Royal Weddings: Marriages Divorced From Reality

As the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton approaches, Jenifer Roberts looks at the series of 18th-century weddings which led the Portuguese royal family into dynastic crisis.

Enriched by the gold and diamond mines of Brazil, Lisbon in the early 18th century was one of the richest and most opulent cities in Europe. Every year treasure fleets arrived with cargoes of precious stones and metals, wealth used by King João V (r. 1706-50) to enrich the Portuguese church until it equalled the Vatican in pomp and splendour. ‘This king’s gaieties were religious processions’, wrote Voltaire. ‘When he took to building, he built monasteries; when he wanted a mistress, he chose a nun.’

João was equally extravagant when it came to the marriages of his children. In one of the most glittering occasions in Portuguese history, a double marriage at the Spanish frontier in 1729, his eldest son José (known by the title Prince of Brazil) married the Spanish princess, Mariana de Borbón (1718-81), and his daughter Maria Bárbara (1711-58) married Mariana’s half-brother Fernando, Crown Prince of Spain (1713-59).

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