Maria Louisa, Duchess of Lucca

Maria Louisa, Duchess of Lucca

Infobox Bourbon-Parma Royalty|duchess
name =Maria Louisa
full name =Maria Louisa Josefina Antonieta
title =Queen consort of Etruria
Duchess of Lucca; Duchess consort of Parma

caption =Maria Louisa of Spain and her son Charles Louis, portrait by Goya, 1800
reign =1801-1803
1814 - 1824
reign-type =Consort
Reign as Duchess
coronation =
succession =Duchess of Lucca
successor =Charles
spouse =Louis of Etruria
spouse-type =Consort to
issue =Charles II, Duke of Parma
Princess Maria Louise of Etruria
royal house =House of Bourbon
royal anthem =
father =Charles IV of Spain
mother =Maria Louisa of Parma
date of birth =birth date|1782|7|6|mf=y
place of birth =San Ildefonso, Spain
date of death =death date and age|1824|3|13|1782|7|6|mf=y
place of death = Rome, Italy

Maria Louisa of Spain ( _es. Maria Luisa Josefa Antonietta Vicentia y Borbón-Parma; 6 July 1782, – 13 March 1824) was a daughter of Charles IV of Spain. She married Louis of Bourbon-Parma and was Queen of Etruria and later Duchess of Lucca.

Infanta of Spain

Born in San Ildefonso, Maria Louisa was the third surviving daughter of King Carlos IV of Spain (1748-1819) and his wife Maria Luisa of Parma (1751-1819), a granddaughter of Louis XV of France.She was given the names Maria Louisa Josefina Antonieta, after an older sister, Maria Louisa Carlota, who died just four days before Maria Louisa's birth, on 2 July. Maria Louisa spent a happy childhood as the favorite daughter of her parents, being called in the family "Luisetta".

In 1795 Maria Louisa's first cousin, Louis, Hereditary Prince of Parma, came to the Spanish court to finish his education. There was an understanding between the two royal families that Louis would marry one of the daughters of Carlos IV. It was anticipated that he would marry the infanta Maria Amalia, Carlos IV's eldest unmarried daughter. She was fifteen years old at the time and of a timid and melancholy nature. Louis, who was equally shy and reserved, preferred her younger sister, Maria Louisa, who although only thirteen, was of a more cheerful disposition and somewhat better looking. [ “ A Royal Quartette”: Catherine Bearne Charlton, p.282] . All four daughters of Carlos IV were short and plain, but Maria Louisa was clever, lively and amusing. She had dark curly hair, brown eyes and a Grecian nose. Although not beautiful, her face was expressive and her character lively. She was generous, kindhearted and devout. Both infantas were favorably impressed by the Prince of Parma, a tall and handsome young man, and when he ultimately chose the younger sister, the mother, Queen Maria Louisa, readily agreed to the change of bride. [ “ A Royal Quartette”: Catherine Bearne Charlton, p.275] .

Louis was created Infante of Spain and married Maria Louisa on 25 August, 1795 in La Granja, San Ildefonso. In a double wedding with her sister, Maria Amalia, the original intended bride, married her much older uncle, Infante Antonio of Spain. The King and Queen of Spain were very fond of their nephew and new son-in-law, affectionately calling him "el niño".

The marriage between the two different personalities turned out to be happy, though it was clouded by Louis' ill health: He was frail, suffering chest problems, and since a childhood accident when he hit his head on a marble table, suffered epileptic fits. As the years went on his health deteriorated and he grew to be increasingly dependent on his wife. The young couple remained in Spain during the early years of their marriage, which were to be the happiest period of their lives. Because Maria Louisa was only thirteen when she married, her first child was not born for another four years. Her first son, Charles Louis, was born in Madrid on 22 December, 1799.

Afterwards, the couple wanted to go to Parma, the lands they were going to inherit, but Carlos IV and his wife were reluctant to allow their departure. They were still in Spain in the spring of 1800 and staying at the Palace in Aranjuez when they were portrayed with all the royal family in Goya's masterpiece "The family of Charles IV". Maria Louisa is beside her husband with her son in her arms on the right hand side of the painting.

Queen of Etruria

Maria Louisa's life was deeply marked by Napoleon Bonaparte's actions. Napoleon was interested in having Spain as an ally against England, in the summer of 1800 he sent his brother Lucien to the Spanish court with the proposal that would result in the Treaty of Aranjuez.

Napoleon, who had conquered Italy, proposed to compensate the House of Bourbon for their loss of the Duchy of Parma by creating the new Kingdom of Etruria for Louis, heir of Parma. The new Kingdom was created out of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. To make way for the Bourbons, the Habsburg Grand Duke was ousted and compensated with Salzburg.

Tuscany was greater, richer and more important than Parma, making it an enticing bargain. Maria Louisa's mother also was pleased with her daughter becoming a Queen. Maria Louisa's husband, whose bad health had made him indolent and apathetic, accepted what had been decided in spite of his own father opposition.

Maria Louisa, who had never lived away from her own family and was totally inexperienced in political affairs, opposed the plan. One of Napoleon's conditions was that the young couple had to go to Paris and there receive from him the investiture of their new sovereignty, before taking possession of Etruria. Maria Louisa was reluctant to make a trip to France, where only seven years earlier her relatives Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had been executed. However pressed also by her family, she did as she was told.

On 21 April, 1801 the couple and their son left Madrid, crossed the border in Bayonne and traveled incognito to France under the name of "Counts of Livorno". Napoleon received them with great attentions, at their arrival in Paris on May 24. At first, the young couple did not make a good impression. They were dressed with unfashionable clothes at the Spanish manner. The French found Maria Louisa to be ugly, but clever and agreeable; her husband was described as good looking, good hearted, but a fool. The Duchess D’Abrantes wrote in her memoirs about Maria Louisa: a "mixture of shyness and haughtiness which at first gave restraint to her conversation and manners" but when she became better acquainted with the young Queen, she found her very pleasant. Napoleon was favorably impressed by the tenderness Maria Louisa showed towards her son, whom she nursed herself.

However, the Spanish Infanta did not enjoy her visit to Paris. Unlike her mother, she hated horse riding and was not amused with the displays prepared for her. Ill most of the time, she suffered from fever, often had to stay in bed and when she took part in the diversions she really did not want to do so. She was anxious about her husband health and he depended on her for everything. One day as Louis got out of the carriage at Château de Malmaison, where they were going to dine, he suddenly felt to the ground in an epilepsy fit. The Duchess D’Abrantes, who was present, described the scene in her memoirs "The Queen appeared much distressed and tried to conceal her husband; ... he was as pale as a death and his features completely altered ..." After staying in Paris for three weeks, Maria Luisa and her husband, on June 30, headed south toward Parma. In Piacenza they were greeted by Louis' parents, together they went to Parma and Maria Louisa met her husband’s two unmarried sisters. They found Louis already speaking Italian with a foreign accent while Maria Louisa's Italian was often mixed with Spanish words. After three weeks in Parma they entered Etruria.

On August they arrived in their new capital, Florence. The French general Murat had been sent to Florence to prepare the Pitti Palace for them. But the Kings of Etruria did not have an auspicious start in their new life. Maria Louisa was pregnant and suffered a miscarriage, her husband health, always frail, had deteriorated further, having more frequents fits of epilepsy. The Pitti Palace, the residence of the new kings of Etruria, was the former house of the Dukes of Medici. The palace had been practically abandoned after the death of the last Medici and the ousted Grand Duke Ferdinand had taken most of its values with him.

Maria Louisa and Louis were both full of good intentions but they were received with hostility by the population and the nobility that missed the popular Grand Duke and saw them as just mere tools in the hands of the French. Etruria finances were in deplorable state; the country was ruined by war, bad harvest and the cost to have to maintain the unpopular French troops stationed in Etruria, that only much later where replaced by Spanish troops sent by Charles IV.

In the summer of 1802, Maria Luisa and her husband were invited to Spain to attend the double wedding of her brother Ferdinand with Maria Antonia of Naples, and of her youngest sister Maria Isabel with Francis I of Naples. With Etruria's financial and economic difficulties, Louis' health failing and Maria Louisa in an early state of pregnancy, going abroad was clearly not expedient and therefore Maria Louisa was reluctant to go, but under the pressure of her father and the French, they started to headed to her native country.

Louis felt very ill before boarding the ship, waiting for his full recovery delayed their plans for weeks. Once at sea, it was Maria Louisa who fell ill. On 2 October, 1802, before arriving at Barcelona, still in open waters, Maria Louisa under difficulties gave birth to her daughter Maria Louisa Charlotte (named after Maria Louisa's older deceased sister). At first, doctors thought that both mother and daughter would not survive. The couple also found out, that they were too late for the wedding. Maria Louisa, still very ill, waited three days on the ship to recover before she went ashore in Barcelona where her parents were waiting for her.

One week after they arrival they got news that Louis's father, Ferdinand had died. Ill and unhappy, Louis wanted to return as soon as possible to his Italian states, but Charles IV and Maria Luisa insisted to take them to the court in Madrid. It was not until December when they were allowed to start the trip leaving Spain by sea in Cartagena.

Back in Etruria, the illness of her husband was carefully concealed from the population, as Maria Louisa alone was seen in public functions and entertaining at court. For this she was accused of overpowering her husband and being merry in his absence. Louis died on 27 May 1803 at the age of 30, as a consequence of an epileptic crisis.

Regent of Etruria

Grief stricken by her husband's death, Maria Louisa started to suffer from a nervous illness. She had to act as a regent for her son Charles Louis, the new King of Etruria.

Only twenty years old when she became a widow, plans for a new wedding were considered: France and Spain wanted to marry her to her first cousin Pedro of Bourbon, the nineteen year old son of Gabriel infante of Spain, a younger brother of Charles IV, but the marriage never materialized.

During her regency, Maria Louisa founded a School for the teaching of upper level sciences, the Museum of Physics and Natural History of Florence. To ingratiate herself with the Florentine people, she entertained lavishly at the Pitti Palace, holding splendid receptions for artists and writers, as well as government officials. She gave a celebrated party in the loggia del Lonzi for 200 small boys and girls from working class families. They were allowed to take home the plates, glasses, spoons and napkins, after the banquet, as the regent watched from a platform erected at the Palazzo de la signorina.


Though Maria Louisa by now had become fond of Florence, Napoleon had other plans for Italy and Spain: "I am afraid the Queen is too young and her minister too old to govern the Kingdom of Etruria" he said. Maria Louisa was accused of not enforcing the English blockade in Etruria. The French minister waited upon her one day at the villa in which she was staying and ordered her to leave Florence on the spot. Her father answered her pleas with discouragement: She had to yield to Napoleon's decision and haste to leave the kingdom, returning to her family in Spain. Maria Louisa and her children left Florence on 10 December 1807, their future being uncertain. Napoleon annexed the territory to France and granted the title of "Grand Duchess of Tuscany" to his sister Elisa.

The exiled Queen went to Milan where she had an interview with Napoleon. He promised her, as compensation for the lost of Etruria, the throne of a Kingdom of Northern Lusitania (in the North of Portugal), he intended to create after the Franco-Spanish conquest of Portugal. This was part of the Treaty of Fontainebleau between France and Spain (October 1807) that also had incorporated Etruria to Napoleons’ domains. Napoleon had already ordered the invasion of Portugal but his secret aim was ultimately to depose the Spanish Royal family and have access to the money coming from the Spanish colonies in America. As part of the agreement, Maria Louisa was going to marry Lucien Bonaparte, who would have to divorce his wife, but both refused: Lucien was attached to his wife and Maria Louisa considered those nuptials a misalliance, neither did she would allow herself to be put in Portugal in the place of her eldest sister Carlota Joaquina, Crown Princess of Portugal. Napoleon wanted Maria Louisa to settle in Nice or Turin, but her intentions were to join her parents in Spain.

Maria Louisa arrived at a court deeply divided and a country in unrest: her brother, Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias , had plotted against his father, King Charles IV and his unpopular prime minister Godoy. Ferdinand had been pardoned but with the family's prestige shaken, Napoleon took this opportunity to invade Spain. With the excuse of sending reinforcements to Lisbon, French troops had entered Spain in December. Not completely blind to Napoleon's real intentions, the Royal family had secretly planned their escape to Mexico, but their plans were cut short. At this point Maria Louisa arrived in Aranjuez on 19 February 1808.

Supporters of Ferdinand spread the story that prime minister Godoy had betrayed Spain to Napoleon. On 18 March a popular uprising known as the Mutiny of Aranjuez took place. Members of popular classes, soldiers and peasants assaulted Godoy's residence, captured him, and made king Charles depose the prime minister. Two days later, the court forced Charles IV to abdicate and yield the throne to his son, now Ferdinand VII. The abdication of Charles IV in favor of Ferdinand, was enthusiastically acclaimed by the people. [ “ A Royal Quartette”: Catherine Bearne Charlton, p.364] .

Maria Louisa, who at the time had been in Spain for barely a month, had taken her father's side against the party of her brother, acted as intermediate between the deposed Charles IV and the French general Murat, who on 23 March entered Madrid.

Napoleon, capitalizing on the rivalry between father and son, invited both to Bayonne, France, ostensibly to act as a mediator. Both kings, afraid of the French power, thought it appropriate to accept the invitation and separately left for France. Maria Louisa was just recovering from scarlet fever at the time of the Mutiny of Aranjuez, and was not fit to travel. Her son was also sick and she stayed behind with her children, her uncle Antonio and her little brother Francisco de Paula. However, Napoleon insisted on all relatives of the King to leave Spain and called them to France. At their departure on 2 May 1808, citizens of Madrid rose up in rebellion against the French occupation, but the revolt was crushed by Murat.

At that time, Maria Louisa had become unpopular. The intervention in Etruria had been very costly to Spain and Maria Louisa secret dealing with Murat had been seen as against the interest of her native country, she was considered a foreign Princess aiming at gaining a throne for her son.

Arriving at Bayonne, Maria Louisa was greeted by her father with the words "My daughter, our family has forever ceased to reign". Napoleon had forced both Charles IV and Ferdinand VII to renounce the throne of Spain. In exchange for their renunciation of all claims, the two were promised a large pension and residence in Compiegne and Chambord. Maria Louisa, who in vain tried to convince Napoleon to restore her to Tuscany or Parma, was offered a large income. He assured her that she would be much happier without the troubles of government, but Maria Louisa openly protested against the confiscation of her son's dominions.


After this, Napoleon gave Spain to his brother Joseph and forced the Royal family into exile in Fontainebleau. Maria Louisa requested a separate residence and moved with her children to a house in Passy, but was soon moved to Compiegne. She was plagued by frequent sickness and shortage of money and, not owning any horses, was forced to walk wherever she needed to go. When at last Napoleon sent 12,000 francs as the promised compensation, the expenses of her trip to France were discounted. She wrote a letter of protest, saying that prisoners were never made to pay for their removal, but she was advised not to send it out. She was promised to retire to the Palace of Colorno in Parma with a substantial allowance, but once in Lyon, under the pretext of conducing her to her destination, she was escorted to Nice, where she was kept under strict vigilance. She planned to escape to England, but her letters were intercepted and her two accomplices executed. Maria Louisa was arrested on July 26 and condemned to be imprisoned in a convent in Rome, while her nine-year-old son was to remain in the care of his grandfather Charles IV. [cite book|title=A Royal Quartette|first=Catherine |last=Bearne Charlton|pages=p. 378.] . Maria Louisa pension was reduced to 2500 francs; all her jewels and valuables were taken away and with her daughter and a maid and on 14 August 1811 she was imprisoned in the convent of Santi Domenico e Sisto, near the Quirinal. Her pleas for clemency were unanswered. [cite book|title=A Royal Quartette|first=Catherine |last=Bearne Charlton|pages=p. 381.] .

During her imprisonment, Maria Louisa and her children were stripped of their rights to the Spanish crown by the Cádiz Cortes, on 18 March 1812, because she was under Napoleon's control. Her right were not restored not until 1820.

The former Queen of Etruria wrote on her Memoirs:

I was two years and a half in that monastery and one year wihout seeing or talking to anybody. I was not allowed to write or receive news not even from my own son. I had been in the convent for eleven months already when my parents came with my son to Rome on June 16 of 1812. I was hoping to be released immediately after their arrival, but I was wrong, instead of diminishing the rigor of my imprisonment I was put under strictier orders.

On 19 June 1812 she was allowed to see her family. In an emotional meeting, Maria Louisa threw herself into her mother's arms, kissed her son with frenzy and her father hugged them all in a general embrace. After this, Maria Louisa was allowed to see her parents and her son once a month but only for twenty minutes and under surveillance. Only the fall of Napoleon opened the gates of her prison. On 14 January 1814, after more than four years of captivity, she was freed, when the troops of Murat entered Rome.

The Congress of Vienna

Maria Louisa moved with her children and her parents to the Palazzo Barberini. She hoped for the restorations of her son's states and as the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) assembled to reorder the European map, she quickly wrote and published the "Memoirs of the Queen of Etruria", originally written in Italian but translated to different languages, to put forward her cause.

When Napoleon returned from his exile at Elba, Maria Louisa and her parents fled Rome, moving from one city to another in Italy. The Countess de Boigne met her in Genoa and found her untidy and vulgar. When Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, they returned to to Rome.

At the Congress of Vienna, Maria Louisa’s interests were represented by the Spanish emissary Marquis of Labrador, an incompetent man, who did not successfully advance his country's or Maria Louisa's diplomatic goals. The Austrian Minister Metternich had decided not to restore Parma to the House of Bourbon, but to give it to Napoleon's wife Maria Louise of Austria. Maria Louisa pleaded her cause to her brother Ferdinand VII of Spain, the Pope and Tsar Alexander I of Russia

Ultimately, the Congress decided to compensate Maria Louisa and her son with the smaller Duchy of Lucca, which was carved out of Tuscany. She was to retain the honors of a Queen as she had before in Etruria.

However, Maria Louis refused this compromise for more than two years, in which she lived with her children in a palace in Rome. During this time, the relationship to her family was strained: her parents and her brother Ferdinand VII wanted to marry her daughter, Maria Louisa Carlota, then fourteen years old, to the infante Francisco de Paula, Maria Louisa’s youngest brother. Maria Louisa vehemently opposed this plan, considering her twenty two year old brother too reckless for her young daughter. She also resisted the plan of her son marrying Maria Cristina of Naples, a daughter of her sister Maria Isabel.

Seeking independence from her family, Maria Louisa accepted the solution offered by the Treaty of Paris in 1817: upon the death of Marie Louise of Austria, the duchy of Parma should revert to Charles Louis and the House of Bourbon.

Maria Louisa became Duchess of Lucca in her own right and was granted the rank and privileges of a Queen. Her son Charles Louis would succeed her only upon her death and meanwhile he was known as the Prince of Lucca. Lucca would be annexed to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany when the family regained possession of Parma.

Upon this, the Spanish minister in Turin, took possession of Lucca until Maria Louisa arrived on 7 December 1817.

Duchess of Lucca

When Maria Louisa arrived in Lucca, she was already thirty-five years old. Ten years of endless struggles had taken their toll: her youth was gone and she had gained a lot of weight. Nevertheless she set her sights on a new marriage. She first addressed Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who was a widower, and also her first cousin, possibly with the idea of securing her position in Lucca and gaining a foothold in Florence. After this failed, she tried Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este but this failed as well. After the assassination of Charles Ferdinand, Duke of Berry in 1820, there were also plans to marry her to his father Charles, Count of Artois, who would become King Charles X.

Maria Louisa's firm intention was to obliterate every trace of the government Elisa Bonaparte, who had ruled Lucca from 1805 to 1814 and who nominally succeeded Maria Louisa in Tuscany in 1808. As duchess, she promoted public works and culture in the spirit of enlightenment and during her government the sciences flourished. Between 1817 and 1820, she ordered the complete renewal of the inner decorations of the Ducal Palace, completely changing the internal decoration of the building into its present form, making the Palazzo in Lucca one of the finest in Italy. Maria Louisa, a religious woman, favored the clergy. In her small state, seventeen new convents were founded in the six years of her reign. Among the projects she accomplished were the building of a new aqueduct and the development of Viareggio, the port of the Duchy.

Politically, Maria Louisa disregard the constitution imposed on her by the congress of Vienna and governed Lucca in an absolutist fashion, though her government was not very reactionary and oppressive. When the Spanish liberals imposed a constitution on her brother, King Ferdinand VII, she opened up to the idea of accepting a constitution, but the resurgence of Spanish absolutism in 1823 ended her intentions.

In 1820, she arranged her twenty-year old son's wedding with Princess Maria Teresa of Savoy, one of the twin daughters of King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia. The relationship with her son had turned sour and later he complain that his mother had "ruined him physically, morally and financially".

Throughout these years, Maria Louisa spent the summers in Lucca and the winters in Rome. Maria Louisa went to Rome on 25 October 1823 to her Palace in Venetian Square, already feeling ill. On 22 February 1824 she signed her will and died of cancer on 13 March 1824 in Rome [cite book|title=A Royal Quartette|first=Catherine |last=Bearne Charlton|pages=p. 384.] . Her body was taken to Spain to be buried at the Escorial. A monument to her memory was erected in Lucca.

Upon her death, Charles Louis succeeded to the rule of Lucca.


Maria Louisa was survived by her two children:
* Charles Louis Ferdinand (December 22, 1799 - April 16, 1883) married Maria Teresa of Savoia Princess of Sardinia and Savoia, daughter of King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia and of Maria Teresa Archduchess of Austria Este.

* Maria Louise Charlotte (Barcelona, October 2, 1802 - Rome, March 18, 1857) married Prince Maximilian of Saxony, widower of her aunt Caroline, as his second wife. Although the marriage was childless she was stepmother to Maximilian and Caroline's children, including the future kings Frederick Augustus II of Saxony and John I of Saxony.


*Balanso, Juan. "La Familia Rival". Barcelona: Planeta, 1994.
*Balanso, Juan. "Las perlas de la Corona". Barcelona: Plaza & Janés, 1999.
*Bearne Charlton, Catherine. "A Royal Quartette". London: T. F. Unwin, 1908.
*"Memoir of the Queen of Etruria", written by herself. London: printed for John Murray, 1814.
*Sixte, Prince of Bourbon-Parma. "La Reine d'Étrurie". Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1928.
*Smerdou Altoaguirre, Luis. "Carlos IV en el Exilio". Pamplona: Ediciones Universidad de Navarra, 2000.
*Villa-Urrutia, W. R Marques de. "La Reina de Etruria, doña Maria Luisa de Borbón, infanta de España". Madrid: Francisco Beltrán, 1923.


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