Isabel II was part of the long line of Bourbon monarchs and great-great-great grandmother the present king Felipe. She lived in troubled times and her role as queen was at the mercy of the political vicissitudes of 19th century Spain. She was appointed queen at the tender age of four, under the regency of her mother María Cristina. (Confusingly there was a second period of regency in Spain under a different María Cristina which was the name of Isabel’s daughter-in-law).
Her succession was troublesome from the beginning as her uncle Don Carlos had expected to take the throne and this conflict of interests, both political and personal, gave rise to no less than three civil wars known as the “Guerras Carlistas”. Carlos upheld a traditionalist conservative view of government, whilst Isabel and her regent mother were in the camp of the liberals who were attempting to move Spain towards a more representative parliamentary system.
Isabel’s marriage was a further point of controversy and different factions and international interests supported various candidates. In the end the chosen candidate was a weak and inoffensive Italian, Francisco de Asís de Borbón, who was double second cousin to Isabel via both his parents. However, there was no danger of genetic complications from their union. From the age of 13 Isabel demonstrated a voracious sexual appetite and became promiscuous to point of general alarm. She was married on her sixteenth birthday to avoid the danger of accidental illegitimacy. Her new husband was overtly homosexual, much to the distaste of Isabel who later said: “What can I say about a man who, on our wedding night, was wearing more lace than I was?”
Isabel gave birth to eleven children, but only five of her children reached maturity. At each birth her husband was paid a sum of money to recognize the child as his own and therefore make the child legitimate. Whilst Isabel surrounded herself with her lovers, her husband achieved emotional stability with a discreet lasting relationship with a young courtier.
In 1868 Isabel and her entourage were sent into exile as a result of the “Glorious Revolution” which led to a foreign monarch, Amadeo I, briefly ruling in Spain, followed by the First Republic in 1873. Isabel remained in exile in France for the rest of her life, separated from her husband and apparently continuing with her promiscuous life-style. In 1874 her son Alfonso XII was restored to the Spanish throne. His paternity was popularly attributed to a military general called Enrique Puig Molto.
Isabel died in France in 1904. She has been described by the historian José Luis Comellas as “brash, authentic, spontaneous, attractive, mixing humour and friendliness with vulgarity and coarseness. Passionate about Spain and about her lovers”.