If Queen Maria Sophie’s sister Empress Elisabeth is more famous than her today, maybe that’s because Maria walked an even darker path than her sibling. The breathtakingly beautiful Maria was a warrior queen, femme fatale, and cult figure all rolled into one—and her bloody rule marked the tragic end of a bygone era. This is the jaw-dropping life of Queen Maria Sophie.
Queen Maria Sophie Facts
1. She Had an Incredibly Strange Childhood
Maria Sophie Amalie was born on October 4, 1841 to Duke Maximilian of Bavaria and Princess Ludovika. Though she was a Duchess, Maria Sophie had one wild childhood. Her father was a notorious eccentric who was obsessed with circus performers. He ran his family like an acrobat troupe, encouraging country horseback rides instead of books and study. The Duke passed on his love of adventure to Maria Sophie, for better or for worse.
2. Her Mother Controlled Her in Disturbing Ways
Maria’s royal brood was loud, proud, and big; Maximilian and Ludovica and no fewer than 10 children together, though sadly only eight survived to adulthood. While Maximilian was busy playing circus performer, the whip-smart Ludovica had loftier plans, and aimed to marry their children off to the most eligible bachelors in Europe. That’s exactly what happened…with dire consequences.
3. She Had a Creepy Prince Charming
In 1857, Maria was just 16 years old, which was apparently a ripe age for the picking by Bavarian standards. That year Francis II, the Crown Prince of Naples, started sniffing around Maria’s skirts and testing the waters for a marriage proposal. Being courted by a royal prince should have been a fairy tale for the young girl, but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
4. Her Suitor Pursued Her for All the Wrong Reasons
Maria was an astoundingly gorgeous girl—people called her “unusually beautiful”—but Francis wasn’t hanging around her garden gate for love. Maria’s older sister Elisabeth was married to the Emperor of Austria, so Francis knew the girl would be a politically advantageous wife. How…romantic. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the situation proceeded to get much worse.
5. She Had a “Shameful” Deficiency
Maria’s controlling mother jumped at Francis’ proposal to her teen daughter, but there was a huge problem. At the tender age of 16, Maria hadn’t even had her first period yet, which was a big no-no for the era. After all, what good are women if they can’t pop out royal heirs, am I right? In order to speed up the nuptials, Maria’s family pushed her into a cruel regimen.
6. Her Family Forced Her Into Bizarre Medical Experiments
Maria had to submit to a series of medical experiments to jumpstart her period. With “Operation Royal Teen Pregnancy” creepily underway, doctors prescribed scalding hot baths to the girl, and that was on a good day. If it was Maria’s unlucky day, the physicians would cover the poor girl’s body in leeches. But Maria’s nightmare was just beginning.
7. Her Groom Skipped Her Wedding
On January 8, 1859, Maria finally married her prince…sort of. Maria looked resplendent in a brocade dress and velvet train—but her groom was nowhere to be seen. That’s because Maria was “married by proxy,” a custom of the time that bizarrely let someone else stand in for the bride or groom. In this case, the honor of being Maria’s stand-in husband went to a very awkward person: The girl’s own uncle. The romance just keeps on coming, doesn’t it?
8. She Took Part in a Mortifying Wedding Ritual
Less than a month later, Maria did it all over again, this time marrying Francis in person at the royal palace in Naples. Somehow, this was even worse than her nightmarish first wedding. Following the customs of the time, the wedding guests locked Maria and Francis into their bedchamber right after the ceremony. This is awkward enough for two near strangers…but it went more horrifically than anyone could have imagined.
9. Her Wedding Night Was a Disaster
As it turned out, Maria and Francis were fundamentally mismatched. He was devout and serious; she was playful, strong-headed, and unused to the formalities of a royal court. It’s no surprise, then, that their wedding night was not a party I’d want to be invited to. Apparently, Francis spent the whole night praying and Maria spent the whole night crying. Oh, and there’s more…
10. Her Husband Was Hiding an Embarrassing Deformity
When the young, naïve Maria married Francis, she thought she knew what she was getting into—but she didn’t know his darkest secret. Francis suffered from a very personal and embarrassing affliction called phimosis. Men with this syndrome can’t pull back their foreskin “down there.” Although it’s usually harmless, it becomes brutally painful during bedroom activities. Did this come back to bite the royal couple? Oh heck yes it did.
11. She Had a Monster-in-Law
Let’s recap: Poor Maria gets into a loveless marriage with a dullard of a man, and to top it all off, he has some intense bedroom-based difficulties. But aside from this, she had even bigger problems with the rest of his family. Her mother-in-law Maria Theresa was incredibly cold to her, to the point that Maria begged her husband to make his mother’s cruelty stop. Wouldn’t you know it? He refused.
12. Her Royal Life Was No Fairy Tale
It’s hard to exaggerate just how alone Maria was when she first married Francis. The teenage girl had to say goodbye to all of her family and travel solo to meet her disappointing Prince Charming. In fact, the only company she had with her on her journey was her pet canary, Hansi. Still…that bird at least sounds better than Francis.
13. She Had an Adorable Nickname
Maria Sophie had a tight-knit family growing up, and they often called each other by pet names. To her mother and father, Maria was simply “Madi.”
14. She Didn’t Expect to Be Queen
Royal life came at Maria fast. Less than a year after tying the knot with Prince Francis, his father passed on, turning Maria’s husband into the King of the Two Sicilies. In the blink of an eye, the teenaged Maria was now a queen. For many monarchs, this means a life of luxury and servants. For Maria, it meant something much darker…
15. Her Kingdom Crumbled Overnight
The truth was, by the time that Maria married into Francis’ unwelcoming family, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was already on unsteady and highly dangerous ground. For years there had been rumblings of a revolution, and in 1860 the vicious conflict finally came knocking on the royal couple’s door. I wish I could say it ended well, but it sure didn’t.
16. Her Husband Failed Her at the Crucial Moment
When enemies started to invade the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Maria was shocked at her husband’s behavior. Instead of providing any solutions as, you know, the king, he immediately started having panic attacks. (Classic Francis.) His rough-and-tumble wife, however, had royal gusto to spare. Maria’s jaw-dropping actions in the face of danger made her a household name throughout Europe.
17. She Had an Infamous Last Stand
In order to avoid the most gruesome spoils of war, Francis and Maria retreated their men into the seaside castle of Gaeta, far away from the bustling capital of Naples. Francis might have though he was safe in his high tower, but Maria knew better. A storm was coming, and it would be utterly brutal. Maria’s instincts were right: The impending conflict would become “the last stand of the Bourbons”—and the last gasp of her empire.
18. She Took Matters Into Her Own Hands
At one point, Francis was being so lily-livered about the upcoming battle that Maria finally snapped. She declared that if he wouldn’t go to the front lines to help out his countrymen, then she would go herself. Maria actually kept to her word: Soon enough she was on the front-lines, caring for the wounded and rallying the troops. And her most scandalous hour was yet to come.
19. She Put Herself in Mortal Danger
Maria might have had a beautiful face, but on the inside she was 100% heavy metal. Once, an officer condescendingly told her that if she marked her residence with a flag, he’d make sure not to shoot at the building. Maria’s response was utterly legendary. She refused to mark her quarters, and then dared the men to shoot at her. I think I’m in love, and we’re not even finished yet.
20. She Played a Crude Practical Joke
Although she was a formidable enemy who could stare down the barrel of a bayonet, Maria also had a wicked sense of humor. One day, she came up with an ingenious way to boost morale. When an enemy ship once started firing at her seaside castle, Maria ordered her men to moon the crew. Beauty, brains, and buffoonery. What’s not to like?
21. Even Her Enemies Respected Her
Game recognize game, and even Maria’s enemies had to admit her power and grace. Her chief rival Gabriel D’Annunzio once admiringly called her “the stern little Bavarian eagle.”
22. She Had Two Secret Weapons
Turns out that Maria’s eccentric father might have known a thing or two about raising cool as heck daughters. At the very least, Maria’s wild horseback lessons served her well in the fierce battle for her kingdom. The queen could ride a horse as well or better than any man, and she wielded a sword like she’d been born with one in her hand.
23. She Became the “Modern Joan of Arc”
In her youth, word got around that the Two Sicilies had one mega babe for a queen, and Maria quickly earned the nickname “The Modern Joan of Arc” for her reputation as a ruthless warrior queen. Just a reminder: Maria was only 19 YEARS OLD at the time. The Two Sicilies might have lost the conflict, but they absolutely crushed the cult of personality.
24. She Lost Her Crown
All lame things must come to an end, and King Francis II’s rule was no exception. Despite Maria putting her life on the line, The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was officially no more on March 20, 1861, and the royal couple sailed to the more monarch-friendly Rome. Maria Sophie was now exiled and throneless—but in many ways, this was just the beginning of her story.
25. Her Beauty Was Legendary
Maria was very close to her older sister Elisabeth, and the Empress often visited her baby sibling when she could. The pair had similar brave, no-nonsense dispositions, and they both become almost cult-like figures around Europe. They even looked alike: They were famous their long, thick brunette locks that reached well down their royal backsides. Spoiler: Maria’s beauty would plunge her into one heck of an amorous scandal.
26. She and Her Husband Had a Huge Bedroom Issue
King Francis and Maria got off to a very rocky start—but as the years wore on, their union went from bad to terrible. For most of their early marriage, Francis still suffered from phimosis, which didn’t make it easy for him to please his headstrong wife. Their marriage wasn’t even consummated for literal years. Hey, guess what? This was a recipe for total disaster.
27. She Was Cruelly Unfaithful
Maria held on for as long as she could in her miserable, eternal dry spell with Francis, but a girl’s got limits—and the queen eventually committed the ultimate betrayal. While the pair were in exile in Rome, Maria fell in love with a strapping Belgian officer named Count Armand de Lawayss. And that was just the beginning of the scandal.
28. She Had a Secret Love Child
In 1862, Maria was horrified to discover that her dalliance with Armand had consequences: The queen was now pregnant with her lover’s baby. To make matters even more dramatic, Maria couldn’t exactly pass the child off as a “royal heir,” considering she and Francis had exactly zero steamy bedroom sessions in their marriage. Instead, her family forced her to commit a heartbreaking act.
29. She Hid a Dark Truth
Once Maria’s enormous and protective family found out about the scandal, they went into overdrive. They brought her back to their German palace in Possenhofen and held a family meeting about the rebel queen’s “situation.” Eventually, everyone agreed that Maria needed to exile herself and have the baby in secret. But there was one more cruelty in store for Maria…
30. She Made a Heartbreaking Sacrifice
On November 24, 1862, Maria Sophie gave birth to her first child, a daughter she reportedly named Maria Cristina Pia. Immediately after the birth, a horrific act occurred. Maria’s parents gave the girl away, handing her off to the father’s side of the family. In giving the baby to Count Armand, they tore her apart from her mother at her most vulnerable age. And that was far from everything.
31. She Had a Long-Lost Daughter
In order to keep her reputation in tact, Maria had to swear that she would never see her child again. She tragically made good on this cruel promise, but it had devastating consequences. Soon after her parents ripped the baby from her arms, Maria reportedly fell into a deep depression. And when she got back up and dusted herself off, she only got knocked down again…
32. Her Cheating Reached Epic Proportions
If you think Maria slowed down her “appetites” after the birth of her illicit love child, well, you’d be wrong. Maria’s royal duties often took her to far-off places, which gave her the perfect scene and setting to find new lovers. It got so bad that her sister Empress Elisabeth eventually took drastic action. She wrote to Francis and ordered him to buck the heck up in the bedroom.
33. She Made a Disturbing Confession
Throughout this entire interlude, Maria’s husband Francis was, you guessed it, totally clueless. In fact, he might never have known about Maria’s many affairs if it weren’t for Maria herself. When she got back to Rome after her bedroom benders, her family urged her to confess the whole sordid affair to him. His response was unexpected, to say the least.
34. She Forced Her Husband to Sleep With Her
In a surprising turn of events, Francis absolved Maria of any wrongdoing—and then he went way further than that. Ladies and gentlemen, after almost 10 years of marriage, Francis finally got his “little king” checked out and operated on so he could actually satisfy his wife. Can I get an AMEN? And believe it or not, the next event were even more shocking than Francis’ long-awaited operation.
35. Her Second Pregnancy Was Bittersweet
In 1869, Maria found out that she was pregnant again, this time with her actual husband’s child. When the second babe was born—another daughter—Maria gave the child a heartbreaking tribute. She named the little girl Maria Cristina Louise Pia, which was almost the exact same name as her long-lost baby. If only the good times lasted forever.
36. She Suffered a Devastating Loss
Sadly, little Cristina Louise was a sickly child, and Maria feared for her life from almost from the first moment that she came into the world. Then, suddenly, her worst nightmare came true. At just three months old, the little girl took a turn for the worse. On March 28, 1870, her father wrote that she “seized with convulsions and flew to heaven.” Maria’s response to the loss was as heartbreaking as it was unforgettable.
37. Her Grief Unhinged Her
While Cristina Louise was sick in her crib, Maria refused to leave her side even for a change of clothes. She stayed up all night watching the little one—and when the girl finally left this Earth, Maria was inconsolable. She reportedly clung to the baby’s tiny cold body for the rest of the night, numb with grief and unable to admit the horrible truth.
38. She Started a “Court in Exile”
The restless Maria loved trawling around Europe instead of wasting away her exiled years in pious Vatican City. While enjoying her scandalous sojourns, the rebel queen didn’t just take up lovers, she also eventually set up “The Bourbon Court in Exile.” Now as for what she did in that court…well, this is where things get even juicier.
39. She Kept Scandalous Company
Maria reportedly never got over the loss of her crown—and some say she got a brutal revenge. In an unexpected and shady turn of events, the ex-Queen of Naples started entertaining Italian anarchists at her own informal, makeshift court. After all, these strange bedfellows now had a common goal: Bring Italy to its knees. And oh, she did, but more on that later.
40. Her Sister Met a Terrible Fate
In May 1897, a shock wave ran through Maria Sophie’s family. Her younger sister, Duchess Sophie Charlotte, perished in a fire at a charity event. As if that wasn’t enough of a heroic sacrifice, Charlotte had refused to leave the building until the nuns who were with her were safely out. Sadly, this wasn’t the end of Maria’s heartbreak. The family tragedies were only just getting started.
41. She Abandoned Her Husband in His Time of Need
If Francis and Maria’s marriage was on the rocks before the loss of their child, it was one heck of a shipwreck after. They never had another child, and lived all but separate lives from that point on, with Francis receding even deeper into the church. When Francis finally fell ill and passed on December 27, 1894, Maria wasn’t even there to say goodbye to her husband.
42. She Never Forgot or Forgave Italy
In WWI, Maria Sophie didn’t have to think long about whose side she was on, and she almost immediately joined up with Germany in their conflict against Italy. After all, she was a Bavarian born and bred, and there was no love lost between her and the Italian people. But, this being Maria we’re talking about, she took her vengeance really seriously…
43. She Got Another Horrific Revenge
Just like Maria’s part in the assassination of King Humbert in 1900, shadowy rumors persist about her involvement in WWI. There is some evidence that Maria took up an active part in espionage and covert operations against Italy during the conflict, all in the hopes that it would destroy the nation and maybe return her throne. Do not get on this girl’s bad side.
44. Her Family Was Cursed
The Bavarian brood was truly a cursed family, and there’s one more dramatic tale to add to the scandal-ridden list: The mysterious passing of Maria’s nephew, Crown Prince Rudolf. Rudolf infamously offed himself and his young mistress in The Mayerling Incident. His actions threw the Austrian line of succession into chaos and helped bring his vaunted family into further ruin.
45. Her Courage Stayed With Her in Old Age
By the end of her life, Maria Sophie had seen the emergence of an entirely new Europe, and one that had left her kind behind. Starting out as a queen, she soon saw the rise of Mussolini. Ever the whippersnapper, an elderly Maria used to stand at her window watching the new generation “to see if the young people of today still have the stuff they had when I was young.”
46. She Was Fiercely Loyal
When she actually liked you, Maria Sophie could be a class act. She lived well into her old age and saw the upheavals of countless countries, including her own, but she remained loyal where it counted. Though she became impoverished in her later years, Maria Sophie still insisted on paying into the pension of her last personal servant.
47. Her Passing Was the End of an Era
Eventually, Maria Sophie lived to the ripe old age of 83 before dying in 1925. After watching the fall of her kingdom, the fall of her family, and the fall of Europe, the ex-Queen of Naples lived a thousand lifetimes in one, from defiant spitfire to vengeful assassin to grieving mother and more. She is now buried in Naples beside her husband and their daughter.
48. Her Favorite Sibling Suffered a Violent End
Just a year after her sister Charlotte’s fiery demise, Maria’s olrder sister Elisabeth was strolling through Switzerland when a strange man came up to her and brutally stabbed her with a crude needle file. The attack ended the Empress of Austria’s life within mere minutes. But that wasn’t even the worst part.
49. Her Allies Turned on Her
As it happened, the man who killed Maria’s beloved sister Elisabeth was none other than Luigi Lucheni, a 25-year-old Italian anarchist. That’s right, Maria’s “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” philosophy ended up biting her where it hurt the most.
50. She May Have Killed a King
In 1900, Italy’s King Humbert was violently assassinated. It was a horrific turn of events, but there were even darker whispers around it. Incredibly, the future Prime Minister of Italy claimed that our own Maria Sophie was behind the hit. An ex-queen committing regicide? Now that is revenge. And she wasn’t even done yet.