Maria Theresa of Spain: Betrayal, Incest, and Black Baby Rumors
Maria Theresa of Spain was an infanta (meaning ‘princess’) of the Spanish Empire who lived during the 17 th century. She belonged to the Spanish branch of the House of Habsburg, and is best-known for being the Queen of France as a result of her marriage to the French king, Louis XIV. She is known as a woman who was accepting of being married off to her cousin, loyal to her cheating husband, poised in the face of accusations and fiercely protective of her children.
Maria Theresa’s Family History Resulted in Childhood Loneliness
Maria Theresa of Spain was born on the 10 th of September 1638. Her father was Philip IV of Spain, while her mother was Elisabeth of France. When Maria Theresa was six years old, her mother died. Two years later, in 1646, her older brother Balthasar Charles, who was Philip IV’s heir, died as well. Balthasar was betrothed to his cousin, Mariana of Austria. As Philip had lost his wife and Mariana her betrothed, the two (who were uncle and niece) married in 1649 – such incestuous relations within a royal family were deemed acceptable at the time as a means of perpetuating the royal lineage.
The remainder of Maria Theresa’s childhood is said to have been lonely, as she was neglected by her stepmother, who was merely four years older than her.
A portrait of Maria Theresa of Spain, by Jean Nocret. (Public Domain)
How Did the Thirty Years War Shape Maria Theresa of Spain’s Future?
In the meantime, a war was being fought between Spain and France. This war began when the latter entered the Thirty Years War on the side of the Protestants in 1635. Spain, on the other hand, supported the Catholics. Although the Thirty Years War ended in 1648, the conflict between Spain and France continued until 1659. By this time, both parties were growing weary of the war and sought to negotiate peace. In order to secure peace, a union between the royal families of Spain (the Habsburgs) and France (the Bourbons) was proposed.
Maria Theresa and Louis XIV – A Marriage to Unite Countries
The negotiations between Spain and France resulted in the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which included an arrangement for marriage between Maria Theresa and Louis XIV of France, who were double first cousins. These negotiations were complicated and one of the issues that had to be resolved was that of succession. As Spain had no Salic Law, it was possible for women to inherit the Spanish throne. Following the death of her brother, Balthasar, Maria Theresa held the title of heir presumptive, which she retained until the birth of her half-brother Philip Prospero in 1657. Under the Treaty of the Pyrenees, Maria Theresa was forced to renounce all her claims on the Spanish throne prior to her marriage. In return, she was to receive a monetary settlement as part of her dowry, though this was never paid.
Marriage of Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa of Spain. (Krishna / CC BY-SA 2.0)
In June 1660, Maria Theresa and Louis XIV were married in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, in the south-western part of France. Although Louis XIV was faithful to his wife at the beginning of the marriage, the Sun King soon began having affairs with other women. In 1661, for instance, Louise de La Vallerie became the king’s first official mistress. Maria Theresa is described as being a timid, patient, naïve, and a sweet-natured woman. She stayed away from the social intrigues of the French court and developed a close relationship with her mother-in-law, Anne of Austria, who was also Maria Theresa’s paternal aunt. Both of them being pious women, Maria Theresa and Anne would spend time visiting convents and other religious institutions.
The Rumor about Maria Theresa of Spain’s Black Baby
Despite her piety and her faithfulness to the king, a vicious rumor circulated around the French court that Maria Theresa had given birth to an illegitimate black baby. Historians, however, are of the opinion that the baby was not black but had dark purplish skin as a consequence of oxygen deprivation, and that it soon died after its birth. Another part of the story involves a Benedictine nun by the name of Louise Marie Thérèse, known also as the ‘Black Nun of Moret’. The nun claimed royal descent. If it did involve the French royal family, it is more likely that she was the illegitimate child of Louis XIV rather than of Maria Theresa.
Maria Theresa of Spain’s Children Were Her Priority
Throughout her reign as Queen of France, Maria Theresa showed little interest in accumulating political power. This is evident, for instance, when she was appointed as regent in 1672 during the Franco-Dutch War. Instead, she placed great importance on her role as a mother, making sure that her son received a proper education.
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Queen Maria Theresa and her son the Dauphin of France. (museodelprado / Public Domain)
One of the lesser known contributions that Maria Theresa made to France is the introduction of chocolate to the kingdom. As a result of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, cacao was introduced into Europe. Maria Theresa herself was a great lover of chocolate. Before her marriage to Louis XIV she gave her future husband a beautifully-decorated chest containing chocolate as an engagement gift. The king became an instant fan of this treat and brought it to the attention of the rest of Europe.
How did Maria Theresa of Spain Die?
Maria Theresa died at the age of 45 on the 30 th of July 1683, after returning from a tour of Burgundy and Alsace. Back in Versailles, the queen fell ill and died suddenly from complications related to an abscess. When the king heard of his wife’s death, he did not mourn but instead is reported to have said “This is the first time she’s caused me any bother.”
Marie Theresa of Spain’s burial site at the Basilica of Saint Denis. (Krischnig / Public Domain)
Top image: Meeting on the Isle of Pheasants, June 1660; Maria Theresa is handed over to the French and her husband by proxy, Louis XIV. Photo source: (alteesses.eu / Public Domain)
By Wu Mingren
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