Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Anne of Austria, Regent of France

Anne of Austria, queen of France (becomes regent of France, 14 May 1643)

Anne of Austria in 1650,
while she was regent,
copy of an original
by Charles Beaubrun
Okay, this is just mean, but I'm posting about Anne of Austria today, 14 May, because this is the day that her husband, King Louis XIII died, and he did not want his wife, Queen Anne, to become regent of France. 

When his health began to fail, rather than planning for Anne of Austria to become regent of France, Louis XIII attempted to limit his wife's powers and made provisions instead for a regency council. But immediately following the king's death, Anne of Austria moved to circumvent his will and, with the aid of Pierre Séguier, chancellor of France, and in coordination with the French parliament, she had his will annulled.

For nearly ten years, from 1643 to 1651, Anne of Austria ruled France as regent with the assistance and support of Cardinal Jules Mazarin as her chief minister. Much to the surprise of those who had opposed her, she supported and continued her husband's policies rather than radically altering the state of affairs. 

The eldest child of Philip III of Spain and his wife, Margaret of Austria (not the Margaret of Austria we've already heard so much about, but a member of the same Habsburg dynasty), Anne was born on 22 September 1601, an infanta of Spain and a titled archduchess of Austria. 

Anne of Austria as infanta, c. 1607
portrait by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz
She was married to Louis XIII in 1615--by the terms of their marriage contract, if Louis died early, the French were to return Anne's large dowry to the Spanish; for her part, and in order to prevent any French claims on the Spanish crown, Anne was required to renounce her succession rights to the Spanish throne (she was the eldest child)--not only her own claim on the throne, but also the claims of any children she might have by the French king. If she were left a childless widow, all was forgiven--her rights to the Spanish succession would be reinstated.

Anne's marriage to the French king was extremely unhappy--and it was also a failure, at least judging from the perspective of its dynastic purpose. Although they were both fourteen, Louis was urged to consummate the marriage, advice he ignored. And he ignored his bride. The marriage was finally consummated in 1619, but there were no children. Instead, there was a series of miscarriages between 1622 and 1631 (perhaps as many as four).

It wasn't until 1638, more than twenty years after their marriage, that a son was born. Anne of Austria was just days away from her thirty-seventh birthday. Another son followed, in 1640. 

In 1651, when her son, Louis XIV, reached his majority, Anne of Austria ended her regency, though she remained on his royal council. In 1659, when the military conflict between Spain and France that had begun in 1635 was finally ended, Anne's son, Louis XIV, married her niece, Marie-Thérèse, the daughter of her brother, King Philip IV of Spain.

Anne of Austria, now Her Most Christian Majesty, the Dowager Queen of France, retired to the convent of Val-de-Grâce. She died of breast cancer on 20 January 1666.

Ruth Kleinman's 1986 biography, Anne of Austria, Queen of France, 1601-1666 is out of print, but used copies are available. You can scrounge up information by reading biographies of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, as well as by looking at biographies of Cardinal Richelieu and of Cardinal Mazarin. Antonia Fraser's Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King has, as its title might suggest, a fair amount about Anne of Austria.

And, by the way, when Louis XIII tried to deny Anne of Austria her role as regent of France, he did not do so because of his own unfamiliarity with female regency. His mother, Marie de' Medici, had acted as regent of France for Henry IV--and, in fact, was regent when the king was assassinated in 1610. (Marie de' Medici was the cousin of Catherine de' Medici, and Marie hoped to follow the earlier Medici queen in her role as a successful regent). Her son was nine when he became King Louis XIII; by 1614, his majority was officially declared by the Estates General, but he indicated that his mother would "continue" to "govern and command" as she had previously.

By 1617, however, he was done with her, and he exiled her to the chateau of Blois. "Madam," he is quoted as saying, "I wish to relieve you now of the fatigue of state business." After a few more years of ups-and-downs (their disagreements in 1620 were referred to as the "Wars of the Mother and Son"), the two were ultimately reconciled. By 1621 she was once more a part of the royal council, and in 1621 and 1622 she traveled with her son while Louis was fighting against the Huguenots.

In 1627 and 1628, and again in 1629, when he needed a regent while he was on the battlefield, Louis appointed his mother, Marie de' Medici, and not his wife, Anne of Austria, to the position. But Louis and his mother fell out again--by 1631, he declared her a "rebel against his authority," and she was once again exiled. She spent time in Brussels, Amsterdam, England, and Cologne, where she died in 1642.