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! 

lørdag 25. desember 2010

Christina of Saxony, Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden

As I am Norwegian myself, I thought to present to you one of our queens, Christina of Saxony, or Christine av Sachsen as she is known as in Scandinavia. As she was also born on Christmas Day I thought it would be a nice fit to present her on this day as well.

Humiliated by her husband’s relationship to her lady-in-waiting Edel Jernskjæg, which went as far as the King travelling to Denmark with his mistress, leaving his wife behind, Queen Christina showed herself as a strong and forceful woman who would not let the capital, Stockholm, go when a rebellion broke out in Sweden against Denmark and the Kalmar union in 1501.

Christina was born on the 25th of December, 1461 to Ernest, the Elector of Saxony and his wife Elisabeth of Bavaria (not to be confused with the Empress of Austria nor the Queen of Belgium). When she was sixteen she was betrothed to the son of Christian I of Denmark and Norway, John (or Hans as he is known as in Scandinavia). A year later, she travelled to Copenhagen and married on the 6th of September. John became King of Denmark in 1481 and King of Norway in 1483. Christina was crowned together with her husband. Together they went on to have five children, but only two of the children, Christian II and Elisabeth, reached adulthood.

Christina was a devout Catholic and was offended when two of her brothers fought for Reformation. Her brothers, Frederick and John, were actually two of the most important supporters Martin Luther had in the beginning. Charity was important to her, and she was a patroness of religious art and the writing of psalms and religious poetry.

What Christine is most known for is being the queen who refused to surrender Stockholm to the rebellions of the Kalmar union. She barred herself and a 1000 men inside the walls of the castle “Tre Kronor”, meaning “Three Crowns”. However, after eight months she had to give in after the Danish soldiers had been reduced from 1000 men to 70 by sickness (a plague had broken out) and starvation. There were rumours that the queen herself was dead! When she surrendered her position, she turned herself over to lady Ingeborg Tott, who met her at the castle and followed her to a convent. However, before she surrendered, she said she was only willing to do so if she herself and the people with her were allowed to go back to Denmark. The promise was made, but broken by Sten Sture the Elder who took her as a prisoner and held her at Vadstena Abbey until the peace negotiations with her husband was completed in 1503, after which she was released and returned to Denmark. After nearly three years she was finally home in Denmark, where her husband and his mistress had, in the meantime, enjoyed themselves. The king had also sent their daughter Elisabeth to Brandenburg to marry Joachim 1 Nestor, the Elector of Brandenburg.

The Queen decided to separate from her husband and had her own court at Næsbyhoved. She went to Germany in 1504 on a pilgrimage and she also visited her daughter while there. In 1513 she was widowed and her son Christian became king. She lived her life quietly at her small court, and died on the 8th of December 1521, at the age of 59. She was buried beside her husband.

Source: ”Norges dronninger gjennom tusen år” by Nils Petter Thuesen, 1991.

torsdag 16. desember 2010

Cecilia Renata of Austria, Queen of Poland

A woman loved by both the people and her husband, she had a strong political influence over her husband the King, until the day he realised that her family, the Habsburgs, would not give him assistance in waging a war against Sweden.

Cecilia Renata was born on the 16th of July, 1611 in Graz as the 6th child and third daughter (although the firstborn daughter, Christine, died as an infant) to Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor and his wife Maria Anna of Bavaria.

Her father sent a proposal of marriage between her and the Polish king, Wladyslaw IV, which arrived in Warsaw sometime in the spring, 1636. The dowry of the archduchess was to be 100, 000 zloty, and also that the emperor would pay the dowry for the king’s father’s two wives. Additionally the son of Wladislaw and Cecilia Renata was to obtain duchy of Opole and Racibórz in Silesia. However before everything was confirmed and signed, Ferdinand II died, and Cecilia’s brother, Ferdinand III, backed away from giving the Silesian duchy to the son of Wladislaw. Finally, on the 9th of August she was married in Vienna by proxy, and then in Warsaw by person on September 13, 1637 at the age of 26. She was crowned on the same day at St. John’s Cathedral in Warsaw which angered the nobility of Poland as Krakow was the city of coronations.

Cecilia proved to be a clever and energetic woman, and she really liked it at the Polish court where she was very popular among the nobles. One woman wrote in her memoirs that the new queen was a very polite woman, and that she would ask other women to sit with her even though she was queen. She became good friends with her sister-in law, Anna Catherine, who would go on to marry Phillip William, Elector Palatine. Cecilia also stayed in touch with her brothers whom she shared a loving relationship to.

There was one thorn in her side at the Polish court, however, and that was her husband’s mistress, Hedwig Luszkowska. Since the king would not remove her, she had to find a clever way to do it, and what better than to marry her off? So the mistress was out of the way, and on the 1st of April 1640 she gave birth to her first child and heir, Sigismund Casimir. Unfortunately he died only two years after his mother, aged only seven. When he was two years old however, Cecilia gave birth to a girl on the 8th of January, Maria Anna Isabella. But also this child would not reach adulthood, and died only a year later, giving Cecilia and Wladyslaw no living heirs.

Cecilia was politically active, and advocated a Habsburg and pro-Catholic point of view and allied herself with the pro-Habsburg faction of Chancellor Jerzy Ossoliński and pro-Catholic Albrycht Stanislaw Radziwill. She had much to say about the royal nominations for important official positions, and her influence over her husband was so strong that his childhood friend, Adam Kazanowski, no longer exerted any political influence over the king. This changed however when the king realised that he would get no assistance from her brother, and so her power waned and he started to disregard her advices.

Cecilia Renata died on the 24th of March 1644 in Vilnius (she was Grand Duchess of Lithuania after all) at the age of 32. The cause of death is stated to have been an infection. She was mourned by Waldyslaw, and also left a good impression on the public. She is buried at Wawel Cathedral in Krakow besides her husband. I have actually been inside this church and seen her tomb.

søndag 14. november 2010

Maria Theresa of Savoy

by Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier d'Agoty, 1775

She could have been a Queen of France had she not died, and she was the first of her generation to give birth to the next royal child, humiliating Marie Antoinette herself. Though Marie Thérèse of Savoy was not a liked figure at the French court, she was still a very important lady at court.
Maria Theresa was born as Marie Thérèse the 31st of January in 1756, a daughter of Prince Victor Amadeus of Savoy and his wife, Infanta Maria Antoinetta of Spain, thus making Marie Thérèse the granddaughter of Phillip V of Spain. Her father’s father, Charles Emmanuel III was also the King of Sardinia.
Marie Thérèse was married by proxy to Charles Philippe, the Count of Artois, and she arrived in France where her official wedding took place the 16th of November 1773 when she was seventeen years old. Her newlywed husband was the grandson of the King, thus making her a “petite-fille de France”, a granddaughter of France. 

Marie Thérèse’s wedding was not the only Franco-Savoyard wedding made: some years earlier her sister had married Charles Phillipe’s brother, and a year later, her sister-in-law, Maria Clotilde, married her brother.
Marie Thérèse gave birth to her first child, a son, only a year after her wedding. This son, Louis Antoine, would later marry Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI’s daughter, Madame Royale Marie Thérèse who shared her name with her mother-in-law. If you have seen the movie, Marie-Antoinette by Sofia Coppola which starred Kirsten Dunst in the title role, you will remember the young Queen to be very anxious of being the first to have a royal child of the next generation. This did not happen, as Marie Thérèse was the first to give birth. 

A year after giving birth to her son, a daughter, Sophie, followed. Unfortunately, she died at the age of six. In 1778 she gave birth to another son, Charles Ferdinand, and another daughter followed five years later, but also she died, only six months old thus leaving Marie Thérèse with two sons growing into adulthood, and no daughters.

Marie Thérèse was not considered to be a beauty at the court of Versailles, and she was also one of the most disliked figures, though she avoided much abuse as Marie Antoinette was the most disliked person in the French court. According to the Austrian ambassador, Marie Thérèse was very silent and interested in absolutely nothing, which is probably why she was disliked as we all know that the French court was anything but boring and silent, and therefore such people were not well-liked (party pooper much??)

Marie Thérèse died at the age of 49 the 2nd of June 1805 in Gratz, Austria. Why Austria? Why, because of the French Revolution of course. She lived in exile there, even though she had escaped back home to Savoy at first. As she died before her husband became King of France, she died as Countess of Artois and not Queen of France. 

torsdag 28. oktober 2010

Blanche of Lancaster

(photo from a tapestry)

The woman to whom "The Book of the Duchess" by Geoffrey Chaucer is dedicated to, Blanche of Lancaster,  was the first and beloved wife of John of Gaunt (yes, he who later married his mistress Katherine Swynford from whom the Tudors claimed the throne). Even though she was deeply loved by her husband, and the mother of the future Henry IV, Blanche is not the woman we hear about the most when it comes to John of Gaunt, as his mistress (and later wife) tends to overshadow her (as the mighty Tudors descended from Katherine and John’s issue).

Blanche was born at Bolingbroke Castle on the 25th of March in 1345. Her parents were Henry of Grostmont, the 1st Duke of Lancaster, and Isabel de Beaumont. She is described as to have been beautiful, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and she was a calm and peaceful person.

She was married to her third cousin, John of Gaunt on the 19th of May 1359, when she was fourteen years old. He was the third son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainhault. It was a very happy and loving marriage, and Blanche quickly became pregnant and gave birth to the couple’s first child, Philippa, only five days after Blanche herself had turned fifteen. She gave birth to five more children, but out of the six, only half survived infancy.

In 1361, Blanche’s father died without male issue, and the title of Duke of Lancaster became extinct. Together with her sister Maud, Blanche was the co-heiress to the Duchy of Lancaster. A year later her sister died, and the title of Duke of Lancaster was later bestowed on Blanche’s husband.

When the bubonic plague struck in 1369, Blanche was one of its victims, and she died at the age of only 24, the 12th of September at the same castle as she was born.
Her funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral in London was preceded with a magnificent cortege attended by most of the nobility and clergy. Her husband had Geoffrey Chaucer, then a young squire and mostly unknown writer of court poetry, commissioned to write The Book of the Duchess, in her honour. In short, the poem tells the story of the poet’s dream. Wandering through a wood, the poet discovers a knight clothed in black (John of Gaunt), and inquires of the knight’s sorrow. Throughout the poem, pieces of the knight’s story become more and more apparent, until the cause of the mourning (the death of Blanche) is plainly stated and the dream abruptly ends. It is a very long poem, consisting of nearly 9000 words! Blanche was honoured indeed.
What is interesting while studying the poem is that it seems that at least one of its aims was to make John see that his grief for his late wife had become excessive, and so Chaucer tried to make him overcome it.
When John of Gaunt died 25 years after his first wife, he was buried next to her, and the two of them are buried in an unknown place somewhere in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

onsdag 20. oktober 2010

Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset

Born Anne Stanhope cirka 1497 to Sir Edward Stanhope of Sudbury and Elizabeth Bourchier, Anne was through her mother a direct descendant of Thomas of Woodstock, the youngest son of King Edward III of England and his wife, Queen Philippa of Hainault. Anne’s father had been married once before, so Anne had two older half-brothers – Richard Stanhope and Sir Michael Stanhope. The latter was selected for the governorship of Hull, was knighted, and made Shelford Priory his residence.

In 1511 Anne came as a maid of honour to Queen Catherine, and in 1529 Edward Seymour (the brother of Queen Jane, yes) noticed her and fell in love with her. They were married in 1535 (Anne being his second wife, his first, Catherine, had led an affair with his father, woah!)
As Jane became queen a year after Anne married her brother, Edward was elevated to Viscount Beauchamp, and shortly thereafter elevated again to earl, becoming the first Earl of Hertford. Ten years later, in 1547, he was elevated to Duke of Somerset, thus making Anne Duchess of Somerset.

Anne gave birth to ten children, among them Edward Seymour who married Lady Catherine Grey (younger sister of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen). When Elizabeth I became queen she had the two lovers impersonated, as they had married without her consent, and the fact that they had two sons was a minor threat to Elizabeth’s reign as Catherine had a claim to the throne, through her grandmother, Mary, who was the daughter of Henry VII. Anne supported her daughter-in-law's claims to the throne as that meant that her grandson could become King of England.

The Duchess of Somerset was described as being a “violent woman", a "devilish woman & 'monstrous' in her pride”. Lady Hertford constantly made scenes in public, and she was spitefully unforgiving, haughty, grasping and bad tempered. She was universally disliked by those in the Royal Court. She has also been held responsible for the fate of her husband Edward, having urged him to adopt the policies which ruined him. 
When Henry VIII died, Anne’s husband became Lord Protector, and she felt she was the first lady of the realm, ahead of the widowed queen Catherine Parr whom she had never been on good terms with.  There was even a quarrel over some jewels, which Anne meant were hers out of right! Anne considered that the Dowager Queen forfeited her rights of precedence when she married so far beneath her station (Thomas Seymour, Edward’s brother, thus making the two women sisters-in-law). Anne refused to bear Catherine's train, and even physically tried to push her out of her place at the head of their entrances and exits at court. Anne was quoted as having said of Catherine, "If master admiral teaches his wife no better manners, I am she that will". Catherine, in her turn, privately referred to Anne as"that Hell". Catherine Parr won the battle by invoking the Act of Succession which clearly stated that Katherine had precedence over all ladies in the realm; in point of fact, as regards precedence, Anne came after the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, and Anne of Cleves. 

Anne married, as her second husband, a lesser noble Francis Newdigate, who had been Steward to her late husband. Little is known of their life together.
Anne Seymour died at the advanced age of 90, the 16th of April, 1587.

onsdag 6. oktober 2010

Leonora Christina Ulfeldt

Born as a king’s daughter, but deprived of the title “princess”, Leonora Christina was married to a traitorous and somewhat stupid man (stupid in the sense of not to know when to stop scheming, kind of like Lady Jane Grey’s father?) who had her, though unintentionally, imprisoned for twenty-one years in rough conditions while he himself “enjoyed” the life as an exile abroad. The one good outcome of this was, however, the memoirs that Countess Leonora Christina left us of her conditions and the outside world.

Leonora Christine was born 8th of July 1621 as the third child to King Christian IV of Denmark-Norway and his wife Kirsten Munk whom he was married to morganatic (which is a type of marriage which can be contracted in certain countries, usually between people of unequal social rank, which prevents the passage of the husband's titles and privileges to the wife and any children born of the marriage). This meant that Leonora was not a princess, but she shared her mother’s title of Countess of Schleswig-Holstein. Nonetheless, she grew up with her parents in Copenhagen's royal palace on familiar terms with her three elder half-brothers — including the future King Frederick III. Nine years after she was born, she was betrothed to Corfitz Ulfeldt, son of a former Chancellor of Denmark. The same year her father divorced her mother, claiming that his wife had cheated on him, but Leonora seems to have retained her father’s favour still, and he took great interest that she and her sisters should not only learn traditional female pursuits as handicrafts, singing and dancing; they were also to learn how to read and to write, maths, play instruments, to draw and languages such as Danish, German and French, and also religion. Leonora Christina proved early to be a very quick learner, skilled in both academic and practical skills.

At the age of fiftheen, in 1636, she married her thirty year old husband, but despite the age difference Leonora seems to have been fond of him, and was a loyal and obedient wife to him, even refusing to speak ill of him after his death (which could have ensured her freedom). She had ten children by him.
Leonora and her husband travelled much, and Corfitz held lordships of Egeskov, Hirschholm Urup, Gradlitz and Hermanitz. In 1641 he was made a count by the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III. During most of the 1640s her husband's power and stature grew and she was, in many ways, the first lady of the Danish court that had no queen. 

When Leonora’s half brother Frederick ascended to the throne in 1648, her own and her husband’s position was threatened by the resentment of her husband's dominance by Frederick III and, especially, by his queen, Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who now became Leonora Christina's relentless enemy. Leonora Christina was active and outgoing, and easily outshined the queen.
Leonora Christina was stripped of her title as countess, and a woman named Dina Vinhofvers was engaged to testify that the couple Ulfeldt had planned to kill the new king.This false accusation was however revealed, and Dina Vinhofvers was executed.
For Leonora and her husband, this was a clear message that their time at the Danish court was now over. In 1651 they fled to Sweden, where Corfitz, thanks to his diplomatic experience and loans to the state coffers, got a position at court.
In 1657 Denmark declared war on Sweden. Ulfeldt become a trusted advisor to the Swedish King Karl X Gustav, which is naturally viewed as treason in Denmark.
After some time, problems arose between King Charles X Gustav and the Ulfeldts, and Corfitzen Ulfeldt was taken to court, accused of having collaborated with the Danes. This forced Leonora and her husband to flee back to Denmark, begging the king of mercy, but instead of granting it to them, he imprisoned them. The imprisonment lasted for a year and a half, eventually forcing the couple to take an oath of allegiance to the king.
Stupidly enough, Corfitz challenged the Danish king as soon as he was released and schemed to put the Elector of Brandenburg on the throne of Denmark-Norway, but Frederick III received information about this, and Corfitz was sentenced to death in absentia (as he was not in Denmark at that time, and thus was never able to return to the country without being killed).

Leonora was at the time in England to solicit repayment from King Charles II of money her husband had loaned him during his exile. The King repaid his debt by welcoming the Countess (his cousin) to his table, then having her arrested as she boarded a ship to leave England, whereupon he turned her over to Denmark in 1663. 

For the next twenty-two years she remained in the custody of the Danish state, incarcerated without charge or trial in Copenhagen Castle's infamous Blue Tower. She lived under meagre and humiliating conditions for the daughter of a king, and was for years deprived of almost all comforts. During these years she perforce showed great ingenuity. She wrote that her cell was small, filthy, foul, infested with fleas, and that the rats were so numerous and hungry that they ate her night candle as it burned. She learned to piece together pages for writing from the wrappers on the sugar that she was given, and to make ink for her fowl's quill by capturing the candle's smoke on a spoon. Slowly she adjusted to her plight, ceased longing for revenge or death, and developed a mordant humour.
She only received less harsh treatment and more amenities following the death of Frederick III early in 1670. The new king, Christian V, sent his ministers to beget his mother's consent to free the prisoner. But, if Leonora Christina's account is to be believed, the Queen Dowager (her enemy) refused that she should be released.
Eventually the King had Leonora Christina moved to more spacious quarters in the tower, installed a stove against the cold of Copenhagen winters, and commanded that her window be opened. She was now allowed pen and paper, and it was at this time that she began to write in earnest, intending that her children might one day read her words.

Queen Dowager Sophie Amalie died in February 1685, and on the morning of 19th of May 1685 Leonora Christina was informed that she was to be released, and at 10 o'clock that night, Leonora left the Blue Tower forever under cover of darkness and a veil, denying even a glimpse of her face to the curious crowd that filled the courtyard (the Queen and her ladies watched from the palace balcony). For them Leonora Christina had already entered into legend — a royal adventuress who had been first regaled then held captive by the kings of England, Sweden and Denmark. She was sixty-three years old, and had spent twenty-one years, nine months and eleven days in the Tower. She lived her last years quietly on the grounds ofMaribo Monastery, where she occupied her time editing her prison notebooks. She died the 16th of March, 1698, seventy-seven years old.

During her imprisonment and for the twelve years she lived afterwards, she composed the book that made her famous, Jammersminde (A Memory of Lament), but it was not published before 1869. Today it is regarded as a classic of 17th century Danish literature, as it explores her prison years in detailed and vivid prose, recounting her crises, confrontations, humiliations, self-discipline, growing religious faith and serenity, together with fascinating descriptions of hardships she endured or overcame.
I know this was a very long text, but Leonora Christina was such a fascinating and strong, admirable woman and I could not cut this text any shorter.