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Maria Christina of Austria (1858–1929)

Maria Christina of Austria (1858–1929)

Queen and regent of Spain . Name variations: Maria Cristina of Habsburg Lorraine; Marie-Christine of Austria. Born in Moravia on July 21, 1858; died on February 9, 1929; daughter of Charles Ferdinand (1818–1874), archduke of Austria, and Archduchess Elizabeth; became second wife of Alfonso or Alphonso XII (1857–1885), king of Spain (r. 1875–1885), on November 29, 1879; children: Maria de las Mercedes (1880–1904); Maria Teresa (1882–1912, who married Ferdinand of Bavaria); Alfonso also known as Alphonso XIII (1886–1941), king of Spain (r. 1886–1931).

Maria Christina of Austria was born on July 21, 1858, in Moravia, the daughter of Archduke Charles Ferdinand and Archduchess Elizabeth . Studious and broadly educated, Maria became engaged in November 1879 to Alphonso XII, king of Spain, whose first wife Maria de las Mercedes (1860–1878) had died after five months of marriage. Alphonso sought to remarry immediately, concerned with stabilizing the monarchy, which had been restored in December 1875 when the First Republic collapsed. Maria Christina went forthwith to Spain, and they wed on November 29, 1879. She had two daughters—Maria de las Mercedes (1880–1904) and Maria Teresa (1882–1912)—and was again pregnant when Alphonso XII died on November 25, 1885. The posthumous child was born on May 17 and proved to be a boy, the future Alphonso XIII.

The young widow faced daunting challenges. She governed as regent for 17 years, presiding over Spain's fragile constitutional monarchy until her son was old enough to rule. Maria Christina worked as an impartial arbiter between the conservatives, headed by Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, and the liberals, led by Práxedes Mateo Sagasta. She rotated the government between the two parties, and local political bosses rigged the votes to provide the desired electoral results. This produced a superficial stability.

By the time she ended the regency and turned over power to Alphonso XIII in 1902, however, Spain was beginning to fragment. The liberal and conservatives parties were disintegrating, the military sought extra-parliamentary means of controlling the nation, and Spain had lost its last overseas colonies during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Whereas Maria Christina had governed with decorum and impartiality, Alphonso XIII conspired with the military and acquiesced in General Miguel Primo de Rivera's dictatorship from 1923 to 1930. Maria Christina died on February 9,1929. Within two years, her son abdicated, giving way to the Spanish Second Republic. The Spanish Civil War soon followed.


Cortés Cavanillas, Julián. María Cristina de Austria: madre de Alfonso XIII. Madrid: Ediciones Aspas, 1944.

Herr, Richard. An Historical Essay on Modern Spain. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

Romanones, Alvaro Figueroa y Torres, conde de. Doña María Cristina de Habsburgo Lorena. Madrid, Espasa-Calpe, 1933.

Kendall W. Brown , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

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