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Bourbon Weddings
Matrimonial Alliances of the Spanish Bourbons

By Art Beéche

           During the Renaissance and in fact throughout history, the house of Habsburg achieved more
           political success through marriage than by means of war. From a little castle in Switzerland, the
           Counts of Habsburg expanded their possessions to encompass a considerable portion of Central
           Europe, the Iberian Peninsula and the New World. Mattias Corvinus, King of Hungary, is
           responsible for piecing together a logo to describe Habsburg matrimonial policy: A.E.I.O.U. This
           Latin phrase basically translates to: "Let others make war, you happy Austria marry, for kingdoms
           given to others by Mars, Venus will give to you." No other dynasty in Europe was as successful as
           the Habsburgs in acquiring territory through marriage. Among these lands were: Burgundy, Spain,
           the New World, Bohemia, Hungary, Tuscany, and portions of Northern Italy.

           Yet, it was this same matrimonial policy which brought the Habsburgs the ruin of constant warfare
           against realms who were jealous of the family's expanding influence and power. The policy of
           matrimonial alliances followed by the Habsburgs to protect their acquired territories ultimately
           caused the genetic extinction of the family's Spanish branch. After two centuries of marrying into
           the same gene pool, which caused a complete absence of new blood, the Spanish Habsburgs
           became extinct in 1700. Their royal inheritance, to Europe's utter surprise, was not left to the
           Austrian Habsburgs, but to the French Bourbons. It was because of this that after the death of King
           Charles II of Spain he was succeeded by a seventeen year old boy by the name of Philip of
           Bourbon, Duke of Anjou.

           Imported from France, the Bourbons easily copied the Habsburg marriage policies. The first
           Bourbon, Philip V, did not have enough time to settle in Madrid before his grandfather, Louis XIV,
           was busily looking for a bride for the new Spanish monarch. Louis XIV's choice fell on Maria
           Luisa of Savoy, daughter of Duke Amadeo of Savoy. Along with the bride came the use of Alpine
           passes giving France a unique accessibility to the northern plains of Italy. Philip gained a child
           bride, Louis XIV gained a military alliance.

           Three sons were the product of Philip and Maria Luisa's marriage. The couple's happiness came to
           an abrupt end in early 1714, when Maria Luisa died from the exhaustion caused by constant
           childbearing. Philip was desolate and his ministers set about finding their insatiable king a new
           wife. Poor Maria Luisa's body had not been interred for long when Philip's delegates traveled
           around Europe in search of a suitable princess. Within six months Spain had found a new queen.
           Their choice was a twenty one year old Italian princess, Elisabeth Farnese. Elisabeth was the
           daughter of Duke Eduardo II of Parma, and through her the Spanish Bourbon's inherited this Italian
           duchy. Many in Madrid expected Elisabeth to be a quiet, docile and obedient consort. Instead, they
           found a woman of strong character who easily controlled her husband and secured the future
           grandeur of her own offspring.

           Philip continued ancient custom when he obtained the hand of Princess Louise Isabelle of Orleans,
           a granddaughter of Louis XIV as the bride of his eldest son and heir, the Prince of Asturias. The
           wedding took place in 1722. The marriage contract also stipulated that Philip's daughter, Infanta
           Maria Anna Victoria, would marry King Louis XV. This double marriage between the two
           branches of the Bourbon family was destined to strengthened the ties between France and Spain.
           Two years later, Philip retired from the throne and his eldest son ascended with the name Louis I.
           Nonetheless, the new monarch did not enjoy kingdom and bride for too long. He succumbed to an
           epidemic within seven months of his accession. Philip had no other option than to return to his old
           throne and rule until his own death in 1746.

           Seventeen years before becoming king in 1746, Ferdinand VI married Princess Barbara of
           Portugal. The marriage contract was a friendship treaty between the two countries occupying the
           Iberian Peninsula. Ferdinand, repulsed by his rotund bride, had no other option but to undergo the
           marriage ceremony in 1729. It was not surprising that Ferdinand and Barbara did not have any
           children. Barbara failed to gain the love and respect of the Spanish people because of her
           appalling attachment to money. Always fearful of being left a widow in a foreign country, Queen
           Barbara saved every penny she could lay her hands on. The Spanish populace did not like
           Barbara, nor did she really find much of interest in Madrid. At her death she further infuriated the
           people of Madrid by leaving her entire estate to her brother King Joseph I of Portugal. Not a single
           Spaniard receive a penny of the widowed queen's vast inheritance.

           Ferdinand VI died unexpectedly in 1759. He was succeeded by his next brother King Charles of
           the Two Sicilies. Upon receiving news of his brother's death in Spain, Charles quickly boarded his
           ships and sailed to Spain to claim his inheritance. Charles III was one of the most memorable and
           well-prepared monarchs in Europe. His mother, Elisabeth Farnese, played a key role in finding the
           best bride for her eldest son. Charles married to Maria Amalia of Saxony. She gave Charles a very
           healthy number of children and died in Spain soon after the couple's return. Spaniards waited
           patiently as the king chose not to seek another bride and n the meantime the country remained
           without a consort.

           In 1765 the years of waiting came to an end when Charles III arranged the wedding of his eldest
           son and heir, Charles, Prince of Asturias, to Princess Maria Luisa of Parma. She was the daughter
           of Prince Philip of Bourbon, Duke of Parma, who had inherited his mother's duchy in the 1740's.
           The marriage ceremony of Charles and Maria Luisa was a spectacle of gigantic proportions as the
           king sough to restore ties between the different branches of the Bourbon family. No other Spanish
           consort has been as hated, maligned and abused as the morally corrupt Maria Luisa of Parma. She
           had numerous lovers and found in their arms more comfort than in those of her husband, who kept
           himself busy assembling and dismantling clocks. Maria Luisa even had one of her lovers, Manuel
           Godoy, Prince of Peace, serve as her husband prime minister for a long number of years. Her deep
           passion for the much younger Godoy was the root of the many problems that engulfed Spain during
           the late 1790's and the first decade of the XIXth century. Led by an incapable and corrupt ministry,
           Spain fell easy prey to the advancing forces of Napoleon. In 1808 the French emperor forced the
           abdication of Charles IV and sent the Spanish royal family into exile in France. Napoleon's
           brother, the alcoholic Joseph, served as Spanish monarch until an uprising throughout the country
           forced him to flee.

           By the time the Bourbons regained their lost throne in 1814, the Spanish colonial empire had begun
           to disintegrate. During the years that the Bourbons spent imprisoned in France, the New World
           governed itself without much interference from Madrid. By 1810 many of the Spanish colonial
           possessions had declared their independence from Madrid. The return of the Bourbons in 1814 did
           very little to stop this trend. The new king, Ferdinand VII, was not only a reactionary opposed to
           any concept of political liberalism, but also completely incompetent. He expected the colonies to
           submit to the royal will and when this did not happen, Ferdinand embroiled himself in protracted
           fighting against his former subjects. In the end, precious resources were wasted fighting the
           revolutionaries in Spanish America and Ferdinand failed to regain any of his former colonies.

           Just as he was unlucky in politics, Ferdinand had less luck in his many marriages. His first wife,
           Princess Maria Antonia of Bourbon-Sicilies, was a first cousin of Ferdinand's. This new
           inter-Bourbon alliance was further strengthened by the marriage of Ferdinand's sister, Infanta
           Maria Isabela, to the Crown Prince of the Two Sicilies. Both alliances were destined to join Spain
           and the Two Sicilies in the international arena as the power of Napoleon's France was beginning
           to expanded unchecked. The fact that neither groom nor bride had ever seen a picture of each other
           did not deter Ferdinand from following his father's command. Ferdinand's sacrifice did not last
           long for Maria Antonia died of tuberculosis in 1804.

           Without any descendants to succeed him, Ferdinand VII was forced to find a new bride. His long
           bachelorhood was put to an end in 1816 when Princess Maria Isabela of Portugal arrived in Spain
           to marry her prince. Another Portuguese bride was found for Infante Carlos, Ferdinand's brother.
           The Portuguese brides arrived at Cadiz on a ship transporting them from Brazil. The two girls had
           been raised in that faraway land during the Portuguese royal family's exile during Napoleonic
           times. Death seemed to hover around Ferdinand's bed chambers for two years later Maria Isabela
           died during childbirth. After her passing the king was left a widower for a second time, the crown
           remained without a direct heir.

           A third bride was found in Dresden and in 1819 Ferdinand VII married Princess Maria Josepha of
           Saxony. The streets of Madrid were adorned for the king's third wedding and the people merrily
           received the new bride. Unfortunately for Ferdinand, Maria Josepha was raised in a convent and
           fervently believed that she could become pregnant by praying and contemplating. Ferdinand, with
           the ardent Bourbon blood raging in his veins, was most displeased with his new wife.
           Consequently, the couple remained childless and estranged. Maria Josepha, who had a weak
           condition, died ten years later. By the late 1820's Ferdinand was still without a direct heir. The
           Infante Carlos, a more reactionary character than Ferdinand, could taste his eventual succession to
           the throne. There was no one separating Carlos from wearing the crown but his childless brother.
           Followers of Carlos were frustrated in their efforts to keep a fourth bride from being found.
           Ferdinand continued his search for a fourth bride hoping to fathered offspring and deny his
           brother's accession. It was during this search that Ferdinand and his ministers found a vivacious
           princess from Naples. Spanish liberals quietly celebrated the choosing of this new princess for it
           not only kept Carlos away from the throne, but it also promised the implementation of liberal
           policies. Princess Maria Cristina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies promised to implement an amnesty for
           those Spaniards exiled by her future husband's government. Maria Cristina arrived in Madrid in
           1829 and within months she announced her first pregnancy.

                                                             Queen Isabela II of Spain, c. 1870.

           The queen pregnancy infuriated Carlos and his reactionary camarilla. Carlos felt a certain degree
           of satisfaction when the long-awaited prince failed to arrive. Instead, Maria Cristina and
           Ferdinand VII were the proud parents of two little girls: Isabela, born in 1830, and Luisa
           Fernanda, born two years later. By the time of his first daughter's birth, Ferdinand was in complete
           opposition to his brother. Against tradition in the house of Bourbon, Ferdinand declared his
           daughter Isabela Princess of Asturias. This meant that upon his death, if no male heir arrived prior
           to that event, Isabela would succeed her father as Queen of Spain. Carlos was enraged. His
           supporters became involved in cabals and conspiracies to plunge the country into civil war to
           guarantee that Carlos would succeed his brother. Not for the first time, and certainly not the last,
           Spain was irreconcilably divided between two opposing political factions headed by members of
           the royal family.

           Ferdinand VII died at the age of forty nine years in 1833. Queen Isabela II was but three years old,
           her mother was named regent during the monarch's childhood. Soon after Ferdinand's death, Carlos
           plunged the country into civil war. This conflict which periodically blared up throughout the XIXth
           century is commonly known as the Carlist Wars. Carlos lost his bid for the crown and so did his
           heirs. After several frustrated efforts to overthrow his niece, Carlos was forced into exile. He and
           his family settled in Austria were they remained until their bloodline became extinct in 1936.

           The perennial succession problem also clouded Isabela's early life. The European powers played
           an important role in choosing the queen's future consort. Louis-Philippe of France wanted one his
           many sons to marry Isabela, while Leopold I of Belgium had one of his Coburg nephews in mind.
           In the end, Isabela was given the worst possible candidate that could be found, her cousin Infante
           Francisco de Asis of Bourbon. The queen's sister was simultaneously married to Prince Antoine of
           Bourbon-Orleans, Duke of Montpensier, and fifth son of Louis-Philippe. Isabela's husband was
           more interested in his own vanity than in performing his marital duties. Isabela finally opted by
           securing for herself a wide array of male companions who guaranteed that she would produce the
           long-awaited male heir. In contrast, Luisa Fernanda and Montpensier were happily producing
           child after child. Montpensier also had his own designs on the throne and constantly conspired to
           get his wife on the throne. This meddling in affairs of state caused Montpensier to be exiled
           several times during Isabela's unstable reign.

           After almost four decades on the throne, Isabela was finally deposed by her people in 1868. Spain
           was tired of witnessing the country's dwindling fortunes and having a monarch who seemed
           incapable of restoring the national luster. The fact that her marital life was a complete disaster and
           that some family members were in open rebellion against Isabela only contributed to her ouster.
           Isabela and her children left Madrid and settled in Paris. For the next seven years Spain tried to
           find a suitable successor to the Bourbons. Very few European princes were willing to sacrifice
           their relative peace and position for the unstable throne of Spain. Eventually, the same politicians
           who had played a part in Isabela's dethronement headed to her Parisian residence in search of a
           new monarch. Isabela could never be restored for the Spanish public would not have her again, but
           her only son, Alfonso, seemed a very promising choice. Hence in 1874 Alfonso, Prince of
           Asturias, was offered the Spanish throne left vacant by his mother. For the second time in less than
           seven decades the Bourbons were restored to power.

           Born in 1857, Alfonso was the nation's hope. The new king was well-liked by his subjects who
           saw in him the hope for renewed Spanish prominence in Europe. Once installed in Madrid,
           Alfonso and his ministers busily searched for a bride. Their choice was Maria de Las Mercedes of
           Bourbon, daughter of Montpensier and Luisa Fernanda. Alfonso XII's ministers felt that if a
           Spanish bride was found, the public would be happier than having to put up with the antics of a
           foreign queen. The wedding was celebrated in Madrid on January 23, 1878. Among great pomp
           and circumstance, Maria de Las Mercedes made her triumphant entry into the capital, where her
           husband's subjects were showing their pleasure in street celebrations. The country's joy did not
           last long for the young queen died of typhus within six months of her wedding. Once again the
           Spanish monarch was without queen and heir.
 


                                                 Queen Mother Maria Cristina of Spain (1858-1929)

           The Archduke Charles Ferdinand of Austria and his wife lived peacefully in one of the family's
           castles in Bohemia. The couple's third child, a little archduchess was born there on July 21, 1858.
           The new arrival was baptized Maria Cristina. Raised in a devoutly Catholic environment, Maria
           Cristina excelled in her studies and linguistic abilities. Charles Ferdinand and his family also
           spent a considerable time in Vienna every year. It was there in the 1870's when the family first
           came in contact with an exiled Spanish prince by the name of Alfonso. No one could have guessed
           that these two playmates would eventually marry. After Maria de Las Mercedes' death, Spain went
           around Europe finding a wife for Alfonso, their choice fell on Archduchess Maria Cristina.

           Alfonso and Maria Cristina were married in Madrid on November 29, 1879. The ceremony was
           attended by the Spanish royal family in full, even Isabela II traveled from Paris to attend her son's
           second wedding, something she did not do when Alfonso married the unfortunate Maria de Las
           Mercedes. The inhabitants of Madrid did not take to Queen Maria Cristina with the same sympathy
           that they had extended to the previous queen. To most Spaniards Maria Cristina seemed a
           thoroughly distant and aloof figure, yet after years of dedicating her life to the well-being of her
           people, Maria Cristina gained their love and respect. Alfonso was never in love with his second
           wife for he had married her out of royal duty. He continued to carry on liaisons outside the royal
           chambers and his fame was well known around the capital. Nevertheless, the royal couple had two
           daughters within three years of their marriage. The eldest, Infanta Maria de Las Mercedes was to
           marry Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in 1901. The second daughter, Infanta Maria Teresa
           married Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria in 1906.

           Alfonso XII died of tuberculosis on November 25, 1885. For some months the king had been living
           in hell as his health collapsed. It was common to see him coughing blood as his lungs were
           destroyed by the terrible affliction. Added to the tragedy of the royal family was the fact that
           Alfonso would most likely never meet his third, and yet unborn, child. Maria Cristina was made
           regent of the kingdom as no monarch could be declared until she give birth. It the newborn was a
           son, he would become the new king. If it was a daughter, then the Infanta Maria de Las Mercedes
           would become queen. In the end, after six months of careful waiting, Queen Maria Cristina gave
           birth to very healthy boy. He was baptized his father's namesake and history knows him as King
           Alfonso XIII of Spain.

           The Spanish line of succession, tenuous for most of the XIXth century, continued to provide the
           royal family with a constant headache. In 1904 Infanta Maria de Las Mercedes died days after
           giving birth to her third child. Among Alfonso's successors at the time were three children and an
           unmarried sister. The king's marriage certainly gained urgency with the continuous instability
           affecting the succession. This problem was solved in 1905 when Alfonso visited London and fell
           madly in love with Princess Victoria-Eugenie of Battenberg, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

           The Battenberg's were minor German princelings. The founder of this morganatic branch of the
           House of Hesse was Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine, who had married a Polish countess
           against his family's wishes. Alexander's wife was eventually created Princess of Battenberg and
           the couple's children were given the name as well. As minor as the Battenberg might have been,
           their incredible good looks allowed the sons of Alexander to enter into prominent marriages:
           Louis married Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, Henry married Princess Beatrice of Great
           Britain. Another Battenberg, Alexander was chosen as reigning Prince of Bulgaria.
           Victoria-Eugenie was the only daughter of Prince Henry and Princess Beatrice.

                     King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria-Eugenia minutes before Morral's bomb exploded, 1906.

           The marriage of Alfonso and Victoria-Eugenie took place in Madrid among incredible pomp on
           May 31, 1906. It was attended by a large number of European royalty most of whom were related
           to the groom or the bride. Yet the day was marred by a terrorist attack which almost killed Alfonso
           and Victoria as they were traveling towards the Royal Palace. An anarchist by the name of Mateo
           Morral threw a floral arrangement at the couple's carriage. The object rebounded and landed on
           the street killing some of the royal guards and many of the people bidding greetings to the recently
           married couple. The carnage caused by the explosive was gruesome and Victoria's white wedding
           gown was splattered with blood. Fortunately Alfonso and Victoria were unharmed. The
           assassination attempt served as an introduction to the volatility of Spanish politics and the
           uncertainty Victoria-Eugenie was going to face as Queen of Spain.

           The initial happiness experienced by Alfonso and Victoria quickly evaporated as royal nursery
           received new arrivals. Their first son, Alfonso, was born in 1907. He suffered from the dreaded
           "royal" disease, hemophilia. The second son, Jaime was born in 1908. He suffered from an acute
           hearing handicap. The third child was a daughter, Infanta Beatriz. This fourth child was another
           son, but he was stillborn in 1910. Infanta Maria Cristina followed in 1911. The couple's sixth
           child was \Infante Juan, who was a strong and healthy boy. The last child, Infante Gonzalo, was
           born in 1914. He also suffered from hemophilia. Alfonso XIII felt deceived by his wife's family
           and blamed Victoria for the handicaps of their children. As the years passed, the couple continued
           to live separate lives.

           The Spanish monarchy was overthrown in 1931 and the royal family was forced into exile. While
           Alfonso settled in Rome, Victoria-Eugenie in Switzerland. The decade of the 1930's witnessed the
           complete breakdown of their marriage. The former king and his wife were also faced with the
           tragic death of two of their children: Alfonso, who died in Miami, Florida, from wounds received
           in an auto accident, and Gonzalo, who died of the same causes in Austria. Jaime renounced his
           royal rights and married a commoner. Later on he would try to renege his renunciation and position
           himself as the future king of Spain. Alfonso's inheritance fell on the shoulders of his third surviving
           son, Juan, Count of Barcelona.

           The Count of Barcelona was serving as a sailor in the Spanish navy when his father was
           overthrown. For some years, Juan served in the British navy as he completed his training. As a
           result of the renunciation signed by Juan's brothers in 1933, he became Alfonso XIII's dynastic
           heir. Juan married Princess Maria de Las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in 1935. The couple
           had four children: Infanta Maria del Pilar, Juan Carlos I of Spain, Infanta Margarita and Infante
           Alfonso.

           During the Franco dictatorship, the Count of Barcelona positioned himself as the royal option for
           Spain's future. Although he kept in contact with Franco, the Count of Barcelona was deeply
           opposed to the dictator's extreme conservatism. From his villa in Portugal, Juan tried to negotiate
           his return to a restored Spanish throne. Franco did not trust the Count of Barcelona's liberalism and
           instead chose Juan's son, Juan Carlos, as the dictatorship's heir in 1969. The Count of Barcelona
           was opposed to this action and it almost brought him to a rupture with his only son, for by then the
           Infante Alfonso had died in tragic circumstances.

           In the end, the Count of Barcelona never ruled the destinies of Spain. When Franco died in 1975,
           the Count of Barcelona's son was restored to the throne. He chose the name of Juan Carlos I, a
           name that broke with royal tradition. Within years the new king had done away with the
           dictatorship's legacy and thus become Europe's most successful monarch. It is in no small measure
           to Juan Carlos' efforts that the Spanish monarchy has managed to survive and gain widespread
           respect and support. By the late 1970's the Count of Barcelona resigned himself to his son's
           accession and at a ceremony in Madrid he transferred his dynastic rights to Juan Carlos. Juan,
           Count of Barcelona, died on April 1, 1993.

           By the early 1960's the Spanish royal family had been reduced to just a few male members. Of
           Alfonso XIII's children only the Count of Barcelona was eligible for the throne. The Count himself
           had only one son, Juan Carlos. Thus, if Juan Carlos did not marry within the bounds of royalty his
           branch of the Bourbon family would loose their dynastic rights. The succession would then pass to
           the eldest son of Infanta Maria de Las Mercedes, Prince Alfonso of Bourbon-Two Sicilies and his
           children. It was with a great degree of trepidation that Juan Carlos announced his wedding to
           Princess Sophia of Greece in 1962.
 
 

                             Wedding of Juan Carlos of Spain and Sophia of Greece, 1962

           Princess Sophia of Greece, born in 1938, was the eldest daughter of King Paul of Greece and
           Queen Frederica, née Princess of Hanover. Frederica herself was the only daughter of Duke
           Ernst-August of Hanover and Princess Victoria-Luise of Prussia, the only daughter of Kaiser
           Wilhelm II. Both of Sophia's parents, as was the Count of Barcelona, were descendants of Queen
           Victoria. Sophia's only brother, Constantine, succeeded his father as King of Greece in 1964.

           Juan Carlos and Sophia met at the wedding of a mutual cousin, Edward, Duke of Kent, in 1961.
           Within months the chance meeting in London had turned into a romance. The couple became
           engaged at the Swiss residence of Queen Victoria-Eugenie and May 14, 1962, was settled as their
           wedding day. The ceremony was held in Athens and was one of the greatest congregations of
           European royalty since the end of the Second World War. Soon after the wedding in Athens, Juan
           Carlos and Sophia settled at the Zarzuela Palace in the outskirts of Madrid. They continue to
           inhabit this modest former hunting lodge. The couple had three children: Elena, Cristina and
           Felipe, Prince of Asturias.

           Very few people expected Juan Carlos to remain on the throne for as long as he has. many Spanish
           politicians initially saw him as the inheritor of Franco's extreme right-wing politics, yet Juan
           Carlos surprised many of his detractors. By the time he had been on the throne for five years, the
           king had willingly returned his political powers to the Spanish parliament. Democracy in Spain
           owes its survival, and success, in no small manner to the role played by this intrepid monarch.
           Juan Carlos and Sophia have become model sovereigns, an example for other dethroned royalty to
           follow. It is not odd to hear these days that many of the couple's exiled royal cousins consider Juan
           Carlos and Sophia the model to follow if their thrones are ever restored. That in itself should be
           one of the crowning glories of the restored Spanish monarchy.

           Juan Carlos and Sophia are a very relaxed, fun-loving couple. They have transmitted this
           unostentatious lifestyle to their three children. The two Infantas, Elena and Cristina, are married
           now. Elena married a Spanish nobleman in 1995. Cristina surprised most royal watchers by
           marrying a Spanish sports figure in the 1997. Neither of the two seems to have lost their place in
           the line of succession even though they married outside the bounds of royalty. It only remains to be
           seen if Prince Felipe is allowed the same choices by his forward-looking parents. After all, the
           future of Spain's royal family rests on his shoulders. And, given the history of his future kingdom,
           that is not an easy task to fulfill.
 

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