| Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
| link to a Google search page HERE
Maria Amalia, Queen of Naples
Painting by Louis de Silvestre (1675-1760)There are a number of strong, interesting women who played major roles in the history of southern Italy and the Kingdom of Naples. In medieval times, there was the marvelous Sichelgaita and Maria d'Enghien; the bad news back then came in the persons of Joan I and Joan II ( strong and interesting, yes, but definitely not marvelous). Later, specifically in the history of Bourbon Naples, we have Elizabeth Farnese, Maria Carolina (queen consort of Ferdinand IV); the revolutionary leader, Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel; Maria Cristina of Savoy, and Maria Sophia (the last queen of Naples). Among those often overlooked was the German princess, Maria Amalia of Saxony (1724–60). She married Charles III, the first Bourbon monarch of the kingdom of Naples and became queen consort. In spite of being overshadowed by her forceful, dynasty-founding husband, she played a prominent role in shaping the kingdom.
In the 1700s, even if you were a princess—no, wait—especially if you were a princess, you had pretty much no say at all in your own future. None. Your marriage was arranged, and your job was to go make babies for your king. If you were lucky, maybe you got Prince Charming; if not, you wound up with the frog. Maria Amalia was lucky, and so was her husband.
Maria Amalia of Saxony (1724–60) was a German princess, born in Dresden. She was born into the House of Wettin, a northern German dynasty that also produced a string of Georges and one Victoria for the British throne. She was baptized with the normal royal boatload of monikers: Maria Amalia Christina Franziska Xaveria Flora Walburga. She was one of 15 children. (That was not at all uncommon in 18th-century royal families. Given the high infant mortality rate and incidence of inbred mental defectiveness in those who survived birth, royal families were lucky to get even one good prospective monarch to carry on the line and a few others to marry off.) Maria Amalia grew up at the courts of Dresden and Warsaw. Her marriage to Charles III, king of Naples, was arranged by Charles' mother, Elizabeth Farnese. They were married by proxy in May of 1738 in Dresden with Maria Amalia's brother standing in for Charles. The couple met for the first time in June in the village of Portella in the northern part of the kingdom of Naples, not far from Monte Cassino. Maria Amalia entered the city of Naples in July and was well received. She was then officially the queen of Naples and Sicily and would remain so from 1738 until 1759, during which time, by all accounts, she remained well-liked. In 1759 she left for Spain with her husband when he abdicated in Naples to assume the Spanish throne. She was then Queen of Spain for the short time left to her until her death from tuberculosis the next year at the age of 36. I underscore the point about "making babies for your king": Maria Amalia was married at 14, gave birth at 15, and, in all, bore seven offspring who survived into adulthood and six others(!) who died at birth or of childhood illnesses.
Sources say that king Charles III and Maria Amalia hit it off immediately. They genuinely liked each other and were, in non-royal terms, a "happy family." She knew how to ride a horse and accompanied her husband on hunting trips and once she gave him a son, she took her place on the council of state where she was not shy about mixing in political affairs. She could break the careers of those whom she disliked and make the careers of her favorites, one of whom was Bernardo Tanucci, the astute foreign minister who would also be regent to her son Ferdinand, when he became child-king of Naples at the departure of Charles and Maria Amalia for Spain.
Maria Amalia was particularly active in promoting the various prestigious construction projects that Charles had in mind for building the kingdom of Naples into one that would rank alongside other European monarchies. She had much influence on the construction of the vast royal palaces at Caserta, Portici, and Capodimonte (with its porcelain factory) and even the San Carlo theater. Those structures have all survived in one form or another and today remain iconic of Naples.
to main index to history portal