Maria Carolina of Austria

Queen of Naples and the Two Sicilies

Maria Carolina of Austria, painting by Francesco Liani
Maria Carolina of Austria, painting by Francesco Liani. DEA / L. PEDICINI / Getty Images

Maria Carolina Facts:

Known for: leadership to bring her country into conflict with France, the country that had executed her (younger) sister, Marie Antoinette; she and her family ruled at a time when revolutions were deposing and exiling ruling royals in many countries in Europe
Occupation: queen consort of Naples, queen consort of Sicily
Dates: August 13, 1752 - September 8, 1814
Also known as: Maria Carolina d'Austria, Maria Karolina von Österreich

Background, Family:

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: Ferdinand IV, King of Naples, also known as Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies, third son of Charles (Carlos) III of Spain and Maria Amalia of Saxony (married April 7, 1768)
  • children who lived to adulthood (of 18 total):
    • Maria Theresa, Holy Roman Empress and first Empress of Austria, as wife of Francis II
    • Maria Louisa Amelia, married Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany
    • Francis I of the Two Sicilies, married Maria Clementina of Austria (his double first cousin) and then Maria Isabella of Spain (a first cousin)
    • Maria Christina, also known as Cristina, married Charles Felix of Savoy, King of Sardinia
    • Maria Amalia, married the King of the French, Louis Philippe I; they were forced into exile in the Revolution of 1848
    • Maria Antonia, married Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias
    • Leopold, Prince of Salerno, married the Archduchess Clementina of Austria

    Maria Carolina Biography:

    Maria Carolina was designated as a wife to the third son of the Spanish king, when her sister Maria Josepha, the original designated wife, died of smallpox, and her sister Maria Amalia, was considered too old for the match. Maria Carolina was, upon marriage, the youngest queen in the world.

    She was also the first Hapsburg princess to marry a Bourbon king in more than 150 years.

    She was reported to have cried about the match when she found out about it. She and her husband took immediate dislike to each other; she described him as "very ugly" and he described her as sweating "like a pig."  Her mother described him in a letter to her daughter as "ill-educated but well meaning," and in another, "Although an ugly prince, he is not absolutely repulsive .... at least he does not stink."

    Their mutual dislike did not keep them from the royal duty of having children; they had eighteen, and seven lived to be adults. After her son, Francis, was born in 1775, she became part of the Privy Council, a condition of their marriage contract. Ferdinand gave his wife considerable authority. She exercised her influence not only in the politics of Naples, but in negotiating powerful royal marriages for her children.

    After Marie Antoinette of France, Maria Carolina's sister, was executed in 1793, Naples joined Austria and Great Britain in their opposition to the French Revolution and ensuing governments.

    In 1798, the French took Naples after Naples had failed in an attempted invasion of Rome, which the French already occupied.

    Maria Carolina and her family fled to Sicily. The French created in Naples the Parthenopean Republic, which lasted for about six months, when it was overthrown, and Maria Carolina and Ferdinand returned.

    In 1805, Maria Carolina again led Naples into war against France, and the French drove the royal family out of Naples the next year. They again took refuge in Siciliy.

    While in Sicily, Maria Carolina opposed the barons there, and with advice of the British, Ferdinand exiled his wife, and she returned to Austria in 1811, leaving her children and husband behind. She died in Vienna in 1814, with six months of mourning declared in Sicily and Naples.

    Her husband was restored (again) to the throne in Naples in 1815.

    During her years in power, Maria Carolina was a patron of the arts, and in particular supported Angelica Kauffman, who taught her daughters to draw.

    The painting of the family in the garden in 1783 is one of Kauffman's most famous paintings, depicting the family rather informally in an outdoor landscape, breaking with tradition.

    At her death, Napoleon said, "That woman knew how to think and act like a queen, while preserving her rights and her dignity."