06 April 2014

Princess of the Month: Maria Carolina of Bourbon Two Sicilies

When you are one of 14 children of the king, it is likely that marriage choices are going to be somewhat limited. Throw in the fact that you must marry a Catholic and that your family has a tendency to marry within itself and your options get even more limited. So, perhaps you will not find it odd that this month's featured princess, Maria Carolina of Bourbon Two Sicilies (1820-1861) married her first cousin--as did her Protestant contemporary, Queen Victoria. What seems odd is that Maria Carolina married a man who was openly fighting a war against her own sister.

To provide some perspective, we need to step back a generation and move from Italy to Spain where King Ferdinand VII was suffering from a bit of King Henry VIII Syndrome--he could not manage to father a male heir despite having many wives, though he at least did not kill and divorce his wife like his English predecessor. Ferdinand started by marrying his first cousin Maria Antonia of the Two Sicilies (aunt of our Princess), but she suffered miscarriages with no live births and died at the age of 21. Secondly, he married a niece (yes, Uncle Ferdy married his niece), Maria Isabel of Portugal, who gave him two daughters, both of whom died as infants. Maria Isabel died giving birth to the last one, who was stillborn, when she was only 21. So, Ferdinand married for a third time, this time to a much more distant cousin, Maria Josepha Amalia of Saxony, who managed to live to the ripe old age of 25 but gave no children to her husband.

Maria Christina and her uncle/husband
This led Ferdinand back to inbreeding and he chose another niece, our Princess's older sister, Maria Christina of Bourbon Two Sicilies, who presented him with two daughters AND survived. Throughout all of this, Ferdinand was also struggling for the throne, which was lost for a time to Napolean's brother, Joseph. By the time he married Maria Christina, however, the Napoleanic wars were long over, and he was almost constantly fighting for his throne because of his own poor judgement, ineptitude and willingness to commit atrocities when he felt the occasion merited it.

At home, Maria Christina, who was 22 years his junior, had some idea that he might not live long enough to sire a son--a real problem in a country where women were no longer permitted to ascend the throne unless there were absolutely no males left in the family, the fine example of Queen Isabella I notwithstanding. Maria Christina convinced him to set aside this dynastic rule, so that their four-year-old daughter became Queen Isabella II when he died in 1833, with Maria Christina as her Regent.

The man who should have been the heir under the old rules, Ferdinand's brother Carlos, did not step willingly aside, launching instead into the first of three Carlist wars. His rebellion did not go well for him and he renounced his rights to the throne in 1845, but only in favor of his son Infante Carlos, not in favor of his niece, the reigning Queen.

Five years later, Infante Carlos married Maria Christina's sister, Maria Carolina, who was nearly 30 years old, quite an advanced age for an unmarried princess of her day. For the next decade, Maria Carolina, her husband and his immediate family continued to struggle against her sister and niece, with one big unsuccessful effort in 1860. Their efforts were ultimately foiled not by Maria Christina, however, but by illness. Both Infante Carlos and Maria Carolina succumbed to the very deadly disease in 1861, leaving no children to carry on on the Carlist cause. The torch passed to his brother and the fighting continued, some contend the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s was part of this ongoing conflict. Even today, there are Carlist claimants to the Spanish throne.

True to the spirit of family feud that started it, there are several,, including Carlos Duke of Parma, Sixto Enrique of Bourbon-Parma, Louis Alphonse Duke of Anjou (although he himself does not make the claim; he is also a pretender to the French throne), and Dominic of Austria. In the midst of all of this, is our Princess of the Month. At war with her own sister. Always in exile. No children of her own. Dead at the age of 40. Truly, Maria Carolina is no example of the happy princess generally portrayed by Hollywood.

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