • Prince Louis, Count of Aquila (1824-1897) married: Princess Januária of Brazil – had issue
  • Prince Francis, Count of Trapani (1827-1892) married: Archducess Maria Isabella of Austria – had issue
Maria Isabella w/ her husband, Francis I, and their first eight children
(Giuseppe Cammarano, 1820)

As the Crown Princess of the Two Sicilies, Maria Isabella’s future was deeply influenced by Napoleon’s actions during his dominant reign over France. Once he began to conquer the Italian peninsula, the nervous King Ferdinand I joined the Third Coalition, which was made up of the powerful European kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire, Russia, and the U.K., to name a few. Meanwhile, Maria Isabella’s father, ever loyal to Napoleon, became an ally of France against the Third Coalition. The situation grew extremely dire for Maria Isabella and her husband’s family when Napoleon invaded and conquered Naples in 1806 and pronounced his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as the King of Naples (four years later, he would give the crown to his brother-in-law, Joachim Murat). Maria Isabella and the royal family were forced to escape their home in Naples in February of the same year for Sicily. King Ferdinand I and the family remained safe on the island because they received protection from British troops against Murat’s futile attempts to invade Sicily. In all reality, Ferdinand had no power and appeared in Palermo, Sicily’s capital city, only when Lord William Bentinck, the commander of the British troops in Sicily, called upon him. Bentinck was the real “king” on the island and did all the work in protecting Sicily from the French while Ferdinand was often found hunting. In 1812, Ferdinand effectively, but not officially, abdicated his position and gave his son, Maria Isabella’s husband, the position of regent. Francis’s mother, who had lost all her political sway with this move, had no choice but to leave Sicily and go back to homeland in Vienna, where she died in 1814. Finally, in 1815, with Austrian support, Ferdinand was able to return to Naples, where, a year later, he merged his two kingdoms of Naples and Sicily into one kingdom – that of the Two Sicilies. He also gave Francis, his heir, the title of Duke of Calabria, making Maria Isabella a Duchess. But Francis and Maria Isabella weren’t with Ferdinand in Naples to celebrate this occasion, as they remained behind in Sicily due to Francis’s position there. Maria Isabella gave birth to most of her children here and also remained in touch with her Spanish family, who were living in exile in Rome after Napoleon forced her father to give up his crown in favor of his brother, Joseph Bonaparte. The Bourbon family got back the throne in 1813 under Maria Isabella’s brother – Ferdinand VII. It was Maria Isabella’s closeness to her family that resulted in her marrying four of her six daughters to their Spanish relatives.
Maria Isabella, Crown Princess of the Two Sicilies
(P.V. Hanselaere, 1820)
Maria Isabella and her husband returned to Naples in July of 1820, where the elderly Ferdinand still ruled, although he was entirely submissive to Austria. When he died on January 4, 1825, Maria’s Isabella’s forty-seven year old husband became the King of the Two Sicilies as Francis I, making her his Queen Consort. Although Francis was a goodhearted monarch, he was not the best man for the job. He was quite a simple man and was not interested in politics at all; rather, he enjoyed farming and agriculture. Although he was more intelligent and well rounded than his father, he was of poor health and appeared older than he really was. Since he didn’t want to rule himself, much like Maria Isabella’s own father, he gave his political duties to his prime minister, Luigi de’ Medici. Queen Maria Isabella had little concern regarding her own royal tasks and left the task of running the royal household to her husband’s valet, Michelangelo Viglia, and her lady-in-waiting, Caterina de Simone. Under these two, corruption ran amok during Francis’s tenure as king. By the time she was crowned as Queen, Maria Isabella was very heavy due to the effects of her twelve pregnancies. Although she was not well suited for her role as Queen since she knew nothing about government, she was more popular than her husband due to her modest and munificent nature (even in her late thirties, she was still very childish and flippant). She spent most of her time attending the theater, balls, and public merriments. But Francis was constantly afraid that a revolution would spark against the monarchy so he and his family were always with armed troops, specifically the Austrian soldiers still rooted in Naples. The kingdom’s wellbeing was assured as long as Austria continued to support them, but for that support to remain, the people of Naples and Sicily had to pay a heavy price in funds, which drained the kingdom’s funds and created a large debt. In 1825, Francis made an agreement with Austria to reduce troops over time until they finally left the kingdom in 1827.

Maria Isabella's eldest child:
Princess Luisa Carlotta, Infanta of Spain
(Vicente López y Portaña, 1819)
In December of 1829, Maria Isabella’s daughter, Maria Christina, was married to her maternal uncle, King Ferdinand VII of Spain. Although Francis I was in poor health and suffering from gout, Maria Isabella desperately wanted to see her home and her family again after twenty-seven years of being away from Spain. She managed to persuade her husband to make the long journey to Madrid to attend the wedding. However, the trip had a detrimental effect on the King’s health and after the royal couple returned to Naples on July 30, 1830, it was clear that Francis didn’t have much longer to live. As the months passed, the King grew weaker until, on November 8, 1830, the fifty-three year old Francis I died. The now widowed Maria Isabella, who was forty-one at the time of her husband’s death, watched as her eldest son, Ferdinand II, ascended to the throne. Ferdinand II was twenty years old when he was crowned but, despite the fact that he was a legal adult at the time, a liberal conspiracy plot was hatched to name Maria Isabella as her son’s regent for a few years. This would benefit the liberals since Ferdinand II was conservative and Maria Isabella would be easy to control. However, Ferdinand quickly uncovered the plot and routed it straightaway. In terms of his new role as a king, Ferdinand was much more prepared for the job than his father or grandfather. He was introverted and discreet but possessed an energy and a taste for politics. Most importantly, he was extremely involved with his kingdom’s government and placed his royal duties above all else. But Maria Isabella and her son had never gotten along, as the two were complete opposites. The social and boisterous Queen Mother preferred her second son, Charles, Prince of Capau (who shared her personality), to her first.

Maria Isabella's third daughter:
Princess Maria Antonia, Grand Duchess of Tuscany
(Giuseppe Bezzuoli, 1836)
Though she was now a widow, Maria Isabella was still considered to be relatively young. She maintained some of the beauty she once possessed in her youth (however, she was still rather large in girth) and was as energetic as she had been in her younger years. As a result, she was constantly trailed by a group of admirers, which was pleasing the Queen Mother because she was fond of young and handsome men. Rumors began to circulate throughout the court that she had taken multiple lovers, displeasing Ferdinand II to no end. In 1835, Maria Isabella began a serious relationship with a married Austrian officer named Baron Peter von Schmuckher. Despite the couple’s hot and cold relationship, when Schmuckher’s wife died in 1837, Maria Isabella was resolute in her desire to marry him. Schmuckher would only agree to the union if he received the title and honors of “Royal Highness”. But this was too much for Maria Isabella to agree to and she recognized that her lover wanted her not for herself but for the benefits her status could give him. To rid herself of the greedy Schmuckher, she had her son expel him from Naples in January of 1838.

Maria Isabella's younger daughters: Princess Maria Amalia, Infanta of Portugal and Spain,
and Princess Maria Carolina, Countess of Montemolin
But, even after the fiasco with Schmuckher, Maria Isabella’s desire to remarry remained as strong as ever. Ferdinand II decided to give into his mother’s demand and gave her the names of various young noblemen from Naples and Sicily that he deemed eligible for her to wed. Her first and second choices wavered at her offer, so Maria Isabella decided to marry her third choice, as he agreed straightaway. The man in question was Francesco, Count del Balzo dei Duchi di Presenzano, an attractive and young lieutenant from a respected noble line. The only downside to the match was that though his family was part of the aristocracy, they were not rich. The fifty year-old Queen Mother and the thirty-four year old Francesco married in a private ceremony on January 15, 1839. After the wedding, they moved away from the royal court and into the Palace of Capodimonte. Due to Maria Isabella’s age, the marriage produced no children. Maria Isabella lived out the rest of her life with her young spouse in relative discreetness, although she always remained popular with the people due to her genial personality and her efforts to help the poor. On September 13, 1848, the fifty-nine year old former Queen of the Two Sicilies died at the Palace of Portici, the same place where she gave birth to her first child. She was buried in the Basilica of Santa Chiara with her husband and other members of the royal family of Naples and Sicily. Three of Maria Isabella’s children would wear crowns – Ferdinand II became the King of the Two Sicilies, her second daughter, Maria Christina, married her maternal uncle, King Ferdinand VII of Spain (their daughter was Queen Isabel II of Spain), and her youngest daughter, Teresa Cristina, became the wife of Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil. Out of Maria Isabella’s twelve children, six married their close relatives on their maternal side and one son married a close relative on the paternal side. 

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