Sunday 27 April 2014

A Scandalous Regent: Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies

Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies (Maria Cristina Ferdinanda di Borbon; Palermo, Italy, 27th April 1806 - Le Havre, France, 22nd August 1878)

María Christina by Vicente López y Portaña, 1830
Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies by Vicente López y Portaña, 1830

Hot on the heels of Maria Amalia's salon trip yesterday, I am pleased to welcome another lady of the  Two Sicilies today in the well-dressed shape of Maria Christina. She was born the daughter of Francis I of the Two Sicilies and Maria Isabella, his second spouse.

Like so many noble children the destiny of Maria Christina was shaped by family and when her mother's brother, King Ferdinand VII of Spain, found himself heirless and widowed for a third time in 1829, it was swiftly agreed that the young lady would make an excellent match for her uncle. The couple were wed on 11th December 1829 in Madrid; the thrice-widowed groom was 45 years old, his niece and bride just 23. In fact, the quest for a male heir was to remain unfulfilled and by the time Ferdinand died in 1833, the couple had two young daughters but no son. With the three year old Isabella next in line to the throne thanks to a change in the laws of succession, Maria Christina took on the role of Regent.

Maria Christina and Ferdinand VII by Luis de la Cruz y Rios, 1832
Maria Christina and Ferdinand VII by Luis de la Cruz y Rios, 1832

Whilst married to Ferdinand, Maria Christina encountered Agustín Fernando Muñoz; two years her junior and a Sergeant of the Royal Guard, Muñoz made quite an impact on the queen. Just three months after the death of her husband, Maria Christina and Muñoz were married in a secret ceremony. Together they had seven children, all of whom survived childhood. The couple knew that they must keep their marriage a secret if Maria Christina was to remain as Regent but their affair was public knowledge at court, even if their legal bond was not.

Maria Christina's regency was not without conflict and the late king's brother, Infante Carlos, Count of Molina, argued vociferously that the law naming Isabella as heir was actually illegal and that he was the rightful King of Spain. In addition, he claimed that Ferdinand had no wish to make his daughter queen and that Maria Christina had forged legal documents bearing her late husband's name in a quest to rob Carlos of his rightful claim to the throne.

Agustín Fernando Muñoz
Agustín Fernando Muñoz

This was a family and political dispute that was not going to die a quiet death and when the Carlist Wars broke out, Maria Christina stood against Carlos and his demands for an absolute monarchy with himself at the helm. Despite strong support for Carlos from the traditionalist members of the ruling classes and the Catholic Church, the army came out in favour of Maria Christina and she successfully defended her daughter's claim to the throne.

Eventually and inevitably, news of the secret marriage began to leak out and soon the scandal engulfed the court. Ministers and influential military leaders prevailed upon Maria Christina to step aside and in 1840 she and Muñoz went into exile in France, with the regency now assumed by General Baldomero Espartero, Count of Luchana. Here they remained until Queen Isabella II assumed the throne in 1844, at which point she swiftly gave her official blessing to her mother's marriage, granting permission for a public ceremony, as well as awarding Muñoz the title of Duke of Riánsares. He would go on to be highly decorated in both Spain and France, where he and Maria Christina made their home.

Maria Christina

When the 1868 revolution swept Isabella from power, she joined her mother and stepfather in France. After the scandal of their early years, Maria Christina and Muñoz had settled into a devoted and happy retirement, living very well from the profits of the business interests of the well-liked Muñoz. Maria Christina became a widow in 1873 and lived on in quiet retirement for five further years before she too passed away, her turbulent life finally at an end.

Maria Christina

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Unknown said...

Catherine, so many of your guests have lived very eventful lives.

Catherine Curzon said...

And of course, it's always nice to feature someone who found some happiness.

Debra Brown said...

The rules and regulations of nobility and royal stature play a great part in the liveliness of these stories. There would be no story if the remarriage was not a scandal and there was not a tug of war for the throne. That is why I like to write about these kinds of families.

Catherine Curzon said...

I agree; one small change (not that a remarriage is a small thing, of course) and so many destinies change. Sometimes the destinies of thousands in the countries concerned.

Anonymous said...

Today a politician's love life is a small thing for the general public, but a remarriage in earlier days could have enormous implications. After Charlemagne's fifth wife died in 800, he did not remarry. With each of his three heirs expecting a kingdom, he didn't want anymore claimants to the thrones. So he had several concubines.

Catherine Curzon said...

A shrewd move!

von mosel said...

shes my cousin like all bourbons and others royals in europe. 400y ago we had same grandparents.

Catherine Curzon said...

An illustrious line!