Her many charitable acts could not silence her critics, and she was known to retort, “Those that want Queens should pay.”1 It didn’t help that her main critics were her father-in-law Ferdinand, King by right of his wife Queen Maria II until her death in 1853, and his morganatic second wife, Elise. Luis’s sister Antonia once wrote to her brother, “She (Elise) does all she can to discredit Maria. I will never forget the scene I had with her… when I said that Maria had pleased me… and she said that the Queen speaks accordingly to the people she speaks to and I told her that it would not be polite to talk about my sister so I called Father so we could talk about something else.”2 Ferdinand and Elise were eventually forced into retirement.
On 9 January 1878, Maria Pia’s father, King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, died at the age of 57. Although she arrived too late at his deathbed, she remained in Italy for the funeral. Her brother had now become King Umberto I of Italy. Maria Pia’s beloved sister Clotilde had desperately written to their father shortly before his death to tell him about the state of her marriage. Her philandering husband had abandoned her and taken her two sons from her care. Luckily, their brother was able to help her and her daughter Maria Letizia and put Moncalieri Castle at their disposal.
The following year, Maria Pia herself developed a serious illness – pleurisy. People from all ranks in life gathered outside the Palace for information about her health. As she slowly recovered from her illness, Te Deums were performed in the churches of the city.
The years 1884 and 1885 saw the deaths of Maria Pia’s sister-in-law and her father-in-law. In 1884, her sister-in-law Maria Anna (married to Prince George of Saxony and mother of King Frederick Augustus III of Saxony) died at the age of 41 of typhoid fever after nursing her youngest son Albert through the same disease. The following year, Ferdinand, who had been suffering from cancer, collapsed at the opera and died shortly after at the age of 69. Ferdinand was buried next to Queen Maria and the seven children that had predeceased him.
Maria Pia and Luis now focussed their attentions on finding a bride for their eldest son Carlos and the search began among the Coburg relatives – preferably a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Viktoria of Prussia had her eye on someone else, so she refused him. Luis’s sister Antonia tried to steer them towards Catholic Princesses, such as Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony – the daughter of their sister Maria Anna and thus Carlos’s first cousin – but decided against it. Eventually, she recommended the exiled House of Orléans, and they settled on Amélie of Orléans, the eldest daughter of Prince Philippe, Count of Paris and Princess Marie Isabelle of Orléans.
On 22 May 1886, Carlos and Amélie married in a grand wedding organised by Maria Pia. Maria Pia herself wore a blue velvet dress with a large peacock coloured train with white silk pomegranates, while the bride wore a high collared satin dress with an embroidered veil. A new era had begun, and while their son began his married life, the marriage of Maria Pia and Luis was beginning to show cracks.
Luis had never been entirely faithful to her, but he had always been discrete. He had even written a secret will once, leaving bequests to a mistress and their illegitimate son. However, he never quite followed through on having the will legalised. Maria Pia was aware of his liaisons, which she referred to as “out of doors amusements.”3 However, she became less tolerant of them as he became less discrete. During these years, the birth of her grandson Luis Filipe gave her joy, and he had a special place in Maria Pia’s heart. Tragically, Amélie and Carlos’s second child was a premature daughter who lived for just two hours. Maria Pia later described her little granddaughter as “very small, but perfect and beautiful, with well-defined features.”4 Maria Pia could certainly understand the loss. After her departure, Amélie wrote to Maria Pia, “I am very sad my dear Mother and in this sadness you have been so good to me.”5 Unfortunately, if the two women were close during this time, their relationship soon deteriorated significantly due to rivalry over charitable activities – but perhaps the fact that Maria Pia had taken a lover did not help either.
She had never been short of male admirers, but she had thus far remained faithful to Luis, even if he hadn’t been faithful to her. As her marriage deteriorated, she saw no reason to keep this up. Her chosen lover was Thomas de Sousa Rosa, and it probably began around 1886. None of their letters survive, but Luis’s sister Antonia – who had learned of the affair – often wrote of it to her brother. Antonia developed such hatred for her sister-in-law that she would later only refer to her as X in her letters. It was quite the double standard as Luis also continued to have affairs. Antonia found Maria Pia’s behaviour inexcusable and wrote that it was “bad in any woman, but in the position of X, doubly bad because it gives a bad example to all society and to all of the country.”6 Maria Pia remained indignant, saying, “They can talk until they explode.”7
- Maria Pia, Queen of Portugal by Sabrina Pollock p.57
- Maria Pia, Queen of Portugal by Sabrina Pollock p.58
- Maria Pia, Queen of Portugal by Sabrina Pollock p.79
- Maria Pia, Queen of Portugal by Sabrina Pollock p.82
- Maria Pia, Queen of Portugal by Sabrina Pollock p.83
- Maria Pia, Queen of Portugal by Sabrina Pollock p.88
- Maria Pia, Queen of Portugal by Sabrina Pollock p.88