Sunday 15 December 2013

Family Feuds and Rumours of Poisoning: Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily

Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily (Maria Antonietta Teresa Amelia Giovanna Battista Francesca Gaetana Maria Anna Lucia; Caserta, Italy, 14th December 1784 - Aranjuez, Spain, 21st May 1806)

Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily by Vicente López y Portaña
Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily by Vicente López y Portaña 

It must be something in the air at the moment because we seem to be meeting lots of ladies who lived painfully short lives of late and today is no exception. It is time to leave England behind for the climes of Italy and Spain and the story of Princess Maria Antonia.

As with two of our other guests, Maria Antonia was the daughter of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Maria Carolina of Austria and, like so many of the young nobles we have met, her future was decided by means of negotiations and power plays. Like so many of the young ladies we have met, Maria Antonia was raised to make a good marriage and, whilst the princess was still a girl, she and her siblings were already the subject of marital negotiations.

To secure alliances, it was agreed that the intelligent and vibrant young lady would marry her first cousin, Infante Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias and future king of Spain. Her brother was likewise to marry into the Spanish court, becoming the husband of Ferdinand's sister, Infanta Maria Isabella. Maria Antonia and Ferdinand were wed on 4th October 1802.

The marriage was far from devoted and Maria Antonia thought Ferdinand most unappealing, so it is perhaps not a surprise that the expected heir did not materialise. Instead, pregnancies in 1804 and 1805 both resulted in miscarriages, occasions that did nothing to endear Maria Antonia to her new family. Life at court was far from happy for the young woman as the families of the bride and groom simply did not get on and Maria Antonia found herself constantly in opposition to Maria Luisa, her mother in law. Indeed, accusations of poisoning and sabotage were flung around on all sides and the young woman's mother had a particular loathing for her Spanish opposite that can hardly have made marital life fun.

In fact, dislike for Maria Luisa was one of the few areas where Ferdinand and Maria Antonia did see eye to eye. The heir apparent took his wife's advice and opinion of his mother seriously and valued her guidance in his own efforts to gain political ascendancy over Maria Luisa and her close ally, prime minister Manuel Godoy. However, by this point Maria Antonia's health was already deteriorating, weakened by the miscarriages and the condition that would kill her.

Maria Antonia died of tuberculosis in 1806 aged just 21. Her grieving mother fervently believed that her daughter had fallen victim to a poison plot by her mother-in-law, a belief she held until her dying day.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.
Pen and Sword
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Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


sarah c said...

Named for her mother's favorite sister Marie Antoinette.

Catherine Curzon said...