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Archive for the tag “Hapsburgs”

A series of Hapsburg Doñas

By now, the regular followers of my blog know I
a) have a thing about strong women
b) am very interested in the Hapsburgs. (I am also somewhat crazy about the medieval period and the seventeenth century, but as today’s post has NOTHING to do with these periods, I am glossing over these addictions of mine)

Now, I have written a lot of posts about the Spanish Hapsburgs and today I aim to share another little story with you. Or maybe it is more of a reflection, along the lines that men who have a healthy self-confidence appreciate and encourage strong women. It takes balls to share the stage with a colourful and intrepid lady—as valid today as it has been in the past.

The early Spanish Hapsburgs were obviously well-endowed gents. Carlos I & V had been raised by his aunt Archduchess Margaret of Austria, an impressive lady, and clearly this made him positively disposed towards other strong women, as he selected his sister, Mary of Austria, Queen of Hungary,  to succeed Margaret as the governor of the Low Countries when Margaret died.

Hapsburg ladies Marie_de_hongrie_1520

Mary, Carlos’ sister

Mary was temperamentally not as comfortable with ruling as Auntie Margaret had been. She wasn’t quite as social, quite as much the life and soul of a party – not that Margaret was much into capering about and singing loudly, but she knew how to mingle, how to cajole and convince. Mary was of a much more serious disposition and had to learn these skills, recognising that the independently minded Flemish and Dutch subjects were not exactly dazzled into obedience, no matter how grand their governor or how much blue blood ran in the governor’s veins. Interestingly enough, the fact that Mary was a woman does not seem to have been an issue. Besides, should someone displease Mary, the chances were high brother Carlos would ride in to punish the perpetrator.

Mary and Carlos did not see eye to eye on everything. Specifically, they did not agree on how to handle the Lutheran movement. Carlos was all for bashing every Protestant over the head and burning them as the heretics they were, thereby hoping to prod those among the Dutch who’d converted into returning to the fold of the Holy Roman Church. Mary had a much more tolerant approach, advocating that as long as her Protestant subjects respected the laws and did their duty by her, she saw no reason to persecute them on account of their faith. Nice lady.

Hapsburg ladies Mary Meister_der_Magdalenen-Legende_001

Maria of Spain

Other than his sister, Carlos V also had competent daughters whom he also promoted to positions of influence. His legitimate daughter, Maria of Spain, was on several occasions left in charge of Spain, both to cover for her dear Papa and, after Carlos had abdicated, for her brother, Felipe II.

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Juana’s baby son, Sebastian

The same goes for Maria’s sister Juana, who was ordered to return home to Valladolid in Castile from Portugal and assume the regency. Juana did as she was told, leaving behind her baby son. As heir to the Portuguese throne, baby Sebastian was not allowed to leave the country. Juana never saw her son again, this despite him surviving childhood and growing into a fine young man before he died fighting in Morocco. (Well, it is assumed he died fighting as he was last seen charging the enemies) No, instead Juana turned to God and is the only known woman to have become a member of the Jesuits. Clearly, something I need to explore further…

Carlos V was a man who seems to have believed in the sanctity of marriage. Yes, he sired some illegitimate children, but they were either born before or after his marriage. As a youth he developed a passion for a Flemish lady named Judith and fathered a girl, Margaret, born in 1522. The child was raised at the court of the Archduchess Margaret and Mary of Austria, her father setting out a detailed schedule for her education. At the age of seven, Margaret was formally recognised by her father and some years later she was sent off to Italy, destined to marry Alessandro d’Medici. Her first hubby was assassinated and Margaret was wed to Ottavio Farnese, no matter that the fifteen-year-old bride clearly expressed she did not want to marry the future Duke of Parma. Poor Margaret had a hard time of things as her father the Emperor had every intention of controlling most of Italy while the pope and  her husband, understandably, were less than thrilled with the idea. Several years later, an agreement was struck whereby Parma remained independent on the condition that the Emperor was granted custody of the young heir to Parma, Margaret’s son Alessandro Farnese.

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Margaret (or Margarita) of Parma

As a consequence of this agreement, Margaret took her ten-year-old son and in 1555 returned to the Netherlands. Her boy she transferred into the care of her brother, Felipe II, who sent little Alessandro to Spain to be raised with his own (rather insane) son and the other known illegitimate child of Carlos V, Juan de Austria. Margaret was made governor of the Low Countries. However: Felipe had no intention of letting Margaret rule according to her own head or heart, which put Margaret in an untenable position.

In protest to Felipe’s meddling, Margaret resigned and returned to Italy but was recalled some years later by Felipe to co-rule the Low Countries with her son (Alessandro Farnese was the bees’ knees according to his uncle and various of his contemporaries. From Felipe’s perspective, Alessandro came with the benefit of being 100% loyal to him, having been more or less raised by Felipe) Mother and son did not really hit it off, and Margaret was allowed to retire to Italy where she died some years later.

I suppose one could argue that in the case of Margaret, she was more of a figurehead than a person with real power, and Felipe seems to have been more hesitant about endowing women with power than his father was. In difference to Carlos, Felipe had been raised without any strong females in his proximity.

In 1566, Felipe’s French wife Elizabeth of Valois gave birth to a daughter, Isabel Clara Eugenia. Felipe was delighted, falling in love with his baby girl from the first moment he saw her. Isabel would grow up to be the only child Felipe allowed to help him with his work, in charge of sorting his correspondence and of translating from Italian to Spanish. As was the custom among the Hapsburgs. Isabel was betrothed at a very early age to her first cousin Rudolf of Austria, next in line to become the Holy Roman Emperor. Rudolf, however, was to grow up into a man with no interest whatsoever in marrying. So there was poor Isabel, left standing atop Spinster Mountain. Not for long, though, as her dear Papa soon came up with the suggestion that she marry another of her first cousins, Albert of Austria.

This Albert had been raised in Spain, destined for the Church. In 1577 he’d been made a cardinal, despite being very young (eighteen) and not having taken full orders. Hmm. What money and influence can buy, right? Still valid in our day and age, except that these days no one wants to buy a cardinal’s hat… When Felipe proposed that he marry Isabel, Albert was the Archbishop of Toledo which, one assumes, would have led to a number of raised brows: archbishops did not marry. Albert, however, was more eager to wed than pursue an ecclesiastic career and so he resigned the archbishopric, married Isabel and was, together with his wife, made governor of the Low Countries.

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Albert and Isabel

Isabel and Albert were a great double act. Together, they brought stability and peace to the Spanish Netherlands. Together, they promoted measures that strengthened the cultural identity of the Flemish Catholics, such as supporting Rubens magnificent paintings. They developed trade, they helped the region to flourish. Under their rule, Brussels became a centre of culture, of trade and learning. And when Albert died in 1621, Isabel continued to rule on her own, appointed governor by her half-brother Felipe III. When she died in 1633, she left behind a well-ruled region and subjects who genuinely grieved for her. I believe the old Archduchess Margaret, aunt to Isabel’s grandfather Carlos V, would have approved. A lot.

What is in a name? Of Don Carlos, in various incarnations

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Juana, Carlos I’s mother

Being named Carlos was not really a good thing if you were a Spanish Hapsburg – well with the exception of the first, namely Carlos I of Spain. But this Carlos was not really Spanish. Yes, his mother was Spanish – the woman known to history as Juana la Loca or Joanna the Mad – but his father was that drop-dead gorgeous prince, Felipe the Handsome, and he was no more Spanish than I am.

Our first Carlos was brought up in Flanders by his powerful aunt, Margaret of Austria. He spoke Flemish as his first tongue, considered Ghent his hometown, and made something of a mess of things when he visited Spain for the first time in 1517, at which time he was but seventeen and already ruler of over close to twenty different kingdoms, principalities, dukedoms – what have you. All these titles and fiefdoms had mostly been amassed by a series of smart marriages, slowly but safely propelling the Hapsburgs from relative obscurity to the upper echelons of European ruling families.

Carlos I went on to become a skilled and powerful ruler, a mover and shaker, a Holy Roman Emperor, a man who spent most of his time travelling from one dominion to the other, among which Spain figured as relatively important, but not the most important. And as I said, Carlos I was not Spanish, never really learnt to speak proper Castilian, and was rather depressed by all these dour, excessively pious Spanish Grandees that made up the Spanish court.

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Carlos I

However, Carlos I must be considered a success – maybe even the success among the Spanish Hapsburgs. The man was born, he lived, amassed more countries and powers than anyone else, managed to pass on his kingdom and empire to his son and brother respectively, and spent the last two years of his life more or less eating himself to death after he’d abdicated. More of Carlos I, I think, in a future post.

Instead, today we’re going to talk about his descendants and namesakes, starting with Don Carlos, Carlos I’s grandson.
Now, Carlos I married a first cousin, a princess of Portugal. By all accounts this was a happy marriage, and it also produced a son, Felipe II (Philip II to those of you less comfortable with Spanish names), who was to inherit his father’s Spanish kingdom.

Felipe also married a first cousin, yet another Portuguese princess. In this case, he and his wife shared Juana la Loca as a common grandmother, and this, it turned out, was not an entirely good thing.

Felipe’s wife, Maria Manuela, presented him with a son. Joyous shouts of welcome, church bells clanging – the little Portuguese had done her duty, and now the Hapsburg line was safely cemented on the Spanish throne. That the mother died four days later was neither here nor there – well, maybe for Felipe II, who by all accounts was an affectionate husband to at least three of his four wives.

The little baby was named Carlos after his grandfather. He was a weak baby, somewhat deformed physically, but managed to survive infancy. At the age of fourteen he was betrothed to Elizabeth Valois, princess of France. That marriage was never to be. Instead, a recently widowed Felipe (marriage nr 2) married his son’s intended – there were political reasons for this. Don Carlos was not so happy, putting it mildly – but there were other princesses out there, and by now the young man was revelling in his status as Prince of Asturias, i.e. the recognised heir to the Spanish throne.

Carlos post Alonso_Sánchez_Coello_-_Infant_Don_Carlos_of_Spain_-_Google_Art_Project

Don Carlos, Felipe IIs son

Not everyone was as thrilled. His father was clearly worried, as his son showed signs of mental instability – flaying horses alive and barbecuing living hares was not, in Felipe’s considered opinion, an indication of a healthy mind. And then there was that nasty incident when Don Carlos fell down the stairs, a trepanation saving him from death. This primitive brain surgery did not improve either Don Carlos’ temper or mental health.

Supposedly, he started contemplating murdering his father – or if nothing else, to flee to the Netherlands and join the rebels, there to carve himself an independent kingdom. Things came to a head in 1668, and Felipe saw no option but to lock his son away. Don Carlos died six months later, and there were all sorts of lurid rumours about Felipe killing his own son, the first building block in the so called Black Legend round the evil Spanish Hapsburgs . Modern historians tend to dismiss this as ludicrous – general opinion is that Don Carlos died of natural causes.

For Felipe, his son’s mental instability and subsequent death was a catastrophe. By now, Felipe II was forty years old, and all he had were daughters. No heir to the throne, no future Hapsburg king. But things would sort themselves (or not, seeing as to do so Felipe lost his beloved wife, Elizabeth of Valois) and Felipe’s fourth wife – and niece – presented him with several sons, one of whom would survive childhood and become Felipe III.

Felipe III is not one of the most impressive Hapsburg kings. Come to think of it, after Felipe II, none of them are impressive – at all. This may, of course, be a consequence of all that intermarrying. Anyway, what Felipe III does have going for him is his affection for his wife (and cousin) Margaret of Austria. This lady died doing her duty and presented the king with an entire nursery of babies – and even better, this time there was an heir and a spare – hang on, even two spares, as Margaret was survived by three sons and three daughters.

The eldest of these boys was destined to become the next king, Felipe IV. The second was Don Carlos, and just like that defunct namesake and uncle of his, there were certain concerns regarding his mental health – or maybe it was just a matter of the young man being somewhat erratic. He was also, at least on paper, a potentially very important person, seeing as Felipe IV had as yet no heir to his body. This caused disgruntled noblemen to flock round Don Carlos, hoping to use him to oust Felipe IVs favourite, the somewhat grasping and megalomanic Duke de Olivares. Don Carlos was not interested in politics, but both his royal brother and Olivares had him under close surveillance, worried that the malcontents might use this rather innocent young man for their own purposes.


Don Carlos, brother to Felipe IV

In 1627, Felipe IV fell seriously ill. Major crisis, as there was no heir – even if the queen was yet again pregnant. The Duke of Olivares was faced with the rather terrifying prospect of seeing Don Carlos crowned as king – and Don Carlos actively disliked Olivares. So, in panic, Olivares drew up the strangest document, whereby, should the king die, things were to remain status-quo until the unborn infant had seen the light of the day. If the child was a boy, the queen and Don Carlos were to act as his protector, the government to remain firmly in Olivares’ hands. If the child was a girl, it was decided from the beginning that this little princess was to marry her uncle, Don Carlos (so as to keep him sweet and happy) ASAP, but until then, Olivares remained in control.

Fortunately, the king recovered. Even more fortunately from Olivares’ perspective, some years later a male son was born, Baltasar Carlos. (Who would die young. His father would then go on to marry his son’s intended bride, Mariana of Austria who was also his niece and cousin and…At present, this was all in the future.) And some years after that, Don Carlos died, under somewhat unclear circumstances. Some, of course, claimed Olivares had poisoned him. Whether true or not, the fact is that Don Carlos died in July of 1632. He was 24 years old and is essentially remembered for Velázquez’s magnificent portrait of him – and for being mentioned in a number of poems decrying his death.

And then, finally, we come to that most tragic of the Hapsburg Carloses, namely Carlos II. Born in 1661, his birth was clouded by grief, as his parents had just recently lost their little boy, Prince Prospero. Felipe IV was by now a man marked by loss. His eldest son, Baltasar Carlos, died at sixteen, his second wife had presented him with one son after the other who died young. Felipe IV felt old – was old – and now all that was left was this little boy, already from the beginning showing signs of grave mental and physical impediments. Felipe IV, who was very pious, resigned himself to all this being God’s will.

In 1665, Felipe IV died, and Carlos became king at the age of four. At the time, he was incapable of walking or talking, was still in diapers, and in general the people around him despaired – he had the wits of a canary. Not entirely true, thank heavens, because as the boy grew he managed to learn to speak – and walk. His mother was like a protective lioness when it came to her boy and did all the ruling in his stead.


Carlos II

Carlos grew up, nicknamed El Hechizado, the Bewitched. He was a lost cause as a king, but hope is the last thing to leave us human beings, and so Carlos’ mother initiated a frenzied look for a suitable bride for her son, someone with whom to beget a healthy heir. One would have thought not a single conscientious father would have considered giving their daughter in marriage to a man with such obvious afflictions, but royal marriages had little to do with affection, far more to do with politics, which is why a French princess was chosen as Carlos IIs bride.

Marie Louise of Orleans was attractive, witty, spirited. Carlos II fell utterly in love, and while there were no children, this was not due to lack of trying. Marie Louise is said to have commented that while she was no longer precisely a virgin, she doubted if things ever went far enough for there to be children. Of course, as per the Spanish it was Marie Louise’s fault there were no babies. This caused a lot of pressure on the poor princess, who also had to cope with living in more or less splendid isolation – court protocol forbade anyone touching the queen, and her French attendants had been dismissed shortly after her arrival.


Marie Louise – who, BTW was the grand-daughter of Charles I of England

Marie Louise died in 1689 after ten years of marriage. Carlos II was beside himself – Marie Louise had been kind and patient, had tried her best to be a good, supportive wife. Queen Mariana hastened to find a new wife, preferably one as docile as Marie Louise. This new bride had to be fertile, because if Carlos did not leave heirs of his body the Spanish would very soon be ruled by a FRENCH king – and seriously, what could be worse than that? (Why a French king, you may wonder. Felipe IV had a daughter, Maria Teresa, who married Louis XIV. Should Carlos II produce no heirs, his closest relatives were the descendants of Maria Teresa.)

Poor Carlos was soon married again – and this new wife of his had no kind words, no patience with this fool who was her husband. Maria Anna of Neuberg was cruel and grasping, stole work of arts and had them sent back to her brother, and in general was a class A bitch, terrorising her husband.

In 1700, Carlos II died, some days shy of his 39th birthday. His had been a life plagued by infirmities, both physical and mental. With Carlos, the Hapsburg dynasty in Spain came to an end – in with Carlos I, out with Carlos II. In the intervening 184 years, Spain had gone from a restless amalgamation of minor kingdoms to a huge Empire, its dominions spreading through the Americas to the Filippines and beyond. In that same timespan, the formerly so vibrant and viable Hapsburg bloodline had degenerated from the powerful presence of Carlos I, to the simple-minded fool who died, unhappy and unloved, in the Alcázar of Madrid on 1 November 1700. Sic transit Gloria mundi, one could say…

My dearest cousin and husband – of a Spanish queen

(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation (Margaret of Austria)

It strikes me, sometimes, just how short the lives of some historical people were. Take, for example, Margaret of Austria. Who? Exactly: who? Well, for one thing she was the mother of Philip IV of Spain. She was also her son’s third cousin – on multiple sides. When her son went on to marry his own niece some years later – Margaret’s granddaughter, Mariana – all those incestuous marriages came home to roost. Which is why Margaret of Austria has the dubious honour of being the paternal grandmother to the last of the Spanish Hapsburg kings, Carlos II, El Hechizado (the bewitched. The poor man was a borderline idiot, handicapped both mentally and physically. It is somewhat fortunate he was never capable of producing any children, no matter that he enthusiastically tried.)

We can’t blame poor Margaret for all this mess. She was a victim of the Hapsburgs’ idiotic ambition to keep their blood lines pure. One wonders where the pope was in all this – after all, marriages between people so closely related required dispensations. Oh, right: the pope was safely tucked into the pocket of the Hapsburgs, not about to risk the ire of the Spanish or Austrian Emperor.

It’s all very complicated, this Hapsburg intermarrying: Charles V (or I of Spain) started by marrying his cousin, then went on to marry his daughter, Maria, to his nephew, Maximillian II, Holy Roman Emperor. A first cousin marriage – the first of many.

Maximillian and Maria had a daughter, Anna, who was married to Charles Vs son, Philip II (yet another product of Charles Vs cosy marriage with his first cousin). Philip II’s bride was therefore not only his niece but also his second cousin. They had a son, the future Philip III.


Philip III

Maximillian had a brother, Charles. This gentleman was also, per definition, a cousin of Philip II and Maria. Charles had a daughter. This was Margaret, the heroine of today’s post. At the age of fifteen, she was married to Philip III, her second cousin, whose DNA was already a somewhat lethal cocktail given the borderline incestuous marriages that had engendered him.

But before we leap into Margaret’s married life, let us give her some more context. Margaret had a brother, Ferdinand, who was to become the Holy Roman Emperor in 1618 as Ferdinand II. If one wants to be nasty, one could blame the Thirty Years’ War on Ferdinand – his intolerant approach to his future Protestant subjects sparked the so called Bohemian Revolt, seen as the starting point of this European tragedy. Ferdinand, of course, would probably blame it all on the Bohemians – and on that rapacious Count Palatinate, Frederick, who made a grab for the Bohemian crown. (see here)

Margaret also has an indirect connection to Sweden in that two of her sisters were married to Sigismund, King of Poland and (for a while) Sweden. Apparently, Sigismund was so happy with his first Hapsburg bride that when Anna died in 1598 (she haemorrhaged while giving birth), she decided to replace his beloved wife with her much younger sister, 22 years his junior.



Like all her numerous siblings, well, like most of her relatives, Margaret was very pious. Too pious, many thought, and there were mutterings here and there that Margaret was far too much under the thumb of various representatives of the Holy Roman Church. A devout Catholic, Margaret considered all Protestants heretics, an opinion she shared with her extensive family. It did cause a number of uncomfortable moments, this implacable view on Protestants – like when Margaret’s older sister, Anna, was crowned queen of Sweden and more or less refused to show herself or interact with her disgustingly Protestant Swedish subjects…neither here nor there, at least not in this post.

Felipe IV and Maria Anna

Two of Margaret’s children, Maria Anna and Philip IV

Despite all this religion and consanguinity – or maybe because of it – Margaret was happy in her marriage to Philip III, only some six years her senior and quite smitten with his wife. Even better, within six years of their marriage, Margaret proudly presented her husband with the first of three sons, the future Philip IV. All was well in the Spanish Empire – the succession guaranteed, and the True Faith adequately defended by the queen and king.

Well, if you were to ask Margaret, all was not so well. Margaret exerted substantial influence over her king, as she should, being his wife. Another source of influence was her husband’s paternal aunt, the widowed Empress Maria (see further up: the lady who married Maximilian II and was sister to Philip II) who had returned to Spain upon her husband’s death to breathe in the invigorating, heretically unpolluted air of her homeland. Despite these formidable ladies, the real mover and shaker was Philip III’s favourite, Francisco Gómez Sandoval y Rojas – or the duke of Lerma for short.

This rather flamboyant character resented the queen’s influence over the king. Or rather, he smirked at her attempts to play a political role in her new country. After all, Lerma had been in control of Philip’s kingdom since the moment the king took over back in 1598. At the time, Philip was 20, Lerma a seasoned 45 or so.


Rubens – The Duke of Lerma

To this day, opinions as to Lerma remain divided. Was he only out to feather his own nest, or was he devoted to the young king? Seeing as Philip III preferred to spend his time on religious rituals and festivals, maybe his favourite did him a favour by relieving him of the tedious business of ruling. And Lerma wasn’t a total catastrophe, although he did bring the country to the brink of bankruptcy. After all, it was Lerma who negotiated the twelve year truce with those pesky Dutch insurgents in 1609. It was Lerma who brokered the various Austria and France marriages, it was Lerma who approved of Felipe’s support of Ferdinand’s bellicose efforts against the Protestants (and here Lerma and Margaret were in total agreement) thereby indirectly bringing Spain into the Thirty Years’ War. Not so sure this was a good thing, though.

It was also Lerma who expelled the Moriscos  from Spain in 1607, a human tragedy of enormous consequences. 300 000 Moriscos, i.e. former Moors, since generations converted to Catholicism, were forced to leave the land of their birth. This earned Lerma uncountable brownie points with the Spanish clergy – it also helped fill the very empty royal coffers, as what the Moriscos couldn’t carry with them automatically became the property of the king.

Anyway: Margaret didn’t like Lerma (although she applauded his actions vis-à-vis the Moriscos. Very much in line with her family’s intolerant approach to all but those of the Catholic faith…) The king, however, had no intention of burdening himself with the actual ruling part of his position, and at some point Margaret gave up. Lerma was simply too powerful, and besides, she was kept busy birthing baby after baby.

Bartolomé González y Serrano (1564–1627), Alfonso, the son of Philip III of Spain

Bartolomé González y Serrano – Infante Alfonso

And this is where I come back to my original comment, namely that about how brief some life spans were. Our Margaret died in 1611, not yet 27 years old. She died in the aftermath of childbirth – a fourth son, Alfonso, who would die within a year. Over ten years, she’d given the king eight children, of which six survived infancy. The king was devastated. Crushed. He never re-married, holding himself to the memory of his beloved wife.

As a little codicil, it might be interesting to know that some years after Margaret’s death, Lerma finally hit the dust. Lerma’s own son manoeuvred his father’s fall from grace – and this Machiavellian plotting probably deserves a post (or a book) of its own. Had it not been for the fact that Lerma had recently succeeded in having the pope make him a cardinal (a very effective form of life insurance), God alone knows how things would have ended for Lerma. But in all this furore, someone had to hang, pay for the sins of the former favourite, and the beady eye of Lerma’s son stuck on Lerma’s private secretary, Rodrigo Calderón.


Rubens – Rodrigo Calderón

Suddenly, people started muttering that Queen Margaret had not died in childbirth – no, she’d died because Calderón had used witchcraft on her. A ridiculous accusation, but Calderón was a haughty, unpopular man who most definitely had grown very rich during the years he served Lerma. Calderón was arrested, tortured, and somewhere along the line, his tormentors found a real murder they could pin on Calderón, that of a soldier in 1614. He confessed – after hours of torture. In 1621, Calderón was beheaded, a gesture to appease all those who bayed for Lerma’s blood but couldn’t get it, what with all that scarlet the new, very devout, cardinal wore.

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Philip IV by Velázquez

By then, Philip III was also dead (he never remarried after his beloved wife’s death), and Spain was now ruled by a boy of sixteen, Philip IV. Once again, the reins of government would be placed in the hands of a favourite, the Duke of Olivares. Once again, the Spanish king would wed a close Austrian relative, Queen Mariana (see post here). But this queen would not succeed in giving her husband the healthy heir he so desired – their DNA was too damaged by generations of in-breeding. Somehow, I suspect those oh, so devout Hapsburgs chose to blame God instead. Or the Protestants.

From major to minor – A Bohemian Rhapsody

Eliz_bohemia_2 This, ladies and gentlemen, is Elizabeth Stuart, princess of Scotland and England, daughter to James VI & I and his Danish queen, Anne. Like her younger brother, Charles, Elizabeth was destined for a life of tragic adventure, but fortunately this was something she was totally unaware of during her childhood. As an added boon, she never had her head chopped off – even if the Stuarts are somewhat over-represented when it comes to beheading statistics, what with both Mary Queen of Scots and her grandson, Charles I, dying under the executioner’s blade.

Back to our Elizabeth. Born in 1596, she was James’s and Anne’s second child, and seeing as they already had a thriving male heir, the little girl was received with open arms. A Scottish princess, no less – named for the ageing English queen to curry favour not only with Virgin Bess but also with James’ potential future subjects, one imagines.

Elizabeth’s early years were spent in Linlithgow Palace. Early on, she developed a strong bond with her older brother, Henry Frederick, while showing little interest in her sister who was born in 1598. Seeing as Margaret died within the year, maybe this was not a bad thing.  In 1600, the nursery saw yet another addition, little Charles. Elizabeth was only vaguely interested. Yet another brother was born – and died – in 1602.

James_I,_VI_by_John_de_Critz,_c.1606.In 1603, Queen Elizabeth died. James VI of Scotland was to become James I of England, and off he went with wife and his two eldest children in tow to claim the English throne (Charles was considered too frail to make the journey). Now we have to remember that James was a Scot. For most English people that translated as being the enemy, almost as bad as being French. Almost. And where England could boast a population of four million and healthy trade, Scotland was home to a fifth as many souls and had suffered one economic set-back after the other during the last few decades. It was very much a case of the poor cousin being invited to the party, and James, always painfully aware of his dignity, had every intention of making a good impression. His children were part and parcel of this ambition, and both Henry Frederick and Elizabeth were expected to be on their best behaviour.

Royal children at the time were good at being on their best behaviour. In this particular case, the children were also bright and comely. James’ new subjects thawed somewhat: here was a handsome boy, their future king, and beside him his pretty sister. Even better, the children – just as their father – were raised as staunch Protestants, maybe a tad too Calvinistic for English tastes, but still.

Not everyone in England was thrilled with a Scottish king. A minority of the English were also of the opinion that England needed to be returned to the true Catholic faith – an opinion that was reinforced when James showed no intention of being more lenient towards Catholics than his successor. (In all fairness to James, he was prepared to be open-minded, but a planned attempt on his life in 1603 featuring Catholic priests and nobles sort of soured his relationship with the recusants).

While little Elizabeth applied herself to her lessons, monitored by Lord Harrington, others planned yet another devious plot centred round the little girl. Once again, we have a group of Catholic nobles conspiring against the king. This time, the intention was to kill the king by blowing up Parliament, probably killing the Prince of Wales as well, and then place Princess Elizabeth on the throne, a little puppet queen to be raised a Catholic and eventually to be married to a Catholic. As we all know, the infamous Gunpowder Plot failed, and Elizabeth was never to be queen of England.

Eliz_bohemia_3James was a great believer in education, even for his daughter. Well, he drew the line at Latin, being of the opinion that women had no benefit from studying the classics, but all the same, by the time she was 12, Elizabeth spoke several languages, including French, and was well-versed in her bible and the Protestant faith. She was also, by all accounts, a great rider and quite attractive.

Suitors flocked like drones round a queen bee. The future Swedish king was one of them, but Gustav Adolf was crossed off the list at Queen Anne’s behest (no love lost between Swedes and Danes). Otherwise, there was an assortment of princes, of dukes and earls. Elizabeth had little say in who the lucky groom would be. Her marriage was a matter of state, and Elizabeth could only hope her father would make a wise choice.


Frederick at the time of his wedding

Fortunately, James did. After much consideration, he chose Frederick, Count Palatine of the Rhine. Of impeccable lineage, the young man came with the added benefit of being a devout Protestant and having a sweet disposition. In 1612, Frederick arrived in London, there to woo his bride. Well, woo and woo: the marriage was more or less a done deal anyway, but James was happy enough to allow the young couple some time to get to know each other.

In November of 1612, Henry Frederick died, and Princess Elizabeth was suddenly second in line to the throne, after her rather sickly younger brother Charles. Queen Anne felt this required a better groom that Frederick: her daughter was now in a position to marry a future king, not an insignificant Count Palatine. But Elizabeth had set her heart on Frederick, and James agreed with her – the poor man was probably too distraught by his heir’s death to really care one way or the other.

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Elizabeth, Countess Palatinate

In 1613, Elizabeth and Frederick were married, and the wedding itself was a lavish feast that more or less wiped out King James’s funds. After the wedding, Elizabeth and her husband set out for Heidelberg, Frederick’s principal home, where they settled down to refurbish the castle, including a magnificent garden, and to make babies.

As regular as clockwork, out came a baby, with the eldest born in 1614, and the youngest in 1632. In total, this happy couple produced thirteen children in 18 years – thirteen! Elizabeth was effectively pregnant for 9 years and nine months…. No wonder she reputedly had a distant relationship with her children – she was always busy expecting the next one. Anyway, all those pregnancies do not seem to have cramped her style, seeing as she accompanied her husband all over the place. Like to Bohemia.

Bohemia…Situated in the present day Czech Republic, this was a kingdom in which the king traditionally was elected by the aristocracy. Well, that’s the way it used to be, until Bohemia was annexed by the Hapsburg Empire. Hapsburg Emperors had little time for this election nonsense, and the Bohemians were smart enough to realise they had no chance in hell to withstand the powerful Empire – nor did they feel the need to do so as long as the Hapsburgs allowed them to practice their Protestant faith.

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Ferdinand II

But in 1618 things changed: the old emperor was ailing and demanded that Bohemia recognise his heir, Ferdinand as their crown-prince. Problem was, Ferdinand was virulently anti-Protestant, so when he sent a couple of Catholic counsellors to Prague, the Bohemian nobles responded by throwing these gentlemen out of the window, the so called Prague Defenestration. Did not go down well with Ferdinand. In fact, it made him even more determined to wipe out the Protestant heresy from his lands.

In 1619, Emperor Matthias died. The Bohemian nobles seized the opportunity offered, invoked their ancient right to choose their king themselves, and offered the crown to Frederick, Count Palatine. Fredrick wasn’t so sure about this. Being an intelligent young man, it took him like five seconds to work out that Bohemia was very, very small in comparison to the very, very big Hapsburg Empire. His wife, however, thought the idea of going to Bohemia was great – well, I think she liked the idea of being a queen. Plus, both Frederick and Elizabeth genuinely believed they needed to do this to defend their faith.

Off they went to Bohemia, and one month after her coronation, Elizabeth gave birth to her third son, Prince Rupert of English Civil War fame. (See? Eight months along and she travels all the way from Heidelberg to Prague). That, essentially, was the high point of Elizabeth’s sejour in Bohemia. Emperor Ferdinand II was not about to allow the Bohemian revolt to go unpunished (and for those of you who like your history, the Bohemian Revolt is generally considered to be the starting point of the Thirty Years’ War) and in November of 1620 the imperial forced routed Frederick’s army. The King of Bohemia had lost his crown.


Prince Maurice

One would have thought Elizabeth and Frederick could return to Heidelberg. Nope. The Rhine Palatinate was part of the Hapsburg Empire, and so, in one fell swoop, Frederick was reduced to a landless exile – more or less simultaneously with becoming a father for the fifth time, seeing as Prince Maurice was born in January of 1621.


Prince Edward, yet another handsome man

This was not the life Elizabeth had envisioned. Our Stuart princess was no longer a queen, she was reduced to being grateful for the invitation from the Prince of Orange to come to Hague, there to set up a much reduced court. But at least they still had each other, and apparently Frederick and Elizabeth found comfort in each other’s arms, resulting in eight more babies. Handsome babies, most of them!


Frederick – one can see who his sons got their looks from…

Frederick decided to liaise himself with the star of the north, Gustav Adolf of Sweden. In January of 1632, Frederick kissed his newborn son and wife farewell and sat up on his horse. She would never see him again. In late November of 1632, Frederick succumbed to an infection and died, just 36 years old. (And by then Gustav Adolf was also dead, his pillaged body found in the aftermath of the Battle of Lützen. See this post)

Losing the Bohemian crown was nothing to losing her beloved husband. Elizabeth was prostrate with grief, for several days she neither drank nor ate. Frederick had been the love of her life, far more important to her than their many children, and now he was gone – for good. She wept, she paced her rooms, she wept some more…But after some days of such uncharacteristic behaviour, she pulled herself together: she had a son to fight for, a fifteen-year-old boy who she was determined to see succeed to his father’s lands.

Over the coming years, Elizabeth was to suffer hardship and loss in spades. While she did manage to secure her son’s inheritance, she was to live through the death of four of her children, suffer the shock of her brother’s execution, see her nephews reduced to penniless exiles, and all the while be dependent on the somewhat stingy largesse (I know, I know, but it’s a beautiful contradiction ;)) of the Prince of Orange. It seems all this suffering endowed her with dignity, softened somewhat the haughty edges of the princess.

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An older Elizabeth

In 1660, the Stuart dynasty was restored to the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland. Elizabeth, by now in her sixties, yearned to revisit the land of her birth and arrived in England in May 1661. She extended her stay, fell ill in pneumonia and died in February of 1662.

Elizabeth was buried in Westminster Abbey, her coffin accompanied by only one of her children, Prince Rupert. She would have preferred to be laid to rest beside her beloved Fredrick, but that, sadly, was not possible, as no one knew where Frederick’s remains had ended up. Originally buried in Frankenthal, Frederick’s embalmed body was transported to Kaiserslautern when the Spanish soldiers invaded his resting place. What happened to him afterwards, remains unknown.

And so ends the story of Elizabeth Stuart, princess, queen, mother and wife. Most of all wife. Several years later, Elizabeth’s and Frederick’s grandson was to ascend the English throne as the first of the Hanover kings. I think Elizabeth would have been pleased. But I think she would have happily traded that for some more years by Frederick’s side.

Niece, cousin and wife rolled into one – meet Mariana

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Baltasar Carlos, Velázquez

After far too many posts outside of my favourite era, I feel an urge to return ”home”. The 17th century beckons, and I long for men in breeches and coats, lace collars and cuffs, for women with covering skirts, with their hair tucked out of sight. I long for the swaggering of young musketeers, for the determination of the people who crossed the seas to better themselves. So, dear 17th century, here I come!

I thought I’d begin this little 17th century frenzy with a post about a Spanish queen. Now, as many of you know, the 17th century is Spain’s Golden Age. El Siglo Dorado, as the Spanish themselves say, some of them with a somewhat crooked smile, as it is also the century that effectually bankrupted Spain, leaving it weak and economically unstable for centuries to come. How? Why? I hear you asking, and to keep this very brief and simplistic, the Golden Age is an explosion of art and culture, of exquisite paintings, of fantastic literature, of a court dripping with jewels – all of it paid for by the riches that came from overseas, from Spanish America.

Problem was, the Spanish imported the gold and silver, sent it on to (mostly) present day Netherlands to be converted into objects of beauty, and paid through their noses for the artisan’s added value. So, in actual fact, it was the goldsmiths of the Netherlands that amassed wealth. Plus, of course, it didn’t help that Spain was constantly at war, its huge sprawling empire attacked on all fronts by the greedy French, the belligerent Italians, the rebellious Flemish, the sneaky English and the back-stabbing Portuguese. Wherever Spain looked, it saw an enemy – well, more or less. More, as per the Spanish…

In actual fact, El Siglo de Oro is a gilded veneer on a society that was anything but golden, with rampant poverty in various parts of Spain, with the excessive wealth offered by the colonies controlled by a relatively small upper class. For the common man, there was nothing golden about 17th century Spain. It was as dark, dirty and dreary as the preceding centuries had been. For us modern people, the outpouring of cultural activity in El Siglo de Oro is a treasure trove. Probably because we don’t have to sleep with rats running over our faces, or live off bread and watery bean soup.

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Mariana and her brother, F Luyc

Anyway, before I get all carried away and turn this into a deep dive into the dark underbelly of the 17th century in general – being poor is never a good thing to be, no matter in what age, and the number of poor in Europe was substantially higher back then than now – allow me to introduce my leading lady – Mariana of Austria.

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Mariana’s mother, Felipe IVs sister, Maria Anna, Velázquez

Born in 1634 as Maria Anna, this young woman was the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III and Maria Anna of Spain (to avoid confusion, she was therefore called Mariana). In keeping with Hapsburg tradition, Ferdinand and Maria Anna were closely related – they were first cousins, which meant that Mariana’s maternal grandmother also was her paternal great-aunt. Intermarriage, however, had been going on for ages, and this was a tradition the Hapsburgs saw no reason to break, which is why Mariana early on was selected as the future bride of her first cousin, Baltasar Carlos of Spain.

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Baltasar Carlos – Velázquez

Baltasar Carlos was the only son of Felipe IV of Spain. Despite several childbirths, Felipe IVs wife, Elizabeth of France, had failed in giving her husband more than the one precious son and one surviving daughter. The male heir was frequently portrayed – the equestrian painting by Velazquez that graces the top of this post is especially famous – and by all accounts Baltasar Carlos had it in him to be a good future king and a handsome husband. Except, of course, that he died of smallpox at the tender age of sixteen.


Felipe IV, Velázquez

Oh dear, oh dear. Spain was left without an heir, Mariana was left without an intended. Being of a pragmatic nature, Felipe IV came up with an elegant solution, very much egged on by his sister: he could marry his little niece, thereby ensuring Mariana ended up Queen of Spain as promised. Everyone thought this was a splendid idea, and all that consanguinity further up the family tree was waved away as being irrelevant – after all, there were papal dispensations for each and every one of them.

What Mariana might have thought is unknown. From being promised to a young boy five years her senior, she was now to marry her uncle, almost thirty years older than her. Being a princess back then was not exactly a bed of roses – but Mariana had been raised to do her duty by her family, and in any case there was little she could do. So in October of 1649, not yet fifteen, she married Felipe IV. In July of 1651, she presented her husband with the first of their children, a little girl called Margarita Teresa. This little princess is the central figure in Velazquez’ masterpiece Las Meninas.


Margarita Teresa, Velázquez

A girl, however, was not good enough. Felipe IV already had a daughter, Maria Teresa, who at the time was 13 or so, a mere four years Mariana’s junior. There was a growing opinion that Felipe should name his eldest daughter his heir – Spain had no Salic law, which meant a woman could inherit as well as a man – but Felipe was not about to give up hope of a son. The pressure was on, and as months became years with no sign of a royal pregnancy, one imagines Mariana grew increasingly nervous. After all, her husband had fathered multiple children – some of them on the wrong side of the blanket.

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Mariana at 19, Velázquez

Other than failing at her duty to deliver a male heir, Mariana was isolated at court, too young to be a valuable companion to her husband, too naïve to be included in any political discussions. She took solace in religion, becoming so devout it raised brows even in the extremely religious Spain. I imagine her praying and praying for that elusive son, weeping every time her period came – a symbol of her failure to deliver.

It took four years before the next royal baby entered the world in December of 1655. A girl. A sickly girl who died within 15 days. Felipe may have looked grim. Mariana may have been despondent. Did they comfort each other as well as they could? Who knows, but two years later, Mariana was delivered of a boy – a prince named Felipe after his father.


Little Felipe Próspero, Velázquez

Little Felipe Próspero’s arrival allowed Felipe IV to conclude his negotiations of marriage for his eldest daughter. Maria Theresa was dispatched across the Pyrenees to marry Louis XIV (and here bride and groom were first cousins on BOTH sides) something Felipe IV could safely do now that he had a male heir. But Felipe Próspero was frail, and he also developed epilepsy. It seems both his parents were resigned to the fact that their little son’s hold on life was anything but robust.(And IMO, this portrait is among the best ever)

There was another pregnancy, another son – but Fernando Thomas died the same day he was born, in late 1658. Mariana and Felipe, so aware of their son’s failing health, were frantic for another son. In 1661, Mariana conceived again. At the same time, Felipe Próspero’s health took a turn for the worse. In a sad little drama, Mariana was to lose one child on November 1 of 1661, only to welcome a new son into the world on November 6. But this time, there was no denying there was something seriously wrong with the baby boy. Prince Carlos was to be the recipient of all the drawbacks of recurring incest, starting with the infamous Hapsburg jaw, mandibular prognathism so severe he couldn’t chew – or talk all that much.


Carlos II – note the jaw

In 1665, Felipe IV died. The new king of Spain, Carlos II, was physically and mentally disabled (he couldn’t talk until the age of four, nor walk until he was ten) and was generally known as Carlos el Hechizado (Carlos the bewitched). Mariana assumed the role of regent, and one of the first things she oversaw was the send off of her daughter Margarita Teresa, who was destined to Vienna to marry Leopold, Mariana’s younger brother and future Hapsburg emperor. Yet another incestuous marriage, with Leopold being Margarita Teresa’s first cousin on her father’s side and maternal uncle. It’s no wonder that of four children only one daughter survived to bear a sickly son who died…


Valenzuela by Coello

Mariana was not a competent regent. She was too unschooled in the political aspects of things, too unfamiliar with how the Spanish court worked. She relied heavily on favourites, first on a German Jesuit, later on the dashing Fernando de Valenzuela, rumoured to also be her lover. It didn’t help that her son was utterly dependent on her for everything, incapable of such simple things as keeping himself moderately clean.

In 1673, Mariana received the sad news that her daughter had died. It left her devastated – of all her pregnancies, all she had left was the son who was nothing but a huge disappointment. In 1675, her son reached his majority, and immediately a political struggle began between Mariana and her husband’s illegitimate son, Juan de Austria. Capable and robust, Juan had always been his father’s loyal servant until Mariana succeeded in discrediting him, hating that her husband should allow his bastard access to his royal person. Plus, Juan’s obvious vitality must have been a chafing thorn, a constant reminder that a mere actress had succeeded in giving Felipe IV what Mariana herself could not: a healthy son. During the last few years of Felipe’s life, he had therefore been estranged from his son, something Juan was very bitter about, having loved his father dearly. Now, Juan saw the opportunity to get his own back…

Juan’s first attempt to wrest power from Mariana failed, but in 1677 he succeeded, and Valenzuela was stripped of all his power and exiled to the Philippines. Mariana fled to Toledo, and over the coming three years Juan managed to restore some sort of capable government. Then, unfortunately, he died, and Mariana came into her own again. She was to remain in control for the rest of her life.


Marie Louise, miniature by J Petitot

Seeing as Carlos II was a major disaster, the only hope left to Spain was to find him a wife and hope he would impregnate her with a healthy child. The girl chosen was Marie Louise de Orleans, niece to Charles II of England and Louis XIV. By all accounts a bright and intelligent young girl, she was sent off like a sacrificial lamb to marry the young man everyone in Europe considered a royal idiot. (For more on that, see here).

Carlos II adored his young wife. But no matter his efforts, there was no baby. All that inbreeding had affected his fertility as well. In 1689, Marie Louise died. There were rumours of poison, of Mariana wanting to rid herself of her barren daughter-in-law. Seems far-fetched, given how fond Mariana was of Marie Louise. A new bride was procured, one with whom Mariana had an anything but loving relationship. Maria Anna (they weren’t great on variation when it came to names back then) of Neuburg was a grasping German princess, who stole paintings from the royal collection and sent them to her family, who used her monumental temper to control her weak husband, and who in general made herself extremely unloved.


Mariana in her old age

Mariana’s last few years were fraught. Constant conflicts with her overbearing daughter-in-law, constant shortage of funds, and then her son, so inept, so vulnerable. In 1696, Mariana succumbed to breast cancer. Her son would survive her another four years, and when he died in 1700, the Spanish branch of the Hapsburg family became extinct. Instead, Philippe, Duq d’Anjou, grandson to Louis XIV and Felipe IV’s daughter Maria Teresa, would ascend the Spanish throne as the first Bourbon king.

In many ways, Mariana’s life was a tragedy. Of all her children, only “the idiot” was left alive. She, whose duty it was to provide Spain with healthy heirs, had failed dismally, thereby allowing those rapacious French to claim the Spanish crown. But the little princess who was ordered to marry her uncle instead of her dead cousin did try – over and over again.

Christina of Denmark – an exiled princess who never came home


Christina by Holbein

“If I had two heads, I would gladly give him one,” Christina of Denmark is supposed to have quipped, when Henry VIII was proposed as a future bridegroom. This particular young woman had no desire to end up as one of the English king’s discarded wives – especially not as so many of them ended up dead.
Whatever Christina’s opinion in the matter, Hans Holbein was dispatched to do her portrait so that Henry could peruse her likeness. It is said Henry was quite taken by little Christina – as was most of Europe, Christina was considered quite the beauty. Fortunately for Christina, her uncle, the powerful Hapsburg Emperor Charles V, was not all that keen on the match. After all, he already had one female relative who had suffered at Henry’s hands – Katherine of Aragon. (Not that he expended all that much effort in trying to help his aunt)



Christina was the daughter of Isabella of Austria and Christian II of Denmark – a man who led a rather turbulent life. Isabella was sister to Charles V, and had been raised in the Netherlands, at the sophisticated and international court of her paternal aunt Margaret of Austria. While her sisters were sent off to Hungary and Portugal, lucky Isabella ended up destined for Denmark – which to her must have been the equivalent of an exile into the frozen wilds. I don’t think Isabel was all that thrilled with her match (even if she was quite taken with her prospective bridegroom), but being a princess came with obligations, first and foremost that of marrying whomever her family wanted her to marry. The value of this particular alliance went down the drain when Christian was deposed in 1523, and so Isabel was suddenly relegated to the not so desirable position of ex-queen.


Christian II

However, her husband being deposed carried the benefit of allowing Isabella to leave Denmark and return to her native Netherlands, there to raise her children. Except that Isabella died a couple of years later, leaving her three surviving children motherless and in the care of their father. The Holy Roman Emperor was less than pleased with this state of affairs. Christian II of Denmark was dabbling in heresy, what with his leanings towards Lutheranism, and so Charles V decided to take the children from him, turning them over into the capable hands of his sister, the dowager queen Mary of Hungary. Christian was not in a position to protest. He needed Charles’ support if he was to reclaim his throne, and once he had bettered his ways and returned to the folds of the Catholic church, Charles V sent him off to Scandinavia, wishing him the best of luck. Unfortunately, Christian ended up a prisoner of his cousin, the new Danish king Fredrik I, and lived out the remainder of his life in captivity.


Christina to the right w her siblings, just after their mother’s death

All of this meant Christina spent most of her childhood motherless and fatherless. As she grew older, Christina developed into quite the beauty – and her Hapsburg blood made her an attractive prize on the marriage market. After considering his choices, Charles V married her off to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, a man 26 years her senior. Obediently, little Christina, at the time only twelve, married the duke, but two years later Sforza was dead and Christina was sent back to the Netherlands, there to kick her heels while a new marriage was arranged for her. Which is when Henry VIII, recently widowed, set his beady eye on her.

Had Charles V decided there was an advantage in securing a match with Henry VIII – and no doubt there were moments when he considered this, given his constant feud with Francis of France. Henry VIII could therefore be a valuable ally – Christina would have been dispatched to England, no matter that only one head graced her neck. And had Charles V decided to do so, Christina would have had no choice but to make the best of things, a bit like poor Anna of Cleves had to do. Christina being Christina, I think she would have had a fair chance of succeeding in her role as English queen, but I imagine the young woman nearly fainted with relief when she heard the match was off. Henry VIII had a reputation viler than Bluebeard’s among the royal houses of Europe at the time, and then there was the matter of his breach with Rome, a most serious matter for a member of the Hapsburg family.

Instead, Christina was married to Francis, the future Duke of Lorraine. It was a fruitful marriage – three children in four years after which Francis died, leaving Christina as regent of Lorraine. This was a position Christina was fully capable of filling. Since childhood she’d been surrounded by strong women who did the ruling on behalf of their brothers or nephews or sons, and she took to her new political role with gusto – so much, in fact, that the French king invaded the duchy in 1552, took her son husband and forced Christina to flee back to the Netherlands and the welcoming arms of her aging aunt, the dowager queen Mary of Hungary.


Margaret of Parma

At the age of thirty plus, Christina had developed a taste for power, and so when Mary died, she put in a bid for the regency of the Netherlands, attempting to strong-arm her cousin, Margaret of Parma, out of the running. Didn’t work very well – Margaret was the illegitimate daughter of Charles V and ended up the winner. These two women were of an age, both well-educated, both of them multilingual – and both of them perceived as extremely capable by their male relations. As a consolation prize, Christina was given the opportunity to return to Lorraine, there to support her released son, and then, of course, there was Denmark.

Christina had been a toddler when her family was forced to flee Denmark. She had no personal ties to the country, no fond childhood memories, no Danish friends. This was, as per Christina,  irrelevant. Through her veins coursed the blood of the Oldenburgs, and upon Christian II’s death in 1559, Christina brought forward her claim to the combined Danish, Norwegian and Swedish throne, conveniently ignoring that Sweden had its own king and that her cousin was firmly entrenched on the Danish throne. Details, schmetails, in Christina’s opinion – and she somehow seems to have decided to overlook that she had an older sister with an even stronger claim. (Except that Dorotea could count with zero support from the Hapsburgs, what with her husband embracing the Protestant reformation)


Fredrik II

Christina didn’t just claim the throne: she worked actively to win it, supporting various endeavours to overthrow her second cousing, Fredrik II. All of them failed – it was probably difficult to raise popular support for a claimant who had last trod Danish soil as an infant. Not being one to give up easily, Christina then tried to reinstate her family in Denmark by marrying her daughter, Renata, to Fredrik II. That didn’t work either – maybe Fredrik was disinclined to marry the daughter of a woman who’d tried to actively dethrone him. Whatever the case, I think Renata was lucky not to marry him: Fredrik was an impetuous, hot-headed man with a fondness for wine – too much wine – and war.

Once Christina realised Fredrik had no intention of considering a marriage with her precious Renata, Christina attempted to marry her daughter to Erix XIV of Sweden. For whatever reason, that alliance didn’t happen either – luckily for Renata, as Erik had mental issues and would end up deposed and imprisoned (for my post about Erik, go here).  After a number of years and frustrations, Christina gave up on her hopes to become ruling queen of Denmark. Instead, she retired to Italy, where she died in 1590.

Josephine_of_Sweden&_NorwaySeveral centuries later, Christina’s claim to the Scandinavian thrones would to some extent come to fruition. In May of 1823,  Josephine of Leuchtenberg married Oscar Bernadotte, the Swedish Crown Prince. Josephine was a descendant of Renata of Lorraine, and when her eldest son, Charles XV, ascended the Swedish throne in 1859, there were at least some drops of Christina’s blood coursing through his veins. I’m not sure Christina was in a position to care by then, but if she was, I’m sure she’d be doing cartwheels of joy. Or maybe not. Christina does not seem the type to do cartwheels. Instead, she would duck her head and smile enigmatically.

Today, the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian royal families are all descended from Josephine, and therefore from Christina, a woman who badly wanted a crown, but not sufficiently to risk her single, precious head.

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