Isabella, Princess of Asturias (1851–1931)

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Infanta Isabella
Princess of Asturias
Infanta of Spain
Countess of Girgenti
Infanta Isabella of Spain (1851–1931).jpg
Photograph, 1874
Born (1851-12-20)20 December 1851
Madrid, Spain
Died 22 April 1931(1931-04-22) (aged 79)
Paris, French Third Republic
Burial Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso
Spouse Prince Gaetan, Count of Girgenti
(m. 1868 - 1871; his death)
House Bourbon
Father Infante Francis, Duke of Cadiz
Mother Queen Isabella II of Spain

For other Princesses of Asturias named Isabella, see Isabella, Princess of Asturias (disambiguation)

Isabella, Princess of Asturias (Spanish: Isabel; 20 December 1851 – 22 April 1931), was twice recognized as the heir presumptive to the Spanish throne and given the title Princess of Asturias, reserved for the heir to the crown. The eldest daughter of Queen Isabella II, she married Gaetan of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Count of Girgenti, a son of King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, on 13 May 1868. Her husband committed suicide three years later.

Infanta Isabella was a prominent figure during the reign of her brother King Alfonso XII of Spain and during the minority of her nephew King Alfonso XIII. She was the most popular member of the Spanish Royal family. After the fall of the monarchy of Alfonso XIII, she refused the offer of the republicans to continue living in Spain. She died days later in exile in France.


Infanta Isabella, age eight, with her family. From left to right: The Marchioness of Malpica with Alphonso, Prince of Asturias on her lap; Don Francisco de Asis, King consort, Queen Isabella II of Spain, and their Royal Wet nurse maid holding Infanta María de la Concepción, and Infanta Isabella. 1860.

Born at the Royal Palace of Madrid on 20 December 1851, she was the eldest surviving daughter of Queen Isabella II and King Francis. Her birth was eagerly awaited since her mother had previously given birth to a son who had died within hours. In the tumultuous age of Carlist uprisings and sporadic civil war, Isabella was immediately recognized as the heir presumptive to her mother's throne and as such was made Princess of Asturias.[1]

The child was baptized the day after her birth with the names María Isabel Francisca de Asís.[1] The marriage of her parents was unhappy. At age sixteen, Queen Isabella II had been married against her will to Francisco de Asis, Duke of Cádiz, who was twice her first cousin. The Queen, who never overcame the antipathy towards her effeminate husband, found an outlet for her passionate nature taking lovers. Historians and biographers attribute Infanta Isabella's paternity to José Ruiz de Arana y Saavedra (1826–1891), a young Spanish aristocratic and military officer. Ruiz de Arana came from palace's circles, his father, the Count of Sevilla La Nueva, was usher to ambassadors.[2] The relationship between Queen Isabella's and Ruiz de Arana lasted from 1851 to 1856. It was with some reluctance that King Francis recognized Isabella as his daughter as he would do subsequently with all the children Queen Isabella II bore during their troubled marriage.[3]

On February 2, 1852, Isabella II was making a traditional visit to the church of the Virgin of Atocha, introducing her daughter to the public, when she was stabbed by a mad priest.[4] The Queen was saved by the thickness of her corset and the injury was not life-threatening.[4] As she grew up, Isabella began to appear in public in the company of her parents. She became popularly known by the affectionate nickname La Chata - a reference to her snub or "button" nose. She spent her early years as an only child. There was a six-year gap between Isabella and her next surviving sibling, the future King Alfonso XII. Three more sisters later completed the family. Isabella lost her title as Princess of Asturias upon her brother's birth on 28 November 1857 and took the title and rank of infanta.

Infanta Isabella was raised separately from the rest of her siblings. The relationship between King Francis and his children was cold and formal. Queen Isabella II was preoccupied with her turbulent reign and her private life alternated between periods of great affection towards her children and the distant approach to childhood that was the custom of the time. She received a much better education than her mother and was the only one among her siblings raised during her mother's reign. Emphasis was put on languages and the young Infanta was very interested in music and horsemanship; hobbies she enjoyed throughout her life.


Infanta Isabella at age fourteen. 1865

As heir presumptive to the crown, and with only a brother of delicate health that separated her from the throne, there was great interest in arranging an early marriage for Infanta Isabella that would provide descendants. Leopoldo O'Donnell, Isabella II's prime minister, conceived the idea to marry her to Prince Amadeo of Savoy whose sister, Maria Pia, had recently married Luis I of Portugal.[5] Queen Isabella disliked the proposal, but agreed to an interview between her fourteen years old daughter and the twenty years old Savoy prince. In September 1865, Amadeo met Infanta Isabella in Zarauz, where the Spanish family was on vacation.[6] The project failed.

For political reason, Isabella II had to recognize the unification of Italy under the Savoy crown, and in order to compensate her cousins from the Bourbon Two Sicilies dynasty, who were upset at this recognition, the ultraconservative party at the Spanish court, headed by King Francis, convinced the Queen to arrange the marriage of their eldest daughter with one of the half siblings of the recently deposed King Francis II of the Two Sicilies, Prince Gaetan, Count of Girgenti (1846–1871), son of King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies and Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria.[7] Prince Gaetan had recently lost his mother and one of his younger brothers and his family was in financial straits. Gaetan was a first cousin of both Isabella's mother and father.

In April 1868, Prince Gaetan arrived in Spain and the wedding was quickly arranged to take place a few weeks later.[8] Neither Infanta Isabella nor Gaetan were enthusiastic about the project.[8] Gaetan was tall and good-hearted, but penniless and plagued by ill health. He was known for his lack of intellect. Infanta Isabella was short, blond, with clear blue eyes and with a small up turned nose. She was dutiful, conservative and headstrong.

Countess of Girgenti[edit]

Infanta Isabella and Prince Gaetan of two Sicillies. 1868.

The marriage took place amidst great pomp on May 13, 1868. Upon this marriage, Isabella II bestowed upon Gaetan the title of infante. After the wedding, the young couple embarked a long honeymoon that took them first to visit her new family-in-law residing at the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Two months later the young couple went to the Austrian court, where Gaetano's maternal relatives lived.[9] On their way back to Spain, while visiting Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie in Fontainebleau, they received the news of the revolution that cost Isabella II her throne.[10] Gaetan rushed to enter Spain and fought defending the monarchy in the battle of Alcolea, which defeat marked the end of the reign of Isabella II, who crossed the border into France with the royal family.[11] In exile the deposed Queen settled in Paris where Infanta Isabella was waiting for her mother. Initially Infanta Isabella and Gaetan lived also in Paris in a house that belonged to Gaetan’s uncle the Count of Aquila.[12]

Gaetan was plagued by ill health and depression. For two years the couple embarked on a series of trips through Europe visiting Austria, Germany and England, looking in vain to improve Gaetan’s health. In the summer of 1870, the Counts of Girgenti settled in Lucerna, hoping to live in anonymity and peace.[13] With the help of his two aides de camps, Gaetan managed to conceal from his wife for as long as he could the true nature of his illness. He was an epileptic.[13] One day he had a seizure in front of his wife, who had no prior warnings about the true nature of Gaetan’s illness. In the early summer of 1871, Isabella and her husband stayed in Geneva joining the rest of the Spanish Royal family who had escaped the disturbances in Paris.[14] In August 1871, the Counts of Gigenti returned to Lucerna. Early in a pregnancy, Infanta Isabella suffered a miscarriage in September 1871.[15] The loss of their child, the loss of the Spanish crown, and his declining health contributed to Gaetano sinking into a deep depression and he attempted suicide jumping from a window.[16] After that, he was never allowed to be alone and between Isabella and Gaetan’s adjutants Gaetan was constantly supervised. However, on November 26, 1871 while they were staying in a hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland Gaetan managed to lock himself in a room and shot himself in the head. He was found still alive, but died shortly thereafter.[17]

A young widow barely twenty years old, Infanta Isabella, who had become greatly attached to her husband, mourned his tragic death.[18] She moved to the Palace of Castille in Paris with her mother the ex-Queen Isabella.[19] Over the next three years, the Infanta lead a quiet family life; over looking the education of her three younger sisters; visiting her father, the ex-king consort Don Francisco de Asis, who lived estranged from his wife in Épinay and, above all, concerned about the future of her brother Alfonso who was finishing his education in Vienna.[20] In 1872 and 1873 Infanta Isabella traveled frequently to Munich staying with her aunt Infanta Amelia and to Vienna to stay close to her brother as a guest of Archduchess Marie Rainier, to whom she had become very close during her marriage to Gaetan (the archduchess's nephew).[21] Behind the scenes, Infanta Isabella worked to promote the restoration of the Spanish monarchy on the person of her brother in an agreement with Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, who worked from Madrid for the Alfonso's cause.[22]

Later life[edit]

On December 29, 1874, Infanta Isabella's brother, Alfonso XII, was called to the Spanish throne after a pronunciamiento by Martinez Campos established him a king, ending the First Spanish Republic. The Spanish royal family was then reunited in Paris to celebrate New Year's Eve.[23] On 14 January 1875, Alphonso XII arrived in Spain. The following month, Infanta Isabella was called by the government to come back to Spain as the first lady at court and as heir presumptive to the throne.[24] On March 5, Infanta Isabella embarked in Marseille making her entrance in Madrid two days later.[25]

On March 24, 1875 she was proclaimed once again Princess of Asturias as heir to the Spanish crown.[26][27][28] The young princess and her brother enjoyed considerable popularity. During this period, there were different projects presented to her to remarry. Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria, who was already living in Spain, was the government's first choice, but once his eccentric behavior became known this idea was abandoned. Another candidate was Prince Arnulf of Bavaria, but Isabella did not wish to remarry, and her brother—to whom she was very attached—ultimately respected her wishes.

During the first years of her brother's reign, Isabella worked constantly to promote the cause of the monarchy and was a great asset to her brother. After their mother Queen Isabella returned to live permanently in France, Isabella’s three youngest sisters were placed under her care and she provided a good education for them. The two eldest sisters, Infantas Pilar and Paz, were pliable and did not give her trouble, but Isabella clashed with the youngest sister, the spirited Infanta Eulalia.

Isabella also served as a guide to her young cousin, Mercedes of Orléans, who had married her brother in 1880 and who had, as the new queen, replaced her as the first lady of the kingdom. The marriage of her brother allowed her more time for her hobbies and travelling. Following Queen Mercedes' early death, Isabella chose Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria as her new sister-in-law and promoted her as a wife to her brother. She was a niece of Isabella's good friend Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria, who had been a second mother to Gaetan and his siblings.

The early death of her brother was a terrible blow to Isabella who had treasured their relationship. She was an influential figure throughout the regency of Queen Maria Christina and gave her widowed sister-in-law support; she became a second mother to the children of her late brother.

Last years[edit]

Sculpture of Infanta Isabella at the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso

Isabella was reportedly very popular and respected in Spain. In 1885, a cruiser of the Spanish Navy, the Infanta Isabel, was named after her. One of the most significant public activities undertaken by her was her 1910 trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, representing the Spanish Crown on the occasion of the centennial celebration of Argentina's May Revolution which is considered the starting point of the Argentine War of Independence. A street in Buenos Aires, the Paseo de la Infanta Isabel, was named after her. There is also a similarly named street in Madrid.

Isabella died on April 22, 1931, at the age of 79, in exile in France. Her death occurred five days after her nephew, King Alfonso XIII, had lost the Spanish throne and the entire Spanish royal family had gone into exile. Following the republican victory in Spain, Isabella was informed by the republican authorities that there was no need for her to go into exile—a testament to her popularity—but she voluntarily chose to exile herself with the rest of her family. She left most of her jewels to her nephew, and her famous Mellerio Shell Tiara subsequently descended to the current Spanish royal family and is frequently worn by Queen Sofía. In 1991, King Juan Carlos ordered the transfer of her remains to Spain from France; her remains were then entombed in the chapel of the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso near Segovia, and a salon in the Palace was subsequently renamed in her honor. Picture of Tomb

There is a monumental sculpture of Isabella at Parque del Oeste, a public park in Madrid. Moreover, in the palace park grounds of the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, there is another full-size marble sculpture of Isabella with a bouquet of roses.

Honours and arms[edit]


National honours
Foreign honours


Coat of Arms of Infanta Isabella of Spain, Countess of Girgenti.svg
Coat of arms as Infanta and Countess of Girgenti
Coat of arms of Isabella of Spain (1851–1931) as Princess of Asturias and widow.svg
Isabella 's arms as Princess of Asturias
Coat of arms of Isabella of Spain (1851–1931) as Infanta and widow.svg
Coat of arms as an Infanta of Spain
Posthumous Coat of arms of Isabella, Infanta of Spain (1851–1931).svg
Isabella's lesser coat of arms (Posthumous)[41]



  1. ^ a b Rubio, La Chata, p. 43
  2. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 29 - 33
  3. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 46
  4. ^ a b Rubio, La Chata, p. 48 - 52
  5. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 134
  6. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 136
  7. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 147
  8. ^ a b Rubio, La Chata, p. 148
  9. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 158
  10. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 162
  11. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 163-164
  12. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 167
  13. ^ a b Rubio, La Chata, p. 170
  14. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 171
  15. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 172
  16. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 173
  17. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 175
  18. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 176
  19. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 178
  20. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 180-181
  21. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 185
  22. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 184
  23. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 187
  24. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 191
  25. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 194
  26. ^ Rubio, La Chata, p. 199
  27. ^ "Real orden disponiendo que la Serenísima Infanta Doña Isabel sea de nuevo reconocida y denominada Princesa de Asturias en todos los actos y documentos oficiales" (PDF). Gaceta de Madrid. Retrieved 28 December 2015. . no. 84, 25/03/1875, p. 795. (BOE-A-1875-2846)
  28. ^ "Por un error material se publicó sin fecha en la Gaceta de ayer la Real orden disponiendo que la Serenísima Infanta Doña Isabel sea de nuevo reconocida y denominada Princesa de Asturias en todos los actos y documentos oficiales." (PDF). Gaceta de Madrid. Retrieved 28 December 2015.  no. 84, 25/03/1875, p. 795.(BOE-A-1875-2890)
  29. ^ [1], Agencia Boletín Oficial del Estado
  30. ^
  31. ^ Boletin Oficial Del Estado
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^ Coat of arms shown at her grave in the Royal Vault, adopted during King Juan Carlos's reign.


  • Mateos Sainz de Medrano, Ricardo. Los Desconocidos Infantes de España. Thassalia, 1996. ISBN 8482370545
  • Rubio, María José. La Chata: La Infanta Isabel de Borbón y la Corona de España. Madrid, La Esfera de los Libros, 2003. ISBN 84-9734-350-6

External links[edit]

Isabella, Princess of Asturias (1851–1931)
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 20 December 1851 Died: 23 April 1931
Spanish royalty
Preceded by
Isabella (II)
Princess of Asturias
Succeeded by
Alfonso (XII)
Title last held by
Emanuele Filiberto
Princess of Asturias
Succeeded by