Infanta Marie Anne of Portugal was born on 13 July 1861 as the fifth daughter of the former Portuguese King Miguel I – who had been exiled in 1834 – and Princess Adelaide of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg. She was born at Schloss Bronnbach in the Kingdom of Württemberg and was known for her great piety. She also liked to smoke cigars.
As early as 1884, the future Grand Duke Guillaume (William) IV of Luxembourg – then only the Hereditary Prince of Nassau – sought her hand in marriages and asked his father, Adolphe, for permission. However, Adolphe wanted to keep his line protestant, and Marie Anne was a devout Catholic. The relationship between father and son became strained, but Guillaume was willing to wait him out.
In 1890, Adolphe inherited the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg from King William III of the Netherlands, and now Guillaume could look towards becoming a Grand Duke as well. It now also became even more important for Guillaume to marry and father heirs – especially after his uncle Nicholas made an unequal marriage. Guillaume refused to consider any other bride, and Adolphe reluctantly consented to the match. The 41-year-old Guillaume was now free to marry Marie Anne and so they did on 21 June 1893 with the understanding that any daughters would be raised as Catholics and any sons as protestants.
The newlyweds made their home at Schloss Berg where their first child – Marie-Adélaïde – was born on 14 June 1894. She was quickly followed by five more daughters: Charlotte (born on 23 January 1896), Hilda (born on 15 February 1897), Antonia (born on 7 October 1899), Elisabeth (born on 7 March 1901 ) and Sophie (born on 14 February 1902). Marie Anne and Guillaume were unbothered by the fact that they only had daughters, unlike Adolphe.
Unfortunately, Guillaume was in rather poor health, and he had suffered a mild stroke in 1898. In 1902, he was appointed Lieutenant Representative on his father’s behalf and in 1905, Adolphe died, and Guillaume succeeded his father as Grand Duke. However, his ill health prevented him from reaching his full potential as Grand Duke. His stroke had left him with a brain embolism that causing increasing paralysis. In 1907, it was clear that Marie Anne would have no more children and Guillaume proclaimed succession rights for his daughters. The following year, Guillaume agreed to appoint his wife as regent as his health continued to deteriorate. Marie Anne feared the task before her, “but I must carry on for the Grand Duke’s sake. His intimate thoughts and feelings, which I know exactly, become my own.”
Marie Anne proved to be an excellent regent for her husband, but by 1910, Guillaume no longer recognised those around him, and he was completely dependent on others. In 1911, there was further bad news when a cancerous tumour was discovered in his throat, making it difficult for him to eat. He finally succumbed to his illnesses on 25 February 1912 with his wife and mother each holding one of his hands. Guillaume’s heir was his eldest daughter Marie-Adélaïde who was just a few months shy of her 18th birthday. Marie Anne continued to act as regent until her daughter’s 18th birthday.
The years of the First World War were difficult for Marie Anne as she had relatives on both sides of the conflict, and she refused to cut her ties to her German relations. During these years, she and her daughters all worked in military hospitals. One soldier would later recall, “Always when I think of it, with which Maria Anna and Marie Adelaide ensured our care… we lived in the illusion that we were being cared for by our own mothers, what wonderful teachers of humanity… we alone knew the work, which they carried out in the office of the field marshall.”
Marie Anne’s and Marie-Adélaïde’s pro-German stance during the war would cost them dearly. Marie-Adélaïde was forced to abdicate in favour of her younger sister Charlotte, while Marie Anne was asked to leave the Grand Duchy. Marie Anne took her four other daughters to Hohenburg, where she set up court. All four ended up marrying German princes. However, she did not like the Hohenzollerns and refused to let Crown Prince Wilhelm past her veranda when he came to call. She also despised the Nazis and once spat on a statue of Adolf Hitler which was being guarded by a soldier.
The Second World War forced Marie Anne to join her daughter Charlotte and her family in exile in the United States. While there, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer and underwent surgery. However, the disease had already spread, and Marie Anne died in exile on 31 July 1942. She was initially interred in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Her body was brought back home in 1947, and she was buried beside her husband at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg city.1