Elisabeth Farnese (1692 – 1766)
Officially, Queen Consort of Spain. Only daughter of Odoardo II Farnese, Duke of Parma, son of Ranuccio II Farnese, Duke of Parma. On her mother’s side, she had ties to several German houses: the Elector Palatine of the Rhine, Hesse-Darmstadt, Saxony, Brandenburg, Prussia, Cleves, Cleves-Jülich, Cleves-Jülich-Berg, not to mention the Imperial House itself. A description from 1721, by the French Ambassador, Saint-Simon (when she was 28): “The Queen shocked me by her face, marked, scarred, much disfigured by smallpox… She was well-built, at that time thin, but her throat and shoulders beautiful, shapely, full and white, as were her arms and hands; a well-set figure, an easy carriage, slender and short waist; she spoke French very well, with a slight Italian accent; the words well-chosen and found without effort; her voice and enunciation most agreeable. A gracious, constant, natural charm, without the slightest affectation, accompanied her conversation, and varied her expression. She united an air of kindness and of politeness, of the precise degree appropriate, often amounting to a friendly familiarity, with a dignity and majesty which never left her. From this combination it came about that when one had the honour of seeing her privately, always, be it noted, in the presence of the King, one felt at one’s ease, without being able to forget who she was, and one was soon accustomed to her face…”
Ambitious, and containing a fiery, imperious temper, she was kept in seclusion until married by proxy at twenty-one to Philip V of Spain (1714). The Prince of Monaco’s report on her “advantages” included the following statement: “Heart of a Lombard, wit of a Florentine; she has a will of her own.” The marriage was arranged by Cardinal Alberoni and the Princess Orsini,
the pre-eminent woman at the Spanish Court, who hoped to keep Elisabeth under her thumb. This she completely failed to do, and found herself dismissed. Elisabeth very quickly gained ascendancy over her weak husband.
In her early years she was guided by Cardinal Alberoni as the two Italians sought to reacquire Spanish territory in Italy. Elisabeth was so keen that when the French threatened to invade Spain she placed herself at the head of a portion of the Spanish army. Although Sardinia and Sicily were taken, the Quadruple Alliance against Spain dashed her hopes. One condition of the peace terms was the dismissal of Alberoni, another, the return of Sicily. To make matters worse, Philip V abdicated in favour of his heir. However, the young king died after reigning only seven months, and Philip was recalled.
As Philip took less and less interested in affairs of state, and more and more interest in his diseases, real or imaginary, Elisabeth began to direct Spain’s policy. Distrusting advice from the Court (remembering the Princess Orsini) she took no counsel, and began to focus her efforts on
obtaining duchies in Italy for her sons – regardless of the cost to Spanish interests. In 1736, during the War of the Polish Succession, her son Don Carlos obtained the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies by force of arms. Don Carlos became King of Spain in later life. Spanish involvement in the War of the Austrian Succession revolved solely around the need to give a duchy to Elisabeth’s other son, Don Felipe. (She had a third surviving son, Infante Luis Antonio, but he was early put in holy orders, and had been Primate of Spain since 1735). At the end of the war, Don Felipe was made Duke of Parma, founding the line of Bourbon-Parma. King Philip died in 1746, at which point Elisabeth lost all influence in Spain and was forced into retirement. She survived her husband by some twenty years.
To be continued..............