Marie-Caroline, Queen of Naples and Sicily, provided the Mazenods with a pension to live on during their stay in Naples and Sicily. In his letters, President de Mazenod often referred to her as “the peerless one.”
Her Life and her Politics
Marie-Caroline was born in Vienna on August 13, 1752, daughter of Francis I, the emperor of Austria and Maria Theresa. In 1768, she was married by proxy to Ferdinand IV, King of the two Sicilies (Naples and Sicily). She is inscribed in the marriage contract as Carolina and this is the name that stayed with her from that time on. Lively in temperament and very intelligent, she offset her husband who was more interested in hunting and in pleasure than he was in politics. For all intents and purposes, it was she who held the rudder of state. Even though she was Austrian, she relied more heavily on England than on Austria. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that the advisors she favoured were Admiral John Acton and Lady Hamilton, the wife of the English ambassador.
Since her sister Marie-Antoinette, who married Louis XVI, was executed by the revolutionaries in Paris, she hated them with all her heart. In 1796, Napoleon invaded Italy and, in 1798, he was already at the doors of the city of Naples. The whole royal family was compelled to flee to Sicily. It was Admiral Nelson who took it upon himself to take them aboard his ships. Once installed in Sicily, she strove to organize a crusade against France. Count d’Antraigues, a friend of President de Mazenod’s, was her secret agent in Europe. In June of 1800, she left Naples to travel to Vienna to implore the help of Francis II, the emperor of Austria. Finally, in 1802, the royal family was able to return to Naples, but the threat of an invasion by French troops still loomed over the kingdom. In 1805, in the course of winning a great victory over the French fleet at Trafalgar near Gibraltar, Admiral Nelson was killed in combat. It was cruel blow for Caroline. In 1813, at the insistence of the English, she was compelled to leave Sicily and took refuge in Austria. She died on September 8, 1814 at Hetzendorf, near Vienna. She had several children among whom was Marie-Amélie who would marry Louis-Philippe, the future king of France and Marie-Antoinette who married Ferdinand, the future king of Spain.
Her Relations with the de Mazenod Family
On November 1797, the de Mazenod’s were forced to leave Venice and to seek refuge in Naples. As a result of financial failures in Venice, the de Mazenods were penniless. “Misery and the most complete destitution are all we can look forward to” the President de Mazenod wrote to Count d’Antraigues on January 9, 1798. An intervention by Count d’Antraigues supported by the Baron and Baroness of Talleyrand, old friends of the de Mazenods, brought the expected results. Marie-Caroline granted the de Mazenods, sworn enemies of the revolutionary French, subsidies what would enable them to live until the end of the year 1798. Toward the end of 1798, the French troops began to threaten Naples. In great haste, the royal family boarded English ships to take refuge in Sicily. Before leaving, the queen notified the Mazenods of her departure and offered them four places on these ships. President de Mazenod politely declined because he preferred to accept the offer of Count de Puységur, a friend of his brother Louis who was the commander of the Portuguese flagship. This proved to be a fortunate choice on his part. The royal family who left Naples at the end of December ran into a terrible storm, while the Mazenods who left on January 3, 1799, arrived at Palermo without incident on January 6.
Upon learning of their arrival, the queen hastened to send to Fortuné de Mazenod 25 ounces - that is, 325 germinal francs - asking him to say a Mass for her family. It was a tactful way of providing for the immediate needs of the de Mazenod family in Sicily. This gift of money enabled them to rent a modest house and to provide for their material needs for a few months. On September 12 of that year, she granted them a monthly pension of 12 ounces, that is, 156 germinal francs. Since Eugene was welcomed into the Cannizzaro family, there remained only three to provide for. This pension assured them a modest existence. In a February 16, 1858 letter to the King of Naples, Bishop de Mazenod evoked with gratitude this charitable gesture on the part of Marie-Caroline: “Your royal house,” he wrote, “were benefactors for my family while they lived as emigrants at Naples and Palermo.”
Bishop de Mazenod mentions yet again Marie-Caroline on the occasion of the arrival in Palermo of Charles Ferdinand, the Duke of Berry, son of the future king of France, Charles X (1824-1830). Since they were friends, Eugene knew a lot about him. The Duke planned to marry one of the daughters of Marie-Caroline. She was enthralled at the idea. But Admiral Acton, the queen’s counsellor, succeeded in dissuading her, especially by letting her know that the Duke was penniless and would only be a useless drain on the kingdom. The Duke was asked to proceed to Rome and the affair came to nothing.
In June of 1800, Marie-Caroline left Sicily and made her way to Vienna. She wanted to organize a crusade against the revolutionary French and asked for Austria’s help, but it was in vain. After the queen left for Vienna, Eugene no longer mentions her in his diary.
Jósef Pielorz, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
MAZENOD, Eugene de, Diary 1791-1821, Oblate Writings I, vol. 16, Rome, 1995.
LEFLON, Jean, Eugène de Mazenod, vol. I, Paris, Plon, trans. by Francis D. Flanagan, o.m.i., 1961.
PIELORZ, Jósef, The Spiritual Life of Bishop de Mazenod, 1782-1812, Association of Oblate Studies and Research, Rome, 1998.
HAMANN, Brigitte, Die Habsburger..., Vienna, 1988, Marie Karolina, p. 325-326.
BONNEFONS, André, Marie-Caroline, reine des Deux-Siciles, Paris, 1905.
NICOLA, Carlo de, Diario napoletano, 1798-1825, vol. I, Naples, 1906, p. 457 and 520.