Maria Luisa of Parma was many things, but she was never boring. She wasn’t just one of Spain’s many Queens, Maria Luisa remains unforgettable for being the most naughty and scandalous. Tragedy, love affairs, betrayals, poison, and revenge followed her wherever she went. Fittingly, the life of this Real Housewife of Spain ended with a shocking deathbed confession that could rewrite history.
1. She Had A Crazy Family Tree
Maria Luisa of Parma was born on December 9, 1751, into a ridiculously royal family. Her dad, Philip, Duke of Parma, was the son of Philip V of Spain. On mom Louise Elisabeth’s side was King Louis XV. So Maria Luisa called not one, but two kings grandpa. With this pedigree, her parents naturally wanted to do some matchmaking—but it ended tragically.
2. She Lost Her Future Husband
Louise Elisabeth had her matchmaking sights set on Louis, Duke of Burgundy and heir to the French throne for her daughter’s future mate. One day, a friend pushed him off a toy horse, as kids do. Louis didn’t tell anyone about this incident to avoid getting his playmate into trouble—not knowing he was in dire danger.
His health took a nosedive after this tumble and he died from extra-pulmonary tuberculosis at only nine years old. France lost their future King and Maria Luisa lost a potential husband. Louise moved on quickly, zeroing in on another suitor. Europe would never be the same.
3. She Moved On
At only 11 years old, Maria Luisa and 14-year-old Charles, Prince of Asturias found themselves engaged. He was the future King Charles IV of Spain. But at the time, he was just Charles to her. At least the pair were close? Well…by close, I mean he was also her cousin. But royals loved to keep it in the family, so they happily made agreements and plans.
But remember what they say about best-laid plans? In the lead-up to the wedding, everything went wrong for Maria Luisa.
4. She Dealt With Tragedies
First, her mother Louise Elisabeth succumbed to smallpox at only 32 years old. She never got to see her youngest tie the knot—but the heartbreak didn’t stop there Not long after, her father Philip died after sending Maria Luisa on her way to marry Charles. All these tragedies didn’t exactly set the most positive tone for Charles and Maria Luisa’s marriage. Did it place a curse on it? That would explain a lot.
5. She Dominated In Marriage
Charles IV was two years Maria Luisa’s senior. He was her husband (and cousin). He was Spain’s future King. But Maria Luisa didn’t care about any of that—and definitely not in a romantic way. This force of nature dominated the passive Charles IV. Still, it wasn’t enough: Maria Luisa lusted for power beyond her marriage and princess title—and she’d stop at nothing to get it.
6. She Was Too Ambitious
They say opposites attract. Well, in Charles IV and Maria Luisa’s case, opposites end up in arranged and incestuous marriages. Charles contented himself with hunting and other hobbies. On the other hand, Maria Luisa longed to have more power. It didn’t take long for people to notice—and become concerned—over this ambition. This included her father-in-law, King Charles III of Spain. Let’s just say he wasn’t Maria Luisa’s biggest fan.
7. She Had A Pesky Father-In-Law
Countless wives have nightmare mothers-in-law, but Maria Luisa had a nightmare father-in-law. Unstoppable force, meet immovable object: this is the story of Maria Luisa and Charles III. The current King didn’t just stop at blocking the newlyweds from influencing state affairs—he went to disturbing lengths to bring Maria Luisa down.
King Charles III attempted to control and stalk Maria Luisa’s personal life. Well, stubborn as she was—this ended in disaster.
8. She Didn’t Trust Her Husband
Maria Luisa had many things, but none were fierier than her hair trigger. All it took to set her off was a woman simply approaching Charles IV. Maria Luisa wasn’t just dominant, she was also possessive and jealous. It didn’t help that even in her prime, people viewed her as the shorter and less attractive sister. This makes the next fact even more deliciously ironic.
9. She Had Affairs
Was Maria Luisa projecting her jealousy? Turns out, she was hiding a scandalous secret. Maria Luis was notoriously unfaithful. While she expected nothing but submission, loyalty, and respect from Charles IV, she clearly didn’t think she owed him the same.
And Maria Luisa didn’t just have countless lovers, it’s been said that she found “a succession of lovers—preferably two or three at a time—” to be “an absolute necessity”. Charles IV’s response was unbelievable.
10. She Had A Clueless Husband
There is no evidence that Charles IV ever suspected Maria Luisa of infidelity. Not even once. He allegedly even remarked that princes were luckier than other men because their wives were more faithful. In response, Charles III shook his head in despair and informed his clueless son that he was an absolute fool.
Maria Luisa’s husband may have been none the wiser, but the same couldn’t be said for her father-in-law.
11. She Had A Suspicious Father-In-Law
King Charles III went into battle, but it was far from a normal one. He wasn’t fighting against a foreign power. He was up against his clueless son and wayward daughter-in-in-law. Charles III made full use of his powers to monitor and control Maria Luisa—but she refused to surrender. Maria Luisa avoided going with the royal court (and having to leave her lovers behind) by claiming she was too ill to travel.
Charles III responded by arranging her travel in a chair for the sick and injured. She magically recovered by then. Charles III knew he didn’t have much longer but he refused to go down without a fight. And boy did he give her one.
12. Her Father-In-Law Meddled
One day, Maria Luisa found herself inconsolable—and it was all her father-in-law’s fault. The King became suspicious of a lover and banished him to the other side of Spain. Maria Luisa demanded her husband get him back. Somehow, this didn’t arouse Charles IV’s suspicion, and he asked his dad. It didn’t work.
This wasn’t the last of Maria Luisa’s affairs to end up in flames.
13. She Got Revenge
When Maria Luisa hooked up with Count Pignatelli, things took an unexpected turn. Maria wasn’t the only noblewoman warming his bed, and the count fell head over heels for the Duchess of Alba. Maria Luisa didn’t hate the game, she just hated the player—and her revenge was diabolical.
She used her father-in-law’s spite in her favor and got him to send her former lover to France. Charles III agreed. But Count Pignatelli’s departure devastated the Duchess of Alba. From that point on, the two women became sworn enemies. As the Duchess struggled to move on from the Count, Maria Luisa already had her eyes set on someone else.
14. She Was Charmed
Maria Luisa was charmed…or seduced, depending on who you ask. Enter Manuel Godoy. Before he became one of the most powerful people in Spain, he was rumored to be just one of Maria Luisa’s many lovers. But he emerged as the most notorious and important. Manuel and Maria Luisa fell in lust… or something more. Their correspondence revealed an unexpected side.
15. She Was An Oversharer
Maria Luisa’s letters to Manuel revealed her softer and more vulnerable side. She shared personal matters, such as her menstruation, menopause, and depression. Was it oversharing? Manuel didn’t seem to mind. In response, he comforted Maria Luisa and promised her everything would be okay. But it wouldn’t be. Her life was about to become even more complicated.
16. She Became Queen
In 1788, Charles III—Spain’s King and Maria Luisa’s pesky father-in-law—kicked the bucket. Charles IV and Maria Luisa finally ascended the throne. This didn’t come as a surprise. After all, Maria Luisa knew what she was getting into after marrying the heir all those years ago. And it didn’t take long for Maria Luisa to take advantage of her greater power and freedom.
17. She Set The Tone
Tradition? Maria Luisa didn’t know her. She attended the first meeting between Charles IV and his ministers. Let’s just say this move raised a lot of eyebrows. Maria Luisa sent a message and set the tone for Charles IV’s reign. Correction: their reign. Charles IV wasn’t in charge. She was. But was she really? Not if Manuel had anything to do with it.
18. She Gave Her Lover A Leg Up
There was far more to Maria Luisa’s affair with Manuel Godoy than met the eye. In just a few years, Manuel went from penniless palace guard to Spain’s de facto ruler. It didn’t take long for the new Queen to lavish her rumored lover with titles, wealth, and power. Manuel even managed to charm Charles IV, who trusted him, and never suspected a thing. There’s clueless, and then there’s Charles IV.
19. She Was Dominated
The tables turned against Maria Luisa without her even noticing. She famously dominated Charles IV, and Spain by extension. But Manuel now dominated her. And by extension, he also dominated Charles IV, and Spain. Who knew an affair could get this messy? Now, Maria Luisa and Manuel found themselves entangled with her husband, government, and politics. Basically, they were doomed.
20. She Was Jealous
Meanwhile, Maria Luisa’s old enemy Maria Teresa, the Duchess of Alba was living the dream. She inherited a title, married a wealthy guy, and became part of Spain’s wealthiest power couple. Maria Teresa also enjoyed lovers, which reportedly included legendary painter Francisco de Goya. The artist even painted a scandalous piece many believed was her.
What does this have to do with her rival Maria Luisa? You see, Manuel commissioned it. Run for cover.
21. She Got Revenge On Her Enemy
There’s nothing Maria Luisa did better than revenge. But this time, she took it too far. Maria Luisa exiled the Duchess of Alba hundreds of miles away. Francisco begged the Queen for mercy. Maria Luisa took pity and agreed to pardon her. The Duchess finally returned to Madrid, but it was too late. She died shortly afterward—and it gets even worse.
22. She Became A Suspect
Spain’s rumor mill was ablaze, and Maria Luisa was at its center. Her rivalry with the Duchess of Alba wasn’t exactly a secret. So when Maria Teresa passed shortly after returning from exile, people were suspicious. Many believed she poisoned her longtime enemy and rival. This suspicion haunted Maria Luisa for the rest of her life.
23. She Was Exposed
To Maria Luisa, nothing tasted better than revenge. José Moñino, 1st Count of Floridablanca and a key minister, learned this lesson the hard way. He accused Manuel of an affair with Maria Luisa. Their faction didn’t just kick him out of power, they charged the respected statesman with embezzlement. Then, they took it even further—arguably too far.
24. She Went Too Far
Maria Luisa’s vengeance had no bounds, and José found himself imprisoned for three years. It took a desperate plea by his brother to get him out. The King eventually acquitted José, but the statesman was never the same after this years-long nightmare. He never stepped foot into the halls of power again—but while he was gone, the suspicions about Maria Luisa and Manuel Godoy were still there.
25. She Faced Gossip
When there’s smoke, there’s fire. Countless contemporaries reported on the same rumors José found himself ruined over. This even includes diplomats and ambassadors. They wrote letters and documents filled with suspicions that Maria Luisa’s relationship with her husband’s right-hand man wasn’t quite right. But she was no stranger to controversy and had a lot more on her plate than gossip.
26. She Aged Badly
Turns out, money and power can’t buy everything. You see, everyone thought Maria Luisa aged prematurely, and badly. A Russian ambassador even wrote, “Repeated childbirths, indispositions and maybe some inheritable diseases has caused her to wither entirely”. He even wrote that her skin had turned yellow and that she’d lost all her teeth. Ouch.
27. She Lost Many Children
Sadly, we know the Russian ambassador was right on at least one count: Maria Luisa’s many pregnancies and childbirths took a dark toll on her. She had 24 pregnancies: 10 miscarriages, and 14 births. But only half survived into adulthood, including heir Ferdinand VII. Perhaps the “Felon King” was always destined for infamy, but Charles IV and Maria Luisa’s parenting—if we can even call it that—didn’t help.
28. She Wasn’t The Best Mom
Did the man who became “Spain’s worst king” ever stand a chance? On one hand, Charles IV was an absent husband and father. On the other hand, Maria Luisa picked Manuel over her family every time. To make matters worse, Manuel didn’t just exclude him from state affairs, he even threatened disinheritance. Ferdinand VII’s anger and resentment festered, but Maria Luisa didn’t notice. She’d pay the price for this.
29. She Spoiled Her Lovers
Despite her many rumored lovers, Maria Luisa and revenge were the true match made in heaven. One day, she was furious with Manuel and wasn’t afraid to show it. Maria Luisa got back at him by taking on another lover, Mallo. Like Manuel, she spoiled this boy toy with the finest things. But this time was different.
Everyone noticed Mallo’s sudden change in fortunes—including, for once, Charles IV.
30. Her Husband Noticed
King Charles IV once noticed Mallo arriving at the palace in the finest carriage and horses. The King asked Manuel, “Who is this Mallo? Every day I see him with a new turn-out. Where does he get his money”? Manuel looked at the Queen and replied “Mallo has not a penny of his own, but they say he is kept by some toothless old woman who robs her husband to enrich her lover”.
31. She Kept Getting Away With It
Charles IV laughed, also turned to Maria Luisa, and asked “Do you hear that, Luisa? What do you think of that, eh”? She laughed it off, “Oh, it is probably one of Manuel’s jokes”. Unbelievably, the King still didn’t suspect a thing. And perhaps even more unbelievably, Maria Luisa forgave Manuel for his ruthless insult—but she might’ve had no choice.
32. She Got Sick Of Her Boy Toy
Maria Luisa had looked into the future—and noticed disaster heading her way. While Maria Luisa had decided that she was done with Mallo, she couldn’t just throw him out like the trash. Turns out, she sent the boy toy countless incriminating letters. Maria Luisa needed to destroy the proof of her infidelity, but she couldn’t go to anyone for help. Enter, Manuel.
33. She Had To Destroy The Evidence
In the middle of the night, Mallo woke up to a nightmare: intimidating men surrounded his house. But these weren’t petty criminals committing a robbery. It was on the orders of the government. Mallo had no choice but to surrender the priceless letters. But Manuel didn’t arrange the operation out of the goodness of his heart. He reportedly kept these letters, and basically blackmailed Maria Luisa. How romantic.
34. She Slandered Her Daughter-In-Law
Maria Luisa was no stranger to rumors of poisonous plots, but there was one that caught the queen by surprise: people thought her daughter-in-law, Maria Antonia was out to get her. The Queen likely knew these rumors were baseless. But Maria Luisa also knew she hated Maria Antonia. So she added more fuel to the fire. Maria Luisa even had aides inspect her books and clothes for poison. She wasn’t getting any mother-in-law of the year awards, that’s for sure. Then, one day, they flipped the script on Maria Luisa.
35. She Was Suspected of Wrongdoing
At only 21, Maria Antonia unexpectedly succumbed to tuberculosis—and the reaction was wild. It didn’t just set the rumor mill ablaze, it burned it to the ground. Courtiers shared conspiracies that Maria Luisa had poisoned her.
While there is no evidence supporting this, Maria Antonia’s mom genuinely believed it. It didn’t help that her troubled son Ferdinand VII went off the rails afterward.
36. She Had A Rebellious Son
It was during this era that Ferdinand VII earned his notorious nickname. He hated his parents (and Manuel), and lashed out, as many young adults do. Let’s just say he took it a bit too far. They discovered the heir was involved in a conspiracy against the throne. After raiding Ferdinand VII’s apartment, they found out it was so much worse than they thought.
37. Her Son Plotted Against Her
The most disturbing discovery of all? Ferdinand VII didn’t just participate in this plot, he led it. They also discovered incriminating document after incriminating document, which ranged from plans to ally with Napoleon to even assassinating Maria Luisa’s life.
Even worse, Ferdinand VI didn’t just sign off on these documents. He wrote them. Maria Luisa found herself in every mother’s worst nightmare.
38. She Forgave Her Son
Ferdinand VII realized he was in seriously hot water, and scrambled to save himself. He wrote Maria Luisa and Charles IV unbelievable letters. Ferdinand VII confessed, begged them for forgiveness, and asked to beg on his knees in front of them. Ferdinand VII may have tried to overthrow and end them…but he was still their son. They forgave him, but boy did they regret it.
39. She Lost Everything
In 1808, Maria Luisa was part of a royal delegation to negotiate peace with France. She should’ve just stayed home. Turns out, France and Spain weren’t on the same page. They weren’t even reading the same book. Napoleon forced both Charles IV and Ferdinand VII to surrender the throne. The French emperor then declared his brother the Spanish king. This plunged Spain into a long and bloody conflict. Once again, Maria Luisa found herself involved.
40. She Was Blamed
The people of Spain needed a scapegoat and explanation for their predicament. In response, many blamed Maria Luisa, a Queen that they already disliked. This was in no small part thanks to all the rumors, especially the ones concerning her affair with Manuel—who they probably hated the most. Somehow, her ordeal became even worse.
41. She Was Imprisoned
Living in a French chateau on an emperor’s dime sounds like a dream—only it was a nightmare for Maria Luisa. After Napoleon basically ordered Charles to give up the throne, they went from power to prison. They languished there as Spain fought for her life and liberty. Years later, they finally received what seemed like amazing news. But if it sounds too good to be true…
42. She Became A Wanderer
Even though her son, Ferdinand, now controlled the Spanish throne, Maria Luisa’s sense of freedom was short-lived. In a surprising act of betrayal, Ferdinand exiled his parents. He also gave Luisa’s lover, Manuel, the boot. Maria Luisa, Charles, and Manuel could now go anywhere but home. The world was their oyster, but their hearts burned for Spain. The trio ended up wandering around Europe. Talk about going from riches to rags! They finally settled in Rome, where the former King and Queen of Spain spent their final days miles and miles away from where they truly wanted to be. And it got even more tragic.
43. Her Time Was Up
On January 2, 1819, Maria Luisa died, reportedly from consumption. 18 days later, Charles IV followed his wife into the afterlife. It was the end of a reign that was many things, but never boring. So in true Maria Luisa fashion, the drama didn’t end when her life did. If anything, her passing may have raised even more eyebrows, thanks to all the shocking revelations about her.
44. She Wrote An Interesting Will
Maria Luisa left behind several children, including one rebellious son—but she dealt them a heartbreaking blow from beyond the grave. As it turns out, she made Manuel the universal heir in her will. Basically, he got everything. Her children were paid dust. The official rationale was Manuel deserved it the most, since he’d joined Maria Luisa and Charles IV in exile, and lost property.
Still, one can’t help but continue wondering about Maria Luisa and Manuel Godoy’s relationship, especially after her last words came to light.
45. She Had Shocking Last Words
According to Fray Juan Almaraz, Maria Luisa’s last words were Earth—or at least Spain—shattering. He claims that as the former Queen lay on her deathbed, she confessed that out of all her many sons and daughters, none were legitimate. Zilch. Nada. This included King Ferdinand VII. Was it true? Can we really trust Fray Juan? Well, it’s complicated.
46. She Might’ve Been Innocent
Maria Luisa had countless affairs. In other news, water is wet. But some aren’t so sure and reject narratives about her infidelity. They suggest these claims were exaggerated, or even invented by the many, from Spaniards to foreigners, who were out to get Maria Luisa. After all, Charles never doubted his wife. Maybe he wasn’t clueless. Maybe she really was faithful. Unfortunately, the truth—whatever it was—perished alongside Maria Luisa.
47. She Was Played
Maria Luisa kept all of her lovers on a short leash but in the early days of her marriage, she met her match in Count Pignatelli. She fell for him, but it was all an act. Turns out, he already had a lover, the Duchess of Alba. Count Pignatelli played both women and enjoyed their gifts. After Maria Luisa realized the truth, she wanted nothing more than revenge. Count Pignatelli and the Duchess of Alba had no idea a storm was hurtling toward them.
48. She Heard Rumors About Her Daughter In Law
Maria Luisa was always at the center of poisoning plot rumors—but there’s one time where the tables had turned. People speculated that Ferdinand VII’s wife, Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily, planned on poisoning the Queen.
Maria Luisa could’ve put these rumors to rest and repaired her daughter-in-law’s reputation. Naturally, she did the complete opposite.
49. She Was Duped
Maria Luisa was a participant and witness to a historic moment, but not in a good way. In April 1808, Spain’s who’s-who traveled to attend a meeting with Napoleon. This group included Maria Luisa, Charles IV, Manuel, and Ferdinand VII. The Spaniards hoped to make nice with their country’s biggest threat. Instead, it went horribly wrong. Napoleon took the Spanish throne and exiled Maria and her family.
50. She Had A Vicious Son
In 1814, after years of imprisonment, Maria Luisa and Charles IV finally received good news: Napoleon had fallen and the people of Spain wanted Ferdinand as King. Yay…right? It didn’t take long for Charles and Maria Luisa’s celebration to turn into devastation. Instead of welcoming his forgiving parents home from exile, their vengeful son banned them—along with Manuel—from stepping foot in Spain again. The trio were on their own.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17