Monday, June 18, 2012

Consort Profile: Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy

Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy was consort to the first Bourbon King of Spain and also showed herself to be not only a popular and beloved consort but a talented and confident woman who would have been perfectly capable of ruling a country herself, as she did on occasion when her husband was out of town. She was born in Turin on August 17, 1688, the third daughter of Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy and Princess Anne Marie of Orleans (daughter of the Duke of Orleans and Princess Henrietta of England). She was a bright, playful and happy child but it was a childhood that did not last long since, as with so many princesses, she had to grow up quite rapidly for the sake of a political marriage. It was not as much a case of her own parents seeking a match for her but her husband-to-be who sought her out for political reasons. Over in Spain the House of Hapsburg had died out with King Carlos II and the grandson of King Louis XIV of France was set to be imported as the new King of Spain, the first of the dynasty that continues to the present day. Only 16-years-old at the time, the French and Spanish governments came to an agreement and the teenage Duke of Anjou became King Felipe V of Spain.

However, although Spain and France were in agreement, there were few doubts that the spread of Bourbon influence to the Iberian Peninsula would arouse opposition amongst the other great powers of Europe, particularly in Great Britain and Austria. War seemed inevitable and the marriage of the young Felipe V would be used to secure his claim to the Spanish throne by linking him with the House of Savoy which also had marriage ties with the Kingdom of France and even a possible claim on the Spanish throne by way of the dowry of the great-grandmother of Duke Victor Amadeus II (Infanta Catherine Michelle) which had gone unpaid. In this way the choice fell on the 13-year-old Savoy princess and the marriage was arranged by the Duke of Savoy and King Louis XIV with proxy wedding ceremonies taking place in both Turin and Versailles. By her marriage in 1701 she became Queen consort of Spain before she had ever set foot in the country or even met her husband face-to-face. Nonetheless, the Savoy princesses had a reputation for putting duty first and the well educated, fun loving new Queen set out for Spain. While passing through Nice she met Pope Clement XI who showed his favor by presenting her with a Papal Golden Rose, an honor still given out today but since the reign of Pius XII only to religious places rather than individual people.

Happily, when Queen Maria Luisa arrived in Barcelona and met her young husband King Felipe V she was not disappointed. Despite the circumstances of their union the two had a successful marriage and a genuine romance. As she settled in to life in Spain her most constant guide and companion was the formidable Princess des Ursins who became head of the Queen’s household and, unofficially, the most powerful woman in Spain. It had to be a difficult time for her as the War of Spanish Succession broke out which placed her father, the Duke of Savoy, on the side of Great Britain, Austria and others in opposition to France and Spain. As fighting raged from northern France and the Low Countries to the Italian peninsula, King Felipe V had to leave Spain to defend family territory in Naples. This left Queen Maria Luisa in Madrid as regent for her husband for quite some time but she proved herself to be more than up to the challenge. She was extremely thorough in her work, listening to all sides, investigating every complaint and checking all reports herself. She helped to reorganize the government and rallied the Spanish people to unite in support of the war effort. The patriotism she displayed and the care she showed toward the people made her popularity soar and the population adored her, affectionately calling her “La Savoyana”.

Although the Queen was very young, and of course depended on the assistance of more experienced ministers, everyone was impressed by how she rose to the occasion and devoted herself totally to her husband and her new country. Her prestige was unmatched and her authority unquestioned. The war ended with her husband secure on the Spanish throne and some may have wondered how the couple would behave once the King returned to Madrid. He had been forced to leave so early in their marriage and with the Queen so beloved and respected and the King having been so long distant, it would have been natural to wonder if Queen Maria Luisa would easily step into the background and leave the center stage to Felipe V. Fortunately, there were no problems. She was thrilled to simply have him back, the royal couple just as in love as ever and from being a ruling monarch in all but name Queen Maria Luisa willingly and happily devoted herself to being a consort once again.

The only problem for the Queen was her long-time ‘right arm’ Princess des Ursins who, one year after the King returned, was forced to leave the court because of pressure from King Louis XIV. This was mostly due to the fact that she had strongly advised the King and Queen to keep the French at a distance and surround themselves with Spaniards to make sure there was no mistaking that the new Bourbon monarchy would be Spanish and not simply an extension of France. Queen Maria Luisa was extremely distraught to see the Princess go who she had come to depend on so much. However, it was only temporary and to the great delight of the Queen the princess was able to return in 1705. Two years later the Savoy queen did her duty for the Spanish succession and gave birth to a son and heir, the future King Luis I. Two years later another baby boy followed but, sadly, did not live out the year. In 1712 the Queen gave birth to another son, who greatly resembled his mother. However, like the rest, his health was not robust (usually attributed to the degree of relation between the King and Queen) and he would die at only seven years old. In 1713 the Queen presented her husband with another son, the future King Fernando VI, who would thankfully have a long life and go on to enact many reforms in Spain and across the Spanish empire.

Queen Maria Luisa, despite the difficulty she often had with the health of her children, had a happy life with her two sons and a husband she was devoted to and who was devoted to her. She was talented, compassionate and adored by the Spanish people. It was thus very worrying when, not long after the birth of her last child, the Queen fell ill with tuberculosis. There was some hope that she would recover but complications eventually set in and, sadly, she passed away on February 14, 1714 at the age of only 25. She was buried in El Escorial, deeply mourned by her husband, her sons and all the people of Spain. From start to finish she had been an exemplary Queen consort, a star in the royal history of Spain and a credit to the House of Savoy.

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