When, in 1759, the child Isabelle of Parma, known as Isabellita, reached the age of eighteen she was, without any doubt, one of the most accomplished princesses in Europe. Tall, with a beautiful figure, an oval face adorned with big, brown eyes and long black hair and snow–white skin. All the men were attracted to her.

There were other beautiful princesses in Europe at the time yet it was very rare to find one as talented or as cultured as Isabellita. Since, in a century when kings or great lords gave little thought to learning, intellectual women were something of a rarity. Isabellita, already endowed with a beautiful voice and a great talent for composing music or for painting magnificent watercolours, felt compelled to take up writing. Her beauty was such that people thought of her as a lily but she was a lily who could think too. She did not satisfy herself with writing simple novels, as one might expect but, at the age of just seventeen, had already written her Political and Military Commentaries.

Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Parma, were aware that their duchy was far from an independent state and that it held no great political significance except, from time to time, a strategic significance. Falling sometimes under the sway of Madrid and sometimes of Versailles, they ruled in nothing but name. Their only chance of increasing their significance was to make astute alliances through the marriage of their children.

Isabelle de Bourbon 1741-1763

Their attention turned to their oldest daughter, Isabelle. Seeing that she was now of age to marry the duke and duchess began looking among the European royalty for a husband for their daughter. From the very first they had high hopes for their daughter, seeking to persuade Archduke Joseph of Austria, oldest son to the Empress Maria Theresa and the next in line to be Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Austria and the Kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia, to accept her hand in marriage. To their great surprise and joy, Austria accepted their request. The Duchy of Parma may well be of no great significant yet it seems that the fact that the duke was the son of the King of Spain and the duchess, the daughter of the King of France provided reason enough for the Empress Maria Theresa to ascent to the betrothal of her heir to the Parmesan Princess.

It remained then to inform the princess. As the duchess was still in Versailles, the task fell to the duke, who was quite naturally convinced that Isabellita would have no objection to the betrothal.

To be continued….