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Maria Luisa Teresa of Parma (1751–1819)

Maria Luisa Teresa of Parma (1751–1819)

Queen of Spain, wife of Charles IV, and mother of Ferdinand VII, whose support of an alliance with Napoleon helped weaken the Spanish monarchy . Name variations: María or Maria Louisa Teresa of Parma; Marie-Louise of Parma; Maria Luisa of Parma; Maria Luisa of Spain; Marie Louise Therese; Luisa Maria Teresa. Born on December 9, 1751; died on January 2, 1819; daughter of Philip de Bourbon (1720–1765, duke of Parma and son of Elizabeth Farnese ), and Louise Elizabeth (1727–1759, daughter of Louis XV of France); married Charles IV (1748–1819), king of Spain (r. 1788–1808), on September 4, 1765; children: Carlota Joaquina (1775–1830); Maria Luisa of Etruria (1782–1824); Ferdinand VII (1784–1833), king of Spain (r. 1813–1833); Charles or Carlos Maria Isidro or Don Carlos (1788–1855); Francisco de Paula (1748–1865), duke of Cadiz; Maria Amalia (1779–1798, who married Anton Pascal de Bourbon); Marie Isabella of Spain (1789–1848).

The daughter of Philip, duke of Parma, and Louise Elizabeth , Maria Luisa Teresa of Parma was born on December 9, 1751. As a young woman, she received a good education from tutors such as Condillac, but was too frivolous and impetuous to fully profit from it. Although her portraits by Goya, made in middle age, picture her as a heavy, homely woman, she was a pretty, charming youth. Engaged at 13 to her cousin Charles (IV), crown prince of Spain, she married him in 1765. In Spain, she fretted at the austere court of Charles III, who suspected her frivolous nature and kept her under watch. She gave birth to a son, Ferdinand (VII), in 1784, and 23 other pregnancies followed, but only seven children survived to adulthood.

In 1788, her husband succeeded to the throne as Charles IV. His good intentions did not overcome his indecision and lack of energy, and Maria Luisa had room to maneuver. She secured the advancement of her favorite, an obscure guard named Manuel de Godoy, who by 1791 sported the Grand Cross of Charles III and according to rumor shared the queen's bed. When the French revolutionaries beheaded Charles IV's cousin, Louis XVI, in early 1793, war fever gripped Spain. Godoy's influence over the monarchs grew, to popular dismay.

Maria Luisa supported Spain's alliance with Napoleon, which eventually had disastrous consequences for the monarchy. To secure a domain for her daughter Maria Luisa of Etruria as queen of Etruria in Tuscany, Spain agreed to the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso (1800) and returned Louisiana to France. Meanwhile enemies of Maria Luisa and Godoy played on Ferdinand's jealousy of the favorite, and by 1804 Ferdinand

had joined conspiracies to eliminate his mother's protege. When Charles and Maria Luisa refused to dismiss Godoy, Ferdinand began to plot again his father. In 1807, crisis enveloped the monarchy. Both Spanish factions appealed to Napoleon for support. He resolved the imbroglio by forcing the abdication (May 1808) of both Charles IV and Ferdinand VII in favor of his own brother Joseph Bonaparte.

Charles IV and Maria Luisa went to exile in France, never to return to Spain. They lived in comfort and eventually moved to Rome. Maria Luisa died there on January 2, 1819. Lacking wisdom in politics and circumspection in her private life, she helped weaken the Spanish monarchy, which could not withstand the tempest unleashed by the French Revolution and Napoleon.


Hilt, Douglas. The Troubled Trinity: Godoy and the Spanish Monarchs. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1987.

Lynch, John. Bourbon Spain, 1700–1808. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

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

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