Cinzia Recca is a research fellow in Modern History at the University of Catania. Her book “Sentimenti e Politica. Il diario inedito della regina Maria Carolina di Napoli (1781-1785)” regarding the personal diary of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples has just been published in 2014 and will soon be translated into English. Her current research is aimed at a re-writing of the biography of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples through the analysis of unpublished documents.
Cathleen & Niki: Hi Cinzia, thanks for doing this interview! You’ve just published an article in the first issue of the Royal Studies Journal about Maria Carolina of Naples and Marie Antoinette of France. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Cinzia: The historical figures of Marie Antoinette of France and Maria Carolina of Austria have been misunderstood for a very long time. Even after more than two hundred years since Marie Antoinette’s death, some history books still describe her as a silly and superficial woman, who with her fancies, quickened the end of the Ancien Régime and drove the Parisian people to rebel. Notwithstanding this wide spread opinion, Marie Antoinette was a strong and resolute woman, for this reason she still causes animated debates among scholars. The innumerable biographies edited between the nineteenth century and the present day, testify indeed, to a perennial interest in the last Queen of France. While the first Queen has been reconsidered inside the historiographical field, not completely defined yet, the second one hasn’t had a balanced, calm and impartial judgment yet.
The interest in Maria Carolina of Naples derives from the necessity to reopen a historiography, which in the past lacked influential interpretations and which needed to be more updated and up to the restored historiographical standards of the Reign of Naples. In fact, during the nineteenth century and part of the twentieth, this regnant Queen’s figure was judged according to two different stereotypes that were to influence the future historiographies of the Queen: the first one, nationalistic ( let’s think, for example, of the opposing interpretations by the “Central European” historians, like Baron Helfert and Earl Corti, the French ones like Gagniere e Bonnefons and the Italian Botta, Cuoco, Colletta, Pepe, Palumbo, Croce, and the more moderate ones by the English Jeafferson and Bearne); the second one, antifeminist, ante litteram, spread everywhere and strongly present in some works by the above mentioned authors.
The Empress Maria Theresa said of her that “among my daughters she is the most similar to me”, but about this Queen and this lady, it was necessary to rewrite her history to give the reader a less nationalistic and male chauvinist panorama.
Cathleen & Niki: Could you tell us more about all the Habsburg sisters? Did they all have a close relationship? Or just Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette?
Cinzia: Maria Carolina had a sincere and loving relationship with all her brothers and sisters: Maria Amalia, sweet and charming, was the mature and reassuring older sister who was an example to follow. Even throughout most of their lives as wives they remained on good terms: they used to exchange portraits, letters and gifts. Maria Carolina had also a good, confidential and durable relationship, with the Archduke Leopold whom she considered her favourite brother. Several were the letters that they exchanged after their respective marriages: a correspondence that testifies on the one hand to the confidence of Leopold towards his younger sister about the intelligence and the ability to educate their respective children, on the other hand a solid and long-lasting presence of an older brother to whom to refer in moments of indecision and crisis, both familial and institutional. However, there is a correspondence between Maria Carolina and her brother Emperor Joseph II which testifies to the family ties between the two, confirming the wise Habsburg policy implemented by the Queen who asked for recommendations and opinions on proposals and guidelines that came from the Spanish royal family and British ministers, in order not to make decisions contrary to the interests of Austria. Having been brought up with a sister who was three years younger, Marie Antoinette, almost like a twin, favoured the emotional relationships with the latter. And having shared their childhood, in fact, favored the establishment between the two sisters of a solid loving bond that accompanied them troughout their lives, as is testified by the letters through which they communicated even after they married. So that after the French Revolution and the execution of her sister Marie Antoinette, Queen Maria Carolina swore eternal hatred first for the French revolutionaries, and then for Napoleon.
Cathleen & Niki: In the article you discuss several hate pamphlets against Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette. Who were the author(s) behind these pamphlets against the two Queens?
Cinzia: It depends on the year of publication of the pamphlets. Before and during the Revolution, the majority of the authors of these texts were of course anonymous. Political enemies such as the Duke of Orleans could have sponsored them. Also booksellers and unscrupulous printers, greedy blackmailers (such as Boissiere who published, Image Des Amours Charlot and Toinette) offered their editions to discredit the King’s Finance. All authors had in common one purpose: to attack the most outrageously, filthy and obscene Monarchy, especially the figure of the Queen considered the cause of the ruin of the country in the interest of Austria.
Cathleen & Niki: Very interesting! Could you also tell us a bit more about the role the Habsburg family and their influence during the time of the French Revolution in Europe?
Cinzia: Well it is not easy to answer to this question with few lines, but I will try. The Empress Maria Theresa had extended family power in Europe with her marital diplomacy, the marriages of Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette are two examples. So after the death of their beloved mother, the Habsburg had inherited a position of power even leadership in Europe, which was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. The French Revolution of 1789 represented a mortal danger for them, during this period they were more worried than the most European dynasties by the need to defend their extensive territories. Therefore in the years immediately after the French Revolution and also after, during the Napoleonic period, the Habsburg were involved in a series of wars against their old enemy, France, that lasted almost a quarter of a century and finished with the Treaties of Vienna in 1815.
Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube
Cathleen & Niki: Quite a time of change! Is there anything new you are working on that you would like to share?
Cinzia: I have to confess to you that it is a quite busy time for me. I recently finished translating into English and up dating my book regarding the personal diary of Queen Maria Carolina which, I hope will soon be published. I am starting a monograph regarding the Habsburg shadow in the Kingdom of Naples, analysing and focusing the attention on the precious suggestions contained in un-published letters that Emperor Joseph II and Grand Duke Peter Leopold sent to their sister during the pre-French-revolutionary age. And in the meantime, I am starting to investigate the crucial role that ‘the Winspeares’ a noble family and native of the county of Scarborough had acquired in the Kingdom of Naples during the Eighteenth century.
Cathleen & Niki: And finally, will we see you this summer at the Kings & Queens IV conference in Lisbon? If so, what will you be presenting?
Cinzia: Yes, I will be very happy to join you at the next Kings & Queens conference in Lisbon, when I read a paper entitled ‘The reversal of dynasties’ during the era of the House of Bourbon in the Kingdom of Naples regarding the history of the Neapolitan branch of the Bourbons showing how the balance of power and alliances changed within the House before and after the arrival of Maria Carolina of Habsburg –Lorraine.
Cathleen & Niki: Thank you again, and see you in Lisbon!