Isabel II, an early queen

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Isabel II, an early queen

If there ever was a queen in Spanish history whose life was marked by the political upheavals of the time, this was Isabel II. She had to rule a country in one of the most unstable periods of the 19th century, which was characterised by the changes caused by the liberal revolution. The writer Benito Pérez Galdós called her ‘the woman of the sad destiny’ because from an early age she was forced to assume responsibilities which she was unprepared to cope with.

Her birth was full of controversy as in order to exercise her royal rights, her father, Ferdinand VII, had to proclaim the Pragmatic Sanction and the Salica Law, which banned women from the throne, was left without any legal effect. Until then, the heir was her uncle Carlos María Isidro, but he never accepted his niece as his successor. This caused a conflict that would end up in the Carlist Wars.

Isabel II did not have a normal childhood. Two aspects would mark her personality in several ways: the absence of her mother’s affections and the poor education received owing to attending state matters. This circumstance would favour her condition as a victim of intrigues instigated by the lobby of the moment.

Until Isabel came of age, her mother María Cristina reigned. She was not respected and rumours said that she was involved in corruption scandals. In contrast, Isabel represented the hopes of a political liberalism that would ask for more and more changes.

However, the parties’ struggle for power would hasten the reign of the young girl, who had to rule the country’s fate at only thirteen years of age. In the midst of political crises, she dissolved Parliament under pressure. It was said that Salustiano Olózaga, leader of the Progressive Party, had twisted the young girl’s arm in order to obey his orders.

Under such circumstances, it was no wonder that the future royal marriage was considered almost a question of State. Among the many candidates proposed, Carlos María Isidro stands out, an alliance that would have ended the dynastic problem. However, Isabel was not willing to share the crown. Francisco de Asís won, the most politically harmless pretender. He was first cousin to Isabel II and people make fun of his effeminate personality through numerous songs.

As might have been expected, differences between the couple began at an early stage. The queen’s life was one long party. She went to bed at five a.m. and woke up at three p.m. She had no objections either to going to the theatre or dancing and paid no attention to comments. Her husband, on the other hand, frequented the company of Antonio Ramón Meneses, who would be his close companion.

While Isabel increased her list of lovers, the situation in Spain grew worse. The army, headed by O'Donnel, rose in revolt, and the sovereign observed some of the reforms proposed. The harsh repression ordered by the queen undermined the regime, which collapsed on 28th September 1868.

Isabel II went into exile to France at the age of thirty eight. Napoleon III waited for her at Biarritz to escort her to Paris where she died on 16th April 1904 due to influenza complications. Her remains were carried to El Escorial. Pérez Gáldos interviewed her before she died and said: “Isabel lived in an everlasting childhood and the worst of her misfortunes was to have been born queen and have to rule a country, a hard task for such a tender hand”.