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The life and loves of Felipe II

Felipe King_PhilipII_of_Spain

Felipe II

If you ask a Spanish person who Felipe II was, they’ll likely tell you he was a great and learned king who rebuilt the Escorial, had major issues with his insane eldest son but managed to do his duty and father a (relatively) healthy heir, Felipe III. In passing, they may mutter something about constant wars in the Netherlands and a rather unsuccessful naval venture.

If you ask an English person the same thing you may of course get a blank look and a “Philip who?” reply. But if there’s one historical period (inexplicably so, IMO) most English people have some knowledge of it is the Elizabethan period, and one of the major, major events during Elizabeth I’s reign was Philip’s attempt to invade England. As we all know, the Spanish Armada in 1588 was not “a rather unsuccessful naval venture”. It was a major catastrophe for Spain, wiping out I don’t know how many ships and men.

The Armada was not Philip II’s first contact with England. In 1554 he had married Mary, Elizabeth’s older half-sister. While Mary was very much in love with her much younger husband, Philip married for political reasons and likely closed his eyes and thought of England on those few occasions when he fulfilled his husbandly duties.

One could think, based on this, that Philip had a special affinity for England, that his heart and soul longed to be an Englishman. I’m sorry to break this to you, but from Philip’s perspective, England was pretty insignificant – this was a man with more titles than would fit on the fly leaf of a Bible, ruler of a huge empire. No, Philip’s interest in England emanated from his irritation with this pesky Protestant kingdom and its determined support to those equally pesky Protestants in the Spanish Netherlands.

EHFA Philip_IIPhilip II comes down to us through the years as something of a bore. Too stiff, too dour, too fond of black…Rarely does anyone mention his impressive library in El Escorial, where the books were turned the wrong way so that instead of spines, the visitors saw only gold-edged pages. Philip knew exactly where each book was anyway. Rarely does anyone mention that Philip had read a substantial part of all those books – conversant in multiple languages, raised to rule, and from a family that set a high value on schooling their princes, Philip had received an excellent and thorough education. And rarely does anyone mention his other wives, his problems with his children, his affectionate letters to his daughters, his carefully chosen gifts to both his children and his wives – or his gruesome death.

So today, I thought we’d spend some time with Philip – or Felipe el Prudente, as those of us who speak Castilian prefer to call him. (And I will stick to his Spanish name for the rest of the post)

In 1527, Felipe was born as the eldest son of Carlos I & V, that powerful Holy Roman Emperor who championed his aunt, Catherine of Aragon against her hubby Henry VIII (see? Another, if indirect, English connection) and ruled an empire so vast the sun never set on it.

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Felipe’s mother – a beautiful lady (Titian) 

Carlos married Felipe’s mother Isabel of Portugal (who also happened to be Carlos’ cousin) to keep his Spanish grandees happy. He himself was in no hurry to wed, but by all accounts he was happy with his Portuguese wife, and his son and heir was raised in a harmonious household. Once again, to appease those Spanish grandees, Felipe was raised in Spain, speaking Castilian as his first language.

Felipe was a serious man – and somewhat shy. Already as a boy, his distinguishing characteristic was his sense of duty. Duty to his father, duty to his mother, duty to his tutors – and as he grew, this would morph into duty to his country, to his family and wives. Rarely did Felipe do something for himself. Never did he caper about while warbling “don’t worry, be happy.” In Felipe’s strictly regimented life, happy was not something a serious man aspired to, and as to worry, well Felipe always worried. About being good enough. About the lack of sons. About the situation in England. About the Spanish Netherlands. About God. About the state of his linens – Felipe had an abhorrence of anything dirty and was meticulous about his hygiene. Major plus, if you ask me…

Carlos tried to teach Felipe everything he knew about ruling an empire consisting of various people, various languages, various cultures. There was one fundamental difference between them: Carlos had been raised in the polyglot court of his aunt Margaret of Austria, had as a matter of course been exposed to various creeds, various cultures. Felipe, on the other hand, had been raised in the tender care of devout Catholics in a rather xenophobic country. Let’s just say that Felipe’s upbringing left him somewhat less…flexible.

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Maria Manuela

When Carlos arranged Felipe’s first marriage with Princess Maria Manuela of Portugal, Felipe of course agreed. As an aside, being a prince – just as much as being a princess – meant little say in who you married. Royal marriage was for building alliances and consolidating power, not for something as ephemeral as love.

Anyway: Maria Manuela and Felipe were of an age – both of them were sixteen – and liked each other. They were also very closely related: Maria’s mother was Felipe’s paternal aunt, and Felipe’s mother was Maria’s paternal aunt, plus Felipe’s maternal grandmother was his father’s maternal aunt. Very complicated – and it didn’t help that the somewhat unstable bloodline of the Trástamara dynasty appeared all over the place. So when little Maria Manuela gave birth to a son in 1545, the baby had a DNA mix that resembled a Molotov cocktail. Even worse, Maria died in childbirth, and Felipe was left with a feeble if male heir but no wife.

Years passed. In England, that heretic of a king, the man who’d broken with the Holy Church finally died – and it was Felipe’s conviction Henry VIII was destined for hell. As we all know, Henry’s son was not long for this world, and in 1553, Mary Tudor became queen of England. Holy Roman Emperor Carlos made happy sounds, as did the Pope. At last an opportunity to bring England back into the fold of the true faith! At the time, Mary was in her late thirties and wanted an heir of impeccable Catholic lineage. Carlos slid a look at his son – at the time 27 or so – slid a look at Mary, and suggested they wed, despite being cousins. Well: it was suggested to Mary. Felipe was ordered to comply with daddy’s wishes.

Felipe_of_Spain_and_MariaTudor-2Mary was over the moon. Handsome Felipe had everything she desired in a bridegroom. Whether the groom was as thrilled is debatable. His aide wrote that “the marriage was concluded for no fleshly consideration” but as always Felipe set his shoulders and proceeded to do his duty. In this case, his duty was to preserve control over the Low Countries. A fiercely Protestant England had offered succour to the Protestants in the Spanish Netherlands, but now, with Mary and Felipe firmly in charge, such safe harbours no longer existed.

Mary very much wanted a child. Here, yet again, Felipe did his duty, but despite hope, prayers and effort there was no child – there was just a phantom pregnancy. Felipe seems to have doubted all along that Mary was pregnant, and after the sad matter had come to an end, he left his bride for the restless Low Countries. Mary was inconsolable. What Felipe felt is unknown, but he was courteous enough to bid his wife a tender farewell.


The young (and pretty) Elizabeth

We are now in 1555, and this is when Felipe supposedly was starting to regard Elizabeth Tudor as a potential replacement for her sister. Hmm. At the time, Mary was not yet forty, and while barren there was nothing to suggest she was about to die anytime soon. Felipe enjoyed Elizabeth’s company – he liked intelligent and erudite women – and Elizabeth came with the added plus of being younger than Felipe rather than eleven years older. But there were issues regarding Elizabeth’s faith, and Felipe would never consider marrying a Protestant – his soul shrieked in pain at the thought.

In 1556, Carlos abdicated in favour of his son and brother. Felipe became king of Spain and all its dominions, his uncle became the next Holy Roman Emperor, based in the historical homeland of the Hapsburgs, namely Austria.

Mary’s reign was plagued by famine, by her cleansing of the heretics among her subjects, by dwindling trade as her Spanish husband forbade her from doing anything detrimental to Spain. Of course her subjects grumbled, and there were risings aplenty. To complicate things further, France and Spain were at loggerheads, so France considered England an enemy too. Felipe wanted England’s help in defeating the French to show them just who was the most important Catholic monarch in the world. That’s why Felipe popped by on a short visit in 1557 – to convince Mary to support war with France. Mary hoped this conjugal visit would lead to other things, and lo and behold, some months later Mary declared herself pregnant. Yet again, a phantom pregnancy…

Poor Mary – no child, no loving husband, just a cool political union as expressed by Philip’s rather laconic comment upon hearing about Mary’s death in 1558. “I feel reasonable regret.”

By now, Felipe had other matters to handle, first and foremost the situation in France. And then there was the matter of his son, Don Carlos, all of thirteen and showing worrying signs of mental instability. Don Carlos had been proposed as a groom for Elizabeth of Valois, this as an attempt to heal the rift between France and Spain. Felipe went one step further and offered to marry Elizabeth himself, despite an age difference of almost twenty years.

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Elizabeth of Valois

By all accounts, this was a happy marriage. Felipe was a devoted husband, entranced by his pretty and vivacious wife. She stood by his side during that most difficult time in his life, when his son went from bad to worse until at last Felipe had no option but to incarcerate Don Carlos, by now mad as a hatter. Felipe’s wife might have been young, but she was wise, and in her company he found comfort and hope – plus she gave him children. Daughters, to be sure, but healthy living children. A son would surely follow. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Elizabeth died in childbirth – yet another girl, stillborn, and Felipe was devastated.

By now we’re in 1568, and while relationships with France remained coolly cordial, Philip now had another mess on his hands: the Low Countries had risen in insurrection, protesting the heavy yoke of Spanish taxes and demanding the right to embrace the Protestant faith. England, of course, hastened to the aid of their religious brethren. Felipe was pissed off, putting it mildly. Here he’d been advocating a lenient approach towards the upstart English and their Protestant queen, urging the Pope to not do anything hasty, and this is how the English dogs repaid him?

On top of the utter political mess in the Spanish Netherlands, plus the rather urgent matter of halting Ottoman expansion into Europe, Felipe had the pressing matter of begetting an heir, which was why he married his niece, Anne of Austria, in 1570. (Yes: those Hapsburgs had a predilection for keeping things in the family – unfortunately)


Anne of Austria

Anne was yet another young bride, more than twenty years his junior, but just like Elizabeth she was affectionate and kind, and Felipe was as happy with her as he’d been with his French princess. Anne gave him sons – beautiful boys, and at last Felipe had his heir, the Infante Fernando. He died at age six of dysentery. A grief-struck father consoled himself with the fact that there was the Infante Diego to take the dead son’s place. Except that four years later he also died, this time of small-pox. Fortunately, there was one son left, little Felipe. Not that baby Felipe was the son his father would have hoped for, being small and sickly, but at least he was alive.

Anne died in 1580, leaving Felipe a widower for the fourth time. He was never to re-marry. Instead, he invested his efforts in his children and his empire, a lot of his energy directed at pacifying the Dutch now that the Ottomans had been adequately crushed at Lepanto in 1571.

In England, Elizabeth encouraged support to the Dutch, quietly applauded English pirates when they attacked the treasure-laden Spanish galleons, and in general caused Philip much irritation. However, he chose to do nothing. Why? Well, as Elizabeth had no children the obvious heir to the English crown was Mary, Queen of Scots, at present Elizabeth’s prisoner and a devout Catholic. A light in the tunnel for Catholics everywhere, was Mary – a light brutally extinguished when Elizabeth was prevailed upon to sign the execution order for her cousin in 1587.

Felipe Invincible_ArmadaThe situation in the Spanish Netherlands went from bad to worse, and with Mary dead, there was no hope the English would come to their senses and turn from their heretic faith. No, it fell upon Felipe to take responsibility for their souls – and, while he was at it, effectively squash all support for the Dutch reformers – which was why he decided to send the Armada to invade England and once and for all reinstate the Catholic faith. We all know how that ended, don’t we?

Today, we tend to measure Felipe by his few failures rather than his numerous successes. Partly because he was who he was, partly because of his turn-coat secretary Antonio Perez, generations of Europeans have been fed an image of Felipe as a cold-hearted fanatic who delighted in seeing heretics twist in torment. Felipe has become a victim to the Black Legend, whereby Spain – and Felipe – are depicted as infested by evil. Felipe has been accused of killing his own son, of strangling prisoners with his own hands. He has been defamed and ridiculed – even in his own lifetime – and rarely has anyone risen to defend him, least of all Felipe himself, who chose to never respond to the more ludicrous of Perez’ accusations.

Felipe_II,_King_of_Spain_from_NPGI would argue Felipe was much more than this: in his private letters, we see a man who concerned himself greatly with the well-being of those he loved. In how he managed his empire, we see a man who eschewed absolute power, attempting instead to ensure there were robust controls in place. Genuinely devout, he quelled some of the more fanatic aspects of the Counter-Reformation, he encouraged learning and education and brought Spain firmly out of the Middle Ages. Yes, he was the enemy of Protestants champions such as William the Silent. But he was equally the hero of his Catholic subjects, the determined defender of Europe against the Ottomans, and a man who always tried to do his duty. Always. Not, IMO, a bad epitaph.

In 1598, an old and weakened Felipe fell ill. By now, he was a lonely old man – of his eleven children only tree remained alive, and his favourite daughter had recently died, the single recorded occasion when Felipe gave in to open despair, cursing fate for taking his loved ones from him. For 55 days, the king lay dying, covered in pustules and weeping sores. It was impossible to keep him clean so he lay in his stinking waste—a humiliating death for a man who abhorred being dirty. He died clutching the same crucifix his father had held when he died. At the moment of his death he was lucid, and it is said he saw Death coming and smiled in welcome, free at last from this life of duty and sorrows – so many, many sorrows.

When a Spanish señorita set an English princely heart aflutter

There are many things one can say about Charles, James I’s second son, the rather uninteresting and sickly spare that was destined to live forever in the shadow of his beloved and admired older brother Henry Fredrick.
One could call him lucky, seeing as big brother died in typhoid fever, thereby making Charles the heir.
One could call him unlucky, in that his reign was to end with his own beheading – to a large extent caused by Charles’ obdurate take on the divine right of kings.
One could call him elegant, a good father and a loving husband. Some would say he was priggish and small-minded. Rarely would one call him flamboyant or daring. And yet, there is one incident in Charles’ early life that speaks of a desire for adventure, a streak of recklessness. I am, of course, talking about the infamous Spanish affair.

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Long before there was a Spanish affair, there was the Bohemian debacle. In 1613, Charles’ older sister, Elizabeth Stuart, had married Frederick, Count of the Palatinate Rhine – or Elector Palatinate for short. A wedding mainly contracted for political reasons quickly blossomed into a passionate love-affair, and Elizabeth was head-over-heels with her staunch Protestant German prince. Frederick was of impeccable bloodlines, related with more or less every single royal house in Europe, and the young couple seemed destined for a happy, fruitful union, bringing squalling sons into the world at very regular intervals.

So what does this have to do with Spain? Well, at the time, Europe was a patchwork quilt of loyalties, and ever since the Reformation a century or so before, these loyalties had been realigned, redesigned and generally moved around, creating a political instability equivalent to that of a grumbling volcano.

In 1619, the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias II died. A man who tempered his own Catholic beliefs with a sizeable dose of pragmatism, Matthias had promoted a tolerant approach to the Protestants living within his empire. His successor and cousin, Ferdinand II, was much more hard-core and had every intention of eradicating Protestant influence in his empire. Out with those dastardly heretics ASAP, ensuring the Holy Roman Empire lived up to its name and reputation as the staunchest of staunch Catholic strongholds. Obviously, this did not go down well with his Protestant subjects. It definitely raised the hackles of the Bohemian nobles – not only were many of them Protestants, but Ferdinand II was a great believer in absolute monarchy, thereby over-riding the hereditary rights of the Bohemian nobles to have a substantial say in their government.

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Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia

Being creative, the Bohemian nobles decided to fall back on their right to choose their own monarch (a right that had not been much exercised over the last few centuries seeing as the Holy Roman Emperors tended to dislike such open displays of rebelliousness) and invited Frederick to take the crown. Frederick was hesitant. His wife wasn’t. Elizabeth wanted a crown, and besides, this was an opportunity for her beloved Freddy to show his prowess and defend his co-religionists. After some hemming and hawing, Frederick accepted the crown and was formally installed as King of Bohemia in November of 1619.

Ferdinand II was not about to tolerate such disobedience from his Bohemian subjects. Who did they think they were, hey? So in November of 1620, the Holy Roman Emperor’s forces (including a large number of Spanish soldiers) trounced those of Frederick at the Battle of White Mountain. The first pitched battle of the Thirty Years’ War had thereby been fought, and Ferdinand and his armies would go on to aggravate most of Protestant Europe for (taa-daa) thirty more years, give or take. For Frederick and Elizabeth, the effects were far more immediate: after one year, they’d been ousted from their thrones and forced into exile.

This is where Spain comes into play. Ferdinand II was a Hapsburg. The Spanish royals were also Hapsburgs. The two branches of the Hapsburg family were very close, as testified by their preference for marrying each other. They were also undoubtedly the most powerful royals in Europe (for a little while longer) and James I had long nurtured the hope of uniting his family with the Hapsburgs, thereby creating an impressive alliance between England and Spain that would effectively crush France between them. Clearly, once James added the English crown to his Scottish one he set little store on the “Auld Alliance”, that very old pact between France and Scotland against England.


Henry Frederick

Originally, James’ intention had been to wed Henry Frederick to a Spanish Infanta. Given just how fervently Protestant Henry Frederick was, and how fiercely Catholic the Spanish royals were, that would probably have been a rather unhappy match. In actual fact, it is rather odd that the Spanish Ambassador to England even suggested the match. After all, he – and his royal master, Felipe III of Spain – would have known the pope would never give the dispensation required for a princess of such august Catholic blood to wed an upstart heretic. Unless said heretic converted, of course. “When hell freezes over,” would likely have been dear Henry Frederick’s reply to that suggestion.

Henry Frederick died, the formerly so disregarded Charles was installed as Prince of Wales in 1616, and the hope of a Spanish alliance still lived. Ambassador Gondomar sweetened the deal by offering a huge dowry – large enough that James could do without that pesky Parliament, at least for a while. All the Spanish wanted in return was for England to throw out all that anti-Catholic legislation, such as Test Acts and the like, and stay well away from the turbulent situation in the Spanish Netherlands.

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James in all his glory

James considered himself a great statesman, and was probably more than flattered by the Spanish interest. Being possessed of the ability to ignore that which did not please him, he didn’t pay much regard to the heated protests from various subjects, along the lines that England had not defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 only to hop into bed with that popish whore of a nation four decades later.

After the Bohemia debacle, James had hopes that a Spanish match could lead to the Spanish Hapsburgs putting pressure on their Austrian cousins so as to reinstate Frederick and Elizabeth. In the aftermath of the Battle of White Mountain, James saw no option but to call a Parliament, hoping thereby to raise the funds required to help Frederick and Elizabeth retake what was rightfully theirs. Parliament was all over itself in its anti-Catholic furore, but saw no reason to expend any larger amounts of English tax money on the Elector and his wife. James was miffed. Even more so when Parliament argued for war with Spain, thereby threatening the potential Spanish match.

After months of arguing with Parliament, James dissolved it. He still had his heart set on the Spanish alliance, but we were now in 1621, Spain had a new king, there was a new pope, and James was also astute enough to realise that Parliament was, in effect, expressing the view of the English people when they opposed a marriage alliance with Spain. Besides, even James must have realised the religious differences between the Spanish and the English were too much of an obstacle.

King_Charles_I_by_Gerrit_van_Honthorst_smJames’s son, however, did not share his father’s defeatist view on the Spanish match. Neither did Prince Charles’ new bosom friend, George Villiers, the soon-to-be Duke of Buckingham. These two gentlemen decided to take matters in their own hands, and what better way to woo the reluctant Spanish Infanta than by popping in on a surprise visit?

At the time, royal courts worked to defined protocols. Compared to the formal Spanish court, James’s court was like a laid back two-week inclusive in the Caribbean. In Spain, one DID NOT pop by on a surprise visit, even less travelling under an alias. Such minor details did not deter our amorous prince. Charles and George chose (rather unimaginatively) to travel as Thomas and John Smith and set off in February of 1623, Charles determined to win his Spanish bride and return home a married (and richer) man.

Off they went, George and Charles, failing miserably at keeping the low profile required to even slip out of England unnoticed. At some point, Villiers had to reveal himself as the Lord Admiral he was, and only then were our two Mr Smiths allowed to step aboard the ship that was to take them to France. In Paris, they donned periwigs to disguise themselves, which worked surprisingly well, and so after some days of enjoying La belle France incognito, they set off south, riding hard for Madrid and the waiting Doña María Ana, Infanta of Spain and as Catholic as they came.

Mariana's mother Diego_Velázquez_-_Maria_Anna_of_Spain_-_Prado

Infanta María Ana

It seems no one had thought to investigate whether the purported bride had any interest in marrying the gallant English prince. María Ana was very devout, and would no more wed a heretic than she would one of the multiple flea-ridden urchins that prowled the streets of Madrid. Unless, of course, the young man in question were to convert, thereby ensuring María Ana a permanent place in heaven.

Early in March, Charles and George arrived in Madrid. As a matter of course, they went directly to the residence of the Earl of Bristol, England’s ambassador in Spain. The poor ambassador was shocked. Incensed. Aghast. Gobsmacked. All of these. Charles, however, was quite pleased with himself. From his perspective, all the needed to do was to meet his intended, charm her petticoats off, and that was it.

Spanish Infantas did not meet men outside their immediate family just like that. María Ana was no exception to the rule, and Charles’ request that he may be allowed to pay court in person was met with a polite but firm no. Disappointment must have etched deep lines in Charles’ face, because Felipe IV came up with a little plan whereby Charles would be able to see his intended without any breach of protocol.

In Spain, at the time there was a tradition called “hacer la rúa”, or “el paseo”. In essence, it meant people took to the outdoors, whether astride a horse, in a carriage or on foot, and made a pre-defined circuit, thereby upping the chances of running into someone you really wanted to meet. In Madrid, the route circled the Plaza Mayor, detoured round San Gerónimo, and ambled through El Prado (at the time a park, not an art museum). Buckingham and Charles were bundled into a carriage. María Ana was placed in another, accompanied by her brother’s queen, the pretty Isabel of Bourbon. By chance, as it were, these vehicles passed one another a couple of times. Enough for Charles to see bright blue eyes and a stray lock or two of golden hair. Not enough to exchange as much as a word.


Felipe IV

For five months, Felipe IV kept Charles hanging. James dispatched a retinue from England, Charles met frequently with Felipe IV and his closest advisor the Count of Olivares. He was feted in grand style, was acclaimed by the Spanish people who were rather taken by the English prince – even more so given that his mere presence in Spain reasonably indicated his intention to return to the True Faith.

There were banquets and balls, there were bull runs and afternoons at the Madrid playhouses, and not once was Charles allowed to spend as much as a moment alone with María Ana, the precious Infanta always impressively chaperoned, never more than an enticing promise.

In a grand gesture, Felipe IV released hundreds of English prisoners from his galleys, but smiled blandly whenever Charles pressed his suit, reminding the eager prince that he needed reassurances, promises that the English anti-Catholic legislation would be repealed, that María Ana would be allowed to worship in accordance with her conscience.

Charles (or his father) had no authority to agree to the Spanish terms – but they did, off the record, like. And still Felipe IV procrastinated. Even after James had signed the contract, Felipe hemmed and hawed, saying he couldn’t be parted from his dear sister until the promised changes had been made.

Truth was, Felipe never had the slightest intention of forcing his sister into marriage with Charles – but he negotiated with Charles as if he did, and all the while Spain was carefully jockeying for a more favourable position in the European conflicts, keeping England docile by waving the carrot of a potential marriage under Charles’ nose. As to the Elector, Felipe was not about to support a Protestant upstart against his Austrian uncle. Besides, Ferdinand II had a son, yet another Ferdinand, and María Ana would make an excellent Holy Roman Empress, wouldn’t she?

Eventually, Felipe came clean and admitted that his sister would not consider marrying Charles – unless he converted. To convert was not on the books as far as Charles was concerned. Humiliated and furious, Charles embarked on the long trip home, and his previously so warm feelings for fair María Ana, for Spain, were replaced by the conviction that nothing good could come from interacting with the accursed Hapsburgs – no matter how blue their Spanish eyes might be.

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Charles w Henrietta Maria

In 1625, James died, and Charles wasted little time in finding a new bride. This time, his eye fell on Henrietta Maria, French princess and just as fervent a Catholic as María Ana. And yet the English heaved a sigh of relief: at least their future queen wasn’t Spanish!

And as to that pretty Infanta, María Ana went on to marry her cousin Ferdinand III. One of her daughters, Mariana, would subsequently marry Felipe IV, María Ana’s brother. Not at all unusual among the Hapsburgs, to marry close relatives, but this time round all that inbreeding was to result in a number of short-lived babies and a seriously impaired heir – both mentally and physically.

As we all know, Charles I was not destined to live a long and happy life (very much due to his own incompetence), but he was fortunate in his wife, a loyal spouse who stood by him through thick and thin. To Charles, it mattered little that Henrietta Maria was Catholic. Sadly, to his subjects it most certainly did, and the little queen who was so warmly welcomed in 1625 would be viewed with suspicion as the English succumbed to an ever-growing hatred of all things papist. But that, as they say, is an entirely different story.

P.S. For those that, like me, are major Alatriste fans, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s first book about this Spanish gent is centred round Charles’ spontaneous visit to Madrid. Great read!

Ana – Spanish princess, French queen

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Ana María Mauricia, Infanta of Spain

It’s some time since I wrote anything about a Spanish Hapsburg, and by now I am suffering such severe withdrawal symptoms I’ve decided there’s nothing to it but to throw myself headlong into the story of Ana María Mauricia, Spanish Infanta and future French Queen.

Choosing Ana is rather apt, as here in Sweden December 9th is Anna’s nameday – once a saint’s day commemorating the Virgin’s mother, these days merely a cause of celebration for those who share that name. Like me.

Well, neither here nor there – at least not from a Hapsburg persepctive. So let’s return to my chosen protagonist instead. Ana was born in 1601, the eldest daughter of Felipe III and his wife (and cousin). Felipe was the son of Felipe II, at the time of his birth discarded as being puny and weak – and hopefully nothing but a spare, seeing as he had two older brothers – but soon enough the elder brothers had died, and so it was that the runt of the litter ascended the throne after that illustrous king, Felipe II.

Felipe III was very pious – as was his wife – and little Ana grew up just as pious, happily accompanying her parents when they went to visit monasteries or the like. She was close to her parents and siblings, and when her mother tragically died when Ana was eleven, she did her best to mother her sisters and brothers – obviously with some success, as they were all very fond of her.

At the time, Spain and France were the largest and most powerful Catholic realms in Europe. Well, the Spanish would argue Spain was a teensy, weensy bit richer and more important and more religious and bigger – definitely bigger – given all those colonies they had. Spain was an Empire. France was a mere kingdom. As per the Spanish.

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Louis XIII, Ana’s bridegroom

For the last hundred years or so, France and Spain had been in constant conflict with each other, every such period of conflict ending with a treaty solemnised by a marriage. So Felipe II married Elizabeth Valois in 1559, thereby ushering in a period of (relative) peace between France and Spain. So Ana was to marry the very young French king, Louis XIII, while her brother, the future Felipe IV, was to marry Louis’ younger sister, yet another Elizabeth. (Yet another of Louis XIII’s sisters was to marry Charles I of England)

Being a princess and raised to be obedient and pious and in everything do as was best for Spain, Ana probably had no objections to the match. Besides, she’d end up a queen, even if France was viewed with some suspicion by the devout Spanish. A nest of sin and vanity, people muttered, not at all as morally upright as Spain.

At fourteen, Ana was sent off to France, where she was quickly renamed Anne and presented to her husband. Pressure was on for the newlywed to consummate their marriage ASAP, but Louis was not all that interested in his young wife, and she stuck out like a wart among the French courtiers, being predisposed to dress sedately and spend more time on her knees praying than playing.

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Louis XIII

To be fair to Louis, he didn’t have it easy. He’d become king at nine, following his father’s assassination. Since then, France had danced to the tunes of the Dowager Queen’s pipe. Maria d’Medici antagonised the French repeatedly, and in 1617 Louis ousted his mother’s favourite, forced Maria into exile and took control of his kingdom. He was sixteen at the time, prone to being suspicious of everyone and everything and afflicted by a severe stutter.

One could have thought the young king would have looked to his equally young wife for support. Instead, he gravitated to the young men at court, and Anne, on her part, was lonely and isolated – even more so when her Spanish household was sent home, new French ladies chosen for her.

To say Anne and Louis had an unhappy start to their marriage is an understatement – after all, there’s a reason why Dumas had this particular queen entering into liasons dangereuses with the Duke of Buckingham, the ever so dashing George Villiers. Not, I might add, something one should take as historical fact.

Ana Anna_of_Austria_by_Rubens_(1622-1625,_Norton_Simon_Museum)

Anyway, around 1619, the king finally acquiesced to consummating his marriage – the pressure was on to produce an heir. For a time, it seemed the king and his queen would bond, but a number of stillbirths drove them even further apart. The king did his thing – principally fighting the Protestants – the queen did her thing – mostly spending times visiting religious establishments – and as time passed, it seemed unlikely there would ever be an heir.

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Things weren’t exactly helped by Cardinal Richelieu, since 1624 effective ruler of France and Louis XIII’s go-to person in all matters, be they great or small. I’m guessing that a cardinal had little advice to dispense when it came to marriage – and besides, the cardinal did not mind that the Hapsburg queen was relegated to the sidelines.

Richelieu was very anti-Hapsburg. Not so strange, seeing as France was effectively surrounded by Hapsburg dominions, but for Anne this meant that she was defined as the enemy, and as tensions rose between France and Spain, so did the cardinal’s (and the king’s) distrust of Anne. It probably didn’t help that Anne still retained a lot of that stiff formality imbued in her since childhood. The Spanish court was a solemn affair – contemporaries often remarked about the lack of gaiety in a court dominated by religious fervour and a protocol so stifling no one was allowed to touch the queen – or the king.

In 1635, war between France and Spain was a fact. Anne was caught firmly in the middle, but her loyalty – and her heart – remained with Spain. She maintained a secret correspondence with her brother Felipe IV, keeping him appraised of events at the French court. Borderline treason, Richelieu would have argued, and things came to a head in 1637, when Anne was obliged by Richelieu to allow all her letters to be read before they were sent off.  This plunged the Anne – Louis relationship into something resembling a minor ice-age, both of them doing their best to avoid spending time with each other.

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Louis Dieudonné, the miracle boy

And yet…In this period of documented estrangement, things finally happened. In September of 1638, Anne gave birth to a son. A miracle, some people said – the consequence of a night of very bad weather forcing the king to spend the night with his wife, said others. Whatever the case, two years later she presented her husband with yet another son – not that either of these births seem to have done much to mend the rift between them.

Anne, however, could relax. She had done her duty, presenting France with two male heirs. The Bourbon dynasty remained secure, and from Anne’s perspective things took a turn for the better when Richelieu died in 1642. Some months later, Louis XIII died as well. Anne finally came into her own as Regent for her four-year-old son, the young Louis XIV – this despite Louis XIII wishes that his wife be kept well away from managing the kingdom.

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Anne with her sons

Anne chose a certain Cardinal Mazarin as her chief minister – somewhat ironic, as Mazarin had been a close associate to richelieu. In difference to Richelieu, who mostly ignored the queen, Mazarin had been savvy enough to cultivate her. There is a little story of how Mazarin – who was an excellent card player – once won a fortune at the card tables, claimed it was because of the queen’s presence and gave her his winnings, a staggeringly high sum. The queen, some days later, reciprocated. And some years later, she rewarded Mazarin by making him the most powerful man in France.

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This was not popular with the French. A Spanish queen and an Italian cardinal ruling on behalf of their little French prince. Tensions grew, rumours flew about Anne and Mazarin – several people insisted they were more than co-regents, Anne acting very out of character in Mazarin’s presence. With him, she was intimate, leaning close together as they whispered and laughed. IMO, Anne had found a friend rather than a lover, and furthermore a friend who shared most of her opinions on such things as royal prerogative and the divine right of kings.

In 1648, all the building tension exploded into what is known as the Fronde (so named because the rioters resorted to using sling-shots, in French frondes). The rebellion had as its original cause Mazarin’s attempt to tax all those who built new houses outside Paris’ ancient city walls, but was really a general outcry against years of excessive taxation – war is a costly business – and Mazarin’s attempt to coerce Parlement into accepting certain of his measures. Plus there was an outcry demanding that the people be given a voice in how they were ruled.

So violent was the uproar that Anne saw herself forced to flee the capital with her sons, and even after some sort of treaty had been reached in 1649, she refused to return. Wisely, as it turned out, as the revolt had attracted the attention of certain cadet members of the Bourbon family, notably Louis, Prince de Condé.

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Louis, Prince Condé

Condé wanted to rid France of Mazarin and took the opportunity offered by the Fronde to foment further unrest. In 1650, Anne and Mazarin arrested Condé and various of his supporters. Half of France exploded in rage – Condé was popular, Mazarin was not, neither was the Spanish queen – and in 1651 Anne saw no other option but to release Condé who went on to immediately rebel, his victorious and brutal troops entering Paris in late 1651. Mazarin fled abroad.

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Louis XIV, the victor(?) of the Fronde

Not good, putting it mildly. But Mazarin was nothing if not tenacious, and succeeded in contracting a certain Turenne to lead the counterattack. Soon enough, Condé was fleeing the country while a triumphant Mazarin could return to serve Louis XIV, by now old enough (at fifteen) to do without regents. Or much in the way of councellors – as we all know, Louis XIV was the ultimate proponent of absolutist monarchy.

So what of Anne? Her eldest son was now king in fact as well as name, and one could think her relegated to the fringes of things. Not at all. Louis was fond of his mother, and appreciated her counsel. Anne’s influence – and Mazarin’s – remained strong.

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María Teresa

In 1659, the war with Spain was finally brought to an end, and to celebrate this joyous occasion Louis XIV was to wed his first cousin (twice over, seeing as his bride’s mother was Louis’ paternal aunt, her father his maternal uncle) Maria Teresa of Spain. I dare say Anne did some little skips of joy at the thought.

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Louis XIV in 1660

In 1660, Louis and Maria Teresa were married. Anne could relax. Her beloved Spain and the France she’d lived in for 45 years were at last at peace, the union cemented further when the recently married couple were blessed by a little male heir, Louis, Dauphin of France. Sadly, there would be no more children that lived beyond childhood, despite little Louis having five siblings.

Anne retired to a convent in 1661. She spent her last five years in – I presume – spriritual contemplation. Things coming full circle, one could say, the once so pious little princess of Spain returning to spend her days in devotion of the Lord.

Other posts about the Hapsburgs:

What is in a name – of Don Carlos in various incarnations

My dearest cousin and husband – of a Spanish Queen

Niece, cousin adnwife rolled into one – meet Mariana

Of inbreeding, royal marriages and their ultimate consequence



Of inbreeding, royal marriages and their ultimate consequence

In 1496, Princess Juana of Castilla, daughter of their most Catholic majesties Fernando and Isabel, married Philip the Beautiful, son of Maximilan I, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, scion of the Hapsburg dynasty.

Juana la Loca

Juana of Castilla

At the time of her marriage, Juana was not expected to inherit the combined kingdoms of Aragón and Castilla. She had an older brother – the obvious heir to both his mother’s and father’s kingdoms – and, failing that, there was an older sister, already safely married to the king of Portugal. Not that Juana cared; she was heads over heels in love with her handsome husband, and over the coming ten years the couple was blessed with six children. Not that the marriage was entirely happy: Philip was a handsome man who liked women, and Juana was a pathologically jealous wife, going to great extremes to ensure her husband’s continued fidelity. This would ultimately backlash on Juana. A woman that jealous had to be mentally unstable somehow…

In 1497, Juana’s brother Juan died. Juana moved one step closer to the Spanish thrones. In 1498, her older sister Isabel died in childbirth, and suddenly Juana was the de facto heir. This greatly appreciated her value in the eyes of her husband and her father-in-law, but in Spain, Juana’s parents were less than pleased, as Juana relatively early on had demonstrated signs of being high-strung and doing things her own way and – even worse, according to her very devout mother – showed a marked indifference towards all religious matters.

In 1504, Juana became queen of Castile upon the death of her mother. The actual ruling was handled by her father and husband, who was proclaimed king of Castile. In 1506, Juana’s beloved husband died. Over eight months, Juana followed her husband’s bier from Burgos (where he’d died and been buried before she ordered him disinterred) to Granada, and her displays of grief were such that she became known as Juana la Loca (Crazy Juana). Using her temporary mental instability as a pretext, her father seized control over Juana’s kingdom. After all, what was he to do? Allow this crazy woman to destroy what he and his wife had built up?


Fernando of Aragón

In 1516, Fernando of Aragón died, naming Juana as his heir. (Rather strange, given that he’d kept his daughter sequestered for the last decade or so. For her own good, of course; the poor woman was incapable of taking care of herself as per her father.) The Aragonese refused to have a crazy queen, but luckily Juana had a son, Carlos, and this capable 16-year-old assumed the governance of both Castile and Aragón, while keeping his mother locked up in Tordesillas. After all, he’s been told his mother was a raving lunatic, and it was much better if she remained where she was.

Juana’s captivity was harsh – and long. She spent the last 46 years of her life as the prisoner of first her father, then her son. Nice guys…

Carlos I

Carlos I – not the best of sons

With Carlos, the Hapsburg dynasty seated itself on the Spanish throne. The older kingdoms were joined into one, and while Carlos spent a lot of time outside of Spain – he barely spoke the language when he took power – there’s no denying he was an energetic and hard-working king, even more so as he also was the Holy Roman Emperor. He must have spent most of his time travelling.

Carlos married his second cousin – not an entirely unusual practise at the time, after all, their most Catholic majesties, Fernando and Isabel were also second cousins. The problem with the Spanish branch of the Hapsburgs, however, was that they would almost exclusively marry within the family.


Felipe II

Carlos son, Felipe II was married four times: first with his first cousin, Maria Manuela of Portugal, then with Mary Tudor, then with Isabel Valois, and finally with Ana of Austria, who was the both his niece and his second cousin. With Maria Manuela he had a son, a sickly young man who died young. With Ana of Austria he had five children, of which four died young.

The surviving son, Felipe III, married… yup, his second cousin, Margaret of Austria. Surprisingly, the majority of their children made it into adulthood, and his son, Felipe IV was a vigorous king much given to supporting the arts. It is Felipe IV who was the patron of Velazquez, it is Felipe IV whose daughter is the centrepiece of that delicious painting, Las Meninas. It is also Felipe IV who had a problem producing a surviving male heir – a consequence, perhaps, of all those previous marriages between close relatives.


Felipe IV

Felipe IV started off by marrying Isabel of Bourbon – no blood relative, thank heavens. And still, of all the children she bore him, only two made it beyond childhood: Maria Teresa, future wife of Louis XIV of France (and yes, they were first cousins) and Baltazar Carlos, upon whom rested all the hopes of the Spanish kingdom. Sadly, Baltazar Carlos died at 17.


Baltazar Carlos

When Isabel died, Felipe decided to marry his niece (and cousin), Mariana of Austria. The young woman had been promised as bride for his son, the deceased Baltazar Carlos, and seeing as Felipe IV was newly widowed and in dire need of an heir, he suggested himself as a replacement. I’m not sure the bride did cartwheels of joy, seeing as the bridegroom was 29 years her senior, but princesses in those days had no choice: they were but pawns in the political relationship game and were expected to shut up and obey.

Felipe IV and Mariana had a number of children. Only two survived; a daughter that would go on to be the next empress of Austria (by marrying a cousin) and the last Spanish king of the Hapsburg dynasty, Carlos II.


Carlos II

Poor Carlos II. In him, all signs of inbreeding surfaced. Known as Carlos the Bewitched (how else to explain all his deficiencies?) this boy didn’t speak until he was four, he didn’t walk until he was eight, and so fearful were his caretakers of taxing his weak intellect and physical frailty that he was allowed a life of total indolence, even to the point of refusing to change his clothes or allowed himself to be washed and combed. The young prince was all that remained of the Hapsburg line, and so it was paramount that he marry, with everyone crossing their fingers and hoping that here, at least, he would not be deficient but produce the lusty Spanish heir the country craved.
The problem, of course, was to find him a wife. While royal princesses were married off as their fathers pleased, most European sovereigns were fully aware of just how deformed and weak the Spanish king was. Still, an alliance with Spain was quite the jewel in the crown, and in 1676 Louis XIV decided to ensure that jewel came to him by offering his niece, Marie Louise of Orleans as Carlos II’s bride.

Marie Louise was granddaughter to Louis XIII of France and Charles I of England. By all accounts she was a vivacious and intelligent young woman with other hopes and aspirations, but while it is said that she asked her uncle not to do this to her, Marie Louise had been raised with a keen sense of duty – she was a petite-fille de France, and it was her obligation to serve her country (and her uncle, the king) as well as she could. So, in 1678 she was wed by proxy to Carlos II in France, and in November of 1679, the real marriage was performed in Spain.

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Marie Louise

It must have been somewhat of a shock for this educated young lady, raised in a lively, colourful court, to see her new home. The Spanish court was austere – to say the least – and this frivolous young bride was eyed askance, however much she was commended for her beauty. Further to this, there was her husband, who apparently fell totally in love with her upon seeing her. I’m not sure the feelings were reciprocated, but Marie Louise had no choice but to make the best of things, however far from good that best might be.

A little dramatisation of Marie Louise’s meeting with Carlos follows below:

“Mother of God,” Madame Juliette muttered, retreating behind one of the heavy curtains that framed the impressive doorway to the royal bedroom. Her dearest Marie Louise to wed that? She pinched at her cheeks a couple of times, straightened her spine and entered the room with a bland smile, curtseying deeply before the young man who stood in the middle of the floor, half naked for all that it was almost noon.
“Your Majesty,” Madame Juliette said. There was no reply. The king tilted his head, dark eyes regarding her like a thrush might regard a worm – with casual interest but no understanding. The fat man presently struggling with the king’s dark breeches said something in Spanish, his tone making the young monarch’s face crumple.
“My apologies, Madame Juliette,” a soft voice said from somewhere to her right. “Please rise.” Madame Juliette did, having to curb the desire to rub at her aching back. She bowed slightly in the direction of the latest speaker, the dowager queen Mariana. They were of an age, Madame Juliette would hazard, but the queen showed little of her age, carriage so erect Madame Juliette assumed the supporting corset must be most uncomfortable.
“My son is not at his best this early in the day,” the queen said, moving over to pat the king’s cheek. The young man smiled, his overlarge tongue sliding out of his mouth. Drool dribbled over his chin and he tried to say something – to Madame Juliette an incomprehensible jumble of guttural sounds, but mayhap this was Spanish, although it did sound markedly different from the language in which the queen replied. “I trust your lodgings are to your liking?” The queen said, turning back to Madame Juliette.
“Oh yes,” Madame Juliette replied, thinking that a drearier place she had rarely seen before. Everything was in dark wood, all the rooms were hung with dark fabrics, and so far she’d seen no one wearing anything but black.
“And tomorrow is the great day, no?” the queen chirped. “You’re looking forward to meeting your bride, aren’t you, my little Carlos?” The king beamed, nodding so vigorously Madame Juliette feared his head might become dislodged.

“I won’t do it! I can’t do it!” Marie Louise twisted her hands tight and threw Madame Juliette a despairing glance. “How am I to … Dearest Jesus! Look at him, he’s short and ugly, he can barely speak.” She paced the room. “I won’t do it.” She was pink with agitation, which if anything made her even more beautiful than usual, and in her wedding finery it was Madame Juliette’s opinion her young charge looked verily like an angel. At present a most upset angel, to be sure, eyes darting in panic towards the bed where the recent nuptials were to be consummated.
“You must,” Madame Juliette said. This is your duty in life, child.”
“I …” Marie Louise looked away. “I …”
“Think of your duty,” Madame Juliette said. “Close your eyes and pretend you’re somewhere else.”
Moments later, the room swarmed with attendants. Like a brood mare being led to the stud, Marie Louise was prepared for the marital bed, arranged in a welcoming position in the middle of the towering four poster. Madame Juliette wept inside for her sweet child, but kept an encouraging smile on her face. Long, dark curls were brushed to frame Marie Louise’s pale face, the exquisite lace of her chemise was expertly tweaked so as to reveal enough of the bride’s physical attributes. The king was led in, in only his shirt. He was helped onto the bed, his fat attendant positioning him just so. With a murmured reassurance the fat man backed away and the bed hangings were drawn closed. A heavy silence descended on the room. The bed creaked. It creaked and it creaked and there was a stifled gasp, a groan.
“It is done. Excellent,” said the queen dowager, rising from her chair. “I knew he would perform when needed,” she added with a bright smile before exiting the room, her train of black-clad assistants in her wake. Madame Juliette dithered, not sure whether to remain or leave. “Madame?” the queen called from the passage. “Come, Madame. We must leave the young couple to themselves. My son has waited a long time for his bride.”

Ten years later, in 1689, Marie Louise died, having produced no children. Today, it is assumed Carlos II was sterile – which was probably a good thing, given his damaged DNA. Carlos II married again, but there would be no heirs of his body, and in 1700 the last Spanish Hapsburg king died.

In one way, one can say that the Hapsburg dynasty was ushered onto the Spanish throne by the unhappy fate of one woman- Juana of Castilla – and closed with the unhappy fate of another, Marie Louise of France. And in between, there were so many princesses, so many young women who were never asked for their opinion but who were sent off as breeding stock from one European country to the other. I guess quite a few had to close their eyes and think of other things – things like home, like puppy dogs and cake – or why not princesses that laugh and dance, dressed in their best lace as they preen for the artist?


Las meninas. It is Felipe IVs daughter, Maria Teresa, that is the little girl in the middle

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