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Maria Christina: Spain’s Beloved Queen Regent

Queen Maria Christina of Spain with her two daughters and the young King
 Alfonso XIII. Image:  Wikimedia Commons

Maria Christina Henriette Desideria Felicitas Raineria was Queen Consort of King Alfonso XII of Spain. After his death, she was Spain's Queen Regent until his son, Alfonso XIII obtained majority.

She was born at Židlochovice Castle near Brno, in Moravia (today part of Czech Republic), on July 21, 1858. Her father was  Archduke Karl Ferdinand of Austria while her mother was Archduchess Elisabeth Franziska of Austria.

In her youth, Maria Christina was described as "tall, fair, sensible, and well educated." Her family lived in their estate in Moravia and her childhood was spent “a life of quiet and agreeable seclusion” far from the court in Vienna. A well-endowed lady, Maria Christina enjoyed a handsome income of fifteen thousand marks a year, not to mention the palaces and castles which her family owned. The Archduchess joined the order of Chanoinesses, which was a lay establishment in Prague for ladies of noble birth. Maria Christina was the abbess of her chapter although she was not required to make any vow.

On November 29, 1879, she married King Alfonso XII of Spain at the Basilica of Atocha, Madrid. Prior to their marriage, the King had a wife, Princess Mercedes of Orleans. Alas, less than a year later, the queen consort died and "the whole of Europe had been touched and painfully interested by the untimely and premature death of Queen Mercedes." Maria Christina, thus, initially balked at the idea of becoming the next Queen of Spain, "irresolute" of the prospects of marrying the widower king. Eventually, "scruples" were overcome.

The marriage set Madrid in festive mood; the Spaniards rejoiced with the coming of their new queen! Alfonso's mother,  the deposed Queen Isabella II, was permitted to attend the wedding. The regiments "played the reveille" outside the Royal Palace before marching around the streets.

The warm reception given to the Austrian archduchess was evident. "The streets and balconies were thronged with people." Houses were "decorated and triumphal arches were erected" in many areas.

Maria Christina wore a "white, rich gown." She looked more stunning with the "diadem of brilliants" and the insignia of the Order of Marie Louise. The church was described as "splendidly illuminated," exuberant with the seemingly endless draperies hung inside. The mass was officiated by the Cardinal Patriarch of the Indies. After the ceremony, the king and his new queen drove around the city escorted by "a brilliant cortege." She easily charmed the Spaniards by her grace and character and "was enthusiastically greeted by the populace"wherever she went. 

Christina gave birth to two daughters: Infanta María de las Mercedes of Spain, who married Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Two Sicilies; and Infanta María Teresa of Spain, who married Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria.



The Queen was pregnant with their third child when King Alfonso XIII died of dysentery. The throne was declared vacant until Maria Christina gave birth to their third child:  if a male was to be born, that child would become king, if a female, her elder daughter, Infanta María Mercedes, would take the throne. A son was born who took the name Alfonso XIII and Maria Christina was proclaimed Queen Regent until the King attained his majority in 1902. 

Despite the sorrow following the king's death, the birth of Alfonso brought joy to the Queen Regent and her two daughters. He was the apple of their eyes. In fact, the Queen wished she could nurse his son. But she was deprived of this pleasure given her station and the fact that her baby was no ordinary infant. He was King of Spain! So she had to give her up to the care of an 'ama' (nurse) who was described as "so swarthy and dark that they called her in the palace 'La Africana'." The Queen, who was said to be fond of "simplicity," often spent her nights making small garments for the baby king.

While her regency saw the loss of Cuba and the Philippines as Spanish colonies in 1898, she was nevertheless praised as for balance and respect for the constitutional rights. In fact, many political reforms were introduced during her regency to prevent political conflicts and chaos in a bid to preserve the crown for her son until he became an adult.


With King Alfonso XIII’s marriage to Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, Maria Christina lost her position as first lady at court, but she still continued to wield influence in court. Her death on February 6, 1929, due to heart disease was a serious blow on Alphonso XIII. Her estate was valued at $1,000,000. Because she left no will, a third of it went to King Alfonso XIII and the remainder was divided among her sisters' heirs. Two years after, the monarchy collapsed and he was deposed after a plebiscite in favor of a republic.


References:

1.    King Alfonso's wedding (1879, November 29). New York Times.
2.    The Infant King of Spain (1886, June 6). New York Times
3.    Archduchess Elizabeth dead (1903, February 15). New York Times.
4.    Queen Mother of Spain: death of Maria Christina (1929, February 6). The Argus
5.    Spanish King shares in mother's estate (1929, June 14). New York Times.

6.    Marriage of the King of Spain (1879, Dec. 3). Launceton Examiner

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