Faced with the innumerable works that collect and history the unique British royal house and extensively biography all its numerous members, it is necessary to claim and bring to light many characters, still very unknown, of the royal house of Spain.
“And in particular of the battered Bourbon dynasty, which abounds in strong, remarkable, curious characters and protagonists of fascinating biographies,” says Ricardo Mateos Sáinz de Medrano, author, along with Jonatan Iglesias Sancho, of the book The sisters-in-law of Isabel II, the rarest infantas that Spain has given (Unusual Editions).
An important gap that, in recent decades, has been gradually corrected with a profusion of works, of different qualities, which have been recovering for our collective history the lives of many infants and infantas of Spain, and in particular of long-forgotten women.
There are the infantas Isabel, Paz and Eulalia, daughters of Isabel II, the infantas María de las Mercedes and María Teresa, daughters of Alfonso XII, or the infantas Beatriz and María Cristina, daughters of Alfonso XIII. A whole movement to value a very rich history, to which is now added the work of these two historians and researchers.
Jonatan Iglesias Sancho and Ricardo Mateos Sáinz de Medrano offer us a deep and attentive look at “the varied and colorful lives of five Spanish princesses of the 19th century who, until now, have remained forgotten and in the greatest carelessness”, as Ricardo Mateos affirms.
[Qué es el Gotha: la selecta ‘biblia de la realeza’]
Five women of character, and very different from each other, who, in addition to having been infantas of Spain in their own right, were first cousins of Queen Elizabeth II and their own sisters-in-law as sisters of the, “also historically overshadowed”, king consort don Francisco de Asís, according to Mateos.
The five daughters of the infante Francisco de Paula (the tender child in the painting The family of Carlos IVby Goya), considered a liberal, and even a Freemason, and his wife, the sanguine and temperamental Princess Luisa Carlota of the Two Sicilies.
The family of Carlos IV, by Francisco de Goya, in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
“She was a lady ‘of arms’ who, displaying a great bonhomie advance letter, wanted to influence politics, facilitated the transition from the Old Regime to the liberal regime, and fought hard to achieve the great ultimate goal of his life: to make his son Francisco de Asís (‘Paquito’) the king consort of Spain, marrying him with her first cousin, the child queen Elizabeth II,” says the researcher and co-author of the book.
Five women whose lives span the entire Spanish 19th century and whose biographies, so different from each other, show the growing will of the princesses of those years, subject to the strong mandates of the prevailing bourgeois morality, to subscribe in degrees, or even break, the strong constrictions of their social roles .
Women whose lives are inserted in an environment governed by the rigid social and moral conventions of their time, “which made the princesses mere dumb pawns in the always complex European marriage market,” adds Ricardo Mateos Sáinz de Medrano, with whom we have spoken.
The eldest, Isabel Fernandina, protagonist of a nineteenth-century serial when carrying out, at any cost, her determination to marry her lover, the handsome and adventurous, but bankrupt, Polish count Ignacio Gurowski, with whom she fled from Paris, both disguised as servants, to start an existence difficult and full of ups and downs facing exile, marginalization and ostracism.
The Infanta Isabel Fernandina.
A life of ups and downs that unfolds between Spain, Belgium, France and Portugal, to end his days in a second-class hotel in turn-of-the-century Paris. “A life of struggle, generosity and ruin, regardless of conventions, and a character straddling palaces, luxuries (when possible) and bohemia,” Ricardo Mateos tells us.
The second, Luisa Teresa, a lover of fashion and shops in Paris, “She was a woman strongly proud of her rank as an infanta and of her belonging to the finest cream in Europe at the time, but completely unaware of the value of money.”
An infanta, happy with her rank as princess, who knew how to enjoy class privileges, who found a husband in the handsome Duke of Sessa, then head of one of the richest, noblest and oldest Spanish ducal houses, “already whose final ruin was contributed by not being able to resist the great lifestyle that he considered to be that of an infanta of Spain and a royal princess”, adds the co-author.
Luisa Teresa, the ‘wasty’ infanta.
A life that takes place between Spain, Switzerland and France, in the epicenter of the great international society that maintained a strong class endogamy and frequented Paris, Biarritz and the most exclusive places of fashion.
The third, the liberal and feisty Pepita, whose marriage “was very conflictive because she chose as her husband a Cuban akin to the new times of change and revolution. A great liberal with claims to be a politician, journalist, writer and even a poet, with whom she starred in a wedding worthy of a romantic novel” , reviews Ricardo Mateos.
The Infanta Josefa, known as Pepita.
Pepita and her lover, José Güell, faced exile, led the 1854 revolution in Valladolid, clandestinely crossed the Pyrenees to ensure that their eldest son was born in Navarra, and were exceptional witnesses to that court of miracles that It was the Parisian Palace of Castilla, the French residence of Queen Isabella after the fall of the monarchy in 1868.
The fourth, Cristina, was struck by fate to suffer “an uncertain degree of intellectual limitation and, with resignation, put up with the popular taunt of ‘la infanta boba’ that always persecuted her all her life”, says the historian.
A princess who cheated her destiny as an unrepentant maiden, by marrying her cousin and uncle, the rich but unattractive infante Don Sebastián Gabriel who was, “probably, the most cultured and most refined man of the Spanish royal family throughout the 19th century”, according to Matthew.
A prince passionate about art, science and photography, and always faithful to the dynasty, with whom he formed a marriage based on love and respect. “A very well-matched couple, but with a complex progeny dotted with scandals of all sorts,” says Ricardo Mateos.
And the fifth, Amalia, was lucky, no longer expected in the family, to marry following the most classical orthodoxy, with a Teutonic prince who returned her to the epicenter of European royalty, Prince Adalbert of Bavaria.
“He was the son of that King Luis I who felt a passion for the old Mediterranean cultures of classical antiquity, who insisted on marrying a Spanish infanta, thereby questioning his inheritance rights to the throne of Greece,” adds the historian.
Amalia, the infanta who became a princess.
An infanta who brought to the Bavarian court the coveted fleurs-de-lis of the Bourbons of Spain, whose life takes place in the most royal environment of the royalty of the moment, in the framework of the baroque palaces of Munich and in the midst of the reign of the mad king Luis II.
“A classic princess, but whose social life perished due to certain ailments of a psychological nature that took her out of the chronicles,” says Mateos.
Five lives joined by a sixth, that of his half brother, “The ephemeral Duke of San Ricardo, a good boy, physically fragile and diabetic, the fruit of love and the second marriage of the old infant Don Francisco de Paula with the singer and actress Teresa Arredondo”, reveals the historian.
Singular, with character, daughters of the complex and rebellious Spain of the 19th century, and very different from each other, the five sisters-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II, sisters of King Consort Don Francisco de Asís, have been until now, according to the co-author of the book “the great unknowns of the historiography of the Royal House of Spain”.
An oversight that Jonatan Iglesias Sancho and Ricardo Mateos Sainz de Medrano seek to repair with this book, by discovering, based on an arduous investigation, the interesting lives of these women. Curious biographies that they rescue with enormous precision, and that tell us “spiced with a generous anecdote that runs through the entire work”, adds Ricardo Mateos Sáinz de Medrano.
This is not his first literary foray, as he is the sole author of The unknown infants of Spain (nineteen ninety six), Queen Sofia’s family (2004), Nobility Obliges (2006), The infants of Andalusia (2007) and Queen Maria Christina (2008), among others, in which he has researched for years the genealogy, history and biography of the royal houses “and of the power elites in Europe”.
Jonatan Iglesias Sancho is the author of the book Alfonso XII, letters of an adolescent king (2019), where he transcribed and annotated the letters that the king and his secretary wrote to Queen Elizabeth II while the young man was studying at the Theresianum in Vienna and at the Sandhurst Academy, as well as Save the Czar! (2021), a study on the vision of the two Russian revolutions from the perspective of the Spanish representatives in Russia and the attempts of Alfonso XIII to rescue Nicholas II and his family.
Lives worth rescuing from the recesses of Spain’s house of Bourbon, and that cover “the great and traumatic transition of the Spanish royal family from the old days of the last throes of the Old Regime, to the showy years of the extravagant belle époque”, adds Ricardo Mateos.
Times of exile and revolutions, of which these women were exceptional witnesses, which transformed European royalty throughout the 19th century and which these researchers give voice to, centuries later, when the death and state funeral of the Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom have brought European monarchies back to the present day.