fredag 1. april 2011

Mary of Burgundy

Posthumous portrait painted by Michael Pacher in cirka 1490.

A wealthy heiress, Mary of Burgundy was one of the most eligible bachelorettes of her time, so wealthy that she was even called “Mary the Rich”, and desired by the French king as a wife to his son, the dauphin. However, a life as queen did not appeal to the young duchess, especially not when the future king was thirteen years her senior! So she defied the king himself, and allied herself with the Netherlands who forced her to sign what is known as “The Great Privilege”.

Mary was born on the 13th of February 1457 to Charles the Bold and his wife Isabella of Bourbon, in Brussels. She proved to be the only child her father ever would beget, in spite of him having three wives throughout his life. This made Mary the heiress to the vast Burgundian domains in France and the Low Countries, and a sought-after bride. When she was only five years old, her father received a marriage proposal from Ferdinand II of Aragon, and Nicholas I, Duke of Lorraine was also a suitor as he wished for the two domains to become one. Later also the French King Louis XI’s brother Charles made an offer, which infuriated the French king who actually attempted to prevent the necessary Papal dispensation for consanguinity. However, when Louis XI himself finally had a son, Charles who would later be Charles VIII of France, he wanted him to be the one to marry Mary, who was thirteen years older than the dauphin.

In 1577, Mary’s father died, making her Duchess of Burgundy in her own right (her mother had died in 1465). She was nineteen then, and would turn twenty within a month. At the death of her father, the French king tried to force her into a marriage with the dauphin, but her stepmother, Margaret of York (sister of Edward VII of England) advised her to turn to the Netherlands for help against Louis XI. The Netherlands were willing to help, but only if she signed what was to be known as “The Great Privilege”, which returned significant control and rights to localities in the Netherlands. This agreement required the approval of the States to raise taxes, declare war or make peace. Such was the hatred of the people for the old regime that two of her father's influential councilors, the Chancellor Hugonet and the Sire d'Humbercourt, having been discovered in correspondence with the French king, were executed at Ghent despite the tears and entreaties of the young duchess.

Probably feeling somewhat lost and alone, Mary decided to find a husband among her suitors, and her choice fell on the Archduke Maximilian of Austria who would later become Holy Roman Emperor, though this after Mary’s death. They were married on the 18th of August 1577 at Ghent. As a result, her lands became part of the Habsburg empire. In the Netherlands, affairs now went more smoothly, the French aggression was temporarily checked, and internal peace was in a large measure restored.

The marriage proved fruitful – Mary gave birth to their first child Philip (who would be known as Philip the Handsome and marry Juana of Castile, the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand and older sister to Katherine of Aragon) eleven months after their marriage. A daughter, Margaret, followed in 1480, and another son Franz who unfortunately died as an infant.

Only five years into their marriage, Mary died after an accident when she was out falconing with her husband and her horse tripped and fell, landing on the Archduchess, and breaking her back. She died on the 27th of March 1482, having made a detailed will. She was only twenty-five years old. Mary of Burgundy is buried in The Church of Our Lady in Bruges.

onsdag 16. mars 2011

Berengaria of Castile

Statue of Berenguela of Castile in Madrid (1753)

A granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and heiress to the kingdom of Castile, Berengaria was, like her infamous grandmother, not a woman to be stowed away. For the sake of her children she would do anything.

Berengaria, or Berenguela as was her name in Castilian, was born as the first child to Alfonso VIII of Castile and his queen Eleanor of England, the daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine on either the 1st of January or June in 1180.

Not much is known about her childhood, except that her grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine was somewhat involved when it came to choose a future bride among the sisters for the coming King of France, Louis VIII. Berengaria was not an option at the time as she had just been married off to Alfonso IX of León, so her grandmother instead chose her sister Blanche. Berengaria was also betrothed to Conrad II, Duke of Swabia, but he died in 1196 before they could be married.

The marriage between Alfonso IX and Berengaria took place in 1197, when she was seventeen. It was her mother Eleanor who had persuaded her husband, Berengaria’s father, to a union between Castile and León. This was because Alfonso IX had invaded Castile and that with the aid of Muslim troops, an act he was excommunicated for by Pope Celestine III.
Alfonso had first been married to his cousin Teresa of Portugal, but the marriage was declared null by the papal legate Cardinal Gregory. Berengaria was Alfonso’s second cousin, so for this act of consanguinity, the king and the kingdom were placed under interdict by the Pope.  In 1204 it was officially annulled, and Berengaria returned to her father’s court in Castile, bringing with her the five children she and her husband had begot through the seven years of marriage.

Berengaria often found herself politically at odds with her former husband. Alfonso had two daughters, Sancha and Dulce, by his first wife, and wished to disinherit Berengaria's children in favour of these daughters. He offered John of Brienne Sancha’s hand in marriage, so that he would eventually inherit the kingdom of León and make Sancha queen. When Berengaria found out about his plan, she was furious, and managed to sabotage this plan by convincing John to marry her own daughter, Berengaria of León instead. Later, on 24 September 1230 when Alfonso died, Berengaria and her son Ferdinand acted to set aside the rights of Sancha and Dulce by offering them a lifetime appanage, which they accepted. This was done so that, with Berengaria's aid, he could assume the Leonese throne. Berengaria was not the granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine for nothing!

When her father died in 1214, her mother was so devastated with grief that she could not preside over the burial. Instead these honours were performed by Berengaria. Eleanor then took sick and died only twenty-eight days after her husband. Three years later, in 1217, Berengaria’s brother Henry died (he was hit by a tile coming off a roof) without issue, this meaning that she was now Queen of Castile in her own right. However, in favour of her son she renounced the throne, and Ferdinand became king, thus eventually uniting the two kingdoms of Castile and León.
Berengaria served as the king's motherly advisor; according to the Cronica Latina, her "total intent and desire being to procure honour for her son in every way possible". Berengaria helped quell the rebellious nobles, and then arranged for Ferdinand to marry a high-born wife, Beatrice of Swabia.

Berengaria maintained strong connections with her sister Blanche, the Queen of France. It was in fact Blanche who suggested sending Joan of Ponthieu as a bride for Ferdinand after his first wife's death.
Berengaria died on the 8th of November in 1246 at the age of 66, and is buried in the Royal Chapel of Granada.


onsdag 26. januar 2011

Joan of England, Queen of Sicily

Richard and Joan greet Philip II of France

Married away to a foreign king at the age of only eleven, Princess Joan of England had to adjust to a whole new lifestyle. When she was widowed at the age of twenty-four she became an important bargain piece of her brother, Richard the Lionheart, in marriage, but not before undertaking several journeys, including one to the Holy Land where she and her sister-in-law-to-be were held captive by the ruler of Cyprus...

Joan was born sometime in October in 1165 as the seventh child and third surviving daughter to Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was born in Anjou in France, and spent her childhood in the courts of her mother at Winchester and Poitiers. She grew up to be quite beautiful with blonde/reddish hair and nice features. She was intelligent and was taught English, Norman French and also some Latin in addition to a range of skills deemed appropriate for a woman of her rank.

In 1176 a delegation from Sicily came to the English court, asking for Joan’s hand in marriage on behalf of William II of Sicily. Joan’s parents agreed to the proposal, and the betrothal was confirmed. On the 27th of August, Joan, together with a large group of people consisting of ladies-in-waiting, knights, clergy and various retainers, laid out to sail for Sicily. The trip began with the short stretch from Winchester to Southampton, escorted by the archbishops of Canterbury and Rouen, the bishop of Evreux and her father’s brother Hamelane. Then Prince Henry, her oldest brother, accompanied her across the Channel and into France to Poitiers. There she was met by another brother, Richard, who escorted her through the Duchy of Aquitaine, across the allied County of Toulouse to Saint Gilles Port, where Bishop Richard Palmer welcomed her in the name of the King of Sicily.

Twenty-five Sicilian ships awaited the young princess to sail her to her husband-to-be. The last part of the journey left Joan seasick, but she finally arrived at the end of January and married William at Palermo Cathedral on the 13th of February 1177 at the tender age of eleven while her husband was twenty-three! She was crowned, and was now queen consort.

The Sicilian court was very different than the English – there were harems, and clothing and food were more exotic than what the young princess ever had witnessed before. It is reported that Joan bore a son in 1181, Bohemond, who probably died in infancy. It is also possible that she suffered miscarriages given her tender age, so when William died in 1189, they had no surviving heir and issue. The new king, Tancred, kept Joan as prisoner, but following her father’s death the same year as her husband’s, her brother Richard was now king. He demanded her return along with her dowry. When Tancred refused his commands, Richard seized a monastery and the castle of La Bagnara. He decided to spend the winter in Italy and attacked and subdued the city of Messina. Finally, Tancred agreed to the terms and sent Joan's dowry. In March 1191 Eleanor of Aquitaine arrived in Messina with Richard's bride, Berengaria of Navarre. She was left in the care of Joan, and Richard decided to postpone their wedding as he was on a crusade. He put his betrothed and sister on a ship to follow him to the Holy Land, but the ship carrying Berengaria and Joan went aground off the coast of Cyprus, and they were threatened by the island's ruler, Isaac Comnenus. Richard came to their rescue, captured the island, overthrew Comnenus, and married Berengaria in the Chapel of St. George at Limassol.
Even though Joan was Richard’s favourite sister he still tried to marry her to the Muslim Al-Adil who was the younger brother of Saladin, the ruler of Egypt and Syria. Joan was very against such a marriage as she was a faithful Catholic and could not stand the thought of being married to a Muslim. King Philip II of France also expressed some interest in marrying her, but this scheme also failed. Joan finally married Raymond VI of Toulouse in October 1196. Together they had three children; Raymond VII born in 1197, Wilhelmina born in 1198 and Richard in 1199, but he died shortly after birth.

Joan came to fear her new husband as he was now known to be very kind towards her. In 1199, while pregnant with a third child, Joan was left alone to face a rebellion in which the lords of Saint-Félix-de-Caraman were prominent. She laid siege to their castle at les Cassès, but soon travelled northwards, hoping for her brother's protection. Instead she found him dead at Château de Chalus-Chabrol. She then fled to her mother’s court at Rouen, where she was offered refuge and care.

Joan was a very religious woman, and asked to be admitted to Fontevrault Abbey, which was an unusual request for a not only married, but pregnant woman, though her request was granted. She died in childbirth at the age of thirty-tree and was veiled a nun on her deathbed. Her little son died shortly after being baptised.

I haven’t read any books on her life, though they exist. The newest, The Queen’s Daughter by Susan Coventry, is on my TBR list.

fredag 7. januar 2011

Elisabeth of Austria, Queen of France

Elisabeth painted by François Clouet in 1571.

Considered as a great beauty and a very intellectual woman, Elisabeth was married off to Charles IX of France. As France was ruled by his mother, the infamous Catherine de Medici, Elisabeth was not involved in state of affairs, and was secluded from public life.

Elisabeth was the second daughter and the fifth child, born on the 5th of July in 1554 to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II and his wife Maria of Spain. She became her father’s favourite as they were very alike, both in appearance and character. She was intelligent and lovely; her skin was white and smooth, her hair long and blonde, and her physique was perfect. Paired with her good looks was also her kind and pious personality, making her the perfect princess of her age. It is said that Elisabeth actually modelled herself after her namesake, Saint Elisabeth of Hungary.
Together with her older sister Anna and younger brother Matthias she lived secluded at Schloss Stallburg near Vienna. In 1562 the Maréchal de Vieilleville, a member of the French delegation sent to Vienna, exclaimed after see the eight-years-old princess: "Your Majesty, this is the Queen of France!" Elisabeth was married by proxy to Charles IX on the 22nd of October 1570. Catherine de Medici originally wanted her sister, Anna, as wife to the French king, but she was already promised to Philip II of Spain. Elisabeth left Austria on November 4, after long celebrations. Once in French territory, the roads were impassable thanks to the constant rain; this caused the decision that the official wedding was to be celebrated in the small border town of Mézières-en-Champagne. While staying in Sedan before reaching her destiny, the King, curious about his future wife, dressed himself as a soldier and went to Sedan to observe her incognito while she was walking in the palace of Sedan's garden with Henry, the Duke of Anjou. He was reportedly very happy about what he saw.

Finally, Charles IX and Elisabeth were formally married on the 26th of November. The occasion was celebrated with immense pomp and extravagance, despite the French finances not being on top. The new Queen's wedding gown was of silver and her tiara was studded with pearls, emeralds, diamonds and rubies.
They never really fell in love with each other, but Elisabeth was delighted with her husband and did not hesitate to kiss him in front of others. However, Charles had a long-time mistress, Marie Touchet, and he soon returned to her. Still, the royal couple had a warm and supportive relationship. Charles realised that the liberal ways of the French Court might shock Elisabeth and, along with his mother, he made an effort to shield her from its excesses. Queen Elisabeth was fluent in German, Spanish, Latin and Italian, but she learned French with difficulty. She also felt lonely in the lively and dissolute French court, but she surprisingly befriended one of her controversial sister-in-law, Margaret of Valois.

As the pious and sober woman she was, she attended Mass twice a day, but despite her resentment of Protestants she was genuinely shocked and upset when she heard of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre where Protestants were slaughtered. Elisabeth never publicly rejoiced at so many deaths - like other prominent Catholics did. According to Brantôme, the next morning after the massacre, the shocked Queen asked her husband if he knew about it, when the King told her that he was the initiator, she said she would pray for him and the salvation of his soul.

At this time Queen Elisabeth was heavily pregnant, and she gave birth to her one and only child, a daughter, on the 27th of October 1572. She was named Marie Elisabeth after her grandmother, Empress Maria, and Elizabeth I of England who were her godmothers. Little Marie Elisabeth was deeply loved by her parents despite not being a future king to the nation. Charles, being sickly his entire life, died on the 30th of May 1574, leaving Elisabeth heartbroken and even more alone than she was.

After having completed the 40 days mourning period, Elisabeth, now called la reine blanche, the White Queen, rejecting her father's proposition that she attempt to marry her dead husband's brother - now King Henry III of France. As a widow, she was given the title Duchess of Berry. She left France for Vienna in December 1575, leaving her daughter behind. Three years later she also lost her daughter to an infection. The little princess was only six years old.

After the death of her daughter in 1578, she bought land upon which she founded a convent of the order of Saint Clare, were she spent the rest of her life, refusing all offers of marriage, including one from her uncle, King Philip II of Spain. She also wrote two books which are now lost.

Elisabeth died on the 22nd of January 1592 in Vienna, aged 37. By this time the House of Valois had been destroyed and a new royal family ruled France. She was buried in the church of the convent that she had founded. In 1782 her body was transferred to one of the crypts beneath St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna.


PS! I must thank Amy over at Passages to the Past and author Christine Trent for the giveaway of A Royal Likeness which I was so lucky to win a copy of!