Associazione Culturale Due Sicilie – Sede di Milano
(The last Queen of the two Sicilies )
by Sergio della Valle
( Translation from italian version by Romy Bidassek)
In February 3, 1859 Maria Sophia of Wittelsbach, sister of the Empress Elisabeth “Sissi” of Austria was only seventeen years old. That was the day when the ship il Fulminante brought her to the port of Bari. As she had has been wedded under the mandate of Munich, she arrived to meet her husband Francis, son of Ferdinand II and crown prince of the kingdom for the first time. This is the start of the short “Neapolitan” adventure of a lovely, intelligent, and educated Bavarian duchess which, only three months after her arrival at the kingdom of Naples, had to take on the position of the “last Queen”.
Although Ferdinand II, King of Naples, had scarcely time to get to know his daughter in law, he expressed sympathy for Maria Sophia immediately. He died in March 22 of the same year, after a long and painful, badly cured illness, which he actually caught during the journey to Bari to welcome the arriving duchess. Consequently the old King gave the power to lead the kingdom, which had serious internal and external threats, far too early to Francis and Maria Sophia.
Due to their age, inexperience and improper leading preparation, as well as owing to wrong or fraudulent evaluations from their counsellors, the young couple was not able to fight against the devastating forces. The events of the two following years, containing the violation of international agreements, betrayals, battles and the ultimate occupancy of the kingdom, are historically known facts. As usual, the history was always written down by the winners and their supporters, which did not miss to justify their methods with lies and defamation of the actual eviction.
In spite of this, the young Queen knew perfectly how to perform in her position during these two years. From her first taking up office until the end of the period of grief, Maria Sophia was honestly loved by the Neapolitan people. They immediately appreciated her popularity, her availability and her generosity, which can not be separated from her beauty, elegance and her cheerful character. Because of these characteristics, she matched perfectly with the Neapolitan spirit. For the same qualities also Francis felt deeply in love with her: after only little time of getting to know each other at first, where the introverted, shy nature and slightly self-righteous character of the King made it complicated, their relationship became a happy one and even strengthened mightily over the course of the following years.
In only the two years of reign, Maria Sophia shared projects, the treatment of state affaires, the disillusions, the war and the threatening incidents concerning the monarchy with the King. With her love and her advices she was always on his side. Certainly it was at Gaeta, the last bulwark of the kingdom during the conquest from Piedmont, where the Queen revealed herself as truly valuable for her people: during the three months of siege, the Queen’s courage, her strength of mind, her humanity and her spirit of sacrifice were noticed not only by the Neapolitan reporters, but also by the ones from Piedmont. Constantly those reporters witnessed her on the walls of fortress taking care of the soldiers, without showing fear of the danger, encouraging them and curing the injured, giving them the few comfort she could provide.
After the fall of the fortress, in February 13, 1861, the French ship la Mouette carried the royal couple into the exile in Rome, where they were warmly welcomed by the Roman aristocratic class. Also a big amount of Neapolitans, which found refugee in the Papal State after the conquest, sympathized with their ex-King. Francis and Maria Sophia spent the following ten years in Rome: they were surrounded by the love of the Romans and countless Neapolitans of all social classes in their Roman episode. They also were very concerned about the situation of their people, while, in contrast, there was the bloody repression of the people faithful to them, with its continuously diminishing of the desire to win back the kingdom, and the permanent discrimination from the Piedmont’s supporters. All this was largely financed by the Turin government, which tried in any possible way to slander the Neapolitan Royals, to create a basis of equity and consensus concerning Savoia’s actions. A division of the committee actually accomplished to distribute a disgraceful false-photograph (the first photomontage in history). However, the picture’s creators were individually arrested and proved guilty by the magistrate. They also tried to kidnap the King, but the attempt failed thanks to the occasional presence of two French soldiers. In 1869, Francis and Maria Sophia could enjoy the birth of little Maria Christina. Sadly, after only three month their daughter’s short live had an early end. The royal couple left Rome in 1870 for Porta Pia at first. Then they travelled to Germany, Austria Hungry, Bavaria, and Turkey, before they finally settled down in Paris, in the modest Villa of Saint Maudé, where they could finally live a peaceful, but secluded life.
In 1886, a long season of familiar suffering started for the Queen with the suicide of her brother in law, the Count of Trani. The loss of both her parents, the tragically death of the nephew Rudolf of Meyerling and the death of Francis, in December 27, 1894 in Arco del Trentino, followed. In the end there was the tragically death of her sister Sophia, which had an accident in 1897, and the assassination of Sissi in 1898. She was a widow now and marked from the exile and from the disgrace of her family. However, according to the contemporaries she was still amazingly fascinating and pretty. Maria Sophia still lived in Paris and only returned ultimately to Bavaria in 1914, after the assassination attempt in Sarajevo. Via letters from Paris and Munich however, she always kept in touch with the people that were once her folks.
The last Queen of Naples died at the age of 83 on January 18, 1925. After being sent around for a long amount of time (to Arco, to Bavaria, to the church of Sant Spirito in Naples and Rome) the remains of Francis and Maria Sophia found their ultimate peace in 1984 in their homeland. Together with their little Christina they rest in peace in Santa Chiara with two phials next to them. One filled with a bit of sand, the other with a bit of seawater taken from Naples, the region they always loved and never had seen again.