Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Isabel, Infanta of Portugal and Duchess of Burgundy

Isabel of Portugal, Duchess of Burgundy (died 17 December 1471)


Isabel of Portugal was the only daughter of João of Aziz, the illegitimate son of Pedro I, king of Portugal. When Pedro died in 1367, he was succeeded by his eldest (legitimate) son, Fernando, who became king of Portugal as Fernando I. But when Fernando died in 1383 without a male heir, his half brother, João of Aziz, claimed the throne for himself.* After a two-year period of conflict, he was ultimately successful--by the time Isabel was born on 22 February 1397, her father had been king of Portugal for a dozen years.

Isabel of Portugal, duchess of Burgundy,
c. 1450, workshop of Rogier van der Weyden
Isabel's mother was Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (third son of King Edward III), and his first wife, Blanche of Castile. In the war to secure the Portuguese succession, the English had proven to be a useful ally of Portugal, and the marriage of John of Gaunt's daughter and the new king of Portugal in 1387 secured the political alliance.

At the time João and Philippa were married, the Portuguese king already had three children with his mistress, Inês Pere**--but the children to whom Queen Philippa gave birth were a remarkable group. In his epic history of Portugal, the poet Luís Vaz de Camões would call them the Ínclita geração, the "Illustrious Generation."

The only daughter in this "illustrious" group of Portugese royal children, Isabel was raised in a manner similar to her brothers. Along with them, she studied science, mathematics, and languages. Proficient in Latin, she also learned English, French, and Italian, languages that would prove very useful in her later career. Like her brothers, she learned to ride and to hunt, aristocratic pursuits. And along with her brothers, she was also introduced to affairs of state by her father.

But, unlike most royal daughters, Isabel was not used by her as a political pawn, married off as soon as she was old enough. A marriage with the English king Henry V (grandson of John of Gaunt) was considered in 1415, when Isabel was eighteen, but the negotiations did not result in a marriage.

It wasn't until 1428, when Isabel was thirty-one, that a second marriage alliance was considered, this time with Philip of Burgundy. The duke had been widowed two times, but had no children. (Or, rather, he had no legitimate children--he seems to have had at least eighteen illegitimate children [and perhaps as many as fifty!!], several of whom were born during his first two marriages.)

And so Isabel of Portugal became the third wife of Philip "the Good," duke of Burgundy, the two married by proxy in 1429 and then married on 7 January 1430 when the Portuguese infanta finally arrived in Bruges.

Just weeks short of her thirty-third birthday at the time of her marriage, Isabel must have arrived at the ducal court with her considerable political and administrative skills already well developed. Isabel would prove to be a critical aide to her husband in managing his extensive territories: he was not only duke of Burgundy, but duke of Brabant and Limburg; count of Flanders, Artrois, Franche Compte, Hainault, Holland, Zeeland, Namur, and Charolais; marquess of the Holy Roman Empire; and lord of Friesland. He was also, as Aline Taylor notes, "wealthier than any other European monarch."

Following their marriage ceremony, the duke and his new duchess went on progress throughout his territories. Isabel quickly proved that, in addition to the assistance she would provide to her husband in governing his vast holdings, she could also fulfill another crucial role: she became pregnant almost immediately.

She gave birth to her first child, a boy, on 30 December 1430, and a second son in April of 1432, although both would die in infancy. Particularly touching--Isabel's eldest child, died in February, just weeks before her second child, who lived just a few months. A third son, Charles, was born on 10 November 1433--he would survive, succeeding his father as duke of Burgundy in 1467.

Throughout her marriage, at least until their estrangement in the late 1450s, Isabel of Portugal carried out her husband's economic and political policies, though there was a persistent tension, with Isabel recommending closer ties to the English and Philip frequently siding with the French. As duchess of Burgundy, Isabel raised money and troops for her husband when he needed them, and in her role as her husband's representative, she restored peace in rebellious towns and negotiated settlements between merchants and trade guilds. 

After her husband's betrayal of his alliance with England in 1435, for example, Isabel negotiated a deal in order to resume the lucrative cloth trade with the English. Perhaps her most significant diplomatic accomplishment was the conference she arranged between the French, English, and Burgundians in Gravelines in 1439. Although no final agreements were reached, she did manage to broker a trade agreement with the English and, in 1443, a treaty of peace with England.

In her role as duchess of Burgundy, Isabel arranged marriages to the end of making and maintaining political relationships. Most notably, it was she who persuaded her son to marry Margaret of York, sister of Edward IV, king of England. (Richard III was also her brother.)

Although tensions between Philip and Isabel led to her retreat from court, when the duke suffered a stroke in 1458, she nursed him through his various illnesses until his death. In the mean time, she played an influential role for her son, Charles, her granddaughter, Mary of Burgundy (daughter of her son's second wife, Isabelle of Bourbon), and her daughter-in-law, Margaret of York, her son's third (and final) wife. 

Surviving portal of monastery of Chartreuse de Champmol,
Dijon, France, showing kneeling Philip, duke of Burgundy,
and Isabel of Portugal, duchess of Burgundy
(photo by Christophe.Finot)
Isabel of Portugal, duchess of Burgundy, died on 17 December 1471. Her son built a tomb for his parents in a chapel at the monastery of Chartreuse de Champmol in Dijon, then the capital of Burgundy. 

The monastery was dissolved in 1791 during the French Revolution, the tombs vandalized and destroyed by 1793. (Some effigies were reconstructed in the nineteenth century and are now in Dijon Cathedral.)

The most complete account of Isabel of Portugal's life in English is Aline S.Taylor's Isabel of Burgundy: The Duchess Who Played Politics in the Age of Joan of Arc, 1397-1471. If you can read French, I recommend Monique Somme's 1998 biography, Isabelle de Portugal, duchesse de Bourgogne: Une femme au pouvoir au XVe siècle.

Also extremely engaging is Manuela Santo Silva's "Princess Isabel of Portugal: First Lady in a Kingdom Without a Queen," in Elena Woodacre, ed., Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (hugely expensive, so perhaps inter-library loan?).


*Fernando I's daughter, Beatrice of Portugal, attempted to claim the throne of Portugal, but she was ultimately not successful.

**A daughter died shortly after birth, but the surviving two, Afonso of Braganza and Beatrice of Portugal, both of whom were raised and educated by Philippa of Lancaster, were pretty illustrious too.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Christina of Denmark, Duchess and Regent of Lorraine

Christina of Denmark, regent of Lorraine (died 10 December 1590)


Those obsessed with all things Tudor might have come across a reference to Christina of Denmark in their reading--before Henry VIII's "great matter" erupted, the young Danish princess was considered (by Thomas Wolsey, at any rate) as a possible match for Henry's illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. But there was no reason why the girl's uncle, the Emperor Charles V, would find such a match acceptable, and no match was made.

Years later, after the death of his third queen, Jane Seymour, Henry VIII again considered Christina of Denmark, this time deciding that she might make an excellent wife for himself. Rather than being flattered by the English king's interest, the young woman is said to have responded, "If I had two heads, one should be at the King of England's disposal." Henry persisted for over a year until he was convinced by his ambassador that he should "fix his most noble stomach in some other place." (In this case, "stomach" meant "desire," but given Henry's eventual girth, it's an especially funny comment.)

Christina of Denmark,
portrait by Hans Holbein
It's interesting to think about what might have been if the young woman had become Henry's fourth queen.

In 1521, Christina of Denmark was born into a family of politically astute women--she was the great granddaughter of Isabella of Castile and the granddaughter of Juana of Castile. Christina's mother, Isabel of Austria (Juana's daughter) was married to King Christian II of Denmark and Norway--and during the king's absence (he briefly held the throne of Sweden), Queen Isabel served as regent of Denmark.

Christian II never quite gained control in Sweden, and he soon lost Denmark as well. When he was forced off the throne and into exile in 1523, the king, his wife, and his family took refuge in the Netherlands with Margaret of Austria, who was Isabel of Austria's aunt. The young Christina of Denmark thus came under the influence of her politically experienced aunt, who governed the Netherlands as regent for twenty years.

After Isabel of Austria's death in 1526, the Danish king eventually made an ill-fated attempt to retake his throne. Christian was "persuaded" to leave his children behind, in Margaret of Austria's care, by the regent's offer of a generous annual payment.*

Under the influence of the Habsburg regent, Christina of Denmark was educated with a generation of women who learned much about politics and power from Margaret of Austria. (Among these young women was, interestingly, Anne Boleyn, who arrived at Margaret's court in 1513 and spent at least a year there.)

After the regent's death in 1530, she was followed by yet another Habsburg regent, Mary of Austria, Christina of Denmark's aunt (her mother Isabel's sister). But Christina's period of tuition was brief--by the time she was twelve years old, she was married off, one more useful pawn in the Habsburg game of using marriage as a way to increase influence.

On 23 September 1533, Christina of Denmark was married in Brussels by proxy to Francesco II Sforza, duke of Milan (he was the son of Beatrice d'Este). When she arrived in Milan in May 1534, a second marriage ceremony was celebrated. By October 1535, her husband was dead, leaving Christina of Denmark, duchess of Milan, a widow at the age of thirteen.

Christina of Denmark returned to the Netherlands and Mary of Austria's court in 1537. A few months after her return, Hans Holbein was in Brussels, painting Christina's portrait for Henry VIII. Now all of sixteen, the young widow was sought by many--among those who hoped to arrange a match (aside from the English king), was William of Cleves, the brother of the woman who would become Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anne. (Another fix for the Tudor fan!)

Christina had her own views--having made a political match, she preferred a love match and wished to marry René of Chalon, Prince of Orange. While her aunt raised no objections, the Habsburg emperor had his own plans, and in 1540 he insisted that René marry Anne of Lorraine and that Christina marry the brother of the woman who married the man she loved--got that? 

On 10 July 1541, Christina of Denmark married Francis, duke of Bar. In 1544, Francis succeeded his father as duke of Lorraine. Despite her hope to marry René of Chalon, Christina found happiness in her marriage to Francis.

But the marriage was not a long one--by 1545, she was a widow again. During the brief years of her second marriage, she had given birth to two children (Charles, in 1543; Renata, in 1544). A third child, a daughter named Dorothea, was born after her husband's death.

Francis of Lorraine left his wife, Christina, as regent for his son and heir. She remained as regent until 1552--despite her efforts to secure assistance from the emperor, Lorraine was invaded by the French king, who took custody of Charles and relieved her of her duties. 

She was eventually exiled from Lorraine and made her way to the court of her aunt, Mary of Austria, regent of the Netherlands. 

Christina of Denmark, duchess (and regent) of Lorraine, remained a very desirable marriage prospect, though she never married again. She was eventually reunited with her son, and in 1560 she once again stepped in as regent of Lorraine, this time for her son. 

After the death of her father in 1559, Christina's childless sister ceded her claim to the Danish throne to her younger sister, and Christina styled herself as "Christina, by the grace of God Queen of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway." She also thought to arrange the marriage of her daughter, Renata, to Frederick II of Denmark (despite Christina's claims to be the rightful queen, he was the reigning monarch of Denmark). 

But none of these plans were to succeed. In 1578, Christina of Denmark left Lorraine for Tortona, a small territory in the duchy of Milan where she had been granted sovereign rights by her first husband, Francesco Sforza. There she "ruled" until 1584, when the Spanish decided she could stay but her role as "sovereign" had to go. 

Christina of Denmark, regent of Lorraine (among many other titles), died in Tortona on 10 December 1590. 

It's hard to believe that there is not a recent biography of Christina of Denmark, but Julia Cartwright's massive 1913 Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan and Lorraine, 1522-1590 is available from Internet Archive (click here).


*Christian II of Denmark's efforts failed; he surrendered to his uncle and rival in 1531 and was held in captivity until his death twenty-seven years later, in 1559. Christina and her older sister, Dorotea, petitioned their uncle, Charles V, to negotiate their father's release, but the emperor declined.








Monday, November 25, 2019

Catherine of Braganza, Queen of England and Regent of Portugal

Catherine of Braganza, queen of England and regent of Portugal (born 25 November 1638)


Catherine of Braganza as infante,
portrait by the artist Dirk Stoop
I must admit that, until recently, I didn't know much about Catherine of Braganza, aside from the fact that as the wife of Charles II of England, she endured the presence of his many mistresses at court--and while she suffered a series of miscarriages, the king's many mistresses gave birth to over a dozen children, all of whom were publicly acknowledged and granted titles. I had also heard that she introduced the drinking of tea into England.

The tea part isn't true--before Catherine of Braganza arrived in England from Portugal in 1662, the English diarist Samuel Pepys mentions having "tee (a China drink)" late in September of  1660. Still, Catherine of Braganza is credited with having made the drinking of tea very popular among those who were able to afford it. 

But the sad story of a queen who had to put up with her husband's mistresses is true, as is the fact that she was unable to provide her husband with an heir. The Catholic queen's "failure" in this regard meant that she became the focus of a great deal of animosity from members of the English court. 

Born on 25 November 1638, Catherine was the daughter of João, eighth duke of Braganza, and his wife, Luisa María Francisca de Guzmán y Sandoval. In 1640, after years of Spanish rule, João proclaimed himself the legitimate king of Portugal (through his grandmother, Catherine of Braganza), becoming João IV. An extended war with Spain was the result.

Although the "war of Restoration" would not formally end until 1668, the infanta Catarina, as she was known after her father was proclaimed king of Portugal, became a desirable prospect in the marriage market. As early as 1644, he was negotiating with Charles I for the marriage of his daughter to the English king's eldest son, destined to follow his father on the throne.

The English Civil Wars disrupted whatever plans might have been concluded, however. Charles I was executed, his son Charles escaping to the continent.

Meanwhile, Catherine was being carefully and strictly educated in a convent. After the Portuguese king's death in 1656, the regency was left to the queen, and it was under Luisa María Francisca de Guzmán y Sandoval's regency that war with Spain ended and Portuguese independence ensured.

In order to strengthen ties with England, the dowager queen and regent of Portugal revived the marriage negotiations between the infanta and Charles, restored to the English throne in 1660. The English king knew the problems that marriage with a Catholic would cause--his mother, Henrietta Maria, was Catholic, her religion contributing to the many conflicts that resulted in the civil wars that had resulted in her husband's deposition and execution--but, in need of money, Charles was eager for the huge dowry that would come with the Portuguese princess.

The Infanta Catarina arrived in England in 1662--now Catherine, she married the king on 22 May in an Anglican ceremony. There was also a secret Catholic marriage ceremony.

Before Catherine arrived in England for her marriage, the British consul in Lisbon had sent home a letter describing the princess. Something of the difficulties she would have as queen of England should have been clear. Thomas Maynard described the princess as a young woman of great virtue, beauty, and "sweetness," but "bred hugely retired." She has "hardly been ten times out of the palace in her life." In fact, she hadn't been out of doors for the five years before the negotiations for her marriage, when, in an act of religious devotion, she paid a visit to two shrines in the city. She would find the English court--described by a contemporary as a "cross between a bear garden and a brothel"--an uncomfortable new home.

While her new husband was fond of his wife and insisted that members of the court treat her with respect, he did not hide his infidelities (or his mistresses) from her. (He even proposed his mistress as Catherine's Lady of the Bedchamber--Catherine resisted, but after the king sent home her Portuguese ladies, she capitulated.) The queen's difficulties with the English language and her religion also contributed to her isolation at court.

Her miscarriages (which seem to have occurred in 1663, 1666 and 1668) ultimately gave rise to talk of divorce. The king's advisers urged him to get rid of his problematic queen and find a replacement--a Protestant. To his credit, Charles refused. She was, he said, a "weak woman" who had some "disagreeable humours," but she was incapable of doing a single "wicked" thing. To "abandon her" would be "horrid," and he claimed that he could never be so "base."

Catherine of Braganza c. 1665,
as queen of England,
by Peter Lely
Still, the queen was a target of increasing anti-Catholic sentiment. She was suspected of trying to appoint a Catholic bishop in England, and although the hysteria of the Popish plot of 1678 resulted in the executions of some two dozen suspected Catholics and even more suspicion directed to the queen, Charles refused to countenance persecution of her.

Queen Catherine remained in England after Charles's death in 1685. She even remained after the deposition of James II in 1688. With increasing legislation against Catholics during the reign of William and Mary, she finally returned to Portugal in 1692, having lived for thirty years in England, first as queen, then as dowager queen.

Returned to Lisbon, she was reunited with her younger brother, now Pedro II, king of Portugal. There she earned another title, serving as regent of Portugal for her brother in 1701 and again in 1704-5. And while serving her brother, she also assumed responsibility for her nephew, who would succeed his father on the throne as João V of Portugal. She oversaw the boy's education from 1699, when his mother died, until her own death.

Catherine of Braganza, queen of England and regent of Portugal, died on 31 December 1705. She had just turned sixty-seven. 

Catherine of Braganza's tomb,
House of Braganza Pantheon,
Sao Vicente de Fora Monastery, Lisbon


There is an extended biographical account of Catherine of Braganza in volume 8 of Alice Strickland's nineteenth-century Lives of the Queens of England. However romanticized, it is a rich, complete survey of the queen's life. S. M. Wynne's entry on the queen in the Dictionary of National Biography is accessible only to those with a subscription.

There are several historical novels, if you're interested. 


Friday, November 22, 2019

Marie de Guise, Queen and Regent of Scotland

Marie de Guise, queen and regent of Scotland (born 22 November 1515)


As I have noted many times in the years since I began writing this blog, its title--"The Monstrous Regiment of Women"--is drawn from the virulent political pamphlet published by the Scottish religious reformer John Knox

Knox published his blistering assessment of female rule, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, in 1558. His bitter, almost pornographic, indictment of "gynecocracy" was quickly followed in print by a series of pamphlets that echoed, expanded, disputed, and countered his argument that female rule was unnatural, unlawful, and contrary to scripture.

From Knox's point of view, the political situation could hardly seem worse. Not only had Mary Tudor succeeded to the throne of England, but Mary Stuart, wife of the dauphin of France, had become queen of Scotland, while her mother, Marie de Guise, was acting as regent in Scotland on Mary's behalf.*

Marie of Guise, c. 1537
portrait attributed to Corneille de Lyon
The daughter of Claude of Lorraine, duke of Guise (after 1528), and Antoinette Bourbon, Marie was the couple's firstborn and only child for the first four years of her life.

But after the birth of a son and heir in 1519, her father sent his daughter to the convent Clarisse to Pont-à-Mousson. There the little girl joined her paternal grandmother, Philippa of Guelders. After an active career in Lorraine, where she had served as regent for her son, the duke of Lorraine (Claude's elder brother), the dowager duchess had retired there. (As only one more indication of Margaret of Austria's powerful influence for a generation of early-modern women, a young Philippa of Guelders spent time in her court.)

Marie remained in the convent with her grandmother until she was about fourteen years old. After visiting his mother in the convent, the duke of Lorraine must have seen the potential in his niece--he arranged for Marie to leave the convent and to prepare for a life in the French court. She made her first appearance there in 1531. A politically advantageous alliance was soon arranged. 

On 4 August 1534, when she was eighteen years old, Marie of Lorraine was married to Louis II d'Orléans, duc de Longueville and comte de Dunois. Her first child, a boy named François, after the French king, was born just over a year later. But Marie's husband died in 1537, just three years after their marriage. A posthumous son, Louis, was born two months after his father's death--and four months later, the baby was also dead.

Within months, it was clear that a second marriage would be arranged for the young widow. James V of Scotland, whose wife had recently died, was looking for a new queen, as was Henry VIII of England, whose offer was rejected by Marie in December 1537--the English king is said to have told the French ambassador that he was a big man, in need of a similarly sized wife (Marie was quite tall). Marie is said to have replied that, though she was a big woman, she had a very little neck (referring to Henry's execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn).

Happily for Marie, the French king decided to reject Henry's offer and to accept that of James of Scotland. Less happily, marriage negotiations were immediately underway--she was not eager for a second marriage. Despite her wish to delay, by January of 1538, just seven months after her first husband's death, the marriage contract with Scotland was complete.

The couple were married by proxy in France on 9 May 1538. On 10 June, Marie, now queen of Scotland, left France for her new home. As was customary, she left behind her three-year-old son.

After her arrival in Scotland, the new queen worked to reconcile her husband and his mother, Margaret Tudor, whose second marriage, subsequent divorce, and remarriage, had strained relations with her son.  

Marie gave birth to her son James in May 1539 and quickly became pregnant again. The second child was also a boy, but disaster struck in April 1541 when the two young princes died within a week of one another. Margaret, who knew only too well the pain of losing her children, comforted her son and his wife. Margaret Tudor herself died as the year ended, on 18 October 1541.

Double portrait of James V of Scotland and Marie of Guise,
artist unknown

Marie of Guise gave birth to a third child, a girl to be named Mary, on 8 December 1542. But the king of Scotland died just six days later, on 14 December. At her father's death, Mary Stuart became queen of Scotland. 

During the regency of James Hamilton, earl of Arran, Henry VIII made every effort to secure the marriage of Mary, queen of Scots, to his son, the infant Edward, moving from promises and inducements to war, when negotiations failed. Instead, Mary Stuart was betrothed to the French dauphin, another François, and in 1548 the little girl was sent to France to be reared alongside her future husband. 

Marie of Guise, the dowager queen, meanwhile, remained in Scotland. Only after the war with England ended and a treaty had been signed did she travel to France to see her young daughter. In September 1550 she left Scotland for the continent. She landed in Normandy and was able to travel to Longueville to reunite with the fifteen-year-old son from whom she had been separated a dozen years earlier. 

She also reunited with her daughter, the queen of Scotland, and she was able to visit with her recently widowed mother, Antoinette of Bourbon. (Marie's father, Claude of Bourbon, had died in April 1550). But before Marie of Guise returned to Scotland, she suffered one more blow--her son, François, died, still not sixteen years old.

Although the regency of Scotland had been in the hands of James Hamilton, earl of Arran, since James V's death, he was replaced as regent in April 1554. Marie of Guise's position as queen regent was "ratified by the Estates of Scotland."  She served as regent until her death in 1560 and seems to have taken to heart the advice of her brother, the duke of Guise, to "deal in Scotland in a spirit of conciliation, introducing much gentleness and moderation into the administration of justice." 

She attempted to steer a judicious middle course for herself, acting in Antonia Fraser's words, "gently and slowly by the use of Parliament," introducing more equitable administration of the law into a country "where administration was either non-existent or archaic in the extreme," aiming for stability in economic matters, and proceeding with "balance and political acumen" in her dealings with the Scots lords, whom she judged to be "jealous and suspicious." She knew the difficulty of her task: "whenever it is a question of meeting out justice or punishment," Marie wrote, the lords "find these things insupportable, thinking always that one wants to give them new laws and change theirs, which in fact have much need of amendment."

Her family predicted that her "tender" methods would result in her failure. Her enemies condemned her as full of "craft and subtleties"; she had a "queenly mind," but "the heart of a man of war." John Knox, her most virulent critic, described her regency in an oft-quoted passage: "a crown [was] put upon her head, as seemly a sight . . . as to put a saddle upon the back of an unruly cow." But her supporters described her differently. The Catholic bishop John Lesley judged her to be a "princess most prudent and very well instructed in sweetness, comely and honest manners and integrity of life":  
Through use and experience, she knew much of our affairs and was very expert, in so far that none was of the nobility and of the common people except very few obscure persons whose engine, mind and manners she knew not perfectly and very well. . . . [S]he did justice with all diligence all her days. . . . [S]he likewise in virtues and many offices of humanity far overcame many other women. . . . [T]herefore she won the hearts of all . . . with wit and wisdom.
Lesley's view was surely as partisan Knox's, but, as Rosalind Marshall writes, "it is interesting to note" that the English chronicler Holinshed's estimation of the regent is much closer to Lesley's than to Knox's: In his view Mary of Guise was "wise and very prudent." During her regency "she kept good justice and was well obeyed in all parts of the realm." 

Marie of Guise, regent of Scotland, died in the sixth year of her regency, on 11 June 1560. She was forty-four years old.

In her extraordinary nineteenth-century history, Lives of the Queens of Scotland and English Princesses Connected with the Royal Succession of Great Britain, Alice Strickland provides an extended narrative of Marie of Guise (whom she refers to as Mary of Lorraine). The biography spans volume 1 and volume 2

In her 1969 biography of Mary, queen of Scots, Antonia Fraser (quoted here) writes about Mary's mother, Marie of Guise.

Rosalind Marshall's Mary of Guise (2001) is also quoted here. 

For a more recent biography, see Melanie Clegg's The Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise (2016). 

*This post has been adapted from The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Tomoe Gozen, Onna-Musha (女武者), a "Warrior Worth a Thousand"


Tomoe Gozen, "Lady Tomoe," a Female Samurai (celebrated in annual festival, 22 October)


I recently ran across a reference to "women samurai" or onna-musha (女武者)--a concept that intrigued me, but that I felt probably owed more to anime or Dungeons and Dragons than to reality. Of course I was completely wrong. Yes, there are legends about some of these warrior women but, as Michelle Nowaki notes, female samurai "were not a rarity in feudal Japan."

Tomoe Gozen,
woodblock print by
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (19th Century)
available from the British Library,
reproduced through Creative Commons
After just a few minutes of online searching, I found many sources, but I particularly recommend Nowaki's "Women Warriors of Early Japan," an academic piece (from the University of Hawaii's Hohonu 13 [2015]: 63-68) with an impressive bibliography of primary and secondary sources. 

As a medievalist, I was drawn to Tomoe Gozen, "Lady Gozen," one of the most famous examples of the onna-musha, warriors who engage in offensive warfare (in contrast to onna-bugeisha, whose fighting is defensive).

Stories about Tomoe Gozen come from the Heike Monogatari, a medieval chronicle of the Genpei War, a twelfth-century struggle between two families, the Taira and the Minamoto, for control of Japan. (According to the entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, this epic "is to the Japanese what the Iliad is to the Western world—a prolific source of later dramas, ballads, and tales.")

The daughter of  Gon no Kami Nakahara Koneto (the Japan Encyclopedia tells me that "Gon no Kami" is the title of a provincial vice-governor), Tomoe Gozen is also, in various versions of her story, the wife of, concubine of, or servant of General Kiso Yoshinaka of the Minamoto clan. Tomoe's mother is also said to have been the menoto, or wet-nurse, for Yoshinaka. 

Proficient as a rider, as an archer, and with the curved sword known as the katana, Lady Tomoe accompanied Yoshinaka in his battles--the chronicle indicates "she was a fearless rider whom neither the fiercest horse nor the roughest ground could dismay" and claims "so dexterously did she handle sword and bow that she was a match for a thousand warriors.”

When Yoshinaka was dealt a fatal blow at the battle of Awazu, he was fighting not the enemies of the Minamoto clan but his own cousin. As he lay dying, he ordered Lady Tomoe off the battlefield so she could carry the news of his fate to his family. She paused only long enough to support him her "last service"--she laid in wait until she could cut off the head of one of Yoshinaka's enemies. 

While she gained recognition "as a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot," what happened after she left the field of battle is not clear. She may have been killed as she attempted to escape, she may have been taken as a concubine, she may have been made into a wife, or she may have escaped and eventually become a nun. 

While many of the stories about Tomoe Gozen are clearly drawn from legend, recent archaeological evidence, though "meager," does show the presence of women warriors on the battlefield in medieval Japan.

Tomoe Gozen,
eighteenth-century drawing by
Shitomi Kangetsu
Nowaki's article is a great place to start, not only for the story of Tomoe Gozen but also for a more comprehensive overview of other female samurai (she also notes that, aside from archaeological evidence, there is also a history of women warriors depicted in artwork.)

For a longer analysis, you may be interested in Steven Turnbull's Samurai Women, 1184-1874--it's VERY short (just 64 pages), and I can't vouch for its documentation, but maybe?


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Yolande of Aragon, the Queen of Four Kingdoms

Yolande of Aragon, duchess of Anjou, claimant to throne of Aragon (born 11 August  1384)


While very little biographical information exists about the woman who was the subject of my last post, Francisca de Lebrija, a very great deal of evidence survives for Yolande of Aragon.

Yolande of Anjou kneeling before the Virgin Mary,
detail from the Hours of Isabella Stuart
By birth, she was the daughter of Juan I of Aragon and Violant (or Yolande) of Bar, herself a remarkable woman who managed her husband's kingdom for seven years (1388-95) as his "queen-lieutenant."

After the death of Juan of Aragon in 1396, his younger brother claimed the throne--despite the fact that Yolande of Aragon was her father's surviving child and heir. Although Yolande of Aragon would never reign in Aragon, she would nevertheless claim the title for herself.

By marriage, Yolande of Aragon was duchess of Anjou, countess of Maine, countess of Provence and Forcalquier. and countess of Piedmont. Yolande and her allies resisted her marriage to Louis II of Anjou, but despite their efforts, the couple was married in 1400. She gave birth to five children, three sons and two daughters.

By marriage, Yolande also became queen of Naples and Sicily. In 1380, before she was married to him, Louis II of Anjou, had been named as heir to the kingdom of Naples and Sicily by Joanna I of Naples (and Jerusalem, a kingdom Joanna never actually ruled). Although Louis was then unnamed by Joanna, and Charles of Durazzo became king of Naples instead, Louis eventually fixed that problem by capturing Naples from his rival's son and ruling for ten years--before eventually losing support and being ousted from Naples in 1399, just before his marriage to Yolande of Aragon . . .

By dint of her aptitude for politics, Yolande of Aragon played an influential role in France during the Hundred Years War. Yolande of Aragon made the crucial decision to support the French against the allied English and Burgundians. She repudiated the planned marriage between her son, Louis, and the duke of Burgundy's daughter, and in 1413 she met with Isabeau of Bavaria, the French queen, to arrange for the marriage of Charles of Valois, fifth son born to the royal family, to Yolande's daughter, Marie of Anjou.

By her foresight and through an abundance of caution, in 1415 Yolande of Aragon moved her family to Provence after the battle of Agincourt. She took with her not only her children, but Charles of Valois, the young man to whom her daughter had been betrothed.

By chance, Yolande of Aragon would become mother to a queen. Charles of Valois became dauphin in 1417, after the deaths of his two surviving older brothers, Louis in 1415 and Jean in 1417. He was married to Marie of Anjou in 1422.

Through strength and determination, Yolande of Aragon resisted Isabeau of Bavaria's insistence that Charles, now heir to the French throne, return to the French court. Suspicious and protective, Yolande  of Aragon is said to have written to the queen: "We have not nurtured and cherished this one for you to make him die like his brothers or to go mad like his father, or to become English like you. I keep him for my own. Come and take him away, if you dare."

The French queen did not dare. After the death of Louis II of Anjou in 1422, Yolande of Aragon became regent of Anjou, governing it on behalf of her minor son, Louis III. She also protected the dauphin against an array of foes, and she supported his cause, particularly after the incapacitated Charles VI declared the English king, Henry V, as heir to the French throne. Yolande of Aragon's support for the dauphin included her recognition of the possibility for salvation offered by Joan of Arc. When the dauphin finally defeated his enemies and began to rule France, Yolande of Aragon's daughter, Marie, became queen of France.

After the end of the Hundred Years' War, Yolande of Aragon eventually retired from the court (if not  politics and political maneuvering). She moved to Anger, in Maine, and then to Saumer. She patronized artists, and a number of surviving manuscripts are associated with her, including the spectacular Rohan Hours and the book of hours now known as the Hours of Isabella Stuart

Despite the fact that she never ruled as queen, Yolande of Aragon was called the "queen of four kingdoms"--queen of Aragon, where she might have become queen regnant, as "queen" consort in Naples and Sicily, which her husband claimed, and as titular queen of Jerusalem.

Yolande of Aragon,
fifteenth-century stained glass,
Her eldest son, Louis III of Anjou, died childless as a relatively young man. But he was succeeded by Yolande of Aragon's second son, René of Anjou. Like his father, René also got caught up in political scheming in Naples, and he too was promised this kingdom by a Neapolitan queen, this one Joanna II of Naples

René's young daughter, Margaret, would join her grandmother, Yolande, in Saumer. Margaret of Anjou would marry Henry VI of England, and during his periodic bouts of incapacity, would attempt to govern in his stead. 

Yolande's daughter Marie was not only queen of France, but she would act as regent of France as well. Yolande's youngest son, Charles of Maine, would be a strong supporter of his brother-in-law, Charles VII.

Yolande of Aragon died on 14 November 1442 at the Chateau de Tuce-de-Saumur. All she accomplished in her life! She was only fifty-eight years old at the time of her death.

Today she rests in the the cathedral of Angers, along with her son René of Anjou and her granddaughter, Margaret, queen of England. 

Today, the most accessible account of Yolande of Aragon is Nancy Goldstone's The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc. For a more scholarly approach, I recommend Zita Eva Rohr's Yolande of Aragon (1381-1442) Family and Power: The Reverse of the Tapestry.




Friday, July 5, 2019

Francisca de Nebrija, Humanist and Academic

Francisca de Nebrija/Lebrija (5 July)


Francisca de Nebrija was the daughter of the humanist scholar Antonio de Nebrija and Doña Isabel Montesinos de Solis. Her father was born Antonio Martínez de Cala, but Latinized his name as "Aelius Antonius Nebrissensis"--"Nebrissensis" the Latin version of his native birthplace, Lebrija. In Spanish, he was thus known as Antonio "de Nebrija" or "de Librija." His daughter's name is similarly confusing, at times given as "de Nebrija," at times as "Lebrija."*

The list of female writers and scholars
appended to Nicolás Antonio's 1672
Modern Spanish Writers
(image from Google Books)
Aside from the name of her father and mother, little else is known about Francisca's life. The reason for posting about Francisca de Nebrija today is thus a bit odd--her father died on 5 July 1522. Since I can find no dates for Francisca's life,  not even a birth date nor death date, I am posting about  her  today.

Although no biographical information survives, Francisca de Nebrija does occupy a place in history, however scant the evidence. What is said about her is brief but often repeated: she was tutored by her father, a distinguished poet and lexicographer, she substituted for him as a teacher of rhetoric at the University of Alcalá, and she may have assisted him in his research and writing. 

The entry for Nebrija in The Feminist Encyclopedia of Spanish Literature indicates she was born in the sixteenth century, but since her father was born in 1444 and died in 1522, at the age of 78, it seems likely that Francisca was born in the late fifteenth century. 

As Emilie Bergmann notes in "Spain's Women Humanists," although "[c]enturies of repetition established the commonplace" about both Francisca de Nebrija and her contemporary, Luisa de Medrano--that they lectured on rhetoric at the University of Salamanca--little evidence survives.

For example, in his massive Modern Spanish Writers (Bibliotheca hispana nova, first published in 1672), Nicolás Antonio includes an appendix, "Gynaeceum Hispanae Minervae," listing the names of Spanish women known for their writing--but whose work had (already) been lost (if you click this link, the appendix begins on p. 337). The five-line entry for "Francisca de Lebrixa" notes that she is the daughter of Antonio "Nebrissensis," that she taught the art of rhetoric, and that her teaching was applauded by all. 

The entry for Francisca "de Lebrixa" in Nicolás Antonio's
1672 Modern Spanish Writers
(image from Google Books)
Such an account of Francisca de Nebrija was still being given in the nineteenth century. In his Escritoras y eruditas Espanolas (Spanish [Women] Writers and Scholars), Diego Ignazio Parada included a brief account of Francisca de Nebrija among other "teachers and writers in Latin prose," writing that she substituted for her father when he was ill and when he was occupied with other business. While noting that no work by her hand survives, Parada suggests that she may well have contributed to some of her father's works.

A note of caution is sounded by Mary Agnes Canon in her 1916 The Education of Women in the Renaissance. In a chapter on the educated women in Spain and Portugal during the Renaissance, she calls Francisca de Lebrija "her father's right hand in his literary labors." She also notes that some scholars have "conjectured" that she might have contributed to her father's work. but, Canon observes, there seems to be "no warrant for the conjecture," since nothing survives.

Which takes us back to Bergmann. Like the scholar Beatriz Galindo, "La Latina," Francisca de Lebrija is a female scholar whose scholarship, unfortunately, has been lost. 


*I am using "Lebrija" as this is the way her name is spelled by Elizabeth T. Howe in her brief entry in The Feminist Encyclopedia of Spanish Literature.

The name of Francisca "de Lebrija" is included on the Heritage Floor in Judy Chicago's massive art installation, The Dinner Party.



Saturday, June 29, 2019

Mary Jones and the Great Library War of Los Angeles

Mary Letitia Jones (born 29 June 1865)


Born on 29 June 1865, Mary Letitia Jones was the daughter of a minister, William R. Jones, and his wife, Jane, both of whom had immigrated to the United States from Wales. In the 1870 U. S. Census, four-year-old Mary is living with her family in Wisconsin; by the time of the 1880 Census, the family has moved to Nebraska. 

Mary Letitia Jones,
from the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library
Mary Letitia Jones graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1885 and then attended New York State Library School, founded by Melvil Dewey (of Dewey Decimal fame), where she graduated in 1892. 

After finishing her education and carrying with her a recommendation from Dewey himself, she returned to Nebraska, recruited by James H. Canfield, chancellor of the University of Nebraska. She was hired not only to head the library but to help in the planning of a new library building. By 1895, she was head of a staff of 10 and had doubled the size of the library's holdings. (She also converted the library to the Dewey Decimal system.)

After leaving the University of Nebraska, Jones worked at the University of Illinois and the State Library of Iowa, moving to the Los Angeles area by 1899 to join her family--her father had retired to Pasadena. 

She was soon hired by the Los Angeles Public Library, as an assistant librarian, working with city librarian Harriet Child Wadleigh. When Wadleigh retired, Mary Jones became the city's head librarian. As Nicholas Beyelia notes, Jones was "the first Los Angeles City Librarian working for the Los Angeles Public Library who was both a college graduate and a graduate of library school."

Despite Jones's qualifications and career accomplishments, all did not go well--just five years later, she was asked to resign so that the city of Los Angeles could replace her with a man. Jones refused, noting her reasons in a letter delivered to the library's board of directors:
At first it was my inclination immediately to yield to the request relayed upon me by the president. But, upon reflection, I have concluded that it would not be fitting for me to tender my resignation as the head of a department where only women are employed. When such a resignation is tendered solely on the grounds that the best interests of the department demand that its affairs no longer be administered by a woman. Ever since the adoption of the present city charter, the library has been presided over by a woman with a staff of assistants composed exclusively of women.
Since Jones refused to resign, she was fired. Her firing set off the "the Great Library War." (I love this statement that Jones made to the Los Angeles Times, when she was asked about why she had been replaced by a man: “Those directors seem as crazy after a man as though they were a board of old maids.”)

This "war" certainly demonstrates sexism and misogyny--but there is a healthy bit of nepotism and favoritism as well, and of course the usual chicanery, harassment, espionage, and bureaucratic finagling. It engulfed the city, but the war went beyond the city's limits, eventually bringing Susan B. Anthony to town!

Susan B. Anthony, "laying down the law,"
Los Angeles Herald, 13 June 1895

After she was fired, Jones left Los Angeles, at least temporarily. She went next to Berkeley, where she taught at the university for two years, then headed to Bryn Mawr, where she was head of  the library for six years. In 1920, she returned to Los Angeles, where she helped to set up the Los Angeles County Library system. During the first world war, she helped to create a library on a local military base, Camp Kearney. Jones remained in Los Angeles after retiring and died, age 80, in 1946. 

I could write much more here--I always tend to write more than I plan to write! But, truth be told, I would be taking information from the incredibly readable, detailed blog of Nicholas Beyelia, who has posted a four-part series. That's where you need to go to read much more of this incredible story! For the first part of Beyelia's account of the Great Library War ("Have You Met Miss Jones?"), click here.

You may also be interested in Susan Orlean's The Library Book (2018), a book about the 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library that destroyed 400,000 books (and damaged 700,000 more). Orlean writes about the library's history, including the story of Mary Letitia Jones. 


Monday, June 24, 2019

Urraca Alfonso, Queen of Navarre and Regent of Asturias

Urraca Alfonso, queen of Navarre and regent of Asturias (married 24 June 1144)


Urraca Alfonso was the daughter of Alfonso VII of León (the son of a woman whom we have met before, Queen Urraca of Castile and León) and Gontrodo Pérez, member of a noble Asturian family, which accounts for the name by which her daughter is also know, La Asturiana.

Gontrodo was the wife of a feudal lord (tenente), Gutierre Sebastiániz, at the time of her relationship with King Alfonso, whom she seems to have met when he was in Asturias to quell a rebellion.* 

Urraca Alfonsa's tomb in the cathedral of Palencia
(with a questionable date of death)
At the time of Urraca Alfonso's birth, Alfonso VII's queen and wife was Berengaria of Barcelona, to whom he had been married in 1128, when she was just twelve years old--the first of their seven children would be born in 1134.

(After the death of Queen Berengaria in 1149, King Alfonso would go on to marry Richeza of Poland in 1152, with whom he would have two more legitimate children, one of whom was Sancha of Castile, queen of Aragon.) 

A contemporary life of King Alfonso, the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris, notes that Gontrodo was "extremely beautiful and of the highest nobility." But historical judgments differ. About this relationship, the nineteenth-century historian of Spanish queens, Anita George, concludes that, while the king "loved [Gontrodo] with the most ardent passion," she was a "worthless" rival.

Worthless or not, Gontrodo gave birth to Urraca in 1133, making her the king's first-born child. According to a seventeenth-century Jesuit historian of Asturia, Alfonso treated this daughter as he did his legitimate children, in particular his sons--he awarded her land and titles and arranged for her to be educated, along with his other children, by his sister, Sancha Raimúndez of León. 

The king also secured a significant marriage for Urraca Alfonso—to García Ramírez, king of Navarre, on 24 June 1144. The twelfth-century chronicle of Alfonso contains a lengthy account of this politically expedient decision and of the lavish marriage ceremonies that celebrated the match. (Urraca Alfonso's half-sister, Sancha of Castile--one of Alfonso VII's daughters with Berengaria--would marry King García Ramírez's son in 1153. Another interesting example of "traditional marriage"--half sisters marrying a father and a son. And yes—Alfonso VII has two daughters named Sancha of Castile, one born to each of his two wives. No wonder this gets confusing!)

After the death of the king of Navarre in 1150, Urraca, now dowager queen, was sent to Asturias by her father. There she took up residence in Ovieda, where King Alfonso allowed his daughter to retain her title of "queen" and entrusted her with the administration of the province. 

In 1153, she confirmed the charter of the Monastery of Santa María de la Vega, her mother's foundation. After the death of King Alfonso VII in 1157, Urraca's half-brother, Fernando II, continued to allow her to administer Asturias, although he himself returned to Oviedo and ruled as king of "Galicia and León"--Asturias was a province of Galicia.

Urraca Alfonso, dowager queen of Navarre, remarried in 1163. A charter from that year indicates that the Urraca and her second husband, Álvaro Rodríguez de Castro, were now managing Asturias together: "Alvaro Rodríguez with his wife Urraca governing Asturias" (Alvaro Roderici cum uxore sua regina Urraca Asturias imperante).

At some point in early 1164, the two were involved in an uprising in Asturias, a rebellion that was crushed by her half-brother, now king of León. 

Urraca Alfonso gave birth to two children. Her daughter Sancha was born in 1148, while Urraca Alfonso was queen of Navarre. During her second marriage, she gave birth to a son, Sancho Álvarez de Castro, in 1164. Like his mother, he would eventually control Asturias, a chronicle noting, "Sancho Álvarez [was] governing Asturias" and describing him as "the son of Queen Urraca" (Dominante Asturias Sancius Alvari filius regina Urrace).

There is some dispute about the year of Urraca Alfonso's death--the Oviedo Enciclopedia cites her date of death as 1164. This date is also accepted by the online biographical dictionary of the Real Academia de la Historia, which notes that Urraca Alfonso's second husband, Álvaro Rodríguez de Castro, was free to remarry in that year, since Urraca had died. Finally, the notes to the twelfth-century chronicle of Alfonso VII indicate that Urraca Alfonso died "after" 1164. 

However, a document from the Monastery of Villaverde de Sandoval records a gift made by "La infanta Urraca, hija de Alfonso VII" of significant property in 1178. The donation is made for for songs to be sung for her soul and that of her father (Hace la donación para que en el cabildo del monasterio, en el que desea ser enterrada, se cante un aniversario por su alma y la de su padre el día de San Juan Bautista). This date may be confused, however--in his edition of the chronicle of Alfonso, Glenn Edward Lipskey notes "References to dates will follow the original manuscripts of the chronicle which utilize the calendar of the Spanish Era. Thirty-eight years must be subtracted in order to arrive at the corresponding year within the Christian calendar." Could the 1178 year in the original document be in the old-style calendar? 

Finally, to further confuse matters, Urraca Alfonso's tomb in the chapel of Santa María Magdalena in the Cathedral of Palencia, though constructed later, gives her year of death as 1189. (Urraca was buried in the Romanesque cathedral at the time of her death, but it was rebuilt in the fourteenth century in the Gothic style.)

So this breathtaking gap--Urraca Alfonso may have died in 1164 or as late as 1189--is just another indication of the failure of documentation for many historical women's lives. 


*There are variant spellings for Gontrodo's name, and some discussion about exactly how noble her family. Born about the year 1105 or 1106, she had three children with her husband. After 1137, the name of her husband, Gutierre Sebastiániz, disappears from the records. Gontrodo's name appears only sporadically in the records, and the evidence suggests that she retired to a convent after her liaison with Alfonso VII--she donates an inheritance to the Monastery of San Vicente in 1141, and several years later, property that had been given to her by Alfonso VII. But the twelfth-century Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris claims that, after her daughter's marriage, Guntrodo became a nun:
Now Guntroda, King García's mother-in-law, recognized the enormous honor paid to her daughter who bad become a queen. . . . Even though she possessed many worldly desires, Guntroda looked eagerly to spiritual matters as much as she could. She consecrated herself to God and remained in his service. Accordingly, she became a nun in Oviedo. There she joined a religious community in the church of Saint Mary. She felt that with help from the Mother of God she certainly would be able to discover some joy in life. She would appease God by praising him continually through the Divine Office. She would then await the glorious end of her life persevering in this devout practice. Praying constantly in a true spirit of sincerity, she would repent for all of her sins. 
In 1153, Gontrodo founded the Monastery of Santa María de la Vega in Oviedo, where she became a nun, dying there on 26 June 1186. Online information is available online at the Oviedo Enciclopedia.

Alfonso VII would also have a daughter with a another woman named Urraca, Urraca Fernández de Castro, widow of a Leonese nobleman, Rodrigo Fernández. The date of Stephanie Alfonso's birth isn't clear, but her mother seems to have begun her relationship with the king in 1139, after her husband's death. Between that date and 1148, the king awarded property and privileges to Urraca Fernández and Stephanie Alfonso.

A twelfth-century manuscript drawing of
Urraca Fernández (right) and her husband, Rodrigo Martínez

After Alfonso VII's death in 1157, his son, Fernando II, now king, arranged for the marriage between his half-sister and the head of his household, Fernando Rodríguez de Castro. In 1180, Stephanie's husband murdered her--he stabbed her to death. He suspected his wife was unfaithful to him . . .  But, oops, maybe not. Whatever the case (and there is a dramatic, romanticized story that he realized he was wrong and was sorry afterwards), King Fernando forgave him for having murdered his half-sister . . . Which is why Stephanie is also known as Stephanie the Unfortunate (Estefanía la Desdichada).

Stephanie was buried near her grandmother, Queen Urraca of Castile and León. Her epitaph makes no mention of the circumstances of her "unfortunate" death: 
Here lies the Infanta Doña Estefanía, daughter of Emperor Alfonso, wife of the powerful Fernán Ruiz, mother of Pedro Fernández Castellano, who died on July 1, 1180. 
(The Latin inscription reads: HR INFANTISSA DOMINA STEPHANIA, FILIA IMPERATORIS ADEFONSI, CONJUX FERDINANDI RODERICI POTENTISSIMI BARONIS, MATER PETRI FERDINANDI CASTELLANI, QUAE OBIIT WAS MCCXVIII. KAL. JULII.)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Margherita de' Medici, Regent of Parma and Piacenza

Margherita de' Medici, duchess and regent of Parma and Piacenza (born 31 May 1612)


Margherita de' Medici was the daughter of Maria Magdalena of Austria, grand duchess and regent of Tuscany, and Cosimo II de' Medici, archduke of Tuscany. Like her mother, Margherita would become regent for her minor son after the death of his father.

Margherita de' Medici, c. 1628,
about the time of her marriage,
by Justus Sustermans
Born on 31 May 1612, Margherita was given an excellent humanist education, worthy of a woman of her social class and family status--in religion, art, classical literature, music, statecraft, and science, as well as in Latin. As the product of this education, she could compose odes and epigrams in both Italian and Latin.

Although Marie de' Medici, dowager queen of France, hoped to marry her son, Gaston, duke of Orléans, to Margherita, the Florentine girl was promised instead to Odoardo Farnese in 1620, when they were both eight years old--Odoardo had been born just a month before Margherita. 

Odoardo's father, Ranuccio I Farnese, was the duke of Parma, Piacenza, and the alliance between his son and a daughter of the archduke was intended to strengthen the alliance between Parma and Tuscany.*

Odoardo Farnese succeeded to his title when he was still a child, in 1622, at the time of his father's death. His uncle was regent of Parma until 1626, and after he died, the young Odoardo's regent was his mother, Margherita Aldobrandini.** She continued as regent until her son reached his majority, in 1628, when he and Margherita de' Medici were married in a spectacular ceremony in the Florentine cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

In Parma, Margherita de' Medici, now duchess of Parma and Piacenza, gave birth to eight children, the first in 1629, a year after her marriage, the last in 1641. During his frequent absences in pursuit of his territorial ambitions, Odoardo trusted at least some of the political duties to his wife. In 1635 he appointed her governor of Piacenza, for example. (As for Odoardo's ambitions--among other failures, he was excommunicated in 1641 and lost the Farnese fief of Castro, though it was eventually returned to him in 1644 as part of a peace negotiation with the Barberini family. After his death, however, papal forces razed Castro.)

As Adelina Modesti notes, Margherita was able to "[use] her cultural background, family connections, and force of personality to navigate successfully the transition between her natal and marital families, enabling her to gain an extraordinary degree of political power and cultural influence, which she used to enhance the interests of her marital family without losing her sway with the family she left behind."

Margherita de' Medici,
duchess of Parma and Piacenza,
copy of a portrait by Sustermans,
Galeria Nazionale
In August 1646, the dowager duchess and former regent of Parma, Margherita Aldobrandini, died. A month later, in September, Margherita de' Medici's husband, Odoardo Farnese, died. Since her eldest son was still a minor, Margherita de' Medici, now herself dowager duchess of Parma and Piacenza, became regent for her son. Her regency lasted until 1648, when her son, Ranuccio II of Farnese, achieved his majority.

As Modesti notes, however, Margherita de' Medici continued to exert a great deal of influence even after her son became duke, acting as his "political advisor and diplomatic ambassador even after he became an adult, married three times, and ruled officially in his own right."

Margherita de' Medici lived another thirty years. She died on 6 February 1679, aged sixty-six, noted as "a woman of extraordinary talent with good taste in the arts: mourned by the people and the court, she was greatly famed for her acute judgement, eminent compassion, and exquisite traits."

The most complete treatment of Margherita de' Medici, duchess of Parma and Piacenza, is Adelina Modesti's “Margherita de’ Medici Farnese: A Medici Princess at the Farnese Court,” in Medici Women: The Making of a Dynasty in Grand Ducal Tuscany.

*There is some evidence to suggest that the marriage negotiations at first involved the eldest Medici daughter, Maria Christina, but she seems to have been born with some kind of physical disability--when the duke of Parma discovered this, he insisted on renegotiating the alliance. Maria Christina lived in the Florentine convent of the Holy Conception (Santissima Concezione), founded by her great-grandmother, Eleanor of Toledo, duchess of Florence (wife of Cosimo I de' Medici). She remained there until her death, at age twenty-three, in 1632.

**Whose story is an interesting one! The granddaughter of Pope Clement VIII, Margherita Aldobrandini was married to the thirty-year-old Ranuccio I Farnese when she was just twelve years old. She remained childless for a decade, leading Ranuccio to the conclusion that she had been cursed! Or he was . . . Or something. When at long last a child was born to Ranuccio and Margherita, the baby was deaf. Convinced that his wife was cursed, Ranuccio had a former mistress, Claudia Colla and her mother, Elena tried for witchcraft--and executed in 1611. And Odoardo was born, as I said, in 1612 . . .