Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Catherine Jagiellon, Her Mother's Daughter

Catherine Jagiellon, queen of Sweden (born 1 November 1526)

I have already posted about two of Catherine Jagiellon's sisters, Isabella, queen of Hungary, and Anna, queen of Poland. (A fourth sister, Sophia, would become duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg.) 

A miniature of Catherine Jagiellon,
painted in 1563 by Cranach the Younger
Born in Krakow, Catherine was the fifth child (and fourth daughter) of Sigismund I, king of Poland, and his wife, Bona Sforza (we'll come back to her in a bit).

In 1562, Catherine was married to John Vasa, duke of Finland, thus becoming duchess of Finland. According to some sources, they eloped; at the very least, they seem not to have married with the kind of permission expected for royal marriages. It did not help that John Vasa was Protestant, Catherine, Catholic. John's half-brother, King Erik XIV of Sweden, declared war on John the next year, captured the couple, and imprisoned them in Sweden. 

Although offered the opportunity of returning to Poland, Catherine remained with her husband, giving birth to two children while being held in Gripsholm Castle. Her daughter, Isabella, was born in 1564 but died in 1566. Sigismund, born in 1566, would later become king of both Poland (1587-1632) and Sweden (1592-99). 

In 1567, John and Catherine were released from their imprisonment. An unpopular Eric (who, among other things, was thinking about separating Catherine from John and sending her off to Russia and a disappointed suitor, Ivan IV "the Terrible"), was deposed, and John Vasa, duke of Finland, became John III, king of Sweden.

Catherine's Catholicism was always viewed with some suspicion in Protestant Sweden, particularly after her husband attempted a religious reformation, the "Red Book," that would blend both faith traditions and reintroduce some Catholic customs, including the use of Latin in church ceremonies, into the Swedish church, and he allowed Catholic convents to once again receive novices. Catherine's children--Sigismund and a daughter, Anna Vasa, born in 1568--were raised in the Catholic faith, Sigismund sent to a Jesuit institution in the Polish city of Bransberg. (After her mother's death, Anna would convert to the Lutheran faith.)

As an interesting link to an institution we've discussed before, Catherine supported the now-declining Vadstena Abbey, founded by Birgitta of Sweden and once the home of Birgitta's daughter, Catherine of Vadstena, who had been its abbess and who had had St. Birgitta's remains moved from Rome to the abbey.

The king and queen of Sweden would also spend considerable effort trying to gain Catherine's Sforza inheritance, which she should have received after her mother's death. They were not successful, for reasons I'll explain, below.

Catherine Jagiellon, queen of Sweden, died on 16 September 1583. Her son, Sigismund, would become king of Sweden in 1592, but he would be deposed after only seven years of rule at least in part because of suspicions about his Catholic upbringing.

And now, a few words on Bona Sforza . . . 

Since it's getting close to the end of the year, and I am finding fewer and fewer slots remaining, I thought I'd sneak in a post about Bona Sforza here. Sorry! (Okay, not sorry.)

Raised at the brilliant Renaissance court of Milan, Bona Sforza was well educated, her studies including the discipline of statecraft as well as languages, literature, and music, more traditional occupations for women.* And, by the way, she is Caterina Sforza's niece, the daughter of Caterina's half-brother, Giangaleazzo, and his wife, Isabella of Aragon (also, by the way, a Sforza, the daughter of Ippolita Sforza).  

Bona Sforza in 1517,
just before the year of her marriage
In 1518 the Emperor Maximilian, the long-standing ally of Milan, arranged the young woman's marriage to Sigismund, the king of Poland; the formal wedding ceremony and coronation took place in Naples on 18 April 1518.

Bona proved to be successful wife, mother, and politician: as a wife and mother, she promptly bore her husband six children, including the four daughters I have noted in this blog, Isabella, Sophia, Anna, and Catherine Jagiellon. 

As a politician, Bona proved herself skillful in maintaining good relations with the contending European powers, including Spain and the Habsburgs and France.

She was, in historian Roland Bainton's estimation, able to manipulate this "unstable balance" of powers to Poland's advantage by her "adroit and even devious diplomacy."

Nor did she ignore domestic politics, where her aim was to strengthen royal power. Thus "she undertook to make Poland a centralized national state in accord with the pattern emerging in Spain, France and England," working to check and balance "the power of the lords, lay and clerical." She handled the appointment of bishops (with papal permission and her husband's consent), undertook agricultural reform, regained crown lands that had been granted to the nobility, and arranged for her ten-year-old son to be crowned king during his father's lifetime. 

She began a vast building program, provided for mercenary armies, and arranged a series of politically advantageous marriages for her children, as we have seen. Along the way she enriched herself as well as the royal treasury, which drew criticism, though her efforts "to relieve Poland by bringing in the revenues from her Italian estates" drew no praise. 

As her husband's health failed, Bona Sforza "became the real ruler of Poland," and whatever criticism she endured in her own day, her achievements have been recognized by some modern historians:
Bona exerted a powerful influence on the form of the modern Polish state not only by reason of her intellectual gifts but even more because she possessed a profound feeling for the essential needs of the state. She fused completely the foreign Italian strand with the emerging Polish national movement. In the social and economic sphere she aspired through her excellent reforms to create a strong authority based on just distribution of goods. In many respects Bona was ahead of her times and that was the tragedy of her life.
The "tragedy" of her life occurred after her husband's death, when Bona's son Sigismund Augustus, now king of Poland, rejected the political marriage his mother had arranged for him with Anne of Ferrara, daughter of the duke of Ferrara and his wife Renée of France, the daughter of Louis XII of France. 

Sigismund preferred Barbara Radziwill, daughter of a Lithuanian noble, whom he married secretly in 1547. Bona was not the only one to object to her son's marriage; the Polish diet insisted that Sigismund repudiate his bride, but at length, in the face of Sigismund's insistence, they accepted her. Barbara died, childless, in 1551, and although Bona had reconciled herself to her daughter-in-law, she was suspected of having poisoned her. 

Bona was not reconciled to her son, however, and she decided to return to her Italian duchy of Bari for health reasons, as she claimed. Her son opposed her departure from Poland. "She wants to get back to Italy just to get her hands on all the properties of Bari, Rossano and Naples and to cut me off from my rightful inheritance from my grandmother," he objected, adding that as queen dowager she "should not be permitted to leave" Poland, even if it meant she should be imprisoned--"though it would grieve" him "greatly." It would, after all, be a "genteel incarceration." 

Bona Sforza in 1553,
also painted by Cranach the Younger
But the Polish diet agreed that Bona should be allowed to go, and she left Poland in November of 1556, nearly forty years after her marriage in 1518.

Bona's return to Italy gave her no peace, however. Philip II of Spain, having defeated the French in Italy, was determined that she should cede to him her claims in Naples and "appropriated" much of the income from her estates. She died in poverty in 1557 and was buried in Bari.

Despite her talents and abilities, Bona Sforza was resented in Poland, viewed with a mixture of dislike and suspicion. 

Roland Bainton's assessment of her sounds a note that is by now very familiar:
Bona had several counts against her. She was a woman. Of course a woman could exert a powerful influence. Witness Isabella in Spain and Elizabeth in England. But Bona was resented in Poland, when as the old king grew enfeebled, she usurped authority, not only from him but also from the nobles. . . . A further count was that she was not Polish. Isabella was Castillian and Elizabeth an English Tudor. Italianism, was, to be sure, for a period very much the vogue in Cracow. At the same time many Poles resented the Italians and especially one reared in the atmosphere of the political intrigue characteristic of the despots of the Italian Renaissance. . . . Added to all this was her manner. Tomicki, her most faithful chancellor, confided to a complainer that the queen was imperious, blustering and badgering. Sometimes she was brutal. When a blind archbishop stood in her way she told him she wished he had lost not only his eyes but his tongue. Her yoke chafed.
There is no biography of Bona Sforza in English--I've quoted from Roland Bainton's Women of the Reformation from Spain to Scandinavia here. Wish I could read Polish--Maria Bogucka's Bona Sforza was published recently, but there's also a massive biography by Wladyslaw Pociecha, Królowa Bona, 1494-1557, published in four volumes (1949-58).

*This brief sketch of Bona Sforza has been adapted from The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe.