María Teresa Rafaela of Spain was born on 11 June 1726 as the daughter of King Philip V of Spain and Elisabeth Farnese. From her father’s first marriage, she had two surviving half-brothers. She also had five full siblings. María Teresa Rafaela was born Royal Alcazar of Madrid in Spain, and she was under the care of her governess, the Marchioness Las Nieves.
Her elder sister, Mariana Victoria, had been sent to France at the age of 4 as the future bride of the then ten-year-old King Louis XV of France. However, the engagement was broken off in 1725, and she was sent back to Spain in disgrace. This caused a diplomatic rift, which would eventually be settled with the marriage of María Teresa Rafaela to King Louis XV’s son in 1745. This marriage had been settled in 1739 but would have to wait for six years. María Teresa Rafaela’s mother had been adamant that no wedding should take place until both parties were of marriageable age.1
María Teresa Rafaela was married to the Dauphin, Louis, on 18 December 1744 by proxy, and she departed from her homeland in January 1745. Preparations for her arrival in France began in earnest; balls were scheduled, and fireworks were ordered. One lawyer wrote, “Madame la Dauphine is advancing; they say that she has a lot of spirit, that she knows several languages and that she has been given an education above her sex. She is nearly nineteen, therefore the age to think and speak. She is tall with dignity; it is said that the Duchess of Brancas, her lady-in-waiting, wanted to engage her to put on rouge, which was the custom in France, and that it suited her better than another. She replied that if the King and Queen, and Monsieur the Dauphin, ordered her to, that she would put some on.”2
María Teresa Rafaela arrived on 21 February at Etampes, where she fell on her knees upon meeting the King. He raised her up, kissed her and introduced her to her future husband, who kissed her on both cheeks. The in-person wedding took place two days later at Versailles. King Louis XV and the court were initially satisfied, but the Dauphin was even more so, and he fell head over heels in love. After the wedding ceremony in the morning, there was a play, a ballet, and a public supper before the bedding ceremony took place. During these festivities, King Louis met his soon-to-be mistress, Madame de Pompadour. María Teresa Rafaela did not approve of her and became openly hostile, leading to a frosty relationship with the King. Once, when Madame de Pompadour had accidentally fallen into a basin at Fontainebleau, María Teresa Rafaela reportedly mumbled that she was a “fish [poisson – which had been Madame de Pompadour’s surname] returning to her elements.” 3
In May, the King and the Dauphin left for Flanders to join the army, leaving María Teresa Rafaela in tears. She found solace with her mother-in-law, Queen Marie Leszczyńska. The Dauphin excitedly wrote home after the victory at the Battle of Fontenoy. They returned home to Versailles in September, and he fell into an easy routine with María Teresa Rafaela. They dined together often, and after dinner, he read to her.
María Teresa Rafaela soon fell pregnant with her first child, and the birth was eagerly awaited. Even the King did not venture too far away so he would be able to witness the event. She seemed to have fared well in her pregnancy, and she gave birth to a healthy baby girl on 19 July 1746. The court had not informed her that her father had died on 9 July to prevent her from going into shock. The waiting crowds learned from the sour face of her lady-in-waiting that there was not to be a Duke of Burgundy. The little girl was named Marie Thérèse, but she went by the honorific Madame.
Tragically, María Teresa Rafaela died just four days after giving birth, plunging her husband into despair. The King had to drag his son away from his wife’s deathbed. The Duke de Luynes wrote, “Madame la Dauphine made her confession, she was bled twice on her feet, a general suppression made her lose consciousness, and she died. The Dauphin loved his wife passionately, and the blow he felt was terrible. His pain first manifested itself violently; he cried a lot and isolated himself for a few days.[…] The Dauphine was also little regretted at court, reserved and haughty, she had failed to please.[…] She had found, however, what is not given to all women, a warm and pure heart, which had loved her undividedly. Her image was never erased from the mind of the Dauphin, who, in his will, asked that his heart be placed next to that of his first wife.”4
As Versailles went in mourning, María Teresa Rafaela was subjected to autopsy. The doctors reportedly found a great deal of milk in her brain.5 Her heart was also removed, as per custom.
She was later decided as the “little girl, so shy that some people thought her half-witted, had made no impression whatever on those around her.” 6 She was certainly replaced in a hurry, as Louis married Maria Josepha of Saxony early the following year. Louis continued to mourn her and was even more devasted when their little daughter died on 27 April 1748.
- Elisabeth Farnese, the termagant of Spain by Edward Armstrong p.343
- Le fils de Louis XV, Louis, dauphin de France, 1729-1765 by Emmanuel de Broglie p.68-69
- Madame de Pompadour by Evelyne Lever by 57
- Le fils de Louis XV, Louis, dauphin de France, 1729-1765 by Emmanuel de Broglie p.99-100
- Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford p.57
- Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford p.57