Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Elisabeth of Luxembourg: She Was Queen Regnant . . . Sort of . . .

Elisabeth of Luxembourg (born 28 February 1409)


Elisabeth may or may not have been born on 28 February--there is a great deal of ambiguity, and it's interesting that even the date of a princess's birth is not necessarily recorded. This is a date that has been traditionally accepted as her birthday, but there are disputes about that. For the purposes of this daybook project, though, I am using today's post to recognize Elisabeth of Luxembourg.

While her exact debate of birth may be disputed, what is indisputable is that she was the only child of Sigismund of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, and his second wife Barbara Cilli, herself a woman of political skill and accomplishment who acted as regent of Hungary on behalf of her husband during his absences.

Elisabeth (left) and her mother Barbara Cilli
c. 1440
The only daughter of Sigismund, the king of Hungary and Bohemia (in addition to his late-in-life role as Holy Roman Emperor), Elisabeth should have succeeded to the thrones of the two kingdoms following her father's death in 1437--Sigismund had certainly expected her to become queen in her own right.

As early as 1411, Sigismund had extracted a promise from the estates of Hungary recognizing his daughter's hereditary right to succeed him. (Sigismund had become king of Hungary only by marriage--his first wife, Mary of Hungary, had been the queen regnant of Hungary).

In 1422, at the time of her betrothal to the Habsburg Albert II, duke of Austria, the marriage settlement had recognized Elisabeth's status as heir presumptive to both Hungary and Bohemia (Sigismund inherited the crown of Bohemia in 1419, but he wasn't yet acknowledged as king). While Sigismund and the Habsburgs had negotiated the terms of the treaty, the agreement was not popular among the nobility in Hungary or Bohemia.

In 1437, realizing his death was imminent, Sigismund compelled the diet of Bohemia to accept Elisabeth and Albert as his heirs. But after her father's death, Elisabeth's hereditary rights were ignored. Her husband was recognized as king in Hungary, with Elisabeth relegated to the role of queen consort, though it was noted that Albert could govern only "with her consent and approval." Whatever that might have meant in practice, Albert's rule did not last long--he died in 1439.

After Albert's death, there was something of a problem in Hungary: Elisabeth and Albert had "only" two daughters, leaving the succession in some doubt--and, clearly, if Elisabeth's own hereditary rights were not recognized after her father's death, it is not likely that her daughters' rights would be recognized after the death of her husband. But the queen was pregnant. Under the circumstances, Elisabeth ruled temporarily in Hungary as de facto regent, though not officially recognized as such, and in 1440, when the Hungary council gathered, members selected Vadislaus of Poland as king. In Bohemia, Frederick V was chosen as king, to follow Albert II.

A sixteenth-century sculpture
of Elisabeth as queen of Hungary,
from the Hofkirche (Court Church),
Innsbruck, Austria
But Elisabeth had taken the crown of Hungary with her when she left the capital, Buda, so Vadislaus couldn't be crowned--and in February, she gave birth to a son, Ladislaus. In May, using the Hungarian crown, she had her son crowned king of Hungary. She went to war with Vadislaus, and the two ultimately met to negotiate a settlement--but Elisabeth died in 1442, just thirty-three years old. 

After Vadislaus's death in 1444, Elisabeth's son Ladislaus was recognized as the king of Hungary. In 1453 he was finally recognized as king of Bohemia.

Elisabeth's elder daughter, Anne, was duchess of Luxembourg in her own right. Her younger daughter, Elizabeth, became the queen of Poland by marriage--but after her brother Ladislaus's death, she claimed the thrones of Hungary and Bohemia for herself. While she did not become queen, her sons eventually inherited those titles, her son John becoming king of Hungary, her son Vadislaus II king of Bohemia. And then they went to war with one another . . . Sigh.