Pocket Profiles · Spain

Pocket Profile – María de las Mercedes of Orléans

Thank you to our Baguette Iselen for this Pocket Profile on the tragic María de las Mercedes of Orléans. Sad as it is, it is a piece history most of us are not aware of!

María de las Mercedes of Orléans (24 June 1860 – 26 June 1878) was the daughter of Antoine of Orléans, Duke of Montpensier, and Infanta Luisa Fernanda of Spain. That made her a niece of Queen Isabella II of Spain but also a granddaughter of King Louis Phillipe of France and Queen Maria Amelia of Naples and Sicily. She was a niece of Louise Marie, the first Queen of the Belgians, and a cousin of Charlotte, who married Empress Sissi’s brother in law and ended up being the Empress of Mexico.

Young Maria, Wikimedia Commons

Despite her connections and impeccable pedigree, she had a very happy, quiet, free and relaxed childhood in Seville, far away from royal courts and enjoying the beautiful garden of San Telmo palace. The problem was that her father, the ambitious Duke of Montpensier, expected to be named king after his sister in law, Isabella, was sent to exile to Paris. He even financed the revolution against her, but the First Republic was proclaimed and Montpensier’s plans were revealed. Queen Isabella hated him and other royal courts thought he was not a man they could trust. While her husband was scheming, Infanta Luisa Fernanda was a devoted mother and raised well-mannered children, not specially cultured, but friendly, not full of themselves or snobs. 

Photograph of Teenaged Maria, Wikimedia Commons

The daughter’s laid-back personality caught the eye of King Alfonso XII. He was Mercedes’ first cousin. Mercedes was beautiful and funny too, without artifices but not simple, a naughty 17 years old teen that everybody loved. Even Queen Isabella admitted she hated her father but had nothing against Mercedes. The Queen would’ve preferred her son to marry any other princess but he was madly in love and and Isabella supported him.

The Spanish government was not happy at all with the situation. The restoration of the monarchy was very recent, Spaniards were famous for their mood swings and one false move could ruin it all and lead to another revolution. Montpensier’s daughter was not the best choice according to them, since her father could plot against Alfonso through the girl. But Alfonso was adamant: Mercedes would be his wife or he wouldn’t get married. He needed the permission of the Congress of Deputies, they argued about the problem for days till one of them took the floor and said: “Gentlemen, we all agree on the fact that princess Mercedes is an angel… we can’t fight about angels.” 

The “angel” Mercedes

Alfonso married Mercedes in Madrid on 23 January 1878… and she died 6 months later on 26 June 1878, at 18 years old. For long years, we thought she died of typhoid fever and also some experts thought she was already suffering from tuberculosis before that. But also, she had a miscarriage in May and the gynecologist didn’t clean the uterus properly after that so we have a new diagnosis of septicemia now. Who knows? The point is that her death turned her into a legend and saved the monarchy, probably. King Alfonso collapsed publicly during her funeral, before the eyes of all the citizens of Madrid, and they loved him for that. The entire country went into a catharsis of pain and sorrow, they supported the king unconditionally and the idea of a revolution was soon forgotten. 

Alfonso and Maria

But the king had no heir and had to marry again a year later. Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria was the chosen one, she was not beautiful or graceful like Mercedes, but she had “finesse” according to Alfonso and, even if she didn’t speak Spanish, she learnt a few words before coming to Spain to make sure Madrid people understood she was not there to replace Mercedes in their hearts. Crista was not loved by her people but she was respected and they really appreciated her gesture. 

Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria

María de las Mercedes became the role model of what a queen and a royal love marriage should be. They wrote songs about her, very popular “romances” that the king loved to listen to through the palace windows because children sang them while playing on the streets. 

Where are you going Alfonso XII?
Where are you going, sad man?
I’m going in search of Mercedes,
I didn’t see her yesterday afternoon.

Or this one: 

Maria de las Mercedes
Oh my Sevillian rose!
Why are you leaving me overnight?
I’m wounded by love,
And my heartbreak is painful
Because you leave my life
At the age of 18

You’re on your way to heaven

Without a son to inherit you
Spain is dressed in mourning
And the King has no consolation

Goodbye beautiful princess
You can’t kiss me anymore
Goodbye little rose face
Goodbye my dear wife
Maria de las Mercedes

Spanish people still cry when listening to these old and sad songs. The royal romance was made into a film in the movie ¿Where are you going, Alfonso XII? (1958). María de las Mercedes was played by Paquita Rico who was very beautiful and very popular. This film had a sequel called ¿Where are you going, sad man? (1960). 

Mercedes was buried in the chapel of San Juan of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. She could not be buried in the pantheon of kings, reserved for queens who had an heir to the throne. On November 8, 2000, with the authorization of Juan Carlos, her remains were transferred to the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid, in fulfillment of the wish that Alfonso XII had expressed at the time.