Isabella II of Spain

Isabella II (Spanish: Isabel; 10 October 1830 – 9 April 1904), also known as La de los Tristes Destinos (The One with the Sad Destinies), was Queen of Spain from 1833 until 1868. She came to the throne as an infant, but her succession was disputed by the Carlists, whose refusal to recognize a female sovereign led to the Carlist Wars. After a troubled reign, she was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1868, and formally abdicated in 1870. Her son, Alfonso XII, became king in 1874.

Isabella II
Formal photo portrait by Jean Laurent, 1860
Queen of Spain
Reign29 September 1833 – 30 September 1868
PredecessorFerdinand VII
SuccessorAmadeo I
Prime Ministers
Born10 October 1830
Madrid, Kingdom of Spain
Died9 April 1904(1904-04-09) (aged 73)
Paris, French Third Republic
Infante Francis, Duke of Cádiz
(m. 1846; died 1902)
IssueIsabel, Princess of Asturias
Alfonso XII of Spain
Infanta María del Pilar
Infanta María de la Paz
Infanta Eulalia
Full name
María Isabel Luisa de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias
FatherFerdinand VII of Spain
MotherMaria Christina of the Two Sicilies
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Birth and regency

Isabella was born in Madrid in 1830, the eldest daughter of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, and of his fourth wife and niece, Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies. Queen Maria Christina became regent on 29 September 1833, when her three-year-old daughter Isabella was proclaimed sovereign on the death of the king.

Isabella succeeded to the throne because Ferdinand VII had induced the Cortes Generales to help him set aside the Salic law, introduced by the Bourbons in the early 18th century, and to reestablish the older succession law of Spain. The first pretender to the throne, Ferdinand's brother Infante Carlos, Count of Molina, fought seven years during the minority of Isabella to dispute her title. Carlos' and his descendants' supporters were known as Carlists, and the fight over the succession was the subject of a number of Carlist Wars in the 19th century.

Isabella's reign was maintained only through the support of the army. The Cortes and the Moderate Liberals and Progressives reestablished constitutional and parliamentary government, dissolved the religious orders and confiscated their property (including that of the Jesuits), and tried to restore order to Spain's finances. After the Carlist war, the regent, Maria Christina, resigned to make way for Baldomero Espartero, Prince of Vergara, the most successful and most popular Isabelline general. Espartero, a Progressive, remained regent for only two years.

Baldomero Espartero was turned out in 1843 by a military and political pronunciamiento led by Generals Leopoldo O'Donnell and Ramón María Narváez. They formed a cabinet, presided over by Joaquín María López y López. This government induced the Cortes to declare Isabella of age at 13.


Three years later, on 10 October 1846, the Moderate Party (or Castilian Conservatives) made their sixteen-year-old queen marry her double-first cousin Francisco de Asís de Borbón (1822–1902), the same day that her younger sister, infanta Luisa Fernanda, married Antoine d'Orléans, Duke of Montpensier.

The marriages suited France and Louis Philippe, King of the French, who as a result bitterly quarrelled with Britain.[1] However, the marriages were not happy; persistent rumour had it that few if any of Isabella's children were fathered by her king-consort, rumoured to be a homosexual. The Carlist party asserted that the heir-apparent to the throne, who later became Alfonso XII, had been fathered by a captain of the guard, Enrique Puigmoltó y Mayans.[2]

Isabella had nine children, but only five reached adulthood:

The couple was rather caustically described by an English contemporary thus:

… The Queen is large in stature, but rather what might be called bulky than stately. There is no dignity either in her face or figure, and the graces of majesty are altogether wanting. The countenance is cold and expressionless, with traces of an unchastened, unrefined, and impulsive character, and the indifference it betrays is not redeemed by any regularity or beauty of feature.
The King Consort is much smaller in figure than his royal two-thirds, and certainly is not a type that could be admired for its manly qualifications; but we have to remember that in Spain aristocratic birth is designated rather by a diminutive stature and sickly complexion than by those attributes of height, muscular power, open expression, and florid hue, which in England constitute the ideal of ‘race.’[3]

Reign as an adult

Isabella ruled directly from 1843 to 1868, a period marked by palace intrigues, back-stairs and antechamber influences, barracks conspiracies, and military pronunciamientos to further the ends of the political parties; Moderados ruled from 1846 to 1854, Progressives from 1854 to 1856, and Unión Liberals from 1856 to 1863. Moderados and Unión Liberals quickly succeeded each other to keep out the Progressives, thus sowing the seeds for the Revolution of 1868.[4]

Queen Isabella II often was active in politics. She showed favour to her reactionary generals and statesmen and to the Church and religious orders. Spain fought two wars during her reign: the war against Morocco in 1859, which ended in a treaty advantageous for Spain and cession of some Moroccan territory, and the fruitless Chincha Islands War (1864-1866) against Peru and Chile. Her reign saw tensions with the United States over the Amistad affair and over the war in the Pacific; independence revolts in Cuba and Puerto Rico; and some progress in public works, especially railways, and a slight improvement in commerce and finance. By virtue of a royal decree, she opened Iloilo in the Philippines to world trade on September 29, 1855, mainly to export sugar and other products to America, Australia and Europe.[5][6]

Exile and abdication

At the end of September 1868, the defeat of Isabella's forces at the Battle of Alcolea led to her deposition and exile to France. The revolt against Isabella played out in the battle is known as the Glorious Revolution. In 1870, the provisional government replaced Isabella with Amadeo I, second son of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, after much deliberation. Amadeo's abdication under pressure in 1873 led to the period of the First Spanish Republic (1873–74).

Isabella's exile helped cause the Franco-Prussian War, as Napoleon III could not accept the possibility that a German whose candidacy was supported by Prussia, Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, might replace Isabella, a dynast of the Spanish Bourbons and great-great-granddaughter of the French-born Philip V of Spain. Napoleon III's loss in the war led to his deposition and the permanent end of monarchical government in France.

The First Spanish Republic collapsed in December 1874. Already on 25 June 1870, Isabella had been induced to abdicate in Paris in favour of her son, Alfonso XII, a move that aided the cause of the Restoration in 1874. After the collapse of the Republic, Alfonso was placed on the throne.

Isabella had left her husband in March 1874 and continued to live in France after the Restoration surrounded by a small circle of retainers with the Marqués de Alta Villa as her secretary. On the occasion of one of her visits to Madrid during the reign of Alfonso XII, she began to intrigue with politicians in the capital and was peremptorily requested to go abroad again. She lived in Paris for the rest of her life, residing at the Palacio Castilla. She seldom travelled abroad except for a few visits to Spain. During her exile, she grew closer to her husband, with whom she maintained an ambiguous friendship until his death in 1902. Her last days were marked by the marital problems of her youngest daughter, Eulalia. She died on 10 April 1904 and is entombed in El Escorial.

Titles, styles and honours


  • 10 October 1830 – 29 September 1833: Her Royal Highness The Princess of Asturias
  • 29 September 1833 – 25 June 1870: Her Most Catholic Majesty The Queen of Spain
  • 25 June 1870 – 10 April 1904: Her Majesty Queen Isabella II of Spain


The underage Queen Isabella II was known by the centuries-old feudal, symbolic, long title that included both extant and extinct titles and claims:

Isabel II by the Grace of God, Queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon, of the Two Sicilies, of Jerusalem, of Navarre, of Granada, of Toledo, of Valencia, of Galicia, of Majorca, of Seville, of Sardinia, of Córdoba, of Corsica, of Murcia, of Menorca, of Jaén, the Algarves, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, of the East and West Indies, Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea; Archduchess of Austria; Duchess of Burgundy, Brabant, Milan and Aspurg; Countess of Flanders, Tirol and Barcelona; Lady of Biscay and Molina

In 1837, Spanish legislation produced a constitutional monarchy and a new format of the title was used for Isabel:

By the grace of God and the Constitution of the Spanish monarchy, Queen Isabel II of the Spains


National honours

Foreign honours

Honorific eponyms


Film portrayal

In the 1997 film Amistad, she was played by Anna Paquin, and is depicted as a spoiled 11-year-old girl.

See also


  1. Jasper Ridley, Lord Palmerston (1970) pp 308-15.
  2. Juan Sisinio Pérez Garzón, Isabel II: Los Espejos de la Reina (2004)
  3. Mrs. Wm. Pitt Byrne, Cosas De España, Illustrative of Spain and the Spaniards as they are, Volume II, Page 7, Alexander Strahan, Publisher, London and New York, 1866.
  4. F.H. Gribble, The tragedy of Isabella, II (1913).
  5. Demy Sonza. "The Port of Iloilo: 1855 - 2005". Graciano Lopez-Jaena Life and Works and Iloilo History Online Resource. Dr. Graciano Lopez-Jaena (DGLJ) Foundation, Inc. Archived from the original on 2016-01-19.
  6. Henry Funtecha. "Iloilo's position under colonial rule". Archived from the original on July 21, 2006.
  7. "Wearing the Golden Fleece Necklet".
  8. "Isabella wearing some Orders" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  9. "Isabella wearing the honours" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  10. "Image: madrazo1.jpg, (554 × 800 px)". Retrieved 2015-09-23.
  11. "Isabelle II d Espagne en amzone - Equitation monte en amazone". Retrieved 2015-09-23.
  12. "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  13. "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  14. "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  15. "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  16. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-09-20. Retrieved 2016-04-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  18. "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  19. "Isabella depicted wearing the order". Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  20. "Photographic image" (JPEG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  21. "Isabella wearing her military Orders" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  22. "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  23. "Queen Isabel (Isabella) II of Spain and her family". Retrieved 2015-09-23.
  24. , VV. AA., Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia, Tomo CLXXVI, Cuaderno I, 1979, Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, España, páginas = 211 & 220, español, 6 de junio de 2010 Information Containing the Orders and Decorations received by Isabella II of her European tour after her coming of age to reign as Queen
  25. "Photographic image" (JPEG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  26. "Image: Isabel-II_1858.jpg, (456 × 800 px)". Retrieved 2015-09-23.
  27. "Photographic image". Archived from the original (JPG) on 2017-01-27. Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  28. "Image: isabel_ii_de_espac3b1a.jpg, (800 × 1290 px)". Retrieved 2015-09-23.
  29. Staatshandbuch für das Großherzogtum Sachsen / Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach (1885), "Großherzogliche Hausorden" p. 14
  30. "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.<
  31. "GENEALOGY OF THE ROYAL HOUSE OF SPAIN". Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  32. "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  33. "Isabella wearing the Portuguese orders on one sash" (JPG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  34. "Photographic image" (PNG). Retrieved 2017-05-23.
  35. Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 9.
  36. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ferdinand VII. of Spain" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  37. Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 96.
  38. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Francis I. of the Two Sicilies" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  39. Ortúzar Castañer, Trinidad. "María Cristina de Borbón dos Sicilias". Diccionario biográfico España (in Spanish). Real Academia de la Historia.
  40. Navarrete Martínez, Esperanza. "María de la O Isabel de Borbón". Diccionario biográfico España (in Spanish). Real Academia de la Historia.

Further reading

Isabella II of Spain
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 10 October 1830 Died: 10 April 1904
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Ferdinand VII
Queen of Spain
Title next held by
Spanish nobility
Title last held by
Ferdinand (VII)
Princess of Asturias
Succeeded by
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