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The Princess and the Diplomat


A long time ago, someone asked me if I'd ever Googled myself. I hadn't, but immediately tried it. Imagine my surprise to encounter another Luisa Perkins among the results.

Well, her name wasn't exactly the same as mine; it was Maria Luisa Perkins y de Pablo, and she was listed on a site that records the genealogies of European royalty. I had to know more. 

I followed Maria Luisa's family tree back a couple of generations, and discovered that her grandfather was Charles Allen Perkins (a distant cousin of my husband's), born in Salisbury, Connecticut in 1840 to Jehiel Perkins and Alethia Northrop--and that Maria Luisa's grandmother was Maria Francisca Isabel Gurowska y de Bourbon.

How had a boy from Litchfield County ended up marrying the granddaughter of King Charles IV of Spain

It turns out that Charles grew up in privileged circumstances. He went to school in Paris and later worked in a Parisian bank. After coming back to the States, he worked for a time for the New York Stock Exchange. After that, he was appointed to consulates in Sweden and in Spain, and was finally promoted to the position of private secretary to Colonel Charles Hance Lewis, the U.S. Minister to Portugal.

The Spanish government was in upheaval at the time, so the Spanish royal family lived in exile all over Europe. Though she had been born in Paris, Isabel and her family lived for most of her life with royal relatives in Portugal. It was in Lisbon that Charles met Isabel, and they fell in love. They had to get special dispensation from the Pope to get married, and did so in 1870 in the French Roman Catholic Church of St. Louis. (Curiously, they were also married aboard the American ship Franklin by the ship's captain, Oliver Glisson. I'm not sure of the reason for the double ceremony.)

(Isabel's parents, Count Ignace Gurowski of Poland and Isabel de Bourbon, were apparently sympathetic to the marriage, since they had themselves eloped. And good for them. There was way too much inbreeding going on otherwise. First cousins and half-uncles marrying one another for generations...it was probably time to get some fresh stock in the gene pool.)

Charles and Isabel had two children, Alfonso and Carlos, both born in Paris in the 1870s. All seemed to be going well--until Charles backed the wrong pretender, Don Carlos, to the Spanish throne. Don Carlos's rival, Alfonso, was crowned king in 1874, and after that, disgrace seemed to follow Charles Perkins. 

Somehow, Charles and Isabel's marriage broke up, and Isabel remarried in 1886. Charles returned to America and settled in Syracuse, New York. He made his living as a Professor of Languages at Syracuse University and maintained a lifelong correspondence with his aunt-in-law, ex-Queen Isabella. Charles died in 1890; Isabel died in 1935. For a long time, Charles was the only American to have married into a European royal family. (Of course, Grace Kelly followed suit 80 years later.)

Charles and Isabel's saga is such a fascinating story--at least, it is to me. But I want more details! I haven't been able to find a photograph of either Charles or Isabel, and I had to piece all this together from various historical documents. It's romantic and tragic and mysterious, and I've been wondering for a while whether I should be the one to write a book about them. I can already see it as a movie, can't you?

Reader Comments (6)


Write it!

June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTh.

I would totally buy that book. Wow!

June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

That is SUCH a cool story! I want to know more, too! I'm really impressed by your research skills, too. I think I've forgotten how to do anything other than type a few words into Google.

June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRhi R.

Amazing that you pieced that much together! TOTALLY write it!

June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette

I'll read it when you write it! I love it!

June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEowyn

That does sound like an interesting story. It has romance, an epic sort of scope in a far away time, and its true. Truly intriguing.

August 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel Cassani

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