Maria Luisa of Parma – A much-maligned Queen (Part one)

maria luisa parma
(public domain)

Maria Luisa of Parma was born on 9 December 1751 as the daughter of Philip, Duke of Parma, himself the second son of King Philip V of Spain from his second marriage to Elisabeth Farnese, and Louise Élisabeth of France, the eldest daughter of King Louis XV of France and Marie Leszczyńska. She had an elder sister named Isabella who would have been Holy Roman Empress if she had lived longer and an elder brother named Ferdinand who would succeed their father as Duke of Parma.

Isabella married Archduke Joseph of Austria in 1760 when Maria Luisa was just 9 years old. When Isabella died in 1763, there were some rumours that Maria Luisa would take her sister’s place. However, on 29 June 1765, Maria Luisa left Parma to marry her first cousin, Charles, Prince of Asturias. They were married on 9 December, her 14th birthday. She immediately became the first lady of the land as her father-in-law had been widowed in 1760. During the first years of her marriage, Maria Luisa suffered at least three miscarriages before giving birth to a son named Carlos Clemente, who died before his third birthday. The wife of first minister Manuel de Godoy estimated that Maria Luisa was pregnant around 24 times, and thus suffered several stillbirths, miscarriages and eventually had seven children who survived beyond infancy.

She was later described as, “of an ardent and voluptuous nature with a figure, if no longer beautiful, yet still attractive. She possessed an extraordinary liveliness and grace in her movement, a disposition that seemed kind and affectionate, and an unusual ability to win hearts. This has been perfected by a fine upbringing and the cultivation of social graces… Although only 14 at the time of her marriage, it was precisely this background which allowed her to wield a decisive influence over a young husband of Carlos’ character, completely innocent and totally ignorant when it came to love, brought up like a novice and only seventeen, simple and upright, kind to the point of being weak.”1

She was received kindly by her new father-in-law, who at first seemed to appreciate the lively character of his daughter-in-law. However, the many losses she suffered, especially the sons, made him angry. Her first son to survive to adulthood was born in 1784 – the future King Ferdinand VII. As Princess of Asturias, she was often secluded in her rooms with her husband, who only left her to go hunting with his father. Their relationship was reportedly good, and she dominated her husband from early on. He was not interested in politics, while Maria Luisa was interested in state affairs – though both were kept from the government by King Charles III.

As her beauty faded as she aged, so did her reputation. At the age of 38, Maria Luisa was already described as having an unhealthy complexion and “false teeth of an old woman.”2 Juan Escoiquiz wrote of her, “She combined a mind that was naturally vicious and incapable of affection, selfishness carried to an extreme, a cunning astuteness, an incredible gift for hypocrisy and pretence, and a talent completely ruled by her passions which continuously sought means to satisfy them. She considered any really useful or serious work as an insufferable torture. The ignorance which resulted from this lack of application barred any path towards improvement and ended in misfortune of her husband and their subjects. She was thus obliged to entrust the reins of government to a totally inexperienced favourite. As long as he [Godoy] knew how to take advantage of his complete ascendancy over her, in the absence of true love, this ensured the dominion of vice over her corrupted soul.”3

There is no direct evidence that she ever had affairs but during her lifetime rumours often ran wild. When King Charles III died in 1788, her husband became King Charles IV of Spain, and she became his Queen. While she reportedly dominated her husband, she was reportedly dominated by the first minister Manuel de Godoy. Abbé Muriel wrote that she might have been a good Queen, “if, like other queens, she had been upright, well brought up, and had good sense; but unfortunately she was ruled by the passions and weaknesses of her sex, and possessed none of its virtues.”4 Several of her children were rumoured to have been fathered by Godoy. The Marqués de Villa-Urrutia wrote that Maria Luisa was born with, “special aptitudes and robust appetites, which marriage aroused but could not satisfy because her inherited blood, fervid and excited, which coursed through her veins demanded more than the conjugal duty of a gentle husband.”5 Looks like the Marqués conveniently forgot that as her husband was also her first cousin, they had pretty similar inherited blood!

The first of Maria Luisa and Charles’s children to marry was their eldest surviving daughter Carlota Joaquina, who married the future King John VI of Portugal in 1785. It took another decade before another royal wedding – two even! – took place. Maria Amalia had been meant to marry her maternal first cousin Louis, hereditary Prince of Parma but he preferred her younger sister Maria Luisa. As if that wasn’t humiliating enough, surely the younger sister could not marry before the elder, and so a replacement had to be found. On 25 August 1795, the sisters were married in a double wedding. Maria Amalia ended up marrying her uncle, Antonio Pascual, Infante of Spain, who was 24 years older than she was. Both couples remained in Spain for some time. Tragically, Maria Amalia’s life would be cut short at the age of 19 – she died in 1798 after a complicated labour. The child died as well.

The family of Charles IV by Francisco de Goya. (public domain)

The famous family painting from 1800 therefor does not feature Maria Amalia, but it does include her sister Maria Luisa with her newborn son (born 1799) in her arms on the right. That same year, Charles and his wife Maria Luisa entered into a treaty with Napoleon Bonaparte, then the First Consul of France, that would create a new throne for their daughter Maria Luisa and her husband Louis – from Tuscany was born the Kingdom of Etruria. In return, they promised the Louisiana Territory to France. The new Kingdom would not last long, but it would live longer than its first King. Louis died on 27 May 1803, six months after his wife had given birth to their second child. In 1807, the territory of the Kingdom was annexed by France.

Read part two here.

  1. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 15
  2. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 15
  3. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 16
  4. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 16
  5. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 16

About Moniek Bloks 2697 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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