by Scott Mehl
Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, King Consort of Portugal
He was born Ferdinand August Franz Anton on October 29, 1816 in Vienna, the eldest child of Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Princess Maria Antonia Koháry de Csábrág. Ferdinand had three younger siblings:
- Prince August (1818) – married Princess Clémentine of Orléans, had issue including Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria
- Princess Victoria (1822) – married Louis, Duke of Nemours, had issue
- Prince Leopold (1824) – married Constanze Geiger, had issue
Ferdinand married Queen Maria II of Portugal in Lisbon on April 9, 1836, and was created Prince Consort. The marriage, arranged by Ferdinand’s uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium, proved to be a happy one. Over the next seventeen years, they had eleven children:
- King Pedro V of Portugal (1837) – married Princess Stephanie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, no issue
- King Luís of Portugal (1838) – married Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, had issue
- Infanta Maria (1840) – stillborn
- Infante João, Duke of Beja (1842) – unmarried
- Infanta Maria Ana (1843) – married King Georg of Saxony, had issue
- Infanta Antónia (1845) – married Leopold, Prince of Hohenzollern, had issue (including King Ferdinand of Romania)
- Infante Fernando (1846) – died as a teen
- Infante Augusto, Duke of Coimbra (1847) – unmarried
- Infante Leopoldo (1849) – stillborn
- Infanta Maria de Glória (1851) – died just after birth
- Infante Eugénio (1853) – died just after birth
In keeping with tradition, Ferdinand was elevated to King Consort following the birth of their eldest son, the future King Pedro V. Although titled as King, Ferdinand preferred to stay out of politics and left the affairs of state to his wife. He instead focused his attention on the arts. However, like his cousin Albert, Ferdinand often stood in for his wife during her numerous pregnancies. The Queen supported Ferdinand’s love of the arts and his interest in maintaining and restoring the architectural heritage of many buildings and monuments in Portugal. In the late 1830s, Ferdinand purchased the former monastery of Our Lady of Pena and its surrounding land, as well as the nearby Castle of the Moors, located in the Sintra Mountains. Having stood unused for some time, the buildings at the monastery were in desperate need of repair. Ferdinand restored them, and also built around them a stunning palace which would serve as a summer residence for the royal family. The Pena National Palace is today a national monument and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is now used for State functions.
On November 15, 1853, Queen Maria II died after giving birth to their last child. Ferdinand served as Regent for his eldest son, the new King Pedro V, until he became of age. In 1862, after the overthrow of King Otto of Greece, Ferdinand was named as a candidate for the Greek throne, which he quickly declined. And several years later, after the overthrow of Queen Isabella II of Spain, he was offered the Spanish throne. Again, he declined, preferring to enjoy his private life.
On June 10, 1869, in Lisbon, Ferdinand married again. His wife, Elise Hensler, was a Swiss-born American actress, who he first met in 1860 when she was performing in an opera in Lisbon. A relationship quickly began, as the two found their shared passion for arts and gardening. Just before they married, Ferdinand’s cousin, Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, created Elise Countess of Edla in her own right. They had no children. Ferdinand and Elise lived at the Pena National Palace where the indulged their love of gardening and continued their unyielding support for the arts, including sponsoring several noted Portuguese artists and musicians.
King Ferdinand died in Lisbon on December 15, 1885, survived by only three of his children. He is buried beside his first wife in the Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza, at the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon.
Several years after Ferdinand’s death, his widow sold his estates, including the Pena National Palace and the Palace of the Moors, to Ferdinand’s grandson, King Carlos I. The Countess of Edla survived her husband by 44 years. She passed away in Lisbon on May 21, 1929, and is buried in the Prazeres Cemetery in Lisbon.