Marie Thérèse of Spain (September 10, 1638 – July 30, 1683), was by birth an Infanta of Spain and Portugal (until 1640) and Archduchess of Austria as member of the Spanish branch of the House of Habsburg and by marriage Queen of France and Navarre.
Born at the Royal Monastery of El Escorial, she was the daughter of King Felipe IV-III of Spain and Portugal, and his wife Elisabeth of France, who died when Maria Thérèse was six years old. As a member of the House of Austria, Maria Theresa was entitled to use the title Archduchess of Austria. She was known in Spain as María Teresa de Austria and in France as Marie Thérèse d’Autriche. She was raised by the royal governess Luisa Magdalena de Jesus.
Unlike France, the kingdom of Spain had no Salic Law, so it was possible for a female to assume the throne. When Marie Thérèse’s brother Balthasar Carlos died in 1646, she became heir presumptive to the vast Spanish Empire and remained such until the birth of her brother Felipe Prospero, in 1657. She was briefly heir presumptive once more between 1–6 November 1661, following the death of Prince Felipe Prospero and until the birth of Prince Carlos, who would later inherit the thrones of Spain as Carlos II.
In 1658, as war with France began to wind down, a union between the royal families of Spain and France was proposed as a means to secure peace. Maria Thérèsa and the French king were double first cousins: Louis XIV’s father was Louis XIII of France, who was the brother of Maria Thérèsa’s mother, while her father was brother to Anne of Austria, Louis XIV’s mother.
Spanish procrastination led to French Princess Christine Marie started communicating with France in order to secure a marriage between her daughter Margherita Violante and the young Louis XIV of France. Margaret Yolande of Savoy was the first cousin to Louis XIV, and the fifth child born to Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy and his wife Christine Marie of France, daughter of Henri IV of France and Marie de’ Medici.
Negotiations with France and Savoy went as far as Louis XIV and Margherita Violante, known to the French as Marguerite Yolande de Savoie, meeting the French royal family at Lyon on October 26, 1658. The French entourage included the Dowager Queen, Louis XIV, Philippe d’Anjou, la Grande Mademoiselle and Marie Mancini. The French were impressed by her appearance despite saying her skin was too tanned. They also said she was a quiet girl.
When Felipe IV of Spain heard of a meeting at Lyon between the Houses of France and Savoy he reputedly exclaimed of the Franco-Savoyard union that “it cannot be, and will not be”. Felipe then sent a special envoy to the French court to open negotiations for peace and a royal marriage.
The negotiations for the marriage contract were intense. Eager to prevent a union of the two countries or crowns, especially one in which Spain would be subservient to France, the diplomats sought to include a renunciation clause that would deprive Maria Theresa and her children of any rights to the Spanish succession. This was eventually done but, by the skill of Mazarin and his French diplomats, the renunciation and its validity were made conditional upon the payment of a large dowry. As it turned out, Spain, impoverished and bankrupt after decades of war, was unable to pay such a dowry, and France never received the agreed upon sum of 500,000 écus.
A marriage by proxy to the French king was held in Fuenterrabia. Her father and the entire Spanish court accompanied the bride to the Isle of Pheasants on the border in the Bidassoa river, where Louis and his court met her in the meeting on the Isle of Pheasants on June 7, 1660, and she entered France. On June 9, the marriage took place in Saint-Jean-de-Luz at the recently rebuilt church of Saint Jean the Baptist. After the wedding, Louis wanted to consummate the marriage as quickly as possible. The new queen’s mother-in-law (and aunt) arranged a private consummation instead of the public one that was the custom.
On August 26, 1660, the newlyweds made the traditional Joyous Entry into Paris. Louis was faithful to his wife for the first year of their marriage, commanding the Grand Maréchal du Logis that “the Queen and himself were never to be set apart, no matter how small the house in which they might be lodging”.
Maria Thérèsa was very fortunate to have found a friend at court in her mother-in-law, unlike many princesses in foreign lands. She continued to spend much of her free time playing cards and gambling, as she had no interest in politics or literature. Consequently, she was viewed as not fully playing the part of queen designated to her by her marriage. But more importantly, she became pregnant in early 1661, and a long-awaited son was born on November 1, 1661.
The first time Maria Thérèsa ever saw the Palace of Versailles was on October 25, 1660. At that time, it was just a small royal residence that had been Louis XIII’s hunting lodge not far from Paris. Later, the first building campaign (1664–1668) commenced with the Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée of 1664, a week-long celebration at Versailles ostensibly held in honour of France’s two queens, Louis XIV’s mother and wife, but exposed Louise de La Vallière’s role as the king’s maîtresse-en-titre.
The celebration of the Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée is often regarded as a prelude to the War of Devolution, which Louis waged against Spain. The first building campaign witnessed alterations in the château and gardens in order to accommodate the 600 guests invited to the celebration. As time passed, Maria Thérèsa also came to tolerate her husband’s prolonged infidelity with Françoise-Athénaïs, Marquise de Montespan. The king left her to her own devices, yet reprimanded Madame de Montespan when her behaviour at court too flagrantly disrespected the queen’s position.
Later, the governess of Montespan’s illegitimate children by the king, Madame de Maintenon, came to supplant her mistress in the king’s affections. At first she resisted the king’s advances and encouraged him to bestow more attention on his long-neglected wife, a thoughtfulness which Maria Thérèsa repaid with warmth toward the new favourite. After the queen’s death, Maintenon would become the king’s second, although officially secret, wife.
There have long been rumours that Maria Thérèse had an illegitimate daughter, Louise Marie Thérèse (The Black Nun of Moret). Shortly after the death of the French Queen Maria Thérèsa of Spain, courtiers said that this woman could be the daughter, allegedly black, to whom the Queen gave birth in 1664. The nun herself seemed convinced of her royal birth, and Saint-Simon states that she once greeted the Dauphin as “my brother”. A letter sent on June 13, 1685, by the Secretary of the King’s Household to M. De Bezons, general agent of the clergy, and the pension of 300 pounds granted by King Louis XIV to the nun Louise Marie-Thérèse on October 15, 1695, “to be paid to her all her life in this convent or everywhere she could be, by the guards of the Royal treasure present and to come.” This suggests that she may, indeed, have had royal connections. The duc de Luynes claimed that she was the daughter of two black gardeners, too poor to educate her, who applied to Mme. de Maintenon for patronage
Maria Thérèse played little part in political affairs except for the years 1667, 1672, and 1678, during which she acted as regent while her husband was away on campaigns on the frontier.
During the last week of July 1683, Maria Thérèse fell ill and, as her illness worsened, her husband ordered for the sacraments to be kept nearby. She died a painful death on July 30, 1683, at Versailles. Upon her death, Louis XIV said: “This is the first chagrin she has ever given me.” For the grand funeral ceremony, Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed dramatic motets H.409, H.189, H.331 and Jean-Baptiste Lully his Dies irae. The funeral prayer was by Bossuet.
Of her six children, only one survived her, Louis, le Grand Dauphin, the oldest one, who died in 1711. One of her younger grandsons eventually inherited her claim to the Spanish throne to become King Felipe V of Spain in 1700. He was able to claim the throne of Spain because Spain never paid the 500,000 écus as part of the agreement that would have made the descendants of Marie Thérèse ineligible for the Spanish Crown.