torsdag 30. september 2010

Isabella de' Medici

(Isabella painted in the 1560s by Alessando Allori)

Isabella de’ Medici was born in Florence the 31st of August in 1576 to the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici and his Spanish wife, Eleonora di Toledo. Unfortunately for her, her parents married her to an ill-tempered man who eventually had her killed when he found out that she was having an affair with his cousin.

Isabella was a great beauty and she was also very charming, which of course led to her being courted by several men. She was also very clever and well-educated and could talk many different languages, sing and write verses and play instruments. She was so devoted to her studies that she even had her Poggio Imperiale mansion in Florence transformed into a haven of authentic literary and artistic works. You can say that Isabella was what we today call an "it-girl". Unfortunately for this beauty, her family’s position forced her to marry for economical and political reasons, and Isabella was betrothed at the age of eleven to a very violent man, Paolo Giordano Orsini, who happened to be Duke of Bracciano. They married in 1558 when Isabella was sixteen. Her father Cosimo negotiated a marriage contract which ensured that Isabella could continue to live in Florence instead of with her husband; that meant Isabella had far more freedom and control over her own affairs than other women of her era. When her mother died in 1562, Isabella acted as first lady of Florence for a time, displaying the de' Medici aptitude for politics.
Interestingly enough, Isabella did not have her first child until 1571 (she suffered several miscarriages), when she gave birth to her daughter Francesca Eleonora . A year after she birthed an heir, Virginio.
When her husband went away for a while in 1576, Isabella travelled back from Rome (where the two of them lived with their two children) to Florence together with Paolo’s cousin, Trolio Orsini. Paolo had given his cousin instructions to take care of his wife and watch her while he was gone. However, Trolio and Isabella were very much alike and got on very well, so well that they allegedly became lovers. At the age of 34, Isabella was still beautiful, so resisting her was not that easy. 

It is not known how her husband came to know of her affair, but when he heard about it he ordered his wife to come to Cerreto Guidi’s mansion.
It was here, on the 16th July 1576, that after having dined, the two of them went together to the bedroom, and as soon as Paolo was certain that they were completely alone with Isabella, and that he would not be seen, he lowered the oxbow which was hanging by a rope which had been looped through a hole that had been made in the ceiling earlier on. Then, with the help of several hit men, he drew the rope around her neck and brutally strangled his wife. Her lifeless corpse was then left to hang freely above the bed. Isabella’s powerful father had died at that time, so it was no problem for Paolo to strangle Isabella as her brother, Francesco de’ Medici, the newly appointed Grand Duke of Tuscany, chose not to take any action. This being because he too was also guilty of committing adultery. He was having an affair with an attractive Venetian woman called Bianca Cappello, and he knew that if his wife ever found out she would most probably kill him.

Isabella’s cousin and good friend, Eleonora di Toledo (yes, she shared her name with her aunt) had also been killed by her husband (Isabella’s brother) for her infidelity only six days earlier. I will write about her some other day.

It is said that Isabella’s restless ghost appears periodically in some of the places where she lived, including the Odescalchi Castle on Lake Bracciano, near Rome.

If you want to know more about this ill-fated woman, there is a biography written by Caroline P. Murphy called Isabella de’ Medici. I have not had the pleasure of reading this myself though.


mandag 27. september 2010

Sophia of Hanover

(Sophia dressed as an Indian, painted by her sister Elizabeth)

As the eldest, surviving child of Elizabeth of Bohemia (daughter of James I) to be a protestant, Sophia of Hanover was the nearest heir to the British throne, and thus was made heiress presumptive for the purpose of cutting off any claim by the Catholic James Francis Edward Stuart (half-brother to sisters and queens, Mary and Anne). Sophia was actually the youngest of all her siblings, but they had all died when the succession to the throne of Britain was in jeopardy, Sophia herself being 71 years old at the time when an act settled by the parliament in 1701 said that in the default of legitimate issue from Anne or William III, the crowns were to settle upon "the most excellent Princess Sophia, electress and duchess-dowager of Hanover" and "the heirs of her body, being Protestant". The fact that Mary and William died without issue, and not one of Queen Anne’s eighteen babies lived through infancy, led England into the lack of a Protestant heir. It was out of the question to have a Catholic monarch on the throne ever again.

Sophia was born in The Wassenaer Hof, at The Hague in the Dutch Republic the 14 October 1630. Her parents, Elizabeth of Bohemia and Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, had fled from Bohemia after the sequestration of their Electorate during the Thirty Years' War (which is too long and complicated to sum up here). Sophia was the youngest child, and as her older siblings, she was taught classic and modern languages, art and literature.

She was first courted by her cousin, King Charles II, but this came to nothing, and in 1658, at the age of 28, she married Ernest August at Heidelberg, and it proved to be a love match. In 1692 Ernest August became the first Elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg, making Sophia Electress of Hanover. When her husband died in 1698, she was devastated and grieved her husband deeply.

Sophia was a devoted mother, and she and her husband had seven children who survived infancy, among them George who would later become George I of Great Britain, becoming the heir presumptive to the throne when his mother died.

In 1676 Sophia befriended Gottfried Leibniz, a German mathematician and philosopher. Letters between them proves Sophia to have been a woman of exceptional intellectual ability and curiosity. She was also well-read in the works of René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza.

Sophia died at the advanced age of 83, the 8th of June, 1714 of a stroke, just seven weeks before Queen Anne died. If she had lived for just a little longer, she would have been the next monarch of Britain, but it passed to her son George instead. 

(Btw, thanks to Signe for the beautiful header! I do not have photoshop or any other softwares, so my recent header was made in paint and looked rather... amateurish!)

fredag 24. september 2010

A new blog about royal and noble women!

I do not know how you managed to stumble upon this very fresh historical blog, but I am very glad you did. If you are into history and women then this is the blog for you. I will feature historical women, both well-known and those you are less familiar with. What I can guarrantee is that this will be an interesting and informative blog that will enlighten you and expand your horizons when it comes to historical women.

Queen Anne of Great Britain while she was still young and beautiful