Marie-Anne-Victoire, the Infanta-Queen: Louis XV’s little fiancée

Marie Anne Victoire Belle

Marie Anne Victoire of Spain by Belle

This marriage, like all royal unions of the time, was prompted by political and diplomatic concerns. Infanta Mariana Victoria, age three, was the daughter of King Philip V of Spain, himself grandson of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

When negotiations began for her marriage to her eleven-year old cousin Louis XV, the groom was rumored to be in poor health, and Philip V no doubt thought of consolidating his claims to the throne of France by having his daughter become Queen of that country.

Louis XV himself was not informed of anything until the Regent, Phlilippe d’Orléans, broke the news to his ward during a cabinet meeting. Louis XV burst into tears at the announcement, and the attendants had to insist long and hard before he whispered the expected “yes.”

A few days later, the Regent sprung another surprise: the marriage of his own twelve-year old daughter, Louise-Elisabeth d’Orléans, to the heir to the Spanish throne, son of Philippe V. But that is another story, and the topic of another post.

That union would be celebrated very soon, and the King of Spain wanted to ensure that the symmetrical promise of marriage between Marie-Anne-Victoire and Louis XV became no less irrevocable. Though the marriage, given the age of the parties, could not be consummated or even formally celebrated, it was agreed that the Infanta would be sent to France and treated as Queen there.

Louis XV child Gobert

Louis XV as a child by Gobert

A French envoy, the Duc de Saint-Simon, was dispatched to Madrid to deliver to the bride a “love letter” from her reluctant fiancé. Needless to say, Marie-Anne-Victoire, age three, could not read, but she nevertheless received the missive with perfect ease and poise. One had to hold her hand when she signed her marriage contract.

It is only when the Infanta crossed the Bidassoa River, which marked the border between Spain and France, and she was separated from the woman who had attended her since birth, that she lost her composure and began crying.

Against all rules, she was allowed to keep her wetnurse with her. Soon Marie-Anne-Victoire was reassured by that familiar presence and entertained by the countless dolls and toys sent from Paris. She had been greeted at the border by Louis XV’s beloved former governess, the Duchess of Ventadour, to whom had been assigned her French upbringing.

The cortege takes two months to reach the capital. In every town she crosses, the Infanta Queen, for such is her title now, is greeted by interminable speeches, through which she sits with a patience well beyond her tender years. She responds with gracious compliments, for she is already fluent in French.

Finally she arrives near Paris and meets the boy whom she already calls “my husband, the King.” She is, as usual, perfectly at ease but Louis XV, red in the face, only manages a single sentence of welcome in fifteen minutes.

The young King, shy and introverted under the best of circumstances, has nothing to say to this bride barely out of toddlerhood. Also, he had been orphaned almost as far as he could remember, and had developed a passionate attachment for his governess, Madame de Ventadour. Now he saw that lady engrossed by the delightful Marie-Anne-Victoire. Jealousy probably played a part in his resentment towards the little girl.

The Infanta Queen was nevertheless ready to make her solemn entrance into Paris in the midst of much popular rejoicing. Seated in the lap of the Duchess de Ventadour, she smiled at everyone, holding her favorite doll. Commemorative medals (below) were minted to celebrate the betrothal of the young cousins.

Louis XV Marie Anne Victoire

Louis XV and Marie Anne Victoire medal

The Court is then settled in the Tuileries, but the Regent decides that it is now time for Louis XV and his bride to move to Versailles, abandoned since the death of the late King. Marie-Anne-Victoire is of course given the Queen’s bedchamber and apartments. She is small for her age and still cannot reach her monumental bed without stepping on a stool.

Yet the little Queen adapts easily to the exigencies of her new role. By all accounts a precocious child, she learns to dine everyday in front of a crowd of strangers, for Versailles is open to all decently attired visitors. She also charms the royal family and courtiers, including the aging Princesse Palatine, mother of the Regent. She runs to the old lady and says, laughing: “I tell everyone that this doll is my child, but to you, Madam, I will admit that it is but a wax doll.”

But someone does not fall under the charm of the Infanta Queen: her “husband.” He remains sullen in her presence and tries his best to ignore her. When he cannot avoid addressing her, he keeps to “yes” or “no” answers. People assure her that his silence is a sure sign of affection. She is too bright to be fooled and facetiously tells one of the courtiers: “The King must like you very much, for he has not said a thing to you.”

Is it so strange that Louis XV would resent having this miniature Queen foisted upon him, while they are not even married? The two children could not be more different: he is diffident, reserved to the point of shyness, she enjoys being the center of attention at Court. To use a modern term, she is a natural. He struggles with the terrifying weight of the responsibilities that await him in a few years. She unwittingly reinforces his sense of inadequacy.

Marie Anne Victoire Infanta Queen

Marie Anne Victoire of Spain the Infanta Queen

Over the following years, things change: she has lost the charm of novelty, and the King is reaching his majority at fourteen in 1723. His opinion and feelings are beginning to matter. So his little Queen is not even invited to his coronation in the Cathedral of Reims. She is left behind at Versailles, and must be content with a few trinkets he brings back for her. From then on she is conspicuously absent from all important official occasions.

This of course reflects Louis XV’s personal feelings, but there is more: the Spanish alliance, which their marriage was supposed to seal, is unraveling. The other royal marriage, between the Regent’s daughter and the heir to the Spanish throne, has turned into both a private and very public disaster. Worse, in France the Regent himself dies of a stroke in the arms of his mistress. Another prince of the royal blood, the Duc de Bourbon, takes over, and he is no friend of Marie-Anne-Victoire.

Other problem: Louis XV has reached puberty early, and it is politically urgent that he sire a Dauphin since he has no brothers to succeed him. In case of a mishap, conflicting claims between the King of Spain and French princes of the royal would tear France and all of Europe apart.

On a personal level, the young King is very devout, and he  manifests the first signs of a voracious sexual appetite that will last till his death. He hunts and exercises with a passion to try and forget the call of the flesh, but he is becoming anxious to have a real wife. How does Marie-Anne-Victoire, now seven years old, fit in this situation?

The answer is easy: not at all. Louis XV, predictably, raises no objection when the Duc de Bourbon tells hi
m that she must be sent back to her parents sooner or later, and preferably sooner than later. Then Louis XV is suddenly taken ill. The Duc de Bourbon, after a sleepless night by the King’s bedside, seizes this opportunity to rid himself of Marie-Anne-Victoire.

The French Ambassador in Madrid is forthwith entrusted with the unenviable mission of breaking the news to her father, the King of Spain. This, of course, creates a diplomatic incident, and all the French in Madrid, including fifteen-year old Louise-Elisabeth d’Orléans, now widowed and Queen Dowager of Spain, are expelled unceremoniously.

Yet everyone tries to spare the feelings of Marie-Anne-Victoire. She is told that her parents are anxious to see her again, and she must meet them at the Spanish border. Cheerful as usual, she leaves Versailles with her wetnurse, apparently without suspecting the true reason for this unexpected journey. Louis XV has left the Palace earlier that day. He felt nodesire to say goodbye, or farewell, to this most unwelcome fiancee.

As we know, he would soon greet a true bride, Marie Leszczynska. Was his delight at this second match explained in part by the fact that the new bride was a real woman, a few years older than himself, instead of a little girl? Probably.

Queen Mariana Vitoria of Portugal

Queen Mariana Vitoria of Portugal

As for Marie-Anne-Victoire, she returned safely to Madrid, where she became again Infanta Mariana Victoria. Four years later, she was engaged again, to the Prince of Brazil, heir of the throne of Portugal. She was still only eleven, but this time the marriage would indeed be celebrated, and she would bear four daughters. The union, however, was marred by her husband’s infidelity and mental instability.

He nevertheless became King under the name of Joseph I in 1750, but delegated most powers to the famous, or infamous Marquis de Pombal. The former Infanta Queen was now Queen Mariana Vitoria.

A few years later, the capital of Portugal was destroyed by the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, which made a deep impression on the contemporaries and is remembered as one of the major natural catastrophes of the 18th century, and indeed in all of history.

Following the disaster, the King’s mental condition further deteriorated, and the Marquis de Pombal became the de facto ruler of Portugal. When the King was formally declared incompetent, Queen Mariana Vitoria briefly became Regent of Portugal, until her eldest daughter acceded to the throne in her own right under the name of Queen Maria of Portugal.

Queen Mariana Vitoria died in 1781, at the age of 62. Did she ever entertain any regrets for her early years at Versailles? She must have been disappointed, when she discovered the truth about her journey to Spain, to abandon her girlish dream of becoming Queen of France, but I very much doubt that this carried over into her adult life. She became Queen of Portugal at a crucial time in the history of that country. Hers was a full, if not always happy life.

As for Louis XV, his differences of temperament with his Infanta Queen, had she grown in Versailles to become his wife, would have been enough to guarantee a very difficult marriage.

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