Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sancha of Castile, Queen of Aragon

Sancha of Castile, Queen of Aragon (born 21 September 1154/5)

Sancha of Castile is the daughter of Alfonso VII of León and Castile and Richeza of Poland, the king's second wife. Although Alfonso's first wife, Berenguela of Barcelona, had given birth to seven children, five sons and two daughters, Sancha of Castile is the only surviving child of the king's second marriage.*

Detail of a twelfth-century miniature of
Alfonso II and Sancha, king and queen of Aragon,
from the  Liber Feudorum Maior
On 12 January 1174, Sancha was married to Alfonso II of Aragon--he was linked to her father not only by his position as a vassal of Castile but by their shared dedication to wiping out the Muslim kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula.

According to Antonio Ubieto Arteta's Historia de Aragón, Sancha's dowry was "amplia"--including many castles and territories in Aragon and Catalonia. After Alfonso II's capture of Cuenca from the Moors, an important step in the Reconquista, he was released from his tie of vassalage to Castile.

Alfonso was noted for his consolidation of Catalonia: his father, Raymond Berenguer, was the count of Barcelona, a title Alfonso inherited; Alfonso conquered Provence in 1166, becoming count of Provence; the dowry he received with his marriage to Sancha added to his influence in the region. But Alfonso was not only a warrior, he was also a troubadour poet, thus participating in the twelfth-century literary, chivalric, and courtly love culture that originated in Aquitaine, Provence, and Champagne and spread to Catalonia and northern Italy.

As queen of Aragon, Sancha too participated in court culture, primarily as a noted patron of troubadour poets. But for Sancha, there was more than the pleasant fiction of courtly love to occupy her time. In 1177, while her husband was in Provence, Sancha entered into "the countship of Ribagorza, and took possession of the fortresses and castles there, which belonged to the crown." Despite this description in a contemporary chronicle, which gives no further details of what might have motivated Sancha to assert herself in these extraordinary actions, these were possessions that had been part of her "ample" dowry. 

And, over the course of the twenty years of her marriage, Sancha also gave birth to at least eight children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. The first, Pedro II, who would succeed his father as king, was born soon after her marriage in 1174, the last, Dulcia, was born nearly twenty years later, in 1192.

The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Sigena
After Alfonso's death in 1196, then dowager queen, Sancha retired to the El Real Monasterio de Santa María de Sigena (The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Sigena), which she had founded in 1188: 
It was the main monastery for nuns of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and it accepted, “dueñas” (owners) or prominent religious women from the most noble families of Aragon. The first nun ordained at this monastery, was Doña Dulce, daughter of Doña Sancha and King Alfonso II of Aragon. She died the following year and was buried in the monastery. Also buried in it was its founder: Doña Sancha of Castile (daughter of Alfonso VII "El Emperador" (The Emperor) and her son King Pedro II "el Católico" (the Catholic).
Apart from being a hospitable monastery and a Royal Pantheon it also had the role of a court archive. At its peak in the fourteenth century, more than 100 nuns, daughters of noble families of the Kingdom, came to live there with their attendants and servants.
Queen Sancha's reason for leaving the court and taking up residence in the convent may not have been purely spiritual--according to E. L. Miron's The Queens of Castile: Their Lives and Times (1910), she was motivated less by grief for her husband or religious devotion than the "wounds dealt her by the ungrateful conduct of her son." According to Miron, Pedro had given his mother no role or function in his court--although later in life, a reconciliation seems to have taken place, with the king seeking his mother's wisdom and counsel.

In addition to her daughter Dulcia, who died in St. Sigena when she was just eleven years old, Sanchia's daughter Leonor (b. 1182), also spent time in the monastery. She had been brought up there, in fact, but in 1200 she left St. Sigena to be married to Count Raymond VI of Toulouse--she was his fifth (or perhaps his sixth) wife. She returned to St. Sigena about two years later, after she was abandoned by her husband.

Pedro and Sancha surrounded by
the ladies of their court
(entire miniature, from which detail,
above, has come)
Sanchia's eldest daughter, Constance, joined her mother in the convent of St. Sigena for a time. Her first husband, Emeric of Hungary, died in 1204, but Constance remained in Hungary, where her son, Ladislaus, had succeeded his father as king. But after Ladislaus' death, Constance returned to Aragon. She spent five years with her mother in the convent while her brother negotiated a second marriage for her. (She was married to Frederick II, king of Sicily, who eventually became Holy Roman emperor.)

More unhappily, Queen Sancha's daughter-in-law, Maria of Montpellier, also spent a brief time in St. Sigena. Maria had married Pedro II of Aragon in 1204, but after giving birth to two children, including a son, Jaime (b. 1208), who would succeed his father as king of Aragon, Queen Maria was repudiated by her husband--he wanted to claim Montpellier (which she had inherited in her own right) for himself and marry Maria of Montferrat, queen of Jerusalem. Queen Maria of Aragon spent the last years of her life fighting her husband's efforts to divorce her. On her way to Rome to defend her marriage, Maria of Montferrat visited Queen Sancha. (Maria of Montferrat would spent nearly five years in Rome before the validity of her marriage was upheld--she would die there in 1213, just weeks after the papal decision on her marriage.)

After her death, Queen Sancha of Aragon was buried near the altar of the church in St. Seger. A kind of cult seems to have developed--according to Miron, "in times of scarcity," when the poor suffer, "tears of blood" seem to issue from "the tomb of the pious queen."

Bits and pieces of Sancha's story are available here and there--but the most extended account I have been able to find is Miron's book on queens of Aragon, cited above. It's dated, but at least it pays attention to the royal women of Aragon!

Queen Sancha of Aragon's tomb,
Monastery of Segena

*Alfonso's formidable mother was Urraca of Castile and León, "empress of all the Spains."

Alfonso VII also fathered several illegitimate children, including Urraca Alfonso (1133-c. 1179), who would become queen of Navarre and, after her husband's death, regent of Asturias. 

After Alfonso's death, Richeza was married twice more, to Ramon Berenguer II, the count of Provence, and to Albert III, count of Eberstein. Richeza gave birth to a daughter in her second marriage and to two sons during her third.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Mary, "King" of Hungary and Croatia

Mary of Hungary and Croatia, queen regnant of Hungary and Croatia (crowned 17 September 1382)

Born in 1371, Mary was the second of three daughters of Elizabeth of Bosnia and Louis I, king of Hungary and Croatia, a member of the extended Anjevin line of the French Capetian dynasty. After the death of his uncle in 1370, Mary's father inherited the kingdom of Poland as well.

Mary of Hungary and Croatia,
from János Thuróczy's fifteenth-century
Chronica Hungarorum
Since Louis had no sons to succeed him, Catherine, Mary, and Jadwiga were to be their father's heirs in Hungary and Poland as well as to his claim to Provence and to the kingdom of Naples--making them not only desirable marital prospects but also a way for Louis to consolidate his power.* 

Thus, before she was a year old, Louis had promised the Holy Roman Emperor that his second daughter, Mary, would be married to Charles IV's second son, Sigismund of Luxembourg, an agreement that was signed by deed in 1373. In 1375, Hungarian and Polish lords confirmed the arrangement. 

In the mean time, Mary's elder sister, Catherine, was promised in marriage to Louis I, duke of Orléans, and her young sister, Jadwiga, was promised to William, the son of Leopold III, duke of Austria.

Louis of Hungary's plans began to fall apart in 1378, when his eldest daughter died. Following her death, Louis confirmed his plans for Mary's marriage. By 1379, Mary and Sigismund of Luxembourg were formally betrothed, and Sigismund arrived in Hungary so he could learn not only the language but the customs of the country. 

In September 1379, in order to assure Mary’s succession to the kingdom of Poland, Louis summoned Polish nobles and ecclesiastical leaders so that they could affirm her rights to succeed him. He achieved his goal, though contemporary reports suggest that the assent was not freely given. 

At the same time, Louis planned for his youngest daughter, Jadwiga, to inherit the throne in Hungary and Croatia, though there is some evidence to suggest that, rather than dividing his kingdoms between his two daughters, he hoped to leave everything to Mary.

Whatever his hopes may have been--for Jadwiga to rule in Hungary, for Mary to rule in Poland, or for Mary to inherit both thrones--his plans never materialized. After his death in 1382, Elizabeth of Bosnia moved quickly to claim the regency, and on the day following Louis' burial, Mary, rather than Jadwiga, was crowned "king" of Hungary. 

Sigismund was notably out of the picture at the time--he was not present at Mary's coronation--having been sent to Poland the year before in order to learn Polish and to become familiar with the Polish culture. Although he tried to take control of the Polish throne, even calling himself "lord of the kingdom of Poland," the nobility refused any ruler who would not reside  permanently in Poland.

Meanwhile, although Mary had succeeded her father in Hungary, the Hungarian nobility preferred to be ruled by a king, not a queen--or, in this case, two queens, the dowager Queen Elizabeth, as regent, and the new queen regnant, Mary, still a minor.   

By 1383, rebellion broke out. In part to solicit assistance in her struggles, Queen Elizabeth turned to France, hoping to marry her daughter Mary, now queen, not to her promised partner, Sigismund, but to Louis I, duke of Orléans, whose elder brother had become king of France. (Louis, remember, had been the marriage partner arranged for Mary's elder sister  before her death.)

The proposed French marriage caused even more difficulties in Hungary. Despite the ongoing conflict, Queen Elizabeth completed the formal negotiations for the French marriage in 1385. But the French alliance did not save the Hungarian queens--Hungarian nobles invited Charles of Durazzo, the new king of Naples, into the kingdom. 

Although Sigismund of Luxembourg still hoped to marry Queen Mary, her mother refused, and Sigismund left Hungary in 1385, returning with an army. After the king of Naples landed in Croatia in September (with no sign of a French army coming to her aid), Queen Elizabeth changed her mind again. Sigismund of Luxembourg and Queen Mary of Hungary and Croatia were married in October.

Despite this desperate move, Sigismund was not crowned king, nor was he given any official governmental role. Nevertheless, he continued his fight.

Once Charles of Naples arrived in the capital in December, he claimed power. Mary quickly renounced the crown, and Charles was then crowned king of Hungary. Both Elizabeth and Mary continued to live at the royal palace, a situation the new king of Hungary would regret. Within a year, and with the connivance of the dowager queen, Charles of Naples was dead, the victim of an assassination.  

Mary of Hungary and Croatia's royal seal
After Charles's death in February 1386, Mary was restored to the throne of Hungary, though her mother continued to rule in her daughter's name. 

Sigismund once again invaded, and since the son of the murdered king of Naples was inspiring some of the Hungarian nobility to continue their rebellion, the two queens were reconciled with him.

Sigismund's position as Mary's consort was also  recognized, and arrangements to repay him for lands that he had mortgaged in his fight for Hungary were made. Still, Sigismund left court after the treaty was signed, perhaps not yet content with his role in the kingdom.

In an act that a fifteenth-century Hungarian chronicler said was "driven by folly," Queen Elizabeth decided that she and her daughter would tour the southern part of Hungary--those areas where support for the son of the murdered Neapolitan king were strongest. And, sure enough, there they were ambushed, their retainers and retinue killed, and the two women--Mary, queen regnant of Hungary and Croatia, and her mother, the dowager queen--were taken captive and imprisoned.  

Negotiations to end the conflict and free the queens did not go well, although they could have gone worse. Sigismund of Luxembourg was made regent of the kingdom. Queen Elizabeth was strangled in front of her daughter's eyes on the anniversary of the assassination of Charles of Naples. But Queen Mary was not killed. 

Sigismund was finally crowned king on 31 March 1387. Mary was liberated just over two months later, on 3 June. On 4 July, she was finally reunited with Sigismund. In the years that followed, while she was queen of Hungary and Croatia, a co-ruler with Sigismund, she had virtually no authority. 

On 17 May 1395, still in her early twenties, a pregnant Mary of Hungary and Croatia suffered a fall from her horse while she was out hunting. The trauma of the accident sent her into a premature labor. She and her son both died.

*Louis involved himself in Neopolitan power struggles after his brother, Andrew of Hungary was assassinated, and Andrew’s wife, Queen Joanna I of Naples, was held by some to be responsible for her husband's murder. Despite all of Louis' claims and meddling, he could never acquire the kingdom of Naples, and Queen Joanna's successor, Charles of Durazzo, in his turn claimed the crown of Hungary.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Marie-Nicole Dumont: The Woman Artist in Eighteenth-Century France

Marie-Nicole Vestier Dumont (born 8 September 1767)

Earlier this year (January 2018), the Museum of the French Revolution in Vizille (le Musée de la Révolution française), in south-west France, announced the acquisition of a painting by Marie-Nicole Dumont, born Marie-Nicole Vestier. 

The painting, a self-portrait titled L'Auteur à ses occupations, shows Vestier, a palette in her hand, standing in front of her son, Antoine Bias--thus demonstrating her dual roles, as mother and as artist.

Born in Paris in 1767, Marie-Nicole Vestier was the daughter of Marie-Anne Révérand and Antoine Vestier, a miniaturist and portrait painter.

In a painting he exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1785, Antoine Vestier shows his daughter, at her easel, painting his portrait.  

In 1789, Marie-Nicole Vestier married François Dumont, with whom she had three children. 

In her self-portrait, The Artist and Her Occupations, the portrait behind Marie-Nicole Dumont is likely that of her husband, who became Marie-Antoinette's court miniature painter in 1786. He remained the "most sought after" miniaturist in Paris until 1792. (I have also read that the portrait Dumont is engaged in painting is of her father--take your pick.)

It is likely that, after her marriage, Marie-Nicole worked with her husband in his workshop, collaborating on the production of miniatures. No miniature is signed with her name after her marriage--however the name "Dumont" on the workshop's productions may indicate her participation. (In addition to Marie-Nicole, two of François' brothers also worked in the atelier.)

Marie-Nicole Dumont's self-portrait was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1793. In her discussion of the painter, Melissa Hyde suggests that Marie-Nicole DuPont stopped painting shortly after completing this work. (For Hyde's "'Peinte par elle-même?' Women artists, teachers and students from Anguissola to Haudebourt-Lescot," click here.)

Marie-Nicole Dumont died in 1846.

There is a brief discussion of Marie-Nicole Dumont by Neil Jeffares in the Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, which includes a reproduction of a pastel portrait of Philibert Calon, completed c. 1787. 

A slightly longer discussion of Dumont is included in Nathalie Lemoine-Bouchard's Les peintres en miniature: actifs en France, 1650-1850--you may be able to access it by clicking here (I hope so, but no promises--the Boris Wilnitsky Fine Arts Gallery has posted a scan of the essay, and who knows how long it will be available?)

There are several paintings of Dumont online, most of them by her father, but very little of Marie-Nicole's own work is known besides the portrait of Calon, now in the Hermitage Museum, and the self-portrait, recently acquired by the museum in Vizille. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Frances Wright, Abolitionist and Reformer

Frances Wright, Social Reformer, Writer, and Lecturer (born 6 September 1795)

Frances Wright was born in Dundee, Scotland, the daughter of Camilla Campbell and James Wright, a "free-thinking radical and revolutionary." Whatever direct influence her father may have had on her thinking is limited, however--by the time that she was three years old, both of her parents had died.

An 1824 portrait of a young Frances Wright,
painted by George Inman
But, in addition to his radical political views, James Wright was also a wealthy manufacturer, so his children were not left as impoverished orphans after the loss of their parents.

With a significant inheritance, James Wright's two daughters were taken to England by their maternal aunt, who was their guardian. Since she herself was young, the girls lived with their aunt in their maternal grandfather's home.

Fanny Wright returned to Scotland when she was sixteen and was educated there by her great-uncle, James Milne, a moral philosopher. Milne was educated at the University of St. Andrews and was teaching at the University of Glasgow.

In Scotland, Fanny Wright spent her winters studying and writing, her summers in the Scottish highlands. She read widely, having access to the library of the university--she was particularly interested in reading about America and the American Revolution.

She also began to write, beginning with what is described as "youthful romantic verse." But in August 1818, when she was twenty-three years old, Fanny Wright sailed for America with her sister, Camilla, for a two-year tour of the United States. In New York, she produced her play Altorf: A Tragedy, dramatizing the struggle for Swiss independence. (The play was published the following year in Philadelphia.) 

Once she returned to Scotland, she published an account of her trip, Views of Society and Manners in America (1821) and A Few Days in Athens (1822), which has been described as "a novelistic sketch of a disciple of Epicurus that outlined the materialistic philosophy to which she adhered throughout her life." 

Her account of her American trip earned her praise and attention--in particular that of the Marquis de Lafayette, whom she met in France in 1821. She accompanied the Revolutionary War hero when he returned to America in 1824, and she traveled with him when he was entertained by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Wright had been shocked to witness the brutality of slavery on her first visit to the United States. When she returned, it was with the purpose of purchasing, educating, and emancipating slaves, establishing them in a community outside of the United States. As she remarked while traveling in Mississippi in 1825, “The sight of slavery is revolting everywhere. But to inhale the impure breath of its pestilence in the free winds of America is odious beyond all that imagination can conceive.”

The image of Frances Wright that appears in
Elizabeth Cady Stanton et a.,
A History of Woman Suffrage
While planning the community for freed slaves, Wright had visited Robert Owen's utopian community of New Harmony, in Indiana.

She was impressed by Owen's ideas about cooperative labor and universal education--these notions formed the basis of the community she established, the Nashoba Commune, just outside Memphis, Tennessee.

She also published a tract outlining her proposal for ending slavery: A Plan for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in the United States Without Danger of Loss to the Citizens of the South.

Nashoba was founded in 1826, but the initial optimism underlying its foundation was lost after Wright herself left, suffering from bouts of fever and still campaigning for support.

The trustees in whose hands she had placed the organizing and running of the community seem to have failed her--there were reports of floggings, sexual misconduct, and unhappiness of parents who lost control of their children. The community had collapsed by 1829, and Wright escorted the remaining emancipated slaves to Haiti, settling them there with promises for their freedom and independence.

(As an interesting note: in order to recover her health, Frances Wright had gone back to England--there she met Frances Trollope, about whom I have posted [click here]. Trollope returned with Wright to Nashoba, but she was shocked by conditions, disillusioned with the project, and soon left.)

Returning to the United States, Wright rejoined Owen and, with him, began publishing the Free Enquirer, a newspaper advocating equal rights for women, women's suffrage, education for women, birth control, and liberalized divorce laws. She also condemned capital punishment and worked toward educational reform--with Owen, she argued for the establishment of a system of free state boarding schools offering a religion-free curriculum and industrial skills in addition to traditional subjects. 

Also with Owen, she founded the Working Men's Party, supporting small farmers, artisans, and workers in early factories in New York. Those opposing this progressive party gave it the most insulting name they could devise: the Fanny Wright Party.

In 1831, her sister Camilla's health failing, Frances Wright returned to France. There she married a French physician, Guillaume D'Arusmont, whom she had met when they were at New Harmony. The couple had a child, Frances Sylva, born in 1832. The family returned to the United States in 1835 and took up residence in Cincinnati. But by then the marriage failed, and Wright began the long process of divorce.

In the mean time, after her return to the United States, Frances Wright delivered public lectures opposing slavery. In 1836 and 1838 she campaigned actively for the Democratic Party, She also became involved in the Popular Health Movement, in particular arguing for the inclusion of women in health and medicine. 

In 1836 she published her last book, Course of Popular Lectures, again arguing strongly for the rights of women: 
However novel it may appear, I shall venture the assertion, that, until women assume the place in society which good sense and good feeling alike, assign to them, human improvement must advance but feebly. It is in vain that we would circumscribe the power of one half of our race, and that half by far the most important and influential. If they exert it not for good, they will for evil; if they advance not knowledge, they will perpetuate ignorance. Let women stand where they may in the scale of improvement, their position decides that of the race. 
Wright's health failed again after her efforts in the 1838 elections. and she withdrew from her active life. 

In 1850 she was finally divorced from her husband, but it came at a particularly high cost. Given divorce laws, which Wright had fought to reform, her earnings from her lectures and royalties belonged to her husband. 

She died just two years later, on 13 December 1852, after a fall on the ice. She was fifty-seven years old.

Wright was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery,
Cincinnati, Ohio
In addition to the entry on Wright in the Tennessee Encyclopedia, to which I've linked above, you might also be interested in the biographical note on Wright in the Encyclopedia Britannica (click here).

Celia Morris Eckhardt's 1984 biography, Fanny Wright: Rebel in America, is out of print, but used copies are readily available.

Wright's own work is also easy to find. There are a number of print-on-demand editions available (through Amazon, for instance), but her work work is available the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg.