We have all heard, and know at least a little, of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) but today we take a look at his mother Maria Clementina Sobieska.
Born in 1702, and granddaughter of Polish king John III Sobieska, Maria was one of Europes wealthiest heiresses. She had connections with courts across Catholic Europe, as well as her sizable dowry.
Upon her betrothal to James VIII & III, King George I of Great Britain was said to be rather concerned and greatly opposed the idea. He immediately feared the union would result in children who could then challenge the claim to his throne. In order to reassure George I, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI arrested Maria as she made her way to Italy to marry James. She was confined in Innsbruck Castle but eventually was able to make her escape by deceiving her guards and headed to Bolgna in Italy. Here, on 9th May 1719, she was married by proxy to James who was, at the time, in Spain.
Fours months later the couple finally formalised their marriage in a ceremony in the cathedral of Santa Margherita in Montefiascone, Italy on 3rd September. The couple were recognised as the Catholic monarchs of Britain by Pope Clement XI and accepted his invitation to reside in Rome on a Papal allowance of 12,000 crowns a year. The Pope provided them with a papal guard of troops, gave them accommodation in Rome, plus a country villa at Albano.
The marriage is said to have been a turbulent and unhappy affair. Whilst James was fond of Maria’s beauty and elegance it appears Maria was not so taken with James’ less than stunning appearance. Despite this the couple had two sons; Prince Charles was born in December 1720 and was followed by Prince Henry in 1725.
After the birth of Henry though things turned even more sour. James fired the sons governess, a Mrs Shelton, against Maria’s wishes. Shelton had been Maria’s confidante and after her dismissal Maria decided to leave James and went to live in the convent of St Cecilia in Rome. Maria claimed her husband had been unfaithful and, in order to gain support, she also said he had planned to give his sons a protestant education. These claims ensured that the Pope, the Kingdom of Spain and the general public took Maria’s side in the affairs but it would be three years before the couple finally reconciled in 1728.
In practice however, the couple spent their lives living apart. Maria stayed in Rome whilst James tended to stay at the country house in Albano. Maria’s life was one filled with spates of depression and her commitment to her Catholic religion meant she spent a lot of time in prayer and led to long periods of fasting. Her relationship with James consisted only of formal engagements and they rarely connected on a private level. Her relationships with her sons was also interesting. Her youngest, Henry, was his fathers son and therefore the relationship was poor, but with Charles, the eldest, Maria had a much stronger bond. Indeed, when Charles fell ill in 1732, Maria tended to him despite the fact that he was in Albano at the time and she would have to see James to visit him.
Sadly Maria’s life was cut short when she died aged just 32. On 18th January 1735 her trying lifestyle had caught up with her and she passed away at the Apostolic palace in Rome. She was interred with full royal honours in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Pope Clement XII ordered she have a state burial. Today there is a monument to her in St Peter’s Basilica. She is one of three women honoured with monuments in the basilica and hers sees her looking down to those of her husband and sons.
We hope you enjoyed this brief insight into Maria Sobieska and as always please like, share, tweet, comment and if you get the chance go and see her monument at St Peter’s.
All the best, K & D