Countess of Barcelona, Francisco Franco, House of Bourbon, House of Bourbon-Two-Sicilies, Infante Juan of Spain, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies
Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Countess of Barcelona (December 23, 1910 – January 2, 2000) was a Spanish noblewoman who married Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona, the claimant to the Spanish throne.
María was born in Madrid, daughter of Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Infante of Spain, a grandson of King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, and his second wife, Princess Louise of Orléans, daughter of Prince Philippe, Count of Paris, a pretender to the French throne.
She was granted, at birth, the rank and precedence of an infanta of Spain, although not the actual use of the title itself, her own being Princess of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. Her family moved to Seville, when her father was made Captain General of that province. When the Second Spanish Republic forced them into exile, they lived in Cannes and later in Paris, where she studied art at the Louvre.
On January 14, 1935, at a party, in Rome, hosted by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy for the wedding next day of Infanta Beatriz of Spain, daughter of King Alfonso XIII, to Alessandro Torlonia, 5th Prince of Civitella-Cesi, she met the brother of the bride, her second cousin and future husband, the Infante Juan of Spain, fourth son and designated heir of Alfonso XIII and his wife Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
Infante Juan became heir apparent to the defunct Spanish throne after the renunciations of his two older brothers, Infante Alfonso and infante Jaime, in 1933. To assert his claim to the throne, following his father’s death he used the title of Count of Barcelona, a sovereign title associated with the Spanish crown.
They married in Rome on October 12, 1935. When her husband took up the title Count of Barcelona as a title of pretence on March 8, 1941, María became the Countess of Barcelona. They had four children.
1. Infanta Pilar, Duchess of Badajoz (July 30, 1936 – January 8, 2020)
2. King Juan Carlos I of Spain (born January 5, 1938)
3. Infanta Margarita, Duchess of Soria (born March 6, 1939)
4. Infante Alfonso of Spain (October 3, 1941 – March 29, 1956)
They lived in Cannes and Rome, and, with the outbreak of World War II, they moved to Lausanne to live with Infante Juan’s mother Queen Victoria Eugenie. Afterwards, they resided at Estoril, on the Portuguese Riviera.
When General Francisco Franco declared Spain a monarchy in 1947, he characterized it as a “restoration”. However, Franco was afraid that Juan would roll back the Spanish State because he favoured a constitutional monarchy, which would restore parliamentary democracy. As a result, in 1969, Franco passed over Juan in favour of Juan’s son, Juan Carlos, who Franco believed would be more likely to continue his dictatorship after his death.
In 1953, the Countess represented the Spanish Royal Family at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.
In 1976, one year after the monarchy was restored in Spain in the person of her son, Juan Carlos, they returned to Spain. She mediated between her son and her husband, estranged since Juan Carlos had been designated heir by Franco.
In 1977 Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona, formally renounced his rights to the Spanish throne eight years after being displaced as recognised heir to the throne by Franco. In return, his son officially granted him the title of Count of Barcelona, which he had claimed for so long.
After his death in 1993, he was buried with honours due a king, under the name Juan III (his title if he had become king) in the Royal Crypt of the monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial, near Madrid.
The Countess of Barcelona broke her hip in 1982 and the left femur in 1985, which forced her to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She became a widow in 1993 with the death of her husband the Count of Barcelona.
The Countess of Barcelona was a fervid fan of bull fighting and of the Andalusian culture. In 1995, her granddaughter Infanta Elena married in Seville in part because the Countess’ love for the city.
The Countess of Barcelona died of a heart attack in the Royal Residence of La Mareta, in Lanzarote, where the royal family had gathered to celebrate the New Year. She was buried with the honors of a queen at the Royal Crypt of the monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, near Madrid.