Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

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 . . . 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Elizabeth of Bosnia, Regent of Hungary and Croatia

Elizabeth of Bosnia, Queen of Poland and Regent of Hungary (married 20 June 1353)


Elizabeth of Bosnia was the daughter-in-law of a remarkable queen, Elizabeth of Poland, queen of Hungary, who was for many years her son's valued and trusted political adviser. Elizabeth of Bosnia  was the mother of two ruling queens, Jadwiga, queen regnant of Poland, and Mary, queen regnant of Hungary and Croatia, and she was also regent of Hungary after her husband's death.

Elizabeth of Bosnia and her husband,
Louis of Hungary,
kneeling at the feet of St. Catherine,
from a fourteenth-century chronicle
Born about the year 1340, Elizabeth of Bosnia was the daughter of Stephen II, the ruler (or "ban") of Bosnia, and Elizabeth of Kuyavia, a Polish noblewoman who was closely related to Elizabeth of Poland. The marriage of the Bosnian ban and a Polish woman was intended to strengthen the ties between Stephen and the Hungarian king, Charles Robert (Elizabeth of Poland's husband).

Not much is known about Elizabeth of Bosnia's early years--but she must have received some education, because she is known to have later written a "manual" on the education of daughters. (See below.) 

By the time she was about ten years old, she was already a valuable commodity in the marriage market. In 1350,  as a way of settling a long conflict between Bosnia and the Serbian empire, Tsar Stefan Dušan suggested a marriage between his son and Stephan's daughter, Elizabeth.

Stephan of Bosnia declined this offer, however. At some point he seems to have sent his daughter to the court of Elizabeth of Poland, where she could be reared by the queen. Elizabeth of Poland's son, Louis, had been married to Margaret of Bohemia (daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV) in 1342, when she was just seven, but the dowager queen seem to have regarded Elizabeth of Bosnia as a spare. And after Margaret died of the plague in 1349 (she was just thirteen of fourteen years old), Elizabeth of Poland arranged for her son to marry Elizabeth of Bosnia. The marriage took place in 1353.

Stephen of Bosnia died just three months after his daughter became the queen of Hungary, but there seems to have been no question that she (or she and her new husband) would succeed him as ruler of Bosnia. Instead, Stephen was succeeded by an underage nephew.

Throughout the next few years, Elizabeth's husband and her cousin, now king of Bosnia, struggled over the payment of her dowry. In Bosnia, the new young king had trouble maintaining the integrity of the state his uncle had crafted, and in 1357, he was forced to cede a great deal of territory to Elizabeth's husband as payment of and in exchange for a recognition of his title. By 1370, Louis gained even more influence when he succeeded to the crown of Hungary and Croatia

Meanwhile, Elizabeth, now queen of Poland and Hungary, had her own struggles. Her mother-in-law, the dowager queen, remained an active and powerful political force (Elizabeth of Poland didn't die until 1380, aged about 75), while the younger Elizabeth herself "failed" in her most important duty as queen, producing an heir--she remained childless for over a decade after her marriage.

During this period of "failure," Elizabeth of Bosnia committed--supposedly--a daring but ultimately shameful act, perhaps motivated by a desire to give birth to a son. During a visit to the shrine of St. Simeon in Zadar, Croatia, she stole a part of the saint's finger. (She may have believed this relic would help her infertility.) As soon as she broke the piece off of the saint's body, it began to decompose. Since she couldn't leave the church without revealing her theft, she returned the finger to the body (where it was restored to its previous state).

The casket of St. Simeon, commissioned by
Elizabeth of Bosnia,
Church of St. Simeon, Zadar, Croatia

To atone for her action, Elizabeth of Bosnia commissioned an elaborately wrought reliquary for the body of St. Stephen, produced by the goldsmiths of Zadar between 1377 and 1380. She donated the silver herself. The casket of St. Stephen is now recognized as a masterpiece of medieval gold- and silver-work, and is under UNESCO protection.

Although she did not give birth to a son, she eventually produced three daughters in quick succession--Catherine, born in 1370, Mary, in 1371, and Jadwiga, in 1373. (Although no copies of Elizabeth of Bosnia's book on the education of daughters survives, a copy is known to have been sent to Louis of France, count of Valois, in 1374.)

Unlike some kings who shall remain nameless (looking at you, Henry VIII of England), Louis made plans for his three daughters, Catherine, Mary, and Jadwiga, to succeed him. His daughters were not only desirable marital prospects, but their marriages were also a way for Louis himself to consolidate his influence and power. 

In pursuit of his political ends, Louis arranged for his eldest daughter, Catherine, to be married to Louis I, duke of Orléans, and he 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, Louis arranged Jadwiga's marriage to the Habsburg William of Austria, and the girl was sent to the court in Vienna, where she lived from 1378 until 1380.

But plans for a smooth succession began to fall apart in 1378, when Louis and Elizabeth's eldest daughter died. Following Catherine's 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 in Poland, Louis summoned Polish nobles and ecclesiastical leaders so that they could affirm her rights to succeed her father. 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 his throne in Hungary, though there is some evidence to suggest that, after Catherine's death and rather than dividing his kingdoms between his two surviving daughters, he hoped to leave everything to the elder, Mary.

Whatever Louis's hopes may have been--for Jadwiga to rule in Hungary and for Mary to rule in Poland, or for Mary to inherit both thrones--his plans never materialized. Instead, Louis died in 1382, and a great deal of turmoil followed. 

Following her husband's death, Elizabeth of Bosnia moved quickly to claim the regency for her two young daughters, but she ran into trouble. Given her husband's reliance on his mother as his political adviser, Elizabeth of Bosnia had little experience in politics upon which to draw. In addition, her reliance on Nicholas Garay, who had also been one of her husband's advisers, was the source of jealousy and suspicion. (As was frequently the case with powerful women and their male advisers, her enemies said he was Elizabeth's lover.)

The succession difficulties and challenges for Elizabeth of Bosnia' two daughters were many. To start, the marriages Louis had arranged for his daughters were both rejected. 

Rather than accepting Elizabeth's regency, the Polish nobility elected Jadwiga, then just nine years old, as "king" (rex) of Poland, crowning her immediately, but in doing so, they rejected William of Austria. Instead, Jadwiga was married to Jogaila, grand duke of Lithuania, on 15 February 1386. The marriage was desirable for Poland and not only because it would allow them to resist pressures from Austria--the newly combined territories of Lithuania and Poland were larger than the previous union of Hungary and Poland. Through Jadwiga and her husband, who became King Władysław II Jagiełło of Poland, the Jagiellon dynasty was established.* (For an extended account of Jadwiga's succession in Poland, including the reactions of the rejected William, click here.)

A depiction of Elizabeth of Bosnia handing a chest
to St. Simeon, with her three daughters, below;
detail on the sarcophagus of St. Simeon,
commissioned by Elizabeth of Bosnia
In Hungary, meanwhile, the nobility also 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 Queen Mary not to her promised partner, Sigismund, but to Louis I, duke of Orléans, whose elder brother had become king of France. (Louis had been the marriage partner arranged for Mary's elder sister, Catherine, before the girl's death.)

But the proposed French marriage resulted in even more conflict in Hungary. (For an extended account of Mary's succession in Hungary, and the marital politics involved, click here.)

Although both of her daughters would eventually succeed to the throne as queens, Jadwiga in Poland and Mary in Hungary and Croatia, their powers were limited. They may have reigned, but they did not rule. And both queens would die while they were still in their twenties.

So Elizabeth of Bosnia may have "succeeded" in helping her daughters maintain their rights of succession, but all of her struggles for her daughters did not end well for Elizabeth of Bosnia--in her effort to secure Mary's crown, Elizabeth of Bosnia had been responsible for the assassination of an opponent the Hungarian nobility had invited into the kingdom. A year later, on the anniversary of the assassination, Elizabeth of Bosnia was herself strangled in an act of revenge.

Elizabeth of Bosnia was not a notably successful regent, but she has often been criticized for the very ambitions and failings demonstrated by her male contemporaries--inexperience, ambition, and ruthlessness, for example. But the title of historian Janos Bak's essay noting Elizabeth of Bosnia may more accurately suggest why she "failed" in the eyes of her contemporaries--"Queens as Scapegoats in Medieval Hungary."

Or, maybe you prefer Sophia Elizabeth Higgins's view--in her 1885 Women of Europe in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (vol. 1), she writes, "Few episodes in history are indeed more melancholy than the fortunes of [Jadwiga and Mary]. The retribution for their father's sins fell upon them." Higgins regards their mother's weaknesses and failings with a sympathetic eye: Elizabeth of Bosnia was driven by "despairing efforts to avert the ruin of her family," constantly disappointed by the "failure" and "disaffection" of the many rivalries, jealousies, and contending factions that undermined her efforts. (Higgins's discussion of Elizabeth of Bosnia is the most extended account I have found.)

*For three notable Jagiellon queens, see Isabella Jagiellon, queen of Hungary (here), Anna Jagiellon, queen of Poland (here), and Catherine Jagiellon, queen of Sweden (here).