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The Duchess of Parma fell in love with her husband’s sister – The tragic fate of Isabella, who died at the age of 21

Isabella of Bourbon-Parma suffered much during her life. Her affair with her husband’s sister became the talk of the court.

Isabella of Bourbon-Parma was a beautiful, intelligent, artistic young woman, but her life was full of hardships.

Prone to depression since childhood, the Duchess suffered a great deal and was unable to reciprocate her husband’s feelings. Only her mother and later her husband’s sister, Maria Christina, were intimate with her.

The Duchess of Parma fell in love with her husband’s sister - The tragic fate of Isabella, who died at the age of 21
Photo: Wikipedia

Isabella suffered from depression early in life

Isabella, Infanta of Spain, was born in Spain in 1741 to Philip of Bourbon and Luisa of Bourbon. Her mother was married off very early, at the age of 12, and she found it difficult to cope with the rigid rules and strict regulations of the Spanish court. Their parents’ marriage was cold and unemotional, and this affected their daughter’s life.

She was the only child of the couple for nearly ten years, and her mother was the only one with whom she was on intimate terms. She loved music, learned to play the violin and read a lot, but early in her life she developed symptoms of melancholy.

For the first seven years of her life, she was raised in the court of her paternal grandfather, V. King Philip of Spain in Madrid. Between December 1748 and December 1749, she spent a year in Versailles, when her mother visited her family.

In 1748 her father, Infante Philip, was elevated to the dignity of Duke of Parma and the family moved to Parma. Around 1757, Elizabeth Luisa began to arrange her daughter’s marriage to the future Joseph II, son of Maria Theresa, but she died two years later and Isabella was devastated.

The loss of her mother worsened her mental state, and she was often preoccupied with the thought of death.

The Duchess of Parma fell in love with her husband’s sister - The tragic fate of Isabella, who died at the age of 21
Photo: Wikipedia

She and her husband’s sister fell in love with each other

At the age of 18, Isabella was engaged to the future Emperor Joseph II, who was the same age as her, and they married in 1760. It is true that they were wed for dynastic reasons, but the future emperor did fall in love with his young wife. He was very attentive to Isabella, showering her with gifts, trying to show his love and conquer her as much as possible.

The whole royal family and the court were very fond of her, and were impressed by her intelligence and education. She became withdrawn and sunk into a deep melancholy, writing long letters about her death wish, unable to reciprocate her husband’s feelings.

At this time, she did not have an intimate relationship with him, but with Joseph II’s sister, Archduchess Maria Christina, Maria Theresa’s favorite daughter, with whom she spent most of her time. The two women shared a passion for music and the arts, and developed an emotional attachment to each other, their relationship becoming the talk of the court.

They also wrote love letters to each other, but there is other written evidence of their lesbian relationship as well. Even Maria Theresa mentioned in one of her letters that she thought the two ladies’ affair crossed a line. They are said to have embraced and kissed in public.

Isabella was expected to bear her husband’s offspring, and Joseph did his best to do so, but his wife was repulsed by his advances and the idea of pregnancy. She eventually became pregnant, but her pregnancy was made very difficult by her depression and desire to die. In 1762 she gave birth to her first child, who was named Maria Theresa.

She miscarried in August of the same year and lost another child in 1763. She became pregnant again at the end of 1763 when she caught smallpox. She gave birth to her second daughter, Christina, on 22 November, during the sixth month of her pregnancy, but the premature baby lived only a few days. Isabella also died a week later, aged 21.

Her last words were, “My whole body is on fire, for I have sinned with my whole body.”

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