28 March 2018

The Shifting World of Mariana Victoria of Spain

by Miguel Antonio do Amaral
via Wikimedia Commons
Screams rent the air. The earth suddenly pulled away. Was she falling? Were her daughters crying? Was that her own voice? The King?! Where was the King?

The earth was always shifting beneath the feet of Mariana Victoria of Spain, but nothing like the literal movement of November 1, 1755. Now Queen of Portugal, the former Spanish infanta, her husband King Jose I of Portugal, and their daughters had attended an early morning mass to celebrate All Saints Day before journeying into the country outside of Lisbon to enjoy the day together. Now, the world was literally crashing around them.

Back in Lisbon, churches collapsed killing thousands of feast day worshippers. The sea pulled away from the harbor only to return as a vicious tsunami wiping away thousands of survivors who had gathered at the shore to escape falling buildings and spreading fires.

Much earlier in her life, Mariana Victoria had felt her world shift. At the tender age of three, she was sent from her home in Spain to become the bride of France's 11-year-old boy King Louis XV. She was sent as part of a political exchange that also saw his French cousin Louise Elisabeth of Orleans marry Mariana Victoria's brother soon-to-be King Luis I of Spain. Unlike the teenaged Luis and Louise Elisabeth, Louis and Mariana Victoria were too young to marry yet. Instead, the new "Infanta Queen" as she was called, was raised at her fiance's court. Bright and lovely, she was greatly admired by everyone except for her intended husband. Pre-adolescent boys have little interest in toddler girls who follow them about and call them "my husband."

Louis XV with his "Infanta Queen"
By Francois de Troy via Wikimedia Commons
As Louis matured and the Infanta Queen remained in childhood, things began to fall apart. At age 13, Louis officially reached his majority. One of his first acts was to repudiate his fiancee. Already earning a randy reputation, he much preferred a wife who could assume her wifely duties immediately. Seven-year-old Mariana Victoria was told that she was merely going to visit her parents who missed her. She had no idea of the political scandal her return would cause in Spain, which immediately sent Louise Elisabeth, whose young husband had died, back to France. The Spanish aligned themselves with Austria and began looking for another husband for their rejected infanta, preferably one who would put the French king's nose out of place.

So it was that Mariana Victoria found her world moving once again. The ten-year-old girl was married to the Jose Prince of Brazil, heir to the Portuguese throne. This was yet another double deal: her brother Ferdinand married Jose's sister Barbara. Just four years older than his new wife, Jose found Mariana Victoria much more interesting than her first fiance had. Since they were so young, it was nearly six years before their first child, the future Queen Maria I of Portugal was born. The couple had eight children, but all of their sons and one of their daughters were stillborn. By the time they ascended the throne in 1750, their family was complete.

It was one of their daughters who had prompted that jaunt out to the countryside on November 1, 1755, and perhaps saved the entire family's lives. Even so, having killed up to 50% of Lisbon's population, the destruction left a terrible impact on them. Both King Jose and the future Queen Maria developed claustrophobia. The King refused to live indoors again where the walls might fall in and collapse them. Instead, Mariana Victoria and the royal family lived in a regal tent village on the outskirts of the city at the Real Barraca (the Royal Hut), a wooden structure that his father had built years earlier. Maria later built the Palace of Ajuda on the site.

Jose's reign was also dominated by political weakness and international struggles.. Increasingly, he left the country to be ruled by the Marquis of Pombal, who started as secretary of foreign affairs and then later became secretary of internal affairs. This left the royal couple with less actual authority. Spain once again shifted sides to reunite with France, leading to a Spanish invasion of Portugal. With its British allies, the Portuguese were able to repel the invasions.

After Jose suffered several strokes, he named Mariana Victoria as the Regent of Portugal. She only held the position for three months due to Jose's death. Upon ascending the throne, their eldest daughter Maria immediately removed Pombal from power, although he had introduced important economic and educational reforms. These, however, had often come at a price to the nobility and the Catholic Church.

With no real role in the new government, Mariana Victoria decided to work on healing the relationship between her homeland and her adopted country. She returned to Spain as a familial ambassador to her brother King Charles III to iron out ongoing disagreement over the two colonial superpowers' territories in the New World. The agreement they reached was naturally cemented with another set of double marriages: two of her grandchildren married one of his sons and one of his granddaughters.

Still only 50 years old, Mariana Victoria suffered a debilitating case of rheumatism before returning to Portugal. Once back in Lisbon, it was discovered that she also had heart disease. She survived another decade, passing away at the age of 62 at the temporary "palace" at Ajuda, where her family had settled after the earthquake that changed their world.

More about Mariana Victoria
Mariana Victoria de Borbón on Casa Real de España
Mariana Victoria of Spain on All About Royal Families
Mariana Victoria of Spain on Madame Guillotine
Marie-Anne-Victoire, the Infanta-Queen on Versailles and More

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