Farnese, Isabel (Spain) (1692–1766)
FARNESE, ISABEL (SPAIN) (1692–1766), queen of Spain. Isabel Farnese, the second wife of Philip V of Spain (ruled 1700–1724, 1724–1746), was born in Parma in 1692, the daughter of Odoardo II Farnese of the ducal house of Parma and of Dorothy Sofia of Neuberg, duchess of Bavaria. A physically attractive, intelligent, and cultured woman, Isabel was always at her husband's side, supporting him in the tasks of governing with her strong will and ambition to rule. Her marriage was proposed to the king by Abbot Giulio Alberoni (1664–1752), at that time ambassador of the sovereign duke of Parma to the royal court in Madrid.
Scholars have long disputed whether the new queen was an instrument used to support Spanish claims on Italian territories lost by the Peace of Utrecht (1713) or, on the contrary, an active shaper of Spain's Italian policy, aiming to gain states for her sons to rule, as the sons of the king's first marriage were first in line for the throne of Spain. In either case, her arrival in Spain marked a change in the direction of government. With the banishment of the former queen's chief lady-in-waiting, the Princess d'Ursins, after a famous confrontation in Jadraque (1714), the king's French advisers were dismissed and replaced by Alberoni. Alberoni occupied himself primarily in organizing unsuccessful campaigns in Cerdaña (1717) and Sicily (1718) before falling out of favor. The Italian objectives he favored were pursued tenaciously by the new queen, who eventually saw her son Charles enthroned in the Kingdom of Naples (1734) and her son Philip ruling the sovereign duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla (1748).
Having been obliged to acquiesce in her husband's abdication in favor of his son Luís I (1724), Isabel played a decisive role in Philip V's resumption of the crown after Luís's death eight months later, energetically overcoming constitutional obstacles and her husband's scruples. In the same fashion she was responsible for locating the royal court in Seville from 1729 to 1733, trying to combat the bouts of depression suffered by the king. Isabel devoted the last years of the reign to her favorite pastimes: music (Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli, organized court performances); her art collection (whose success is documented in her will); and the construction of royal palaces, including La Granja near Segovia, her favorite residence; the Royal Palace in Madrid, entirely rebuilt after a fire in 1734; and finally the palace of Riofrío, her most personal project.
After the death of the king in 1746, Isabel remained in Madrid, but the intrigues that swirled around her at court persuaded King Ferdinand VI (ruled 1746–1759) to order her retirement to La Granja, where she lived in isolation but nonetheless informed about the news from court. She had one last political role to play. Upon the death of Ferdinand VI in 1759, she was named in his will as governor of the Realms of Spain, pending the arrival from Naples of her son Charles III (ruled 1759–1788), whom she received on his entry into Madrid. Although she once again resided in the Royal Palace, she lacked any political influence. Death surprised her as she was enjoying the king's invitation to spend some time at the royal palace in Aranjuez in 1766. Her remains rest next to those of her husband in the Collegiate Chapel at La Granja.
García Cárcel, Ricard. Felipe V y los españoles: Una visión periférica del problema de España. Barcelona, 2002.
Kamen, Henry Arthur Francis. Philip V of Spain: The King Who Reigned Twice. New Haven, 2001.
Martinez Shaw, Carlos, and Marina Alonso Mola. Felipe V. Madrid, 2001.
Vidal Sales, José Antonio. Felipe V. Barcelona, 1997.
Carlos MartÍnez-Shaw (Translated from the Spanish by Carla Rahn Phillips)