Updated: Feb 28
The Marble Slab of Queen Maria Francisca
22 April 1800 heralded the royal birth of Maria Francisca (Mary Frances in English) in Queluz. She was a Portuguese Princess, daughter of King John VI of Portugal. On 29th September 1816, she was married to the Count of Molina, Don Carlos de Bourbon. The couple had 3 sons: Carlos, Juan and Fernando. In the midst of confusion, revolutions and uprisings that happened during those troubled times. The royal family was exiled from Spain. They fled to Portugal and then in 1833, arrived in Alverstoke in the United Kingdom.
Even though it was a civil exile, many in the Catholic Church, especially the clerics, recognised their right to the throne. Many supported the royal family even when they were far from home. Don Carlos maintained a firm belief in the divine right of kings to absolute governance, and had his faith firmly rooted in the teachings of the Catholic Church. He was also known for his piety and devotion. As is evident, although he was ill-treated by radicals, he neither retaliated nor took up arms. He held firm to his belief of legitimate succession and not usurping power, standing firm with uprightness and truth, he would not barge even when he was compelled to recognise illegitimate heirs to the throne by devious means. This was the reason for the family’s exile.
Much like the Holy Family exiled in Egypt, this royal family sought refuge in the little refectory of St Mary’s, Gosport. Since they were a good and pious family, there was clearly no hesitation among the clergy to house the Spanish royals. There was a disease going around at that time, and poor Maria Francisca had been infected. No medication or relieve proved useful and at 11.35am, 4 September 1834, Thursday, she succumbed to her illness. In her dying moments, She was surrounded by her 3 sons as well as her sister, Maria Teresa, the Princess of Beira. The Bishop of Leon never left the Royal Mistress’ bedside until she breathed her last. He administered the sacraments of Holy Mother Church, penned her final wishes in the form of a will and assisted her soul to meet her Divine Lord and Saviour.
One can only imagine the room filled with grief and sorrow, tears and anguish at the death of such a young mistress.
This was true for all who were by her deathbed. But not so for Maria Francisca. With perfect resignation, she maintained calmness and serenity. Assembling her household, she bade her final farewell to each individually and left them some token of remembrance.
Her body was laid in state for several days in the principal room of the Rectory. The coffin rested upon a platform with three steps, under an ornate crimson canopy, surrounded by eighteen large candlesticks constantly with tapers constantly kept burning. The Royal Arms of Spain and Portugal were placed at the head of the coffin. Four Spanish gardes de corps and a Catholic Priest were constantly in attendance. Thousands of persons of all ranks were freely admitted. They gave testimony to the unjust treatment of these royal exiles from Spain.
Their loss was Gosport’s gain. A grand procession fitting for the Queen was made through the streets of Gosport with thousands of spectators. A little village so small has seldom or never witnessed such a sight. Shops were closed, windows thronged with spectators, balconies were hung with black. The funeral procession was carried out in perfect order, without the smallest interruption. People in solemn silence, some in tears, testifying to the deepest regret at the untimely loss of an illustrious foreigner.
With the help of the forces and the civil authorities, the procession of no less than 60,000 persons assembled and set off orderly and without any accidents or disturbances. British colours and the Royal Standard of Spain were flown at half-mast. The funeral was said in St Mary’s, and the body was then lowered into a vault at the foot of the altar. Maria Francisca’s remains were then transferred to the Cathedral of San Giusto in Trieste, Italy next to her husband’s. What is left in the Church is a marble stone commemorating the Carlist Queen. A translation from the Latin inscription is as follows:
“Maria Francisca Asis descended from Braganza and Borbon royalty.
Beloved wife of King Charles V of Spain.
4th September 1834
Fell asleep in the Lord.