Maria Letizia Bonaparte, Duchess of Aosta

Maria Letizia Bonaparte
Duchess of Aosta
Born (1866-11-20)20 November 1866
Palais Royal, Paris, France
Died 25 October 1926(1926-10-25) (aged 59)
Moncalieri, Italy
Spouse Prince Amadeo, Duke of Aosta
Issue Prince Umberto, Count of Salemi
Full name
Marie Laetitia Eugénie Catherine Adélaïde Bonaparte
House Bonaparte
Father Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte
Mother Princess Maria Clotilde of Savoy
Religion Roman Catholicism

Maria Letizia Bonaparte (Marie Laetitia Eugénie Catherine Adélaïde; 20 November 1866 – 25 October 1926) was one of three children born to Prince Napoléon and his wife Princess Maria Clotilde of Savoy. In 1888 she married Prince Amadeo, Duke of Aosta, the former king of Spain.[1] Maria Letizia became the Duchess of Aosta, Duke of Aosta being a title by which Amadeus was known before and after his kingship. Their marriage was instrumental in almost reviving French hopes of reinstating the Bonaparte dynasty into a position of power, as seen in the days of Napoleon III.

Family and early life

Maria Letizia's father Napoléon Joseph was a nephew of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte through his brother Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia. This then made Maria Letizia a great-niece of Emperor Napoleon. Her mother Maria Clotilde was a daughter of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. Through this connection, Maria Letizia was a niece of King Umberto I of Italy and Queen Maria Pia of Portugal.

Maria Letizia's father Napoléon Joseph Bonaparte

Maria Letizia was born in the Palais Royal in Paris on 20 November 1866, during the last few years of the Second French Empire.[2] She grew up living between Paris, Rome and elsewhere in Italy with her two brothers Napoléon Victor and Louis. After the fall of the French Empire in 1870, their family resided in a beautiful estate near Lake Geneva.[3]

State of parents' marriage

Their parents' marriage was unhappy, however, particularly as Maria Clotilde preferred the quieter, more duty-filled life that she felt they should maintain, while Napoléon Joseph preferred the faster, more entertainment-filled lifestyle of the French court. Another factor in their unhappy marriage was the circumstances leading up to their espousal. Maria Clotilde had been only 15 when they were married, while he had been over 37 years old.[4] The marriage had also been negotiated out of political reasons during the conference of Plombières (July 1858).[4] As Maria Clotilde was too young at the time for marriage, Napoléon Joseph had had to wait until the following year; many had disapproved of the speed he undertook collecting his young bride in Turin.[4] Their marriage was often compared to that of an elephant and a gazelle; the bridegroom had strong Napoleonic features (broad, bulky, and ponderous) while the bride appeared frail, short, fair-haired, and with the characteristic nose of the House of Savoy.[4]

Maria Letizia's mother Maria Clotilde of Savoy

The marriage was also unpopular with both the French and the Italians; the latter in particular felt that the daughter of their king had been sacrificed to an unpopular member of the House of Bonaparte and consequently regarded it as a mésalliance.[5] For France's part, Napoléon Joseph was ill regarded, and had been known to carry on a number of affairs both before and during his marriage. Their official reception into Paris on 4 February was greeted very coldly by Parisians, not out of disrespect for a daughter of the king of Sardinia, but instead out of dislike for her new husband.[4] Indeed, all her life public sympathy tended to lean in her favour; she was fondly regarded as retiring, charitable, pious, and trapped in an unhappy marriage.[2]

After Maria Clotilde's father Victor Emmanuel died in 1878, she returned to Turin, Italy without her husband. During this period, Maria Letizia mostly resided with her mother in the Castle of Moncalieri, but her two brothers stayed mainly with their father.[6] It was in Italy that their mother withdrew herself from society to dedicate herself to religion and various charities. As a result of her mother's religious devotion, Maria Letizia was raised in a convent-like atmosphere.[7]


By her late teens, Maria Letizia was considered by some contemporaries to be beautiful and to be in appearance a "real Bonaparte".[7] She was said to have resembled some of the sisters of Napoleon Bonaparte, who were considered quite beautiful in their day.[8]

In Florence, Maria Letizia met and almost married her cousin Prince Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy.[8] A change of plans occurred however, and the marriage never took place. Emanuele later married Princess Hélène of Orléans instead. In 1886, a rumour circulated that Maria Letizia was going to marry her cousin Prince Roland Bonaparte.[7] He was thirty years old and recently widowed. Nothing ever came of these rumors however.


An older portrait of Maria Letizia's husband Prince Amadeus of Savoy, Duke of Aosta during his time as King of Spain.


It was in Moncalieri that she met Emanuele's father Amadeus, Duke of Aosta (sometimes referred to as Amadeo). He was her maternal uncle and was formerly the elected king of Spain for a brief period of three years (1870–1873).

Maria Letizia was considered very charming, and Amadeus was very dependent on her society when he visited Italy. In 1888, she agreed to marry him. One source attributes the marriage to the fact that Amadeus felt great love for niece, but states that Maria Letizia's decision was simply a "strong desire for independence on the part of the Princess because of the heaviness of the maternal yoke".[9] In preparation for the marriage, she received a great number of notable gifts from personages such as Empress Eugenie, the widowed wife of Napoleon III, and Amadeus' three sons.[10]

Eugenie sent her some "great and illustrious" family jewels, while the boys gave her a necklace with seven rows of pearls that was valued at sixty-thousand dollars.[10] The couple planned to marry in Turin with the hopes of turning the city into a "brilliant centre of attraction in Italy".[10]

Cause for scandal

The announcement of their marriage caused a great scandal in the Italian court, as he was not only twenty-two years older, but was also her mother's brother. Nevertheless, later that year the necessary Papal dispensation was obtained, giving them permission to marry. It should be noted that although the Pope gave them permission, the consanguinity of their marriage, along with those of other royal houses would later lead in 1902 to Pope Leo XIII declaring that no more dispensations would be given for these types of marriages.[9]


They wedded that same year, on 11 September 1888 at the Royal Palace of Turin in Turin, Italy.[11] The ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Gaetano Alimonda, who had been the man responsible for traveling to Rome for their dispensation.[10] Their wedding was attended by many members of the houses of Bonaparte and Savoy, including Queen Maria Pia of Portugal, who was Amadeus' sister and Maria Letizia's maternal aunt.[11][12] Maria Letizia was Amadeus' second wife, as his first spouse Maria Vittoria del Pozzo della Cisterna had died in 1876. Due to the large age difference, Maria Letizia was only three years older than Amadeus' eldest child.

The wedding was notable for being the first marriage between a Bonaparte and a member of a reigning house of Europe since 1859.[11] As it was the first major event since the fall of the Second French Republic, the marriage was instrumental in bringing considerable attention back to the prospects of the Bonapartes among various members of the press, especially pertaining to the establishment of another possible government.[13]

One article stated that at the time of their marriage, a Bonaparte would have had an easy chance of obtaining at least two million votes if a plebiscite were to occur.[13] This likelihood of a Bonaparte resurgence was most likely because there was a certain nostalgia among the French for the days of Maria Letizia's great uncle Napoleon I and even for the more recent rule of her uncle Napoleon III.[13]

The couple lived in Turin and had one son: Prince Umberto, Count of Salemi (22 June 1889 - 19 October 1918).[12] He was killed during World War I. Maria Letizia became widowed soon after their wedding, as Amadeus died less than two years after their marriage in Turin, on 18 January 1890.

Later life

Maria Letizia's only child Prince Umberto, Count of Salemi in an undated photograph.

Relationship with the Italian court

Up to 1902, Umberto and his mother were rarely seen at the Italian court.[14] No images of Umberto were ever distributed, unlike other members of the Italian royal family. His absence sparked many rumors, some implying that he was "mentally afflicted" or "misshapen".[14] In later years, he would appear more in the press, disproving all of these theories.

Amadeus's first wife had been a wealthy woman; upon her death, she left her vast fortune to him and their three sons. This meant that any wealth Amadeus had accumulated went to his first three children, leaving little to nothing upon his death for Maria Letizia and their son Umberto.[8] They thus remained dependent upon the allowance they received from the Italian crown.[8] This dependency would cause problems later, as Umberto often angered his cousin Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, the head of the House of Savoy. After Umberto committed various misdemeanors and pranks in 1911, he was imprisoned in Moncalieri Castle.[15]

He had recently been dismissed from the naval academy in Livorno for what was apparently incorrigible behavior and amorous attentions to some young women in the town.[15] Maria Letizia, worried over what she considered her son's harsh sentence, wrote to Queen Helena and asked her to intercede for her son.[15] The King remained adamant however, and only reduced the sentence slightly due to the recent death of his aunt Princess Maria Clotilde, Maria Letizia's mother.[15]

Death and inheritance

During her widowhood, Maria Letizia maintained an open and scandalous relationship with a military man twenty years her junior. Upon her death on 25 October 1926, he was revealed to be the sole heir in her will, as her son died in 1918.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles



  1. Appleton, p. 447.
  2. 1 2 Vizetelly, p. 226.
  3. Remsen Whitehouse, p. 313.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Vizetelly, p. 225.
  5. Vizetelly, pp. 225-26.
  6. Remsen Whitehouse, pp. 313-314.
  7. 1 2 3 "The Bonaparte Marriage", The New York Times, 26 December 1886
  8. 1 2 3 4 "Count of Salemi Atones For Escapades By War Heroism", The Washington Post, 11 January 1918
  9. 1 2 "To Stop Consanguineous Marriages", The New York Times, 14 September 1902
  10. 1 2 3 4 "French Midsummer Talk", The New York Times, Paris, France, 15 July 1888
  11. 1 2 3 "In the Palace at Turin", The New York Times, London, UK, 12 September 1888
  12. 1 2 Remsen Whitehouse, p. 314.
  13. 1 2 3 "French Talk of the Day", The New York Times, Paris, France, 10 June 1888
  14. 1 2 "Royal Marriages and the Vatican", The Washington Post, 17 August 1902
  15. 1 2 3 4 "King Punishes His Cousin", The Washington Post, 16 July 1911


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