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Adapted from "Regine. Spose bambine, eroine e sante dall’Europa alla corte di Napoli", Pacini Fazzi Editore - Lucca, 2018"
The origins of Maria Isabella of Bourbon-Spain
Maria Isabella of Bourbon-Spain (Madrid, July 6, 1789 – Portici, September 13, 1848)Maria Isabella, the second wife of Francesco I, cousin of her husband on the paternal side, was the eleventh daughter of Maria Luisa of Bourbon Parma and Charles IV of Bourbon Spain, son of Charles and Maria Amalia. She was born in Madrid on July 6, 1789.
On October 4, 1802, the royal wedding was celebrated in Barcelona. The meeting between the two spouses, he was twenty-five and she was thirteen, was a disaster. Francesco was a grown man, politically prepared to manage the leadership of a state, already a father, while Isabella was a shy teenager who had not yet had her period, absolutely devoid of any political vision, still tied to games and dreams. They returned together to Naples, the future king and the child bride. Waiting for her was a city that celebrated, with the lazars screaming at the port, asking for help. Isabella grew up and began her role as a broodmare. In 1804, when she was only fifteen, her first daughter, Luisa Carlotta, was born. Five more females and six males followed over time, at a relentless pace. She became queen in 1825. But she was queen for a while. While waiting to sit on the throne she tried to settle the offspring. She did it above all by strengthening relations with her family of origin.
As happens to women who find themselves managing a position of power, Maria Isabella also focused on the education of girls. She revived the ‘Miracoli boarding school, which in 1813 had been founded by Carolina Bonaparte; the latter had had the large cloister of the Monastery of Santa Maria della Provvidenza ai Miracoli transformed into the headquarters of the Royal Casa Carolina girls’ boarding school, where the boarders of the girls’ college of Aversa which had been founded by Giuseppe Bonaparte moved. In 1829 she became director and the two institutes took the name of first and second boarding school Regina Isabella Borbone. She followed the activities of the students by personally participating in the initiatives that were promoted, she dictated the line by controlling the didactic and disciplinary progress of the young people; she had her own apartment within the buildings and frequently resided here to spend time with them and pay attention to them. She was the activity she cared most about, until her death. On the one hand, the daughters of the nobility and the upper classes in the boarding schools, and on the other, presence and care for the institutions that welcomed poor girls. She placed women under her protective wing. She took care of them: she visited the sick comforting them, she brought peace to quarrels. When she was widowed Maria Isabella was 41 years old, she was in the prime of her maturity as a woman. Since then she was her queen mother.
The second marriage and the end
In 1839, morganatically, she married the young Capuan officer Francesco del Balzo, count, scion of one of the oldest and most illustrious families of the Kingdom, sixteen years her junior. They went to live in the Capodimonte palace where they led an almost bourgeois life. Here Maria Isabella lived her last years in the quiet of her home, looking down on the Gulf of Naples, among Biedermeier paintings and furnishings.