Maria Luisa of Spain was born on 6 July 1782 as the daughter of Charles IV of Spain and Maria Luisa of Parma. Not much is known of her youth. In 1795 she met her first cousin, Louis, Hereditary Prince of Parma, who had come to court to finish his education. He was initially proposed as a husband for her elder sister Maria Amalia, who was rather timid. Louis preferred the more lively Maria Luisa, and they were married on 25 August 1795 at the Royal Palace of La Granja in a double wedding with Maria Amalia, who married her uncle Antonio, who was 24 years older than she was.
Louis’ and Maria Luisa’s marriage was happy, despite Louis’ health problems. They had their first child in 1799, a son who was named Charles Louis. They were still living in Spain at the time and wished to leave for Parma, but they lost the duchy of Parma due to French occupation. By the Treaty of Aranjuez, they were compensated by the creation of a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of Etruria for Louis. Maria Luisa never supported the plan, especially after finding out they would have to travel to Paris for the investiture of their sovereignty. In the end, she was pressed by her family to do it. They left Madrid on 21 April 1801 and were received in Paris by Napoleon on 23 May.
Upon entering Etruria, they encountered much hostility from the population, who missed the Grand Ducal Family of Tuscany, whose lands had been absorbed by the Kingdom. Shortly after their arrival, Maria Luisa suffered a miscarriage. Their new Kingdom’s finances were in quite a state, and a bad harvest made the situation even more miserable. In 1802 the couple travelled to Spain to attend the double wedding of her brother Ferdinand to Maria Antonia of Naples and her sister Maria Isabel to Francis I of Naples. Both were ill during the journey and on 2 October 1802, Maria Luisa gave birth to her daughter Maria Luisa Carlota. They were still at sea, and at first, both were thought unlikely to survive. They were late for the wedding but found her parents waiting for her upon arrival in Barcelona. They also received the news that Louis’ father had died on 9 October. They finally left Spain again in December 1802.
Meanwhile, Louis’ health was still no better. He died on 27 May 1803, after an epileptic fit. Maria Luisa was still only 20 years when she was widowed. Maria Luisa took on the regency on behalf of her son. Napoleon had other plans for the Kingdom, and on 23 May 1807, she was informed she was to leave immediately. Spain had ceded Etruria to France. Maria Luisa left Florence on 10 December 1807 with her two children. She met with Napoleon in Milan, who promised her a new Kingdom if she would marry Lucien Bonaparte. Neither Lucien nor Marie Luisa agreed with this. She arrived back in Spain without a Kingdom.
Napoleon invaded Spain, and her father was deposed in favour of her brother. Maria Luisa acted as an intermediary between her father and the French General Muray. Napoleon ordered all relatives of the King to leave Spain and called them to France. Though the population of Madrid rebelled against the French occupation upon their departure, their rebellion was crushed. Maria Luisa protested against the loss of her son’s lands, but it was no use.
Napoleon gave Spain to his brother Joseph Bonaparte, and the Spanish royal family lived in Fontainebleau. Maria Luisa and her family first lived in Passy, but later moved to Compiegne. She was frequently ill during this time. After she planned an escape to England, she was arrested and was imprisoned in the convent of Santi Domenico e Sisto with her daughter. Her son remained with her father.
She wrote in her memoirs, “in so little a space of time was I condemned to part from a son, whom I tenderly loved; from a household, which was rendered desolate by my loss, and from all my property left in the hands of those barbarians”.
It would be several years before she was released. “In this melancholy situation I remained for two years and a half, so entirely excluded from all intercourse with the world, that whenever a stranger came to visit the monastery, I received an intimation to shut myself up in my chamber; which I was not permitted to quit till duly apprised, by the prioress, that the visitors had left the house”. She was finally freed on 14 January 1814.
In the end, Maria Luisa and her son were compensated with the smaller Duchy of Lucca, though she refused to accept this for over two years. She finally accepted the Treaty of Paris in 1817, whereupon the death of Marie Louise of Austria the duchy of Parma would revert to her son. Maria Luisa became Duchess of Lucca in her own right and was granted the rank of Queen. Upon her own death, her son would succeed her as Prince of Lucca and Lucca would be annexed to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany once the family regained possession of Parma.
Once in Lucca Maria Luisa wished to marry again. She tried to contract a marriage with Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who was also her first cousin but this failed. Other possibilities were Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este and Charles X of France. She never married again. During the six years of her reign in Lucca, she founded 17 new convents. She was already ill by the end of 1823 and made her will in February of 1824. She died of cancer on 13 March 1824.1