Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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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.