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

Maria Luisa of Parma
(public domain)

Read part one here.

In 1802, Maria Luisa’s son the Prince of Asturias married his first cousin Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily, but there were to be no grandchildren from this marriage for Maria Luisa. One might expect Maria Luisa to be more sympathetic, but she wrote after one of Maria Antonia’s miscarriages, “I have just been present at the miscarriage of my daughter-in-law. She had some pain and a little blood flowed, but not even as much as one day of my menstrual flow. The fetus was smaller than a grain of aniseed, and the umbilical cord was as thin as a cobweb. The King had to put on his glasses to see it…”1 In 1806, Maria Antonia died of tuberculosis, leaving the Prince of Asturias free to marry again – although he would not do so until 1816. Her youngest surviving daughter María Isabella also married in 1802 – to the future King Francis I of the Two Sicilies (brother of Maria Antonia). María Isabella was only 12 years old at the time, but it was a political match, and the union proved to be fruitful – producing 12 children.

The years of Napoleon also influenced Charles and Maria Luisa’s throne. In late 1807, their son Ferdinand became embroiled in the El Escorial Conspiracy, and he was arrested. He later submitted to his parents, but this would not be the end of it. The popularity of Charles, Maria Luisa and their first minister had plummeted and on 19 March 1808, Charles abdicated in favour of Ferdinand. The public was overjoyed at the overthrow of the unpopular first minister. Maria Luisa wrote, “My son is very evil-minded, his nature is bloodthirsty, he has never shown his father or me any affection, his advisers thirst for blood… They wish to do us all the harm possible, but the King and I have more interest in saving the life and honour of our innocent friend [Godoy] than ourselves.”2 Meanwhile, Ferdinand was popular but more was to come.

Napoleon took full advantage of the precarious situation and condemned Ferdinand while praising Godoy. He had no intention of recognising Ferdinand as King of Spain. During the following turmoil, he too abdicated the throne under pressure from Napoleon – who then installed his older brother Joseph as King of Spain. Maria Luisa was horrified and exclaimed, “What a horrible outcome! What will they say about us in Spain?”3 Godoy duly followed the monarchs into exile, but Charles and Maria Luisa never saw Ferdinand again. They were essentially state prisoners in France, though they had (part of) a château assigned to them – Napoleon still wanted to use the château and park for hunting. Ferdinand was kept under guard at the Château de Valençay.

At the end of the year, they moved to Marseilles, where they would spend the next four years. The prefect of Marseilles wrote, “the King was a tall and handsome old man, paralyzed with gout; a good, honest man, he was simple, unaware of things, and resigned to his fate. The Queen was small and ugly; she had a lot of black, curly hair, and was bedecked with many jewels, chains, and feathers. Her skin was coarse, but she showed off her beautiful arms with pleasure, though she did hide her fat legs. She was not lacking in talent and dignity.”4 In 1812, they requested permission to relocate to Rome where their daughter Maria Luisa was living. Napoleon was getting ready to invade Russia and was glad to be rid of them.

Life in Rome was possibly as monotone as it was in Marseille, but at least their daughter was also there. The fall of Napoleon would at least see their son restored the throne in 1813. Charles and Maria Luisa were becoming older now and were becoming increasingly frail. Maria Luisa spent long hours in bed due to a nervous fatigue while Charles barely ate or slept. Maria Luisa wrote, “It won’t stop raining. I live in utter solitude. Now old and crippled, my nerves torture me, and I can see that my days are numbered.”5 She began to suffer from headaches, bloody noses, incessant sneezing and stomach cramps.

On 2 January 1819, Maria Luisa received the sacraments and communion. A few hours later, she died at the age of 67. At her bedside were her daughters Maria Luisa and María Isabella, several grandchildren and Godoy himself. He wrote, “My protectress no longer lives. Her Majesty the Queen died at a quarter past ten at night on the second of January.”6 Her funeral was attended by 21 cardinals and she received a service befitting a Queen partly at the Pope’s expense.

Just 17 days later, her husband Charles also died.

  1. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 158
  2. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 224
  3. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 241
  4. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 244
  5. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 260
  6. The troubled trinity: Godoy and the Spanish monarchs by Douglas Hilt p. 261

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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