Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Maria Sophie of Bavaria, Queen of the Two Sicilies

Marie Sophie Amalie, Duchess in Bavaria, was the third daughter and the sixth child of Maximilian Joseph, Duke in Bavaria, and his wife, Princess Ludovika of Bavaria. Marie Sophie was born on October 4, 1841 at her childhood home of Possenhofen Castle and like her famous older sister, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, she was said to be “unusually beautiful”. They are even said to be two of the greatest beauties of their time. She was also a very intelligent and headstrong woman who was rather unconventional for her time. Her siblings, other than Empress Elisabeth, included: Helene, Princess of Thurn and Taxis, Mathilde Ludovika, Countess of Trani, and Sophie Charlotte, Duchess of Alençon.

Maria Sophie and her husband, Francis II,
King of the Two Sicilies
During the winter of 1857, Marie Sophie met Francis II, Crown Prince of Naples, Duke of Calabria, who wanted her hand in marriage. Francis was the eldest son and heir of Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, himself the son of Maria Isabella of Spain. Francis desired to marry the young and pretty Bavarian duchess simply for political reasons. His father wanted to ally his kingdom of the Two Sicilies with that of Austria (which was tied to Marie Sophie’s family through her sister’s marriage to the Emperor). Both kingdoms were absolutists but Austria had far greater power and influence in Europe than that of the Two Sicilies. The Two Sicilies desperately needed a strong ally at this time because the kingdom was beginning to crumble under the threat of revolutionists who wanted Italian unification. Marie’s parents accepted the Crown Prince’s proposal but there was still much to be done to prepare the teenage Marie for life as a future queen. Although she was sixteen at the time of the engagement, she had not yet had her first menstrual cycle and had to undergo medical treatments to induce menstruation. She also had to learn Italian in order to communicate with her husband and his people. She left home in January of 1859 to head to the Two Sicilies and along the way she stopped at Vienna to visit her sister, the Empress Elisabeth. A month later, she reached the Two Sicilies and was married to Prince Francis on February 3, 1859 in Bari. At the time of the ceremony, Francis was twenty-three to Marie Sophie’s seventeen years.

Maria Sophie, Queen of the Two Sicilies
(Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1860's)
Now the Crown Princess of the Two Sicilies, Marie Sophie changed her name to its Italian version, “Maria Sophie”. For the first few months of her marriage, Maria Sophie lived in peace and enjoyed the lavish lifestyle of a royal princess. However, revolution was brewing under an Italian nationalist named Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was more than willing to fight for Italian unification along with his large and dedicated Piedmontese army. Three months after Maria Sophie married Francis, her father-in-law, Ferdinand II, died and on May 22, 1859, Francis took the throne as King Francis II of the Two Sicilies. Maria Sophie was now queen of a realm on the brink of destruction and she immediately gave up the flippant court activities of a princess to take up the demanding duties of a monarch. But nothing could stop Garibaldi’s forces from marching to southern Italy, as their goal was to overthrow Francis II and the monarchy in Sicily and Naples. In May of 1860, when Garibaldi landed at Marsala, things began to look bleak for Francis and Maria Sophie when Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand took the island with surprising ease. Garibaldi began to head north towards Naples and was hailed by the people of the country as a liberator. Eventually, as the rebel forces closed in, Francis had no choice but to leave Naples on September 6, 1860 with his wife and court. They sailed to Gaeta where most of their army was located. A day after they fled the country, Garibaldi arrived in Naples to a hero’s welcome and set up a provisional government.

Francis II, King of the Two Sicilies
Francis now stood alone since the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia under King Victor Emmanuel II had allied with Garibaldi to unify Italy. The revolutionary forces of Garibaldi and the troops of King Victor Emmanuel headed towards Gaeta, which was the last stronghold of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Siege of Gaeta began on November 6, 1860 and although it proved to be a climatic loss for the royalists, both Francis and his wife were praised for their extreme bravery and composure. Maria Sophie earned the reputation of a “warrior queen” during the siege for her dedicated attempts to rally her husband’s troops, despite the fact that everyone knew a victory for the King was a lost cause. While the conflict raged on around her, the eighteen year old queen remained on the city walls with the men, gave them her own food, cared for the wounded, and taunted the invaders to come within the range of the fortress cannon. She was called “the angel of Gaeta” and it was said that she would “wipe your brow if you were wounded or cradle you in her arms while you die”. When the attacking general offered her the chance to mark her home with a flag as to make sure that his forces wouldn’t fire upon it, she responded, “Go ahead and shoot at me. I will be where the men are.”

Maria Sophie, Queen of the Two Sicilies
Despite the daring efforts of Francis’s men, Gaeta fell to Garibaldi’s troops on February 13, 1861. With this final defeat, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies ceased to exist and was merged into the Kingdom of Sardinia (which would soon be known as the Kingdom of Italy). The monarchy of the Two Sicilies was overthrown and Francis II officially lost his crown on March 20, 1861 after a reign of less than two years. No longer royalty, Francis and Maria Sophie went into exile in Rome where the Pope welcomed them as honored guests. But the Papal States were also facing the threat of invasion from Garibaldi and King Victor Emmanuel’s troops. Francis and Maria Sophie held a government and court in exile in Rome that was accepted as the lawful administration of the Two Sicilies by most European countries for a few years. However, their exiled government came to an end in 1870 when Rome fell to Garibaldi and Francis and Maria Sophie were once again forced to flee. Yet, even in the face of overwhelming defeat, Maria Sophie never gave up hope that her adopted kingdom would be restored one day.

During her exile in Rome with her husband, Maria Sophie faced a personal tragedy and private scandal involving her love life. She had been unable to consummate her marriage with Francis for years because the former king was afflicted with phimosis. Francis was also an introverted religious zealot, which didn’t make their relationship any easier. So, while the deposed royal couple was residing in Rome, Maria Sophie fell in love with an officer of the papal guard - a Belgian Count named Armand de Lawayss. They began a covert affair and it wasn’t long before Maria Sophie discovered that she was pregnant with her lover’s child. She withdrew to her childhood home in Possenhofen where her family told her that she would have to give birth in secret to avoid the truth of her affair from being revealed to the public. Maria Sophie remained in Bavaria for almost her entire pregnancy and on November 24, 1862, she gave birth to a daughter in St. Ursula’s Convent in Augsburg. The infant girl, who was most likely named Daisy, was handed over to Armand de Lawayss’s family at once and Maria Sophie was coerced into swearing that she would never attempt to see her daughter ever again. This affected poor Maria Sophie deeply and she was never the same again. Her inability to ever see or speak of her daughter was most likely embedded in the depression that Maria Sophie developed in her later years.

Maria Sophie, Queen of the Two Sicilies
A year later, Maria Sophie was counseled by her family to tell her husband of the affair and her illegitimate daughter, which she did. Ever since the affair, Maria Sophie had travelled to various places and had numerous liaisons with other men to divert herself from her dissatisfying marriage. She was often accompanied by her older sister, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, on her travels as well. Elisabeth also had an unhappy marriage with her husband, Franz Joseph I, but unlike her sister, she did not take extramarital lovers and instead journeyed around the world to escape her depressing life in Austria. But eventually, Franz Joseph himself became witness to his sister-in-law’s infidelity and decided to take matters into his own hands. He prompted his wife to write to Maria Sophie’s husband telling him to perform his marital duties. Now that he was being pressured by both the Emperor of Austria and the papal court to consummate his marriage, Francis decided to undergo an operation that allowed him to finally become sexually intimate with his wife. Soon afterwards, Maria Sophie was astonished to discover that she was pregnant. The couple was ecstatic and filled with immense hope that their child would turn their lives and relationship around. On December 24, 1869 after a decade of marriage, Maria Sophie delivered a daughter named Princess Maria Cristina Pia. Elisabeth herself had arrived in Rome to be with her sister during the birth and was named godmother to her infant niece, who she shared a birthday with. However, the little girl was never healthy and she died on March 28, 1870 after just three months of life.

Maria Sophie, Queen of the Two Sicilies
Her death proved to be the final blow to her parents’ fragile marriage. Maria Sophie made no attempt to reconcile with her husband, who became more even more introverted and obsessed with religion after his daughter’s death. He completely ignored his royal duties and spent the rest of his life either praying or attending religious functions. Francis and Maria Sophie moved to Bavaria after Rome fell and spent the remainder of their years journeying about through Austria, France, and Bavaria. On December 27, 1894, Francis II died at Arco in Austria-Hungary at the age of fifty-eight. By the start of the new century, Maria Sophie had lost her husband, her daughter, three of her sisters, one brother, and both her parents. When World War I broke out, she was a strong supporter of the German Empire and Austria-Hungary against her one time home of Italy. It was rumored that Maria Sophie was engaged in espionage and illegal activities against Italy during the war in hopes that a German and Austrian-Hungarian victory would destroy the Kingdom of Italy, thus making it possible for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to be restored. But of course, as history knows, this was not to be. Instead, she was able to witness the absorption of her home of Bavaria into a united German Empire along with the transformation of Italy into a single nation state.

She lived long enough to see Mussolini take control of Italy and Hitler latch onto power in Germany. When she was in her eighties, she stood at the window of her apartment in Munich to watch anarchists and police fight in the streets. She said that she wanted, “to see if young people of today still have the stuff they had when I was young”. Marie Sophie, Duchess in Bavaria and former Queen of the Two Sicilies, died in Munich on January 19, 1925. She was eighty-three years old. Today, she is buried beside her husband and infant daughter in the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Naples. When she was alive, she was admired by many, including her political enemies. She was called the “stern little Bavarian eagle” and the “soldier queen on the ramparts of Gaeta”.

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