Spanish version

Princess Isabel de Borbón, "La Chata"

The Princess of Asturias is born

Princess IsabelOn December 20th, 1851 Isabel de Borbón y Borbón , was born. She was the first daughter to Queen Isabel and her husband Francisco de Asis, although it seems that her real father was somebody different. In general it is believed that it was José Ruiz de Arana y Saavedra, Duke of Baena, who was the Queen´s lover from 1850 until 1856.

Isabel was the heir to the Spanish throne until her brother´s birth. She was the first princess to hold this title from her birth on, as her mother Queen Isabel II had passed a bill the year before, so that the immediate heir had to hold this title be it a man or a woman.

An eventful Introduction

The newborns were take to Virgen de Atocha church in order to present them to the Virgen. On February 2nd 1852 there was going to be a mass in order to thank the Virgen for Isabel´s birth. Before, at the Royal Palace , a religious ceremony would take place.

When the Queen and her entourage were going to the palace-chapel, a disturbed priest, Martín Merino , attacked the Queen with a knife which he stuck into her side. Fortunately the attempt was frustrated as the knife did not surpass the embroidery on her cloak and eventually slipped over her corset-bones.

Queen Isabel IIFive days later, at the same time that the attack had taken place Merino, the priest, was executed although the Queen had tried to save him from this penalty.

The Queen had to stay in bed for a few days, but she recovered soon and ten days later the interrupted ceremony took place. In order to thank the Virgen for having survived, the Queen gave her the clothes and jewelery she had been wearing at that moment.

A few days later she also ordered a hospital to be built in order to thank the people from Madrid their affection. This was going to be Hospital de la Princesa , to honour her daughter.

Would you call this “educacion”?

Isabel II had missed a real family life when she was a child. On the one hand, Fernando VII´s death, on the other the secret marriage of her mother to Fernando Muñoz had left her without parents . Her mother was obliged to leave the country and went to France , leaving her two daughters in Madrid, in the Royal Palace . Isabel II did not want her children to suffer under a similar situation and was always a careful and attentive mother.

Francisco de AsisThe official father , Francisco de Asís , without being the most affectionate father, was always very worried about their education. The little princess was immediately surrounded by a group of people that were in charge of her education and had to teach her the strict protocol of the Spanish Court.

In those days, as we can imagine, children were not educated like today. Specially for women, only writing, reading, a little bit of history and geography, some languages and, above all, religion were important subjects. Two other important subject were painting and music. The princess was very fond of music and later on she would sponsor many musicians and support musical events.


Hobbies for a lifetime Princess Pilar


Since she was a child she loved horseriding and hunting, activities which she practiced almost until the end of her life. She was a skilful and fearless rider, although she suffered several falls. Her rides galloping through the countryside became quite famous.

She also loved bullfighting and went to see them whenever she could. She knew many bullfighters personally and was very interested in these kind of events.

Another one of her hobbies was technology. In fact she was one of the first persons using an automobile in the country.

From her mother she inherited her natural character, her ability to contact with all kinds of people. Due to her small nose she was known as “La Chata”, the snubnose.


Princess PazIn 1853 Queen Isabel gave birth to another girl, Cristina, but she died three days later. So the whole attention was fixed again on Isabel, who still was the future queen of the country. When she was a little child she already knew what role she played in the court and the importance of her social status.

We must bear in mind that in those years health was a big problem for everybody, specially regarding children. Infant mortatily was frequent and the worries about Isabel´s health were even deeper as she was the heir. They tried to avoid any contagious environment, as the most simple illness could be fatal.

Isabel played with other children that lived in the palace and she had a close friendship with one of them, Lolita Balanzat y Bretagne . Both studied together and Lolita would be her friend and confident during her whole life.

Finally, on November 28 th , 1857 Queen Isabel gave birth to the much expected son, Alfonso. In his case, it seems that the father was military man Puig Moltó . Princess Eulalia

Immediately the title of Prince of Asturias was given to Alfonso and Isabel was just another princess in the royal family. Since his birth, she was very fond of her brother and became a second mother to him.

First trips

Leopoldo O´Donnell had supported the regency of the queen mother, Maria Cristina who had been obliged to leave the country after General Espartero took over the power in 1840. In 1856 Queen Isabel asked O´Donnell again to become member of the government. He thought that it was necessary to increase the Royal family´s popularity and he made the Queen and her children travel through several Spanish provinces. These trips were a complete success, most of all because of Princess Isabel´s charisma. She used to wear the regional costume of each Province and always behave like her social status demanded.

Queen Isabel had a new relashionship, this time with a deputy from the Moderate Party, Miguel Tenorio. It is believed that they had four children. Maria de la Concepcion was born on December 26th, 1859. This child died two years later.

On June 4th, 1861, Princess Pilar was born, on June 23rd, 1862 Princess Paz and on February 12th, 1864, Princess Eulalia.

During those years. Princess Isabel was studying, practising her favourite sports and travelling through the country.

Marriage and Widowhood

The marriage of any member of the Royal family was always a vital issue that had to Cayetano Maria of Borbon-Dos Siciliasstrengthen the relashionship with another country or Royal Household. For Princess Isabel they chose Cayetano Maria de Borbon-Dos Sicilias y Austria , Count of Girgenti.
He had been born on January 12th of 1846 and was stepbrother of the overthrown King Francisco II. He dedicated his life to the army. He was not a wealthy man and a prerequisite for the marriage was that Isabel had to live entirely on his earnings. This is why she had to do without her closest friends and servants, even Lolita Balanzat.

After the weddings and its celebration, the couple went on a long honeymoon, from which they were coming back in autumn 1868. During the trip, Isabel met her husband´s uncle and aunt, who had really brought him up. Archduke Rainier and his wife would become like second parents to Isabel.

Alfonso XIIBut events in Spain were changing the couple´s plans. Queen Isabel II was obliged to leave the country and go into exile to France . So Isabel and her husband also went to Paris after the honeymoon. They lived in their own house and soon after, Cayetano started showing the first symptoms of epilepsy, an illness he had suffered as a child. The political situation was too hard for him and he suffered a nervous breakdown.
In order to find some kind of solution for the illness they travelled to different countries to ask several doctors for a remedy. Eventualy they went to Luzern in Switzerland . In 1871 Isabel was pregnant but had a misscarriage. Cayetano was deeply depressed and committed suicide in November. Only three years after their marriage Isabel was a widow. Even though it was a pre-arranged marriage it seems that they got quite fond of each other. Isabel looked after her husband during his long illness and his death was a hard blow.

Princess of Asturias again

Isabel went to live with her mother in Paris in the Castilla Palace. Her long-time friend Lola Balanzat also went there with her husband.
While Isabel looked after her three younger sisters Pilar, Paz y Eulalia who were then 11, 10 and 8 years old, her brother Alfonso was sent to study to Austria .

Maria de las MerecedesMeanwhile, in Spain , Amadeo de Saboya was the new king of the country, although the general situation had not improved. In fact, he resigned in 1873 and the polititian Canovas del Castillo started to work in order to make Alfonso the next king. He established an immediate good relation with Isabel, as they both understood that this was the best solution at that moment. Isabel always had a deep and strong relationship with her brother and dedicated her life to fullfil the role she had to play.
In 1874 the First Republic came to an end. Alfonso was in England at the Sandhurst Academy . In his famous Sandhurst Manifesto he explained his future intentions as king of all Spaniards.
In January 1875 Alfonso XII came to Madrid as new king of Spain. He was 17 years old. Soon Canovas decided that it was time for Isabel to come to Madrid, too. It was impossible for Queen Isabel to return to the country. The whole country was against her, but Alfonso needed somebody to guide him in his new role and to restrain his juvenile vigor. In March Princess Isabel returned to the country. With her brother king of the country, she was again Princess of Asturias as she was the next in the line of succession to the throne. Alfonso XII and Maria Cristina
Queen Isabel stayed in Paris and become angrier each day as she felt her daughter had betrayed her. Some time later Princess Isabel brought her sisters to Madrid too. She felt that the way they were living was not convenient for the sisters of a king. For the three girls it was not an easy change, as they had to suffer their sister´s stiff nature, her constant surveillance in order to remind them constantly who they were. For Princess Isabel the Royal Family had to show an impeccable behaviour without any type of scandal. Their activity should promote social, economic and cultural projects always in favour of the people. They had to win everybody´s respect.
During this time of Alfonso´s reign, his sister was a great and constant support. She was with him at many official events. Isabel dedicated many efforts to charitable institutions.

Alfonso XII and his two wives

Maria TeresaIn spite of his mother´s opposition, Alfonso wanted to marry his cousin, María de las Mercedes . Isabel and the people in general supported him. They liked the idea of a king marrying for love. It was like a fairy-tale, although the end was more of a tragedy as Maria de las Mercedes died only three months after the wedding. She was 18 years old.

After the sad story of this marriage it was necessary to find a new wife. The country needed an heir. Alfonso´s second marriage was also supported by his sister. This time the chosen candidate was María Cristina de Habsburgo-Lorena . Isabel immediately treated her like a sister.

The king´s infidelities deeply wounded his new wife who had fallen in love with him although she knew that she would neves substitude her predecessor

They had two daughters, María de las Mercedes in 1880 and María Teresa in 1882.
Maria de las Mercedes married Carlos de Borbón-Dos Sicilias in 1901. They three children. She died giving birth to the third, a girl in 1904. Some time later her husband married Luisa of Orleans . Their daughter would be the mother of King Juan Carlos I.

Maria de las MercedesMaría Teresa married Fernando of Baviera . They had four children. Like her sister she died giving birth to the last one in 1912. Her husband also married again, but he had no more children.

On November 25th, Alfonso XII died. At that moment his wife was pregnant and so neither of his daughters was named Princess of Asturias as they wanted to wait in case a boy was born. And this is exactly what happened. On May 17 th 1886 Alfonso XIII was born. He was king from the very moment of his birth.

During these years " La Chata " had stayed in the background, although she always took part in many activities. She continued practising sports, going to the bullfights, dancing at balls, mingling with people of all social levels, climbing the highest mountains of the places she visited, etc. She was the most popular member of the Royal Family. Queen Maria Cristina had a severe and cold image, while Isabel showed a warmer and more familiar air.

Her brother´s death was a deep blow for her, but she was well aware of her duty and what she stood for. When her nephew, Alfonso XII, was born, she immediately adored him. She was probably too indulgent with his behaviour. He was allowed to do whatever he wanted as he was the future king. This is one of the reasons for his spoiled and pampered character. Furthermore, children´s health was still one of the main problems as many of them could be dangerous. So there was constantly somebody keeping an eye on the little king to avoid the slightest infection. If he got ill, all alarms went off immediately.

Last Years

Princess Isabel tried to help as many Spanish musicians as she could and at the same time, she wanted to increase the popularity of German classical music. Specially Wagner was one of her favourites.

She loved travelling and visited many towns and villages in Spain . She also used to visit Vienna from time to time, where she went to the opera.

We have to mention her trip to Argentina in 1910 on its first centenary as the King´s representative.

She liked to spend her holidays at the Granja. She took long walks in its garden enjoying its beautiful fountains. Princess Isabel and Lola Balanzat after the Bullfight by Lopez Mezquita, 1915

When Alfonso XIII came of age, Isabel decided it was time to leave the Royal Palace and let the new generation do their work. She looked for a house in Madrid and in 1900 she bought a building in Argüelles area. It was, and still is, located at Quintana. Currently it belongs to the Air Force.

In this palace she continued with her cultural activities until her last days. She also continued horse-riding causing more than one shock to other family members when galloping through the Casa de Campo.

As time went by, more and more of her friends dissapeared and she felt more lonely, although she kept being the most popular member of the Royal family in a country that was more republican than monarchical.

When Alfonso XIII left the country in 1931 she was the only member of the family who would have been allowed to stay in the country, but she wanted to leave with her family. At that moment ahe was very sick and five days after leaving for France she died in Paris on April 23rd. She was 79 years old.

On May 1991 she was brought back to Spain and buried at La Granja, where she had spent so many happy days.



@Copyright 2008, 2009 Mª Dolores Diehl Busch. All rights reserved.
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