Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily – A Crown of Thorns (Part one)

(public domain)

Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily was born on 26 April 1782 as the daughter of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Maria Carolina of Austria. She was their tenth child out of a total of 18. Her mother was a sister of Queen Marie Antoinette of France, Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen, Archduke Maximilian Francis, Maria Anna of Austria, the shortlived Maria Carolina of Austria, Maria Elisabeth of Austria, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor, Maria Josepha of Austria, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, Maria Amalia, Duchess of Parma, Maria Elisabeth of Austria, Maria Johanna of Austria, Charles Joseph of Austria. She was thus a granddaughter of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.

Maria Amalia was born at the Caserta Palace, just outside Naples, and it is here that she would pass her early years. She learned to read at an early age and was entrusted to the care of a governess named Donna Vicenza Rizzi. When she was old enough, she often went hunting with her father, and she would grow up to be an excellent horsewoman. At a young age, Maria Amalia was betrothed to her cousin Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France, but he would die in 1789. The following French Revolution and the execution of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette put an end to any French match. Around this time, Maria Amalia also made her first communion and solemn prayers were said for her murdered aunt and uncle; Maria Amalia was profoundly touched. She began to focus more on her studies and her religion.

In 1790, Maria Amalia joined her entire family for a trip to Vienna for the betrothal of her younger brother, the future Francis I of the Two Sicilies, to Maria Clementina of Austria and for the marriage of her two eldest sisters Maria Theresa and Luisa Maria to the future Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor and his brother the future Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany respectively. From 1800 until 1802, Maria Amalia, her mother and several siblings lived in Austria where her mother searched for suitable matches for her daughters. Her younger sister Maria Antonia married the future Ferdinand VII of Spain in 1802, but she would tragically die of tuberculosis in 1806. Maria Amalia had been considered for the future King as well, but her sister had been closer to him in age. Maria Amalia missed her sister terribly when she left to be married.

In 1802, the family returned to Naples, but in 1806, Napoleon decided to annex Naples. The family fled to Sicily, but some of their furniture was lost on the way, and they were perpetually short of money. Her elder sister Maria Cristina married the future King Charles Felix of Sardinia in 1807, leaving Maria Amalia as the only unmarried daughter. Napoleon proposed a match for her with his stepson Eugène de Beauharnais, but it was promptly rejected. As her mother’s eyesight began to fail her, Maria Amalia spent her days reading and writing for her. She would remember this time with her mother fondly.

In 1808, Maria Amalia’s future husband arrived in Sicily. He was Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, the son of Philippe Égalité, who had voted for the death of the King of France and Maria Amalia’s aunt Marie Antoinette. Her mother was scared to meet him, but upon their meeting, she said, “I ought to detest you, and yet I feel a liking for you.”1 Maria Amalia wrote of their first meeting, “He is of middle height, inclined to be stout; he is neither handsome nor ugly. He has the features of the House of Bourbon and is very polite and well educated.”2 The wedding contract was signed on 15 November 1809 but the wedding itself had to be postponed when her father broke his leg. The wedding eventually took place on 25 November in the room of her father so that he could attend. Her wedding dress was of cloth of silver, and she wore a diamond tiara and white feathers in her hair. She later wrote in her journal, “Knowing the sacredness of the tie I was about to form, I was filled with emotion, and my limbs tottered under me, but the Duke of Orléans pronounced his ‘Yes’ in such a resolute voice that it gave me courage.”3 They then went downstairs to the chapel for a Te Deum service and for the Service of Benediction. Afterwards, the newlyweds showed themselves to the people from the balcony.

Her father had given them a residence called the Palazzo d’Orléans but while it remained under repair, they stayed at the Royal Palace. Her husband’s sister Adélaïde came to live with them, and she and Maria Amalia became close friends. She wrote about her new sister-in-law in her journal, “She seems very amiable and witty, and pleases me greatly.”4 The Palazzo would eventually become a meeting place for intellectuals. The following year, Maria Amalia gave birth to her first child, a son named Ferdinand, the future Duke of Orléans. Two daughters, Louise and Marie, followed in 1812 and 1813.

The fall of Napoleon restored King Louis XVIII – brother to the ill-fated King Louis XVI – to the French throne, and Louis Philippe was received kindly and restored to his old rank in the French army. He was also given all the estates the Orléans family had previously possessed. In July 1813, he went to fetch Maria Amalia and his family.

Read part two here.

  1. The Life of Marie Amélie, Last Queen of the French 1782-1866 by C.C. Dyson p.70
  2. The Life of Marie Amélie, Last Queen of the French 1782-1866 by C.C. Dyson p.70
  3. The Life of Marie Amélie, Last Queen of the French 1782-1866 by C.C. Dyson p.105
  4. The Life of Marie Amélie, Last Queen of the French 1782-1866 by C.C. Dyson p.108

About Moniek Bloks 2728 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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