Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Affair of the Spanish Marriages

 Arrival of Queen Victoria at the Chateau d'Eu in 1843by Eugène Lami, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Queen Victoria loved the beautiful setting of the Chateau d’Eu in Normandy, and had fun playing with elegant French fashions and makeup in the third episode of the Season Two of the series “Victoria”. She was disappointed with the French King Louis Philippe, however, over the question of the ‘Spanish marriages’. What really happened? Was the King really so  cunning and untrustworthy?

King Louis Phillipe 1 of France by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1840 Queen Victoria discussed the question of the future King of Spain with Lords Melbourne and Palmerston. England did not favour any possibility of a Bourbon marrying the young Spanish Queen Isabella (only 10) because of the Peace of Utrecht. According to this, the throne should be passed down from Philip V and his descendants. Prince Leopold of Coburg was the British choice for the husband of Queen Isabella, but Louis Phillipe liked the idea of his sons (the Montpensiers) marrying the Queen and her sister, the Infanta.

Lord Aberdeen (the new Foreign Minister) hoped that the Queen’s visit to France in 1843 and 1845 would lead to an Entente Cordiale. 1843 was after all the first time that an English monarch had visited France since Henry VIII in the 1520s! But the marriages remained an ongoing concern. Prince Albert wrote to Peel: ‘Let us show that we are neither afraid of him [the French King], nor prepared to be made dupes of’. [i]

In 1845 Louis Phillipe and his Foreign Minister Guizot made a bargain that the King would not advance one of his own sons for the Queen if England did not push Prince Leopold. He also agreed that his son would not marry the Infanta until the Queen had an heir, so that a Bourbon would not succeed to the throne.

However, Lord Palmerston annoyed the King by sending a despatch listing the candidates for the husband of the Queen, who was now 16. He included the Prince of Coburg, annoying Louis Phillipe. To the chagrin of the British, the French King soon arranged for the poor Queen to marry Francisco, Duke of Cadiz, who was reportedly gay and impotent, and for his own son to marry the Infanta. A double marriage was held on October 10, 1846. He hoped that Queen Isabella would have no children so that the Infanta’s future son would inherit the throne. Queen Victoria sympathised with the French King’s son Antoine who did not want to marry the Infanta  until he could ‘see how she turned out’.

Aberdeen wrote to Prince Albert that: ‘The marriage of the Duke of Montpensier is really an affair of little importance to England and it an event with which in itself we have no right to quarrel’.[ii]

Queen Victoria didn’t take that view, however. She couldn’t understand how Louis Phillipe could ‘wantonly throw away the friendship of one who had stood firm by him with sincere affection,  for a doubtful object of personal and family aggrandisement,’ she wrote after the marriages were announced. [iii]

Antoine supported the Spanish revolutionaries against his own sister-in-law in 1868 but he saw his daughter Mercedes succeed to the throne after she married her first cousin King Alphonso XII.









[i] Weintraub, Stanley. Abert, Uncrowned King. John Murray, London, 1997. p.149


[ii] Ibid., p.245

[iii] Seton-Watson, Robert. Britain in Europe 1789-1914, a Survey of Foreign Policy. CUP Archive, 1945, p. 245







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