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European Royals

The queen who fought an assassin with flowers

She was the queen who tried to save her dynasty with nothing more than a bouquet of flowers. Maria Amelia saw her husband and eldest son mortally wounded at close range in an assassination that would hasten the demise of their dynasty. She had done all she could to save the monarchy she married into but it would all come to nothing as she watched another son lose his throne just years after the bloodbath she had attempted to stop with a posy. This is the story of Maria Amelia, the last Queen of Portugal.

Her Early Life

She was born in Twickenham, Middlesex on September 28th 1865 as the first child of Philippe, Count of Paris and his wife, Marie-Isabelle of Orleans. Her father was a claimant to the French throne and the family lived in exile until they were allowed to return to Paris after the fall of Napoleon III. Amelie’s early life was filled with political intrigue as her father negotiated with other claimants over who might be King of France should the Monarchy be restored.

Meanwhile, her family was also looking for royal marriages for their children and Amelie’s aunt floated the idea of a union with Carlos, heir to the throne of Portugal in 1884. The couple met at Chantilly where they fell in love. A huge gala was held in Paris in February 1886 to mark their engagement.

The Path to Queenship

Amelie arrived in Portugal on May 19th 1865 for her marriage to the Prince Royal. She was greeted by big crowds at the train station and was accompanied by many of her family for her wedding. The ceremony took place on May 22nd at St. Dominic’s Church in Lisbon, the traditional venue for Portuguese royal weddings. Amelie entered the church on the arm of her father. She was wearing a dress with fitted bodice and full length skirt made of white silk faille and decked with blossoms. There were more flowers in her hair to hold in place her veil, made of French lace.

The Wedding of Carlos and Amelie
By J. Christino – Hemeroteca Digital – “O Ocidente: revista ilustrada de Portugal e do estrangeiro”, N.º 268 (1 Jun. 1886), Public Domain, Wiki Commons

However, France was less than impressed with the bride’s family. The huge celebrations for her engagement had led to opposition to the Count of Paris. Philippe was told not to return home and he left his daughter’s wedding for a new exile.

Preparing for a Crown

The new Princess Royal’s name was changed to the more Portuguese sounding Maria Amelia and she quickly did what all regal wives were expected to do at the time – she produced a son. Luis Filipe was born on March 21st 1887. Carlos and Maria Amelia lost their baby daughter, Maria Ana, on the day she was born in 1887 but their second son, Manuel, arrived on November 15th 1889 to complete their family.

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Meanwhile, the monarchy found itself in line for increasing attacks as political stagnation led to a lack of economic growth. A succession of governments did little to alter the situation and when Carlos’ father, Luis I, died in 1889, he left an increasingly fragile stability as people across Portugal became unhappy.

Maria Amelia, Queen of Portugal

Maria Amelia became queen on October 19th 1889 at the age of 24. Her passion for social reform and health initiatives saw her support projects to eradicate illnesses including tuberculosis while she was also known for her interest in the arts. She acted as regent for her husband and was a popular figure. However, she also faced criticism for her spending.

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Money was a major issue during her time as queen. The country was declared bankrupt twice during her husband’s reign leading to strikes and renewed attacks on the monarchy. Carlos ended up appointing Joao Franco as Prime Minister and in 1907 watched as he dissolved parliament leading to an authoritarian government. As criticism of the Monarchy mounted, the king was persuaded to agree to a law that would mean any dissent could lead to prison or deportation. As he put pen to paper, on January 30th 1908, he told the politicians around him ”I sign my sentence of death but you, gentlemen, want it that way”.

The End of the Story

In fact, plans to assassinate Carlos were already in full swing. On February 1st 1908, Queen Maria Amelia was in a carriage with her husband and two sons when gunmen opened fire on them. Carlos was killed instantly as his wife tried to protect her family with the flowers she had been presented with. Her elder son, Luis Filipe, was badly hurt and died twenty minutes later. Manuel, his younger brother, escaped with light injuries while the queen consort was unharmed.

Maria Amelia, grieving her husband and elder son, saw Manuel proclaimed King of Portugal the following day but the Monarchy was fatally wounded. In 1910, she joined him to sail into exile, eventually settling in Twickenham. When Manuel married in 1913, his mother moved to France while he continued his work to restore the Portuguese throne. However, Manuel died unexpectedly at his home in 1932 and his body was returned to Portugal where he was buried at the Pantheon of the Braganzas.

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Maria Amelia made one final trip to Lisbon in 1945, revisiting many of her former homes and checking on the health projects she had helped establish. She died on October 25th 1951 at Le Chesnay in France and was buried with her sons and husband in Lisbon. The queen who tried to save a crown with a posy of flowers was finally at rest.

Maria Amalia, Queen of Portugal, 1865 – 1951

Lydia Starbuck is a pen name of June Woolerton who has written extensively on royal history. Her book, A History of Royal Jubilees, is available now. She is also the author of a popular cosy mystery, All Manner of Murder.

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About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.