Maria Carolina of Austria, who was born as “Archduchess Maria Carolina Louise Josepha Johanna Antonia”, was the thirteenth and sixth surviving child of Empress Maria Theresa of the Holy Roman Empire and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Grand Duke of Tuscany. She was born on August 13, 1752 at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna and was named after her late older sisters – Maria Carolina, who died two weeks after her first birthday in 1741, and another Maria Carolina, who died a few hours after her baptism in 1748. To distinguish Maria Carolina from the sisters she never knew, her family called her “Charlotte”. Maria Carolina’s mother was a sovereign in her own right and the only female ruler of the Habsburg Empire. Maria Theresa, the eldest surviving child of Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor and Princess Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, married Francis Stephan, Duke of Lorraine, a great-grandson of King Louis XII of France who was nine years Maria Theresa’s senior, in 1736. While Maria Theresa loved her husband passionately, she was an extremely jealous woman who wanted to control Francis Stephan’s heart, body, and soul. Francis Stephan never returned his wife’s feelings and was constantly unfaithful to her, much to her anger. However, the couple did manage to produce sixteen children over the course of twenty years, thirteen of whom survived infancy.
|Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria|
(Martin van Meytens, 1765)
Maria Carolina was one of her parents’ younger children. Her older siblings included: Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen, Maria Amalia, Duchess of Parma, and Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor. Her younger siblings included Ferdinand, Duke of Modena and Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. Maria Carolina was said to take after her mother greatly in appearance. Out of all of the Empress’s sixteen children, it was Maria Carolina who looked the most like her mother. She had light, chestnut-colored hair, large, expressive blue eyes, an aquiline nose, a small, red-lipped mouth, dimples, a long neck, and a slender frame. Young Maria Carolina was a princess of a huge empire; combined, her parents ruled over the vast territory of the Holy Roman Empire, the lands of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands, Parma, Lorraine and Tuscany. During her childhood in Vienna, Maria Caroline became very close to her famous younger sister by three years, the future Marie Antoinette of France. They were so close, in fact, that when one became sick, the other would be sure to catch the same illness as well. The girls were taught under the same governess until 1767 when their mother separated them because they always roused up trouble together.
|Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria|
(Johann Georg Weikert, 1768)
The formidable and astute Empress Maria Theresa wanted to create a marriage alliance between her family and the Bourbon royal family of southern Italy, specifically, the Spanish branch of the Bourbon dynasty that reigned over Naples and Sicily, to maintain an alliance between Austria and Spain. Initially, the Empress arranged for one of her older daughters, Maria Josepha, to marry King Ferdinand IV and III of Naples and Sicily but in 1767, on the day the sixteen year-old Maria Josepha was supposed to leave Vienna for Naples, she died of smallpox. Ferdinand’s father and the Empress were so keen to preserve the Austro-Spanish alliance through marriage that Maria Theresa offered her younger daughter, Maria Carolina, to Ferdinand. When Maria Carolina learned of her betrothal to her late sister’s fiancée, she broke down in tears and threw an angry, emotional fit, proclaiming that marital unions with the House of Naples were nothing but inauspicious. But her protests were in vain because personal opinions regarding political marital matches made no difference at the time. Nine months after the betrothal was announced, Maria Carolina married King Ferdinand by proxy in Vienna on April 7, 1768 with her brother, another Ferdinand, standing in for the bridegroom.
|King Ferdinand VI and III of Naples and Sicily (Anton Raphael Mengs, 1772-73) and Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria (Anton Raphael Mengs, 1768)|
King Ferdinand of Naples and Sicily was the third son of King Charles III of Spain and Maria Amalia of Saxony. He inherited the crowns of Naples and Sicily in 1759 at the age of eight when his father became the King of Spain, so he ruled under a regency until he came of age in 1767. He was described as being a undemanding young man with a poor education, a passion for activities of pleasure, and a idle nature when it came to ruling. Although he had been a king since childhood, Ferdinand was more at ease conversing with a commoner on the streets than an aristocrat in his royal court. He also loved to engage in outdoor sports, which he sometimes neglected his royal duties to take part in. Maria Carolina was quite different from her husband. She was a very smart and curious woman who could be kind, munificent, and sympathetic to others when needed but she was also a domineering, arrogant, and merciless royal princess who held grudges against her rivals for decades. She was a willful and impulsive teen who was certain that she, the daughter of a great empress and the member of a powerful ruling house, was born to rule. On May 12, 1768, the sixteen year-old Maria Carolina arrived in the Kingdom of Naples at Terracina where she and her escorts, her brother the future Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II and his wife, Maria Luisa, travelled to the Palace of Caserta. Here, Maria Carolina met her seventeen year-old husband for the first time and she was extremely unimpressed. She said that he was “very ugly” and that she would only “love him out of duty.” Ferdinand, like his wife, was fair with light hair and eyes but he was also covered in herpes, as his doctors said that this was a sign of good health. Ferdinand was not pleased with his Austrian wife either, saying that “she sleeps like the dead and sweats like a pig” after their first night together. It probably didn’t help that the couple could barely communicate with each other; Maria Carolina spoke Italian poorly and Ferdinand didn’t know his wife’s native German. He spoke Spanish but could speak Italian about as well as Maria Carolina could. Though the couple had no official wedding ceremony, they had married by proxy so, upon her arrival in Naples, Maria Carolina was officially the Queen of Naples and Sicily. Despite the lack of love in the couple’s relationship, they did their dynastic duty by having a total of eighteen children, seven of whom survived to adulthood:
|The Family of King Ferdinand VI and III of Naples and Sicily and Queen Maria Carolina (left to right):|
Maria Theresa, Francis I, King Ferdinand, Queen Maria Carolina, Maria Cristina, Gennaro, Maria Amelia, and Maria Luisa
(Angelica Kauffman, 1783)
- Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily (1772-1807) married: Francis II and I, Holy Roman Emperor and Emperor of Austria – had issue
- Luisa Maria of Naples and Sicily (1773-1802) married: Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany – had issue
- Carlo, Duke of Calabria (1775-1778) died of smallpox at the age of three
- Maria Anna of Naples and Sicily (1775-1780) died of smallpox at the age of four
- Francis I, King of the Two Sicilies (1777-1830) married: (1) Maria Clementina of Austria – had issue, (2) María Isabella of Spain – had issue
- Maria Cristina of Naples and Sicily (1779-1849) married: Charles Felix, King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy – no issue
- Maria Cristina Amelia of Naples and Sicily (1779-1783) twin of the above, died of smallpox at the age of four
- Gennaro of Naples and Sicily (1780-1789) died of smallpox at the age of eight
- Giuseppe of Naples and Sicily (1781-1783) died of smallpox at the age of two
- Maria Amelia of Naples and Sicily (1782-1866) married: Louis Philippe I, King of France – had issue
- Maria Cristina of Naples and Sicily (1783) stillborn
- Maria Antonietta of Naples and Sicily (1784-1806) married: Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias – no issue
- Maria Clotilde of Naples and Sicily (1786-1792) died of smallpox at the age of eight
- Maria Enricheta of Naples and Sicily (1787-1792) died of smallpox at the age of five
- Carlo Gennaro of Naples and Sicily (1788-1789) died of smallpox at six months
- Leopold, Prince of Salerno (1790-1851) married: Archduchess Clementina of Austria – had issue
- Alberto of Naples and Sicily (1792-1798) died of exhaustion at the age of six
- Maria Isabella of Naples and Sicily (1793-1801) died at the age of seven
|Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and Sicily|
(Anton Raphael Mengs, 1772-73)
It didn’t take long for the conniving Maria Carolina to pick up on her husband’s greatest weakness – his inability to rule. This was because as a boy, he had been given a weak education by his regent, Bernardo Tanucci, so that Ferdinand would always have to rely on Tanucci and his father’s guidance to reign. The new Queen of Naples and Sicily realized that she could use her husband’s disadvantage to achieve her desire of power. She pretended to enjoy Ferdinand’s favorite activity – hunting - to obtain his trust. Her plan worked and Ferdinand warmed up to her just enough to allow her a “back-door” to his government and a membership on the Privy Council when she gave birth to an heir. Since Maria Carolina’s first children were daughters, she spent her early years as Queen Consort invigorating Neapolitan court life, which had fallen into disarray during her husband’s regency. It wasn’t until 1755 when Maria Carolina gave birth to her first son that she was permitted to take part in politics. In 1751, Maria Carolina planned to get rid of her greatest rival – Tanucci – when she wrote to her father-in-law through the medium of a letter written by her husband saying that the Italian statesman was destroying Naples. This made it appear as though Maria Carolina’s words were actually those of her husband’s, so Ferdinand was pushed to remove Tanucci from his position in 1776, much to his father’s displeasure. Tanucci’s departure marked the end of Spanish influence in Naples, as he was succeeded by one of Maria Carolina’s ineffective pawns, the Marquis of Sambuca. Maria Carolina continued to consolidate her power by distancing the Neapolitan and Spanish nobility from court and the kingdom’s government in favor of her native Austrian courtiers and officials. Though this did erase Spanish influence from Naples and increase Maria Carolina’s control, it made her very unpopular with the kingdom’s nobility.
|Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and Sicily|
(Angelica Kauffman, 1782-83)
With Tanucci gone and Ferdinand a useless ruler, Maria Carolina became the real power behind the throne with the help of her French-born, English favorite and advisor, Sir John Acton, 6th Baronet. She made sure the kingdom’s government ruled in the interest of her native Austria and embraced the liberalism of the Enlightenment movement. She reformed the Neapolitan army and finances and promoted the work of many liberal intellectuals and artists. She was even supportive of the revolutionaries in France when the Revolution first broke out, although her support for the Revolution ended once the monarchy was abolished and her sister was executed (she was so horrified at Marie Antoinette’s death that she refused to speak French for the rest of her life). Naples joined the First Coalition against France to defeat the revolutionists and later the Second Coalition to restrain the spread of “chaos” from France and continue to try to overthrow the republic. Once Naples joined the Second Coalition, Napoleon (who called Maria Carolina, “the only man in the Kingdom of Naples”) had French troops invade Naples, which he occupied in January of 1799. Maria Carolina, Ferdinand, and the rest of the royal family had no choice but to flee their conquered kingdom for Sicily while the French attempted to turn the Neapolitan people against their monarchy by making Naples a republic. But, after just six months, the infant republic fell when royalist Neapolitan troops took back their kingdom with help from the English Navy (without English aid, the Neapolitan army wouldn’t have been successful). With Naples and Sicily secure, Maria Carolina returned to her kingdom on August 17, 1802 after she and four of her children stayed in Vienna for two years. But Napoleon’s desire to conquer Italy hadn’t dispersed with the short-lived Neapolitan republic’s fall. After he was crowned as Emperor of France in 1804, his troops invaded Naples yet again in early 1806. Maria Carolina and her family had to escape once more to Sicily in February while Napoleon named his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, the King of Naples until he was replaced in 1808 by his brother-in-law, Joachim Murat. The exiled royal family pleaded for British help but their previous ally was more hostile to Maria Carolina now that Naples had been conquered again in such a short amount of time.
|Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and Sicily|
(Filippo Marsigli, 1814)
Maria Carolina’s reign over the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily came to an abrupt end in 1813 when her husband effectively but not formally abdicated and named their son, Francis I, as regent. This stripped Maria Carolina of any political power, so the defeated Queen soon had no choice but to leave Sicily and go back home to Vienna. It was on her journey home that she learned that Napoleon had been defeated by the Sixth Coalition in the Battle of Leipzig in October and he was forced to give up his crown. In Austria, Maria Carolina tried to get back the throne for herself and her husband but her efforts were fruitless. Weakened and worn out from her exile and the war, Maria Carolina died on September 8, 1814 from a stroke in Hetzendorf Palace at the age of sixty-two. Months after her death, Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo and her husband was restored to the throne of Naples by the Congress of Vienna. Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria, Queen Consort of Naples and Sicily was buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna with her parents. Her husband survived her by ten years until his death on January 4, 1825 at the age of seventy-three. In December of 1816, two years after Maria Clementina’s death, the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily were merged into one single kingdom, that of the Two Sicilies. Five of Maria Carolina and Ferdinand’s daughters survived to adulthood, four of whom became royal consorts by marriage. Three of their daughters – Maria Theresa, Maria Luisa, and Maria Amelia – had children. Just two of Maria Carolina and Ferdinand’s sons survived infancy – Francis I, King of the Two Sicilies and Leopold, Prince of Salerno. Francis married twice, first to his double first cousin Archduchess Maria Clementina of Austria who he had one surviving child with, Princess Maria Carolina, Duchess of Berry, before Maria Clementina’s early death. Francis remarried his much younger paternal first cousin, Infanta María Isabella of Spain, and they had twelve children, two of whom were Maria Christina, Queen of Spain, and Teresa Cristina, Empress of Brazil. Francis’s younger brother, Leopold, Prince of Salerno, married his niece/first cousin once removed, Archduchess Clementina of Austria, who he had one surviving daughter with.
|Maria Theresa, Holy Roman Empress and Empress of Austria (left - Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1790)|
Luisa Maria, Grand Duchess of Tuscany (right - Joseph Dorffmeister, 1797)
|Maria Cristina, Queen of Sardinia (left - 1820's-40's)|
Maria Amalia, Queen of France (right - Louis Hersent, 1828-29)
|Maria Antonia, Princess of Asturias|
(Vicente López y Portaña, 1805-06)