Merceditas: a ballet shoe with a particularly fairy-tale history

Maria de las Mercedes de Orleans y Alfonso XII

Merceditas (or Mary Janes, as the style has come to be known in English) are a type of flat ballet shoe that exudes charm, either because of their popularity among girls for such a long period of time, or their unique origin. Nineteenth-century ballroom dances, enamoured kings, and queens with a tragic destiny are all part of the iconic women’s shoe’s almost fairy-tale history. We explain all in this article.

Ballet shoes fit for a queen

The history of merceditas, in the same way as the history of manoletinas, can only really be understood when you consider the predominantly practical nature of this footwear. In fact, it was the legendary designer George Brummel who first devised them, to make social dances more comfortable for women to take part in.

The shoes, designed by an English dandy, are what we would now call ‘pumps’, and were not much of a deviation from the already very well-established ballet flats. In fact, the only essential contribution was the addition of a rounded toe and a small bow, to prevent the shoe from falling off during the dances so emblematic of nineteenth century high society. Thanks to their eminently stately and princely origins, merceditas have always been surrounded by a refined and dainty aura. It is no coincidence that the shoes were commonly worn by princesses and other members of European high society of the time.

But what was it that gave them this name in Spain, which is both so popular and affectionate?

Merceditas shoes: from Maria de las Mercedes de Orleans to Mafalda

To understand why merceditas carry this name, we need to look at the historical context of the time, the key figure of King Alfonso XII in particular. This king was much-loved by the people, being the first Bourbon to be restored after the turbulent ‘Sexenio Revolucionario’ (six-year revolutionary period), a time when literally everything happened: a foreign king, Amadeo de Savoy, who ended up shirking the country and abdicating, a troubled and ephemeral Republic, Cantonalist conflicts, and even a Third Carlist War.

The reign of Alfonso XII was peaceful and tranquil, something that – in addition to stirring up popular appreciation – provided the Spanish society of the time with endless rumours – or gossip we might say today – all of which contributed to a fairy-tale, friendly image of the monarch. The personality of Alfonso XII himself contributed to this. He was an introvert, somewhat sickly and sensitive, in line with the languid and decadent air that surrounded royal European families at the time.

The image was further enhanced when the king fell in love with María de las Mercedes de Orleans. Her mother, Isabel II herself – and the politicians of the time – were opposed to the relationship, preferring a European princess for the Spanish consort. Against all the odds, Alfonso XII managed to marry “Merceditas” – as she was known – in 1878. 

It is a story in which love triumphed over all, but one that was tragically cut short when María de las Mercedes succumbed to typhus just 5 months after their union. Alfonso XII was bereft, and it cemented the image of him as a fairy-tale king in the eyes of Spanish society. There were even verses (coplas) written about his wretched life. It was a story worthy of any of the countless romantic novels of the nineteenth century!

María de las Mercedes was no less loved by the people. She was, in fact, one of the driving forces behind the Cathedral of Almudena, one of the current emblems of Madrid; a project that for the fiercely Catholic society of the time took on even more significance: Madrid would finally become an episcopal see. Her ill-fated marriage to Alfonso XII also came to reaffirm the image of a languid, doleful princess, so fascinating both then and now. The perception of the ephemeral queen is summed up perfectly in her epitaph: “María de las Mercedes, loving wife of Alfonso XII”.

And ever since, the ballet shoes she loved to wear so much have taken the name affectionately given to her by her loving husband: Merceditas. Her naive, sweetcharacter, so typical of children’s fairy-tales, made a very natural progression to being the name of the shoe. In fact, merceditas are still a type of shoe that we quickly associate with girls today. It is as though the stately, royal nature of the shoe had never left, and still gives little girls a princess like character. And have you ever noticed that Mafalda herself is always depicted wearing merceditas?

Lottusse ballet flats

As you can see, ballet flats are a type of women’s shoe that come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. And their main quality remains at the heart of many: comfort. Nevertheless, they also have a strong aesthetic and elegant feel, loved by so many women.

Lottusse has a wide range of ballet flats, made in various types of leather – cow, calfskin, goatskin – with or without a heel, with or without laces, or with a pointed or rounded toe.

They also come with different decorative elements, with wingtip detailing or snakeskin embossing. You can find our ballet flat footwear on our website and at Lottusse stores. You will undoubtedly find the pair for you, whether you are looking to emulate the elegance and refinement of queens, or are simply looking for a comfortable and versatile shoe.