The Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria was born on the 26th February 1746, the eighth child of the Empress Maria Theresa and her consort, Franz Stephen. Amongst her siblings were Joseph II, Leopold II, Maria Carolina of Naples and Marie Antoinette. The two latter were much younger but it is clear from the letters and presents that were exchanged by the trio, that Amalia and her little sisters were very fond of each other and that it might be said that Amalia bridged a gap in what must seems to have been a very uneasy family dynamic where the older children were old enough to be the parents of the youngest.
Lovely Amalia was known to be the ‘socialite’ of the Imperial family; the daughter most likely to be seen out having fun in the Viennese capital, especially when it was Carnival time. As well as being pretty and sociable, she was also, like most of the Imperial children, very gifted in the arts (thanks in part to tuition from the finest teachers) and was both an excellent artist and a noted singer.
It was probably no surprise then when Amalia fell madly in love with one of the young men at the court and in line with her tempestuous, headstrong nature insisted upon marrying him. The object of her affection was the young Karl Augustus of Zweibrücken, who was a few months her junior and who seemed to ardently return her affection.
The match was not actually a bad one: Karl was the eldest son and heir of the Duke of Zweibrücken, the elder brother of the Queen of Saxony (also called Maria Amalia) and, most crucially, heir to the Kingdom of Bavaria. However, typically for royal parents of the day, Maria Theresa had other plans for her daughter.
At the time, there were three great matrimonial prizes available to Catholic princesses in Europe: the three Bourbon cousins, Ferdinand of Naples, Ferdinand of Parma and the Dauphin Louis of France and Maria Theresa was determined that each would marry one of her daughters. It was Amalia’s fate to be matched with Ferdinand of Parma, the brother of Joseph’s beloved and much mourned dead wife, Isabella and grandson of Louis XV of France.
Amalia protested, of course but in the end had to bow her head to her family’s will and the betrothal was announced in 1769. Karl, heartbroken, left Vienna forever and would always be embittered towards the Austrian royal family as a result. Later, in a twist of fate he would be married to Maria Amalia of Saxony, the daughter of the Elector of Saxony and first cousin of the Dauphin Louis, whose mother had planned and schemed to marry the two. He would, of course, ultimately end up married to Marie Antoinette, the sister of the other Maria Amalia.
We don’t know what happened between Karl and Amalia after her marriage on 19th July 1769 to the Duke of Parma. It’s possible that they continued to correspond and perhaps they even ‘found each other in society’ as the Duc de Richelieu recommended that his daughter do when she was in the exact same situation. Certainly, Amalia is believed to have had several lovers during her time in Palma so it isn’t inconcievable.
Amalia’s marriage turned out very well in the end, producing nine children, four of whom survived infancy. She and her husband were both relatively eccentric sorts who seem to have decided at the outset to live and let live and treat each other with tolerance and friendship, even if they would never be madly in love.