Maria Luisa of Savoy was born on 17 September 1688 at the Royal Palace of Turin as the third daughter and second surviving child of Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy and Anne Marie of Orléans – the youngest daughter of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans and Henrietta of England. She was one of nine children, though only two of her siblings would survive to adulthood; her elder sister Marie Adélaïde, who became Dauphine of France and the mother of King Louis XV of France, and Charles Emmanuel, who eventually became King of Sardinia.
She was reportedly educated very well, though not much is known of her early youth. In September 1701, she was selected as a bride for King Philip V of Spain – she was still a few days shy of her 13th birthday. They were married by proxy on 12 September 1701, and they met in person in Barcelona later that same month. The official wedding took place on 2 November 1701. The 17-year-old Philip was the second son of Louis, the Grand Dauphin – the son and heir of King Louis XIV of France. King Charles II of Spain was destined to die childless – though not for lack of trying – and Philip was a grandson of Maria Theresa of Spain, who was King Charles’s elder half-sister. As the second son, he was not expected to inherit the French throne, and he was named as King Charles’s heir – succeeding him upon his death on 1 November 1700. Nevertheless, Charles’s death provoked the War of the Spanish Succession, which continued until the Treaty of Utrecht confirmed that the crowns of Spain and France could never be united. Thus, Philip was the first King of Spain from the House of Bourbon.
Maria Luisa had been selected by Philip’s grandfather King Louis XIV of France, probably because of her young age. Her aunt Marie Louise had also been King Charles II of Spain’s first wife. He believed that Maria Luisa could be easily manipulated and appointed Marie Anne de La Trémoille, Princesse des Ursins, as her Mistress of the Robes. It would be her task to keep the young King and Queen of Spain from acting against French interests. King Louis even warned his grandson, “Kings, exposed to the gaze of the public, are all the more greatly scorned when they suffer their wives to dominate. You have, before your eyes, the example of your predecessor. The Queen is your first subject. In that quality and as your wife, she ought to obey you… Be strong from the beginning.”1
Maria Luisa and Philip hit it off very well, though Philip soon had to leave his wife to fight for his crown. Maria Luisa, though young and inexperienced, was left behind as regent. Nevertheless, she proved to be a hard worker. She never signed anything that she did not understand, insisted on all complaints being investigated and any reports were made directly to her. She even read out despatches from the front from her balcony to the people below in order to avoid incorrect gossip to reach the streets. And even though Philip proved his worth on the battlefield, Maria Luisa soon outshone him on the political battlefield. But even more influential was Marie Anne de La Trémoille, who strictly controlled who had access to the Queen. She, Philip and Maria Luisa were a council of three, which would last until Maria Luisa’s death.
Philip began insisting on his conjugal rights early on because his religious scruples prevented him from taking mistresses. He usually spent the entire night together with Maria Luisa. They went on to have at least four children: Louis (1707 – 1724), Philip (1709 – 1709), Philip (1712-1719) and Ferdinand (1713 – 1759).
At the end of 1713, Maria Luisa fell ill with tuberculosis, and she died on 14 February 1714 at the age of just 25. Philip had insisted on his conjugal rights almost to the last, and within weeks his advisers were on the hunt for a new Queen.2 He married Elisabeth Farnese before the year was out.
Although her two surviving sons became Kings of Spain, neither left issue and Maria Luisa has no living descendants. Maria Luisa left a reputation as a model of Queenship, though this was perhaps influenced by her hated successor. She was affectionately known as La Saboyana – the Savoyard.3
- Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort edited by Clarissa Campbell Orr p. 160
- Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort edited by Clarissa Campbell Orr p. 161
- Read also: Queens of Old Spain