María Isabella of Spain

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María Isabella of Spain
Queen of the Two Sicilies
Maria Isabella of Spain, Queen of the Two Sicilies.jpg
Consort 4 January 1825-8 November 1830
Born (1789-07-06)6 July 1789
Madrid, Spain
Died 13 September 1848(1848-09-13) (aged 59)
Palace of Portici, Two Sicilies
Burial Basilica of Santa Chiara, Naples
Spouse Francis I of the Two Sicilies
Francesco, Count del Balzo dei Duchi di Presenzano
Issue Luisa Carlotta, Infanta of Spain
María Cristina, Queen of Spain
Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies
Carlo, Prince of Capua
Leopold, Count of Siracusa
Maria Antonia, Grand Duchess of Tuscany
Antonio, Count of Lecce
Maria Amalia, Infanta of Portugal and Spain
Maria Carolina, Countess of Montemolin
Teresa Cristina, Empress of Brazil
Luigi, Count of Aquila
Francesco, Count of Trapani
House Bourbon
Father Charles IV of Spain
Mother Maria Luisa of Parma
Religion Roman Catholic

María Isabella of Spain (6 July 1789 – 13 September 1848) was an Infanta of Spain and Queen of the Two Sicilies.

She was the youngest daughter of King Carlos IV of Spain and his wife Maria Luisa of Parma. In 1802, age thirteen, she married her first cousin Francis, Crown Prince of Naples, who was a widower. The following years were marked by the Napoleonic Wars that affected the Italian Peninsula. In 1806, she had to flee Naples for Sicily with the rest of the Neapolitan royal family. She lived with her husband in Palermo until 1820.

She was good nature and pliable and was well matched with her husband. Theirs was a happy marriage that produced thirteen children. María Isabella lacked political acumen and had no ambitions, but unlike her powerful mother in law, Maria Carolina of Austria, she was popular. In 1825 her husband ascended to the throne as King Francis I of the Two Sicilies. During his reign, she did not play any political role, but was well liked for her simple manners and generosity. She visited her native Spain in 1830 when her second daughter Maria Christina married King Ferdinand VII of Spain. Shortly after their return to Naples, her husband died in November 1830.

As a Queen mother, she remained a popular figure. Her eldest son, Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, was deferential towards her, but her efforts to obtained a pardon for her second son, the Prince of Capua, were fruitless. In 1839, with Ferdinand II's approval, she contracted a morganatic marriage. She died on 13 September 1848 at age 59.

Infanta of Spain

Born at the Royal Palace of Madrid, María Isabel de Borbón y Borbón-Parma was the eleventh child of King Carlos IV of Spain and his wife Maria Luisa of Parma, a granddaughter of Louis XV of France. Her paternal grandparents were Charles III of Spain and Maria Amalia of Saxony. Her maternal grandparents were Philip, Duke of Parma and Princess Louise Élisabeth of France. Her grandfathers were brothers, both sons of Philip V of Spain and his second wife Elisabeth Farnese.

María Isabel's father had a great frame and immense physical strength, and a reputation for performing acts of kindness, but was considered by many to be intellectually sluggish and quite credulous.[1] Even though he kept up the appearance of an absolute, powerful monarch, he never took more than a passive role in the direction of his own kingdom, instead leaving the affairs of government to his wife who put her trust in her favorite, the prime minister, Manuel Godoy. Queen Maria Luisa, thoroughly dominated the king. María Isabel's birth coincided with Godoy rise to power. As the unpopular Queen Maria Luisa was under the spell of Godoy, their enemies accused them of being lovers.[2] Court rumors attributed María Isabel's paternity no to the king, but to the young Godoy, who became prime minister in 1792.[2][3]

The Infanta's childhood coincided with the events of the French revolution and political turbulence in Spain.[4] The youngest surviving daughter in a large family, María Isabel was spoilt by both of her parents and her education was rudimentary.[5] She and her family members were painted by Francisco Goya in his 1800–1801 portrait Charles IV of Spain and His Family.

In December 1800, Lucien Bonaparte arrived in Spain as the new French ambassador. Through him, Queen Maria Luisa offered María Isabel in marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte in April 1801.[6] Then First Consul, Napoleon had been married to Joséphine de Beauharnais for two years, but it had been suggested that he should divorce her to marry a Princess of Royal blood.[7] Napoleon had a low opinion of the Bourbon family and commented privately " If I would have to remarry, I wouldn't look in a house in ruins for my descendants"[7]


Infanta Maria Isabel. Portrait by Francisco Goya .

Anxious to find a crown for Maria Isabel, in the spring 1801, her mother looked to marry her with her paternal first cousin the Duke of Calabria, Prince Francesco of Naples and Sicily whose wife, Archduchess Maria Clementina of Austria, was then still alive, but died of consumption in November that year.[8]

The idea came from the French diplomat Alquier, who had been ambassador in Madrid and Naples.[8] His plan was to bring the Kingdom of Naples, an ally of England and hostile to France, into the recently formed Spanish-French alliance, proposing a closer relationship between the two families through double marriages.[8] Infanta Maria Isabel and her eldest brother, Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias, would marry their first cousins: Maria Antonia of Naples and Francesco, Duke of Calabria.

The crown Prince of Naples was the eldest son of Ferdinand, King of Sicily (as Ferdinand III) and Naples (as Ferdinand IV), her father's younger brother, and Maria Carolina of Austria, a sister of Marie Antoinette. The idea was well received by King Ferdinand IV of Naples, who wanted a better relation with his older brother the King of Spain.[8] His wife, Maria Carolina of Austria, who hated France and mistrusted Spain for its good will towards Napoleon, opposed it.[8] Infanta Maria Isabel was only twelve years old, even at a time when princesses married very young, her tender age was unusual, but her early marriage was justified by the need to secure the hasty resumption of close relations between Spain and Naples in a particularly critical time for the European courts, struggling with the expansionist policy of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The contracts of the two marriages were signed in Aranjuez in April 1802.[9] On 6 July 1802, her thirteenth birthday, María Isabel married in Madrid her 25-year-old cousin, Francesco by proxy, as his second wife. Her brother Ferdinand stood in the ceremony in place of the groom. The Spanish royal family traveled to Barcelona on 13 August.[10] The two couples were married in person on 4 October at the arrival of Francesco and his sister.[11] The festivities lasted until 12 October when María Isabel, in Italian Maria Isabella, left Barcelona towards Naples.[11]

Crown Princess

Maria Isabella, Crown Princess of Naples

Maria Isabella did not evoke a good impression upon her arrival at the court of Naples. All four daughters of Charles IV (Carlota, Maria Amalia, Maria Luisa and María Isabel) were short and plain.[12] Unlike her sisters, María Isabel had regular features, but looked even younger than her thirteen years. She was described as " little, and round as a ball".[13] Her mother-in-law, Queen Maria Carolina, had been close to her son's first wife, who was also her niece. She had an unfavorable first impression of the young María Isabella, about whom she wrote the following:

A fine, fresh, healthy face, not Bourbon in the least, but white and red, with black eyes. She is very stout and sturdy, yet her legs are very short. So much for her exterior. The rest cannot be described because I myself cannot understand it. She is null in every respect, knowledge, ideas, curiosity. Nothing, absolutely nothing. She speaks a little Spanish but neither Italian nor French, and only monosyllables, Yes or No, indiscriminately. She smiles all the time, whether she is pleased or not...Francis's child aged four has far more intelligence. Francis has engaged masters to teach her Italian and the rudiments of geography and arithmetic. She knows nothing except little piano. I have tried to praise and enliven her. She feels nothing; she laughs. She is an automaton which might acquire certain attitudes but never real maturity. Were I the ambitious, intriguing woman I am said to be, I should be enchanted to have such a daughter in law who will never become anything, but I am too conscientious for that. I tried every means to mold her as a companion for her husband, even if this may turn her against myself. Believe me this child is a tight present, for she will neither ennoble nor improve our race. All the numerous Spanish clique, all their projects and schemes, have received a knock out blow by the arrival of this Princess and her perfect nullity.[5]

As Crown Princess of Naples, Maria Isabella did not take part in politics. Young and inexperienced, she had neither the energetic character nor the education to be active in the public sphere. She was only fifteen years old when her first daughter, Luisa Carlotta, was born in Portici on 24 October 1804. She also had a step-daughter, Princess Carolina of Naples and Sicily, who would marry the French-born Duke of Berry (the second son of King Charles X of France).

Maria Isabela's life was deeply marked by Napoleon Bonaparte's actions. After being crowned as Emperor of the French in December 1804, Napoleon proceeded to expand his power in the Italian peninsula. Fearing for his crown, King Ferdinand joined the Third Coalition against Bonaparte. Napoleon’s troops defeated the ally armies at Austerlitz in December 1805 and the Neapolitan at Campo Tenese. Following these victories, Napoleon's forces occupied the Kingdom of Naples in 1806. The Emperor gave the crown of Naples to his brother Joseph Bonaparte, and four years later to his brother-in-law Joachim Murat.

Maria Isabella, with the rest of the royal family, had to flee from Naples to Sicily in February 1806.[14] Despite successive attempts by Murat to invade the island, King Ferdinand and Maria Carolina held their status and power in Sicily under the protection of British troops, but would be unable to challenge French control of the Italian mainland. The real power in Sicily rested on Lord William Bentinck, commander of British troops on the island. Bentinck established a constitution and deprived Ferdinand of all power.[citation needed] The king spent the following years hunting, appearing at Palermo only when his presence was required.

In 1812, Francesco, Maria Isabella’s husband, was appointed regent. Maria Isabella did not get involved in the complex Sicilian affairs of the Neapolitan court in exile in Palermo. Francesco clashed with the aristocracy of the island who opposed new taxes to finance the war against France, claiming a high degree of autonomy. Deprived of her influence, Queen Maria Carolina was exiled to her homeland Austria in 1813, where she died in 1814.

Duchess of Calabria

Francis and María Isabella's family in 1820; she is at the far left, holding Maria Carolina Ferdinanda.

In 1815, under Austrian protection, Ferdinand returned to Naples. He suppressed the Sicilian constitution and joined his two kingdoms into that of the Two Sicilies in 1816, bestowing on Francesco the title of Duke of Calabria as heir of the combined kingdoms.[15] Serving as lieutenant in Sicily (1815–20), Francesco and Maria Isabella remained in Sicily, seldom visiting Naples.

Although she left Spain at an early age, Maria Isabella remained attached to her family and native country. In the autumn of 1818, she visited her parents who were living in exile in Rome.[16] She was still with her mother when Queen Maria Luisa died in January 1819.[17] Maria Isabella was instrumental in the marital choices of the Neapolitan court for her daughters, of whom four (out of six) went to marry members of the Spanish royal family. The first of these marriages took place in April 1819 between her eldest child Luisa Carlotta and Maria Isabella’s younger brother, Infante Francisco de Paula of Spain in a union between niece and uncle.

During these troubled years Maria Isabella was constantly pregnant. At intervals of less than two years, she gave birth to nine children born in Palermo: Maria Cristina (April 27, 1806), Amalia (March 8, 1808, that died a year later), Ferdinand, heir apparent (Jan. 12. 1810), Charles, Prince of Capua (October 10 . 1811), Leopold, Count of Syracuse (May 22, 1813), Maria Antonia (19 December 1814), Antonio, Count of Lecce (23 Sept. 1816), Maria Amalia (5 feb. 1818) and Carolina Ferdinanda (29 Feb. 1820).

Maria Isabella, still living in Parlermo, yearned for the more exciting life of the continent and she finally returned to Naples with her husband in July 1820.[18] Her father-in-law King Ferdinand was now completely subservient to Austria; an Austrian, Count Nugent, was commander-in-chief of the army. For the next four years her father-in-law reigned as an absolute monarch within his domain, granting no constitutional reforms. In this period, Maria Isabella had two more children born in Naples: Teresa Cristina on 14 March 1822 and Louis, Count of Aquila on July 19, 1824.

Queen of the Two Sicilies

María Isabella, Queen of the Two Sicilies. Portrait by P.V. Hanselaere, Palace of Caserta

King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies died on 4 January 1825 and Maria Isabella’s husband became the new King. Francis I, aged forty seven, was a large heavy man; well-intentioned; simple in his tastes and more interesting in farming than in politics.[19] Agriculture was his special past time. He had been better educated than his father, but was prematurely aged and weak in character and body.[20] From the beginning, Francis I behaved very differently from the liberal prince he had been as heir to the crown and his short reign was essentially reactionary. Although jealous of his authority, he left the government in the hands of his prime minister Luigi de' Medici (1759 - 1830).[20] The king’s valet, Michelangelo Viglia, and Caterina de Simone, the Queen's lady in waiting, ruled the royal household in which corruption was rampant.[21]

In her new role as a Queen consort, Maria Isabella did not have any political weight. She had neither ambition nor interest in government to be of any assistance to her placid husband. Thirty four years old and the mother of twelve children, she was then still nursing her son the Count of Aquila, born the year before. Plum since her youth, the many years of childbearing made the Queen very overweight destroying her regular features.[22] Maria Isabella was frivolous, childlike and goodhearted.[19] She loved the theater, balls and public festivities.[23] Simple, and generous, she was more popular than her husband.[23]

The royal couple lived surrounded by soldiers, always in dread of a revolution.[22] Their security was guaranteed by the Austrian troops stationed in Naples, but their payment was a heavy burden on the state coffers deficit and the main reason for the high public debt.[24] On Medici’s advise, Francis and Maria Isabella, taking with them their one-year-old son the Count of Aquila, went to Milan in May 1825 in order to obtain a reduction of the occupation troops.[25] After an agreement between Medici and the Austrian ambassador the Count von Ficquelmont, the King and Queen returned to Naples on 18 July. The Austrian troops were reduced to 12.000 beginning at the end of that year and left in February 1827.[26][27]

On 13 August 1827, Maria Isabella gave birth to her thirteenth and last child, Francesco di Paola, Count of Trapani. The queen constant companion was her second daughter Maria Christina, who was as flirtatious as her mother.[28] Maria Christina was already in her early twenties and her parents were eager to find a royal husband for her. The opportunity came when Maria Isabella’s brother, Ferdinand VII of Spain, suddenly became a widower in May 1829. Maria Isabella’s eldest daughter, Infanta Luisa Carlota, quickly arranged the marriage between her sister and their uncle.[29]

Ferdinand VII invited his sister and brother in law to accompany their daughter to the wedding in Madrid. Francis I’s was afflicted with gout and on declining health, but Maria Isabella was anxious to visit her native country after twenty seven years of absence. She convinced her husband to make the long trip to Spain.[30] Their eldest son, Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria was left as a regent during their absence.[31]

Traveling by land, the royal party left for Spain on 28 September 1829. On their way, they visited Pope Pius VIII in Rome. In Grenoble, they met the Duchess of Berry, happy to see her parents after thirteen years.[31] Once in Spain, the marriage was celebrated on 25 January 1830. On the way back, they were reunited once again with the Duchess of Berry who introduced them to her son the Duke of Bordeaux at Chambord. Maria Isabella and her husband went all the way to Paris where they were entertained by King Charles X of France.[32] Only in June, the King and Queen left for Genoa reaching Naples on July 30. After their return, the king’s health deteriorated rapidly. He died on November 8, 1830.[33]

Queen mother

At the death of her husband, Maria Isabella’s eldest son Ferdinand II became the new King. Unbeknown to her, she was at the center of a liberal conspiracy hatched by Prince Vincenzo Ruffo della Scaletta and Peter Ugo Marquis delle Favare. Their intention was to name Maria Isabella regent, displacing her conservative son from the throne for at least a couple of years. The plot was discovered and immediately crushed by the young king.[34] Ferdinand II was only twenty years old. Shy and quite, he was, however, more energetic than his father and grandfather had been and took his duties as King more seriously.[35] The relationship between Maria Isabella and Ferdinand II was cold. The Queen mother had a marked preference for her second son, Charles, Prince of Capua, who was more outgoing and shared her frivolity.[36]

In the early years of widowhood, Maria Isabella was still young, with a will to live and a certain beauty, despite her increasing fatness. Surrounded by admirers, she had a weakness for handsome officials younger than her. According to court rumors, she took lovers. Her behavior made her an easy target for libels and exasperated Ferdinand II.[23][37] Maria Isabella was kind to her daughter in law Maria Cristina of Savoy, who married Ferdinand II on 21 November 1832.[37] The new queen achieved the reconciliation between mother and son.[38]

Maria Isabella was instrumental in finding husbands for her daughters. In 1832, her daughter, Maria Amalia, age fourteen, married Infante Sebastian of Spain, who was Maria Isabella’s first cousin. A fourth Spanish marriage took place only after her death, in 1850, when Carolina Ferdinanda married Don Carlos count of Montemolin, Carlist pretender to the Spanish throne. In June 1833, her pious daughter, Maria Antonia married the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, who was a widower.

In 1835, Maria Isabella began an affair with, Baron Peter von Schmuckher, a married Austrian officer.[23] Their on and off relationship was turbulent. Nevertheless, at the death of Schmuckher's wife in 1837, she intended to marry him.[23] When the ambitious baron claim the title and privileges of Royal highness as a condition to marry her, Maria Isabella rejected him, appealing to her son King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, to get rid of her former lover. The King had Schmuckher expelled from Naples in January 1838.[23]

Late years

In January 1836, Maria Isabella served as a godmother to her grandson Francisco, Duque of Calabria. In March that same year, the count of Capua contracted a morganatic marriage. Maria Isabella pleaded for her favorite son, but her efforts to obtained a pardon for him were fruitless. Ferdinand II did not forgive his runaway brother. The count of Capua remained in permanent exile in England.[39] Maria Isabella never saw him again.

As Maria Isabella was determined to remarry, her son, King Ferdinand II, gave her a list with names of young noblemen of the kingdom, from whom to choose.[40] Her first two picks hesitated and she withdrew her proposals. Ultimately she selected Francesco, Count del Balzo dei Duchi di Presenzano (1805–1882), a handsome young lieutenant from an ancient but impoverished noble family.[40] Their marriage took place privately on 15 January 1839. She was 50 years old and the groom, 34. The couple had no children. They retired from the Neapolitan court, moving to the Palace of Capodimonte.[41]

Tragedy struck her when in January 1843, Antonio, Count of Lecce, her fourth son was killed.[41] Her fifth son, Luigi, Count of Aquila, followed a career in the navy. In July 1843 he went to Brazil when Teresa, Maria Isabella's youngest daughter, married Pedro II Emperor of Brazil. In 1845 King Louis Philippe I launched the idea of marrying Maria Isabella's youngest son Francesco, Count of Trapani, who had been originally destined for the church, to Queen Isabella II of Spain, her granddaughter, in another union between uncle and niece. The project, did not come to fruition.[42]

In the political crisis of late 1847, Maria Isabella, her son Leopold, Count of Syracuse and her brother in law, Leopold, Prince of Salerno, advocated in vain in favor of liberal reforms. Due to her affable character and her generosity towards the poor, Maria Isabella remained a popular figure till the end.[43] She died on 13 September 1848 at age 59.[43]


Francis and María Isabella were well matched and he treated her with kindness.[5] They had twelve children, six daughters and six sons.


Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

  • 6 July 1789 – 6 July 1802 Her Royal Highness Infanta María Isabella of Spain
  • 6 July 1802 – 4 January 1825 Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Calabria
  • 4 January 1825 – 8 November 1830 Her Majesty The Queen of the Two Sicilies
  • 8 November 1830 – 13 September 1848 Her Majesty The Queen Mother of the Two Sicilies


  1. Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 293
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 307
  3. Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 311
  4. Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 308
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Acton, The Bourbons of Naples, p. 479
  6. Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 325
  7. 7.0 7.1 Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 326
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 327
  9. Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 365
  10. Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 328
  11. 11.0 11.1 Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 366 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Rubio_366" defined multiple times with different content
  12. Bearne, p.275
  13. Acton, The Bourbons of Naples, p. 478
  14. Acton, The Bourbons of Naples, p. 554
  15. Acton, The Bourbons of Naples, p. 679
  16. Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 345
  17. Rubio, Reinas de España, p. 346
  18. Acton, The Bourbons of Naples, p. 698
  19. 19.0 19.1 Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 3
  20. 20.0 20.1 Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 1
  21. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 18
  22. 22.0 22.1 Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 16
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 23.5 Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 132
  24. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 4
  25. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 5
  26. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 6
  27. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 22
  28. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 20
  29. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 33
  30. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 34
  31. 31.0 31.1 Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 35
  32. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 39
  33. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 46
  34. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 48
  35. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 49 -51
  36. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 90
  37. 37.0 37.1 Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 64
  38. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 66
  39. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 340
  40. 40.0 40.1 Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 133
  41. 41.0 41.1 Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 134
  42. Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 166
  43. 43.0 43.1 Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, p. 271


  • Acton, Harold. The Bourbons of Naples (1734-1825). Prion books limited, London, 1989 (first published in 1957). ISBN 1-85375-291-6
  • Acton, Harold. The Last Bourbons of Naples (1825-1861). St Martin's Press. London, 1961. ASIN: B0007DKBAO
  • Bearne Charlton, Catherine. A Royal Quartette. London: T. F. Unwin, 1908.
  • Majo, Silvio de.Maria Isabella di Borbone, regina del Regno delle Due Sicilie. Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Volume 62, 2004.
  • Rubio, Maria José. Reinas de España. La Esfera de los Libros, Madrid, 2009. ISBN 978-84-9734-804-1

External links

Media related to Maria Isabella of Spain at Wikimedia Commons