One of the matriarchs of Luxembourg’s Grand Ducal Family both came into and left life under rather unusual circumstances. In the many years in between, she was the rumored bride of several European princes, brought the Catholic religion to Luxembourg's Grand Ducal Family, became the mother of six daughters, and served for several years as the regent of the Grand Duchy. Her life ended several thousand miles from where it began, and she became one of the few European royals buried in the United States – at least, for awhile.
|Wedding of Miguel and Adelheid|
The ambitious Adelheid spent much of her children’s youth securing advantageous marriages for her children, despite her husband’s ruined reputation and her own relatively humble background. She was largely successful in her mission, and as fate had it, Maria Ana’s marriage became one of the most socially prominent of her siblings.
At least two notable royal families expressed interest in Maria Ana as a bride. Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph suggested Maria Ana as a possible wife for his son, Crown Prince Rudolf. The families already had several ties. Maria Ana’s sister Maria Theresa was the wife of Franz Joseph’s brother Karl Ludwig, while a second sister (Maria Josepha) was married to Franz Joseph’s wife Elisabeth’s brother Karl-Theodor. But upon meeting, Rudolf claimed not to like Maria Ana, and any hopes of a third connection with the Austrian imperial family were abandoned.
In 1883, negotiations began for Maria Ana to marry Alexander, the son and heir of Willem III of the Netherlands. It is unclear whether there were concrete plans for the two to marry, but Alexander’s premature death in 1884 ended all hopes of a union.
|Maria Ana and Guillaume at|
the time of their marriage
But there was still a proper, suitably royal groom who hoped to marry Maria Ana. Wilhelm of Nassau and Maria Ana first met in 1883, the same year planning began for her wedding to Alexander of the Netherlands, and the couple expressed interest in marrying after Alexander’s death. However, Adolph, Wilhelm’s father and future Grand Duke of Luxembourg, was not supportive of the marriage due to differences in religion between the Lutheran Nassau family and the Catholic Braganzas. Maria Ana’s religion became less of a hindrance and more of an asset when Adolph assumed the grand ducal throne of Luxembourg in 1890. As a country of mostly Catholic citizens, it was realized a Catholic grand duchess could indeed be desirable.
Maria Ana married comparatively late in life (shortly before her 32nd birthday) on June 21, 1893, at Schloss Fischhorn in Zell am See, Austria. Pope Leo XIII granted a dispensation for the couple to marry, as Wilhelm was a practicing Lutheran. He was also marrying late for his station; despite being the heir to an active grand duchy he was single and had no children of his own at the age of 41. Following the marriage, Maria Ana assumed the French version of her name, Marie Anne.
Maria Ana and Wilhelm had six daughters within the first nine years of their marriage. They were:
|Maria Ana and her daughters in 1903|
- Marie-Adélaïde (1894-1924), future Grand Duchess of Luxembourg
- Charlotte (1896-1985), future Grand Duchess of Luxembourg
- Hilda (1897-1979), Princess of Schwarzenberg
- Antonia (1899-1954), Crown Princess of Bavaria
- Elisabeth (1901-1950), Princess of Thurn and Taxis
- Sophie (1902-1941), Princess of Saxony
As a compromise of the differing religions, the couple had planned to raise their sons as Lutherans and their daughters as Catholics. As Maria Ana and Wilhelm had no sons, all of their children followed Maria Ana’s Catholic faith.
When it became clear that Maria Ana and Wilhelm would not have a son, Marie-Adélaïde was declared her father’s heir, putting aside the Salic Law that had previously been in effect in Luxembourg. In 1908, Maria Ana became the first woman to rule the grand duchy although not in her own right. As a brain embolism Grand Duke Wilhelm IV had suffered eventually left him incapacitated, Maria Ana served as regent for him from November 19, 1908, and until his death. Cared for by his wife for the next four years, Grand Duke Wilhelm passed away at Colmar-Berg on November 25, 1912.
At that time, Wilhelm’s heir Marie-Adélaïde was not quite eighteen years old and thus considered too young to rule on her own. So from February 25 until June 18, 1912, Maria Ana continued to serve as regent of Luxembourg. Following Marie-Adélaïde’s abdication and later Charlotte’s accession to the grand ducal throne, Maria Ana continued to live quietly in Luxembourg as its Dowager Grand Duchess.
|Maria Ana and her daughters in 1920|
The Dowager Grand Duchess became ill at the end of June 1942. She underwent an operation for an abdominal disorder (believed to be stomach cancer) at Doctors Hospital in New York City on June 29. It was planned that after the operation, Maria Ana was to join the rest of the grand ducal family in Quebec, Canada. Maria Ana’s condition improved somewhat in the next few weeks before becoming very grave during the last week of July. In the days that followed, her sister Maria Antonia, along with Maria Antonia’s daughter Zita, the former Austrian Empress, visited her.
Maria Ana died in New York City, NY, on July 31, 1942. The Dowager Grand Duchess’s daughters Charlotte and Hilda were by her side at her passing. Five days later, a solemn high mass of requiem was celebrated in her honor at the Convent for the Helpers of the Holy Souls in New York. Grand Duchess Charlotte, her husband and children, Princess Hilda and Adolph of Schwarzenberg were all in attendance.
Due to the ongoing war in Europe, she could not be buried at Cathédrale Notre-Dame with the other members of the Grand Ducal Family. Maria Ana was instead buried at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, NY, the largest and one of the oldest cemeteries in the United States. This made the Grand Duchess one of the few members of European royalty to be buried in the United States. Maria Ana’s remains were buried there until 1947, when she was re-interred in the crypt of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame.