Princess Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, Princess of Bulgaria

by Scott Mehl

source: Wikipedia

Princess Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, Princess of Bulgaria

Princess Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma was the first wife of the future Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria. She was born Princess Maria Luisa Pia Teresa Anna Ferdinanda Francesca Antonietta Margherita Giuseppina Caroline Bianca Lucia Apollonia of Bourbon-Parma on January 17, 1870 in Rome. Maria Luisa was the eldest child of Robert I, Duke of Parma and his first wife, Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, and had 11 younger siblings:

  • Prince Ferdinando (1871) – died in infancy
  • Princess Luisa Maria (1872) – unmarried
  • Prince Enrico (1873) – unmarried
  • Princess Maria Immacolata (1874) – unmarried
  • Prince Giuseppe (1875) – unmarried
  • Princess Maria Teresa (1876) – unmarried
  • Princess Maria Pia (1877) – unmarried
  • Princess Beatrice (1879) – married Pietro Lucchesi-Palli, had issue
  • Prince Elias (1880) – married Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, had issue
  • Princess Maria Anastasia (1881) died in infancy
  • stillborn son (1882)

Her mother died in childbirth in 1882, and two years later, her father married Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal and had another 12 children:

Princess Maria Luisa was raised primarily in Switzerland, in the care of English governesses. Artistically gifted, she became fluent in five languages and enjoyed painting and music.

In 1892, her father began to arrange a marriage for Maria Luisa to the reigning Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria. He and Ferdinand’s mother went through extensive negotiations in order to make the match possible. One of the biggest obstacles was religion. Maria Luisa’s family was staunchly Catholic and insisted that any children would be raised in the Catholic Church. Ferdinand was also Catholic and had been permitted to remain so when elected Prince of Bulgaria. However, the Bulgarian constitution required that any future Prince be a member of the Orthodox Church. This would mean that Ferdinand’s heir could not be raised Catholic. Capitalizing on the exceptions which had been given to both Ferdinand and his predecessor, Alexander of Battenberg, the Prime Minister Stefan Stambolov quickly had the constitution amended to provide another exception for Ferdinand’s heir.

Maria Luisa and Ferdinand, 1893. source: Wikipedia

With this final issue resolved, the engagement was announced in August 1892. Being a truly arranged marriage, it would be on their engagement day that Maria Luisa and Ferdinand met for the first time. They married on April 20, 1893 at Villa Pianore, the Duke of Parma’s residence in Lucca, Italy. They had four children:

Maria Luisa with her sons, Boris and Kiril, 1896. source: Wikipedia

Less than two years after the birth of their first son, Boris, Ferdinand decided that he would have his son baptized in the Orthodox church, despite the agreements made at the time of their marriage. This was part of his efforts to be recognized by the new Russia Tsar, Nicholas II, as sovereign of Bulgaria. Maria Luisa, supported by both her family and her mother-in-law, argued strongly against the conversion but Ferdinand insisted. Prince Boris was received into the Orthodox church, with Tsar Nicholas II as his godparent. Maria Luisa left the country in protest, not returning until the late spring of 1896. The rest of their children were raised Catholic.

source: Wikipedia

Maria Luisa’s marriage, which had been strictly for political and dynastic reasons, was not a happy one. Having given birth to three children, and expecting a fourth, within 5 years had taken a toll on her already frail health. She developed pneumonia while pregnant with her youngest child, and died on January 31, 1899, just a day after giving birth. She was just 29 years old. Princess Maria Luisa was buried in the Cathedral of Saint Louis of France, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

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