Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony had great political influence, and actively contributed to the project of the Royal Palace of Caserta

ADAPTED FROM: Nadia Verdile

The origins of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony

Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony (Dresden, November 24, 1724 – Madrid, September 27, 1760)

Maria Amalia Wettin of Saxony was born in Dresden, in the Zwinger palace, on November 24, 1724; daughter of Augustus III of Poland, elector of Saxony, and of Maria Giuseppa of Habsburg, daughter of the emperor of Austria Joseph I, she was educated to love the arts; when she arrived in the Kingdom of Naples, she spoke, in addition to German, French and Italian, as well as, as per tradition, she translated Latin.

From the chronicles of the time we learn:

«In the prime of life […], very remarkable for the external beauty of the body, but more for the internal qualities of the soul, […] joined together with Grace and Majesty, wit and loveliness, and for her rare talents […] ] really adorable. She speaks up to 4 languages […] that is Latin, Italian, French and German […], adorned with noble Arts, that is Music, Design and embroidery, and what crowns and makes these so clear ornaments valuable it is the Catholic Religion […] and the Christian Pietà, which shines admirably in her [converting her into] one of the most polite and generous Princesses of Europe»

She spent only thirteen years in her native country, all between her native castle and that of Pillntz. It was from here that she left to go, bride of Charles of Bourbon, to her new homeland.

The future marriage

We know that when in 1737 her future husband saw her portrait (see photo above) sent to him from Dresden as a promise of marriage, he wrote to his mother, Elisabetta Farnese:

«Je diroy à vos M.M., selon ses ordres di lei, qu’elle m’a parû tres belle, & que, selon sa fisionomie di lei, elle doit avoir un genie admirable, j’assure à vos M.M. que lei j’en suis tres content; & je rend de noveau les plus heunbles graçes a vos M.M. de m’avoir destinée celle cy»

The choice of a wife for Carlo was troubled and long. The strategies put in place by his mother Elisabetta Farnese aimed to unite her young son with a Habsburg princess, and Maria Theresa of Austria (the future Austrian queen), had been her first betrothed.

The marriage alliance failed, the attempt by French diplomacy to marry Louise Elizabeth of Bourbon (Louis XV’s little daughter) was disappointed by the express refusal of the queen mother, the latter’s choice fell on Maria Amalia Wettin, who constituted a sort of compromise between the “desiderata” of the Spanish court and the Austrian opposition to a Habsburg-Bourbon union. Maria Amalia, in fact, had Habsburg blood, but she was not Austrian. The marriage contract with the Polish court was signed on 31 October 1737 and her dowry was set at 90,000 guilders.

The following months were spent in anxious anticipation of her departure, which was postponed to Poland from day to day for rather specious reasons. Carlo was visibly agitated; he fell ill and lost weight to such an extent that it was whispered in foreign courts that he was consumptive. Elisabetta – a true Italian mother – scolded her son because, in her opinion, he devoted himself to too many «exercices violents» and threatened him that his in-laws «tireront en longeur mon mariage, jusque à tant qu’ils me sachent plus gras». Carlo, like a good son, reassured her: «il est vray que j’estoy maigri avec la maladie, mais asteur je suis plus gras que je n’ay jamais esté» still had some anger with him for that bad impression, probably due to an excess of sanctimonious moralism.

The marriage

The royal wedding, announced in Madrid on January 8, 1738, was celebrated, by proxy, on May 9, 1738. Demonstrations and tournaments were staged to celebrate the two young spouses. Three days later, with a retinue of over 200 people, the adolescent Maria Amalia left for the Kingdom of Naples. A 34-day journey which ended on 19 June in Portella, on the border with the Papal States, where she was received by Carlo. Minister Bernardo Tanucci wrote to Father Ascanio a few days after Maria Amalia’s arrival:

“The Queen finally came on Thursday; she was received in the border by the King under a pavilion with three naves; the middle of her formed her hall, through which the King received her and prevented her from kneeling, immediately transporting her to the other side of her »

So King Charles wrote to his parents two days later from Gaeta:

«Je diroy aussi à vos M.M. quell’elle est beaucoup plus belle que le portrait, qu’elle à un geni d’un ange fort vife, & beaucoup d’esprit, & que je suis l’homme le plus content, & le plus fortuneé de ce monde, & je ne sçauroy dire combien nous nous aimons; & aussi que, graçes a Dieu, tout est allé fort bién, & que demain à Naples, & qu’Elle also escrit à vos M.M.»

Married life with the king

Unfortunately the marriage – as Carlo soon had to ascertain – was not made up only of positive sides: even the order of San Gennaro, created for the occasion, was giving him some headaches. The Queen, perhaps also due to the fatigue of the long journey, had some health problems, but in the autumn she had already recovered to the point of actively participating in the dynamic life of the Neapolitan court (hunting, trips to Portici, galleys and kissing hands, evenings at the opera), to the perfect satisfaction of her husband, who without worrying too much about her young age – would have always wanted her as a companion in his assiduous and tiring hunting exercises.
Shortly thereafter the smallpox contracted by Queen Maria Amalia, which manifested itself around the first week of February 1739, disturbed the happiness of those first months. Charles had to leave his wife and moved to Portici, while the Queen remained in the royal palace of Naples, bored to death during the quarantine. The couriers came and went even twice a day, but the forced separation was especially hard for the King, now deeply attached to his wife and saddened to find himself all alone. When Queen Maria Amalia was able to get up, Carlo, passing under the windows of the building, saw her protected by the windows and wrote excitedly to her parents.

On 13 March, after the convalescence, the spouses were able to embrace again and the King realized that his wife-child had grown up during her illness: by now she was almost a woman. However, she had to wait a little longer, until the early 1740s, for her to be able to secure the succession to the throne.

In the early days, the queen, at a very young age, did not show great interest in political issues:

«Elle à beaucoup d’ esprit, & elle à un genie d’ un ange, & elle me regarde toujour au visage di lei pour ne faire autre chose que ce que je veû; & je diroy a vos M.M. que, pendant qu’elle s’abille – que c’est de puis 9 heures jusque à 11 – je tient dans mon apartement mon conseille, & toutes les fois que les secretaires ont quelque chose à me dire je sort à mon apartement
pour qu’ils m’en rendent compte; & je doy dire à vos M.M. qu’elle ne se mele en rien»

Her relationship with her husband was stabilizing, the two liked each other and the union was strengthened. Right from the start, the very young royals shared the pleasures of their state, most of all they loved to go hunting:

«Le mercredi passé je alloy à Agnano avec ma femme, & je tuee 18 canards & 30 macreuses, & ma femme 5 macreuses; & demain, s’il plait à Dieu, nous y retourneron»

But willingly allowing herself to be adopted by Naples and her culture, Maria Amalia let herself be guided in the customs and habits of this city: she played the lottery and games of chance, attended the theater a lot, gave sumptuous parties and participated in them . All this, however, was only the choral and public aspect.

political activity

By now, with ever greater determination, the queen was becoming aware of the political problems of her state and taking charge of them. Just sixteen, in 1740, she intervened with her father so that he would guarantee the neutrality of the Kingdom of Naples towards the sovereign of England, George II. However, still in 1742 the political position of Queen Maria Amalia seemed to have little influence and was very limited, in fact the Savoyard ambassador in Naples, Count Ludovico Solaro di Monasterolo, underlined that Charles «does not leave her [Queen Maria Amalia] any inference in the affairs of the Kingdom, albeit private, deferring little to his recommendations» But in reality the queen would not have remained the silent and consenting child who had appeared until then. When she became a woman with age, she showed determination and ability, supported by what was often called the queen’s party, made up predominantly of women, by Anna Pinelli – princess of Belmonte, very close to Austrian circles then passed on to the Bourbon cause, friend and confidant of the sovereign -, to the princess of Colubrano, the marquise of Solera, the princesses of Stigliano, Camporeal and San Severo, the duchesses of Andria, Carvizzano and Maddaloni, the marquises of Fuscaldo and Spaccaforno, the countesses of Buccino, Svignano and Ventimiglia, the Marchioness De Silva, the Princess of Pado, Donna Atonia Provenzale and Donna Francesca de Lescano, but most of all the Duchess of Castropignano, Zenobia Revertera, who had a strong influence on the queen, so much so that she was defined as «the true queen of Naples”.

Furthermore, as was natural to happen, after giving birth to a male heir, by joining the Council of State, the queen had strengthened her power by becoming an active part of the government, intervening in «all the dispatches from the secretaries of state » and speaking «in all matters lively»
In 1746, the French ambassador de l’Hôpital wrote to Louis XV:

«[…] This princess, ambitious from birth, aspires to govern and it may happen that one day she will come to have an important part in Europe, especially as she increases her influence on the spirit of the king, her husband».

The birth of the Royal Palace of Caserta

That day had already come. Queen Maria Amalia was very present in the political decisions of the Kingdom and she was, of course, also in those concerning the construction of the royal palace. The architect Luigi Vanvitelli gives us an account of her wishes, of her desires, of her in the correspondence with his brother Urbano. In his letters he recounts his daily encounters with the sovereigns and the wishes they express for the creation of what should have become the “palace-state” of the Kingdom of Naples:

«After waiting half an hour for the King to return from fishing, I went in and they had the mercy to admit me to a single meeting with the King and Queen, who with all courtesy and impatience wanted to see what was inside the briefcase; whereupon, kissed on both hands, I showed him the drawings one by one, and in truth the approval was so excessive that I cannot hope for a greater one. Three times and more the Queen has wanted to recognize the apartments and the comfortable ones and all the parts […] and the Queen said to the King: When Vanvitelli has gone there I want us to take a look around, and see everything in the place»

The queen herself then asks the architect for a master plan for the city:

«[…] the Queen told me that she wants me to make a design for the city of Caserta and the streets, so that whoever has to build builds there with good direction, neither higher nor lower, but everything in order»

Queen Maria Amalia was deeply interested in the construction of the palace; what she asked the architect was not a simple memorandum but the execution of her own wishes, of her own ideas: she gave instructions, asked for confirmations, verified the work.

«The Queen has said that she wants copies of all the drawings to put them in a cabinet […] She added that, in order for the factory to hurry, she will add some other aids and […] after lunch, the King and the Queen with a greater number of Knights, including the General of the Galleys, the Knight Acciajoli, protector of Fuga, Stigliano and others with Aragona […] and the Queen wanted them to meet again and explain each other one by one»

From the magnificence of the work Queen Maria Amalia expected the magnificence of her reign:

«The Queen pressed her and said: Vanvitelli, let this work be your masterpiece, because if you know how to do it and I like the drawing as much as can be said […] I don’t think there will be anyone who wants to disapprove Caserta ever again indeed no one will dare. Then she said to me: Vanvitelli works well and don’t doubt »

She placed immense trust in the Dutch-born architect, she was certain that her wishes would be fulfilled:

«See, in this place, Vanvitelli, you have to make a beautiful fountain for me»

And Vanvitelli satisfied her:

«In Caserta therefore, after having leveled, I formed a drawing of the same size as the others, in which I represented the view of the country and tried to do it with good grace. I indicated three red lines, which marked the planes of the flowing springs, one called Jupiter, 39 palms high from the ancient conduit, the other called Fontanelle 138 palms high, and I marked with numbers all the main dimensions, in addition to the scales of which the same measurement can be taken with the compass; the same on foot, I made a flying paper for the title, and in the middle with whimsy I intertwined a large fountain with copious jets of water, which represents the chariot of Venus, with the same seated, supported by various tritons , who remain grouped by the dolphins, who pull the said chariot, on which little putti ride with buccine at their mouths through which they send forth fountains, so that they can present themselves. So on Wednesday I went to Portici, and I presented it to their Majesties […] said the Queen, after praising the design: I want that fountain in the Garden like this, because she liked it that way»

Certainly Carlo also followed the evolution of the design with attention and participation, but his opinion was never decisive; Queen Maria Amalia left the last word for herself:

«Yesterday morning the Queen arrived in Caserta with the Royal princes […] she went upstairs, entered the room, where the drawings with the frames and crystals were attached […] she called me inside and wanted to be informed of everything, but singularly she was pleased the main perspective. […] At the table they spoke only of the drawings in the presence of the whole Court, […] she wanted to go to the tower of the Palazzo to see the delineation of the Palazzo and the Garden from above […] after having stopped for a good half hour on the tower His Majesty descended and wanted me to stay with him again to explain the drawings in more detail. He took care of water and all things, as well as of some Cabinets that he would like in his own way, of which I said that now and always I will try to conform to the most precious honors of his commands in order to change the whole design from top to bottom, if necessary. She replied: no, I don’t want that, though

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