Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Garsenda of Forcalquier, "A lady doesn't dare uncover her true will"

Garsenda, countess of Forcalquier (7 October 1209), regent (?) of Provence, and poet 


It is easy to get your Garsendas confused--the Garsenda I am writing about today, Garsenda of Forcalquier, was the daughter of a woman named Garsenda and the mother of yet another woman named Garsenda.
Garsenda, as she is depicted on 
her seal

The eldest Garsenda, also known as Garsenda of Forcalquier, was born about 1160, the daughter of William IV, count of Forcalquier, and Adélaïde de Béziers. This Garsenda (I suppose we could refer to her as Garsenda I) married Rainou (or Rénier) of Saban, and gave birth to our Garsenda (Garsenda II) about the year 1180.

The elder Garsenda was William IV's only child and heir, but she predeceased her father, probably dying about the year 1193. Her daughter, the younger Garsenda, thus became her grandfather's heir.

In the mean time, William IV had become part of an "anti-Catalan" alliance that had gone to war against Alfonso II, king of Aragon (and also the count of Provence--for the time being, Forcalquier was independent of Provence). But in 1193, William IV was compelled to sign the treaty of Aix-en-Provence in order to settle this conflict. (To see their "accord," click here and scroll to p. xxx.)

According to its terms, his granddaughter (and now heir) Garsenda would marry Alfonso, the second son of Alfonso of Aragon and his queen, Sancha of Castile (in 1185, his father had made the younger Alfonso the count of Provence, though the king himself would continue to govern it himself until his death in 1196). In her discussion of this agreement, writer Meg Bogin notes that the purpose of this alliance is "transparent": Garsenda's marriage would be "the token of her family's subjection."

As one of the key provisions, of the treaty, William had retained for himself until his death the right of usufructus, the right to enjoy the use of his county of Forcalquier. But a conflict soon arose--according to Jean-Pierre Papon, the eighteenth-century historian of Provence, the marriage settlements might have been agreed upon, but the ceremony itself would not be held for "a few years." 

It is this delay that seems to have triggered the conflict between Garsenda's grandfather and her husband. William "revoked part of the rights to Forcalquier." To underscore his intentions, William IV married off his remaining granddaughter, Garsenda's younger sister, Béatrix, and threatened to leave Forcalquier to her.*

Even as Alfonso went to war with his wife's grandfather, his court in Provence attracted a circle of poets. One of these poets, the troubadour Gaucelm Faidit, writes Alfonso into his work, characterizing Alfonso as his rival for the love of a woman named Jourdaine d’Embrun, while another, the Catalan troubadour Ramon Vidal, describes his visit to Alfonso's court at Aix-en-Provence and praises Garsenda for her patronage. A third troubadour, Elias de Barjols, refers to Alfonso as his literary patron. 

During this period of political conflict and courtly culture, Garsenda gave birth to two children, a son, Ramon Berenguer (born in 1198) and a daughter, Garsenda (Garsenda III), known as Garsenda of Provence, probably born around the year 1200. 

The conflict between Garsenda's grandfather and husband came to an abrupt end when both men died in 1209. In February, Alfonso died in Palermo, Sicily, where he had traveled for his sister's wedding, and William died the following October. While their deaths marked an end to their disputes, it did not mean that Garsenda would quietly inherit Forcalquier and her son, Provence. 

In November, in an effort to protect her children's inheritance from disaffected (and self-interested) Provençal rivals Garsenda executed a "donation" in which she ceded Forcalquier to her young son, Ramon Berenguer, joining it once more to Provence and thus ending Forcalquier's period of independence.** (To see the "donation" of Garsenda, click here and scroll to p. xxxviii.)

In his will, Alfonso of Provence had named his elder brother, Pedro of Aragon, as his son's guardian, so Garsenda sent the boy to the Templar Castle of Monzón (according to some accounts, Ramon Berenguer was "kidnapped" and held captive there). Pedro also gave the regency of Provence to his uncle, Sancho (the brother of Alfonso of Aragon). As for Forcalquier, newly rejoined to Provence? A nephew of William IV's now claimed the county and the title for himself.

With her son in Spain, Garsenda remained in Forcalquier, Deprived of any role in government, she nevertheless enjoyed, in Papon's words, the "honors" that were due to her rank and birth. In the difficult years after her husband's death, she continued to patronize troubadour poets, and, in the courtly tradition, two of them, Elias de Barjols and Gui de Cavaillon, claimed to have been in love with her--according to the brief biography, or vida, included in manuscript collections of his poetry, Elias de Barjols dedicated two songs to her, praising her merit, her courtesy, her honesty, and her taste. 

Despite the pleasures of her court, Garsenda witnessed members of her own family attempt to acquire her son's inheritance for themselves. The attempts of both the pope and the emperor to secure peace in Provence were not successful. And then, in 1213, when Pedro of Aragon died, Sancho became regent of Aragon and passed the regency of Provence (and Forcalquier) to his son, Nuño Sánchez, inflaming the situation in the disputed territory even more. It was at this point, in the hope of reducing tensions, that Garsenda herself was recognized as regent of Provence.

The donation of Garsenda to her son, made in 1209, was ratified in 1214. (To read the ratification, click here and scroll to p. xliii.) In November of 1216, Ramon Berenguer finally left (or escaped) the fortress of Monzón and headed to Provence, in order to reclaim his inheritance. Once there, he reunited with Garsenda. At last, on 29 June 1220, he was able to dispatch the warring claimants who, in his absence, had sought his inheritance.

As for Garsenda? Although she was nominally the regent of Provence in 1213, after Nuño Sánchez returned to Spain, she does not seem to have exerted much power, although her mere presence in Provence was crucial. By remaining there, despite all the dangers, she maintained her son's interest in the disputed territory. 

Garsenda remained in Provence after her son reestablished his rights as count, her continued presence there, as historian Mariacristina Varano notes, representing a kind of "guarantee" in his effort to establish his "new power." In 1225, Garsenda of Forcalquier retired to the abbey of La Celle

Although some sources suggest that Garsenda of Forcalquier may have lived until 1242 or even 1257, it seems most likely that she died in 1232 (Varano, p. 750). She is buried in the abbey of La Celle.

Garsenda of Forcalquiet's tomb,
Abbey of La Celle
(photo by Michel Wal)

Garsenda did more than support--and perhaps inspire--troubadour poetry. She herself is credited as the author of one of the few surviving troubadour lyrics by women, a tenson, a  literary dispute in which the two debaters speak in turn. In this two-stanza tenson, the lines of the female speaker are by Garsenda, the lines by the male speaker usually identified as composed by Gui de Cavaillon.

Here is Garsenda's stanza, first in its original Occitan, and then in Meg Bogin's translation:
Vos que.m semblatz dels corals amadors,
ja non volgra que fossetz tan doptanz;
e platz me molt quar vos destreing m'amors,
qu'atressi sui eu per vos malananz.
Ez avetz dan en vostre vulpillatge
quar no.us ausatz de preiar enardir,
e faitz a vos ez a mi gran dampnatge;
que ges dompna no ausa descobrir
tot so qu'il vol per paor de faillir.
You're so well-suited as a lover,
I wish you wouldn't be so hesitant;
but I'm glad my love makes you the penitent,
otherwise I'd be the one to suffer.
Still, in the long run it's you who stands to lose
if you're not brave enough to state your case,
and you'll do both of us great harm if you refuse.
For a lady doesn't dare uncover
her true will, lest those around her think her base.

Garsenda's daughter, Garsenda of Provence, viscountess of Béarn (Garsenda III), was a formidable woman. To read Jennifer Speed's "The Notorious Garsenda of Provence," click here.

And our Garsenda, Garsenda of Forcalquier also had four notable granddaughters. Her son married Beatrice of Savoy, and we have met the couple's four daughters before, the "four queens": Margaret of ProvenceEleanor of Provence, Sanchia of Provence, and Beatrice of Provence. 


*For an extended discussion of William IV's war with Alfonso of Aragon, the settlement of the conflict, the details of the marriage negotiations, and the ongoing conflict between William IV and his new son-in law, see Mariacristina Varano's Espace religieux et espace politique en pays provençal au Moyen Âge (pp. 460-82).

**Forcalquier's independence lasted about a hundred and fifty years.


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

It Sure Helps To Be White If You Go Missing--The Case of Gabby Petitio

A Young White Woman Goes Missing and We All Go Nuts--The Case of Gabby Petitio

As a mother and grandmother, I can't imagine the pain of losing a child, much less if that child went missing under mysterious circumstances. No attention would be too much--I would want all eyes, everywhere, searching for my child.

But the frenzy over the disappearance (and likely death) of Gabby Petitio while traveling in Wyoming is about more than one missing woman, no matter how precious she may be to her family and friends. 

Since the report on her disappearance was filed on 11 September 2021, Petitio's story has occupied hours of TV and radio time, but the obsessive and relentless coverage has been driven by newer media outlets. Petitio has become the focus of hundreds of posts on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit, and Facebook, her story broadcast by and for the "true crime community" on multiple podcasts and the subject of hundreds of YouTube videos (as of this moment, 1,850 YouTube videos, to be precise).

The overwhelming public interest in Petitio's disappearance serves as one more reminder of the inequities in American life. What about the hundreds of other women who have gone missing from Wyoming? Women who were not young, white, "petite," blonde, and blue-eyed? 

As only one example of all these other missing persons: according to Missing & Murdered Indigenous People, a report recently published (January 2021) by the University of Wyoming's Survey and Analysis Center, "Between 2011 and September 2020, 710 Indigenous persons were reported missing [in 22 of 23 counties in Wyoming]. Some Indigenous people were reported missing more than once during the time period, resulting in a total of 1,254 missing person records for Indigenous people." Of these 710 missing persons, "[e]ighty-five percent were juvenile, and 57% were female."

Meanwhile, nationwide, "In 2016 [the most recent annual figure available], 5,712 Indigenous women and girls were reported missing to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), an electronic clearinghouse of crime data used by criminal justice agencies. . . ."

How many of these missing persons have you heard about? 

I am reposting here an edited version of an op-ed commentary I wrote sixteen years ago, "Missing Woman Would Be Bigger News If She Were Blond," published in The [Tacoma-Seattle] News Tribune, 7 August 2005. Insight 4. In the column, I was limited to 800 words. In 2014, I posted this longer version on my personal web page, but I removed it two years ago in a refresh of my website. 

 Who Cares about LaToyia Figueroa?


The photo of LaToyia Figueroa
that first drew my attention
when published in the New Tribune
Nicole. JonBenet. Amber. Chandra. Elisabeth. Laci. Natalee. We are on a first-name basis with all of them. Say their names, and their faces appear before our eyes. Young, female, pretty, blonde—mostly blonde, anyway—and mostly dead. We like them dead. And then there’s LaToyia Figueroa.

While the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba has occupied the mainstream media for the last two months—breathless, round-the-clock coverage on the all-news channels and, at the very moment that I sit here writing, some 257,000 hits in .05 seconds on Google—where is LaToyia Figueroa? Her story seems to have all the elements we find so irresistible: She’s young (just 24), very pretty, pregnant (5 months), and she has disappeared. Vanished without a trace.

LaToyia is not blonde, though neither was Chandra Levy or Laci Peterson. But Latoyia is not white. Since her disappearance on July 18, there have been no screaming headlines, no hourly updates on Fox or MSNBC, no Larry King Live interviews with members her distraught family, no FBI rushing to the scene, no Katie Couric or Stone Phillips or Dateline. It wasn’t until 9 days after her disappearance that CNN finally mentioned the story. And then, in the bottom right corner of the third page of our Friday News Tribune, was the brief wire-service story that caught my eye: “Family Calls Attention to Missing Woman.”

According to the reporter who wrote the story for the Knight Ridder news service, the people who know and love LaToyia “can’t understand why it took so long to get her disappearance into public view,” but I don’t believe that claim for a minute. I think LaToyia’s family and friends know exactly why no hordes of reporters have descended on her Philadelphia neighborhood in the now-familiar feeding frenzy that is regularly triggered by the disappearance—and possible rape, torture, mutilation, murder, or other unspeakable torment—of a pretty, young woman, whose smiling face will be imprinted in our hearts and dreams forever.

The police say that it is “rare that a minority missing persons case has attracted so much attention.” They are undoubtedly correct—LaToyia Figueroa is not a “missing person,” she is a “minority missing person,” and that’s exactly why no one much cares where she is. That’s why on-line references to Natalee Holloway mount up at the rate of thousands a day; meanwhile, 11 days and counting after her disappearance, I found only 539 references to LaToyia when I Googled her name, many of the posts arguing about whether she is Latina or African-American. My point exactly.

Leave it to Tucker Carlson to defend us all against racism—“there’s another dynamic involved here,” he claimed on the 27 July edition of his MSNBC show, The Situation. That other “dynamic”? Well, when “someone” (“not just a black person or a Hispanic person,” he was quick to say) lives in a “tough neighborhood,” such things are to be expected. A case like LaToyia’s isn’t news because “it’s like planes that land safely aren’t news.” A young white woman disappears, and it’s news, it’s the equivalent of the crash of a Boeing jumbo jet with hundreds of passengers on board. A young woman of color disappears, and it’s the same old same old, another uneventful arrival of a cheap Southwest hop from L.A.

Carlson and his crew even managed to find humor in the whole thing, suggesting that the case hadn’t gotten much national attention because, after all, if you were a reporter, where would you rather “vacation,” Aruba or west Philly? At that point, the show’s transcript indicates “LAUGHTER.”

Despite Tucker Carlson’s denial, this is racism. But it’s not only racism. It’s not just the absence of Latoyia Figueroa’s story, it’s the presence of all those other stories and what they reveal about our obsession with sexualized brutality, cruelty, and violence, and about our voyeuristic fascination with the torture, torment, and mutilation of the bodies of young women. We fetishize their stories. We revel in the lurid details.

The struggle for power, domination, and control has always played itself out on women’s bodies. We can look as far back as Homer’s account of the Trojan War—the clash of civilizations inscribed on the body of one woman, Helen of Troy. And we have only to look around us today—whether it’s the systematic rape of women in Darfur, the burqaed women of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, or a U.S. pharmacist refusing to fill a woman’s prescription for birth control pills, we see political, racial, social, economic, and religious ideologies using women’s bodies for their battlegrounds.

And, as comforting as it might be to think so, our pleasure in these battles is not just confined to rap music and Grand Theft Auto. It’s where you might least expect it: in our churches and in our schools and in our great books. I could never understand why saints’ tales were so popular in the Middle Ages until I read a few, and there it was. Every kind of sexual perversion, twisted torment, and painful death enacted on the bodies (but not the souls, it goes without saying) of one beautiful young woman after another. We were all introduced to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales at some point in high school, but my college students are horrified at the stories he collects in his Legend of Good Women. Dido, betrayed and abandoned. Lucrece, raped. Philomela raped and mutilated, her tongue cut out to prevent her from naming her attacker. All of Chaucer’s “good” women suffer, and they all die, either at the hands of the men who have assaulted them or by their own hands, to save the honor of their fathers and husbands. As one surprised student blurted out recently in class, “Is Chaucer saying that the only good woman is a dead woman?”

And all of those beautiful Renaissance love sonnets? I’ll be teaching them again this fall. There are thousands of them, addressed to Stella, Delia, Diana, Phyllis, Chloris, Cynthia, and countless other idealized young women, all of whom are beautiful and most of whom are blonde. Although these poems are all addressed to women, they’re not really about women, but about the lovers themselves, who anatomize their beloveds, describing in lingering detail their eyes, noses, lips, thighs, breasts, even their nipples. The women in these poems are not unique, thinking, feeling, desiring persons—they are body parts, examined and displayed for the reader’s enjoyment.

And so the women in our music videos, on our television screens, and at our favorite multiplex. Female bodies displayed, exploited, abused, assaulted, and served up for our entertainment.

And so the stories of Nicole, JonBenet, Amber, Chandra, Elisabeth, Laci, and Natalee. Their terrible stories are commodified for our pleasure, neatly packaged up like one of Chaucer’s legends of “good” women. We enjoy all the lurid details. We are transfixed by the agony of their mothers and fathers. We greedily consume the graphic accounts of their sufferings and deaths, and we are moved by how much we care. The candlelight vigils, the flower-and-teddy-bear memorials, the prayers we say as the cameras record how much we care. And then the apotheosis, as each martyred young woman joins our pantheon of angels and saints. We promise that we will never forget them, and we don’t, not really, until the next young, pretty, blonde, white woman disappears.

Our stories reveal our values. They tell us what—and who—is important. The story of Natalee Holloway tells us a lot about what we value in women. We like our women lost, weak, threatened, endangered, fearful, exploited, controlled, silent, and, to be honest, dead. We prefer these dead women to be young and pretty and blonde.

We don’t want to pay attention to women who are too fat or too old or too unattractive. We don’t much care about poor women, who cost us money and have too many children, and we don’t want to have to think too much about homeless women. We’d rather not train women as soldiers, arm them with M-16s, and send them into combat, unless we can rescue them, like we did Jessica Lynch—who is young, pretty, and blonde, and whose shattered body, while not dead, still made a good story. We don’t much appreciate women if they are too powerful or successful or demanding or loud. We don’t much like them gay, unless they’re funny like Ellen or hot like the women on The L Word. We don’t think much about women who are working hard, making ends meet, struggling through life. And we don’t pay much attention at all to the more than 22,000 missing women in the United States who aren’t Natalee Holloway.

Nearly 9,000 of the women missing in the United States at this very moment are women of color.

One of them is Latoyia Figueroa.


Update, 2006: LaToyia Figueroa was reported missing on 18 July 2005. A month later, on 20 August, Stephen Poaches, the father of LaToyia Figueroa's unborn child, was arrested; on 17 October 2006, he was convicted of two counts of murder and is currently incarcerated in the State Correction Institution—Houtzdale (PA). The lack of news coverage in LaToyia Figueroa's case sparked a controversy, dubbed the "missing white women syndrome," commonly attributed to PBS news commentator Gwen Ifill.

In March 2014, a Google search for "LaToyia Figueroa" produces 8,360 results. A search for "Natalee Holloway" produces more than 4 million hits.

For the most recent statistics on missing persons in the United States, with information about the age, sex, and race of those reported missing, see the 2020 NCIC [National Crime Information Center] Missing Person database (click here). 


 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Catherine of Lancaster, Queen and Regent of Castile and León

Catherine of Lancaster, queen and regent of Castile and León (married 17 September 1388)


Catherine of Lancaster, born on 31 March 1373, was the daughter of one of the great English princes, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. (The son of Edward III, Gaunt was also the father of Henry Bolingbroke, who became King Henry IV of England.) 

Catherine of Lancaster
queen of Castile

Gaunt married three times--Catherine was the only surviving child by his second wife, Constance of Castile, whom he married in 1371. (The couple's second child, a son, was born in 1374 and died in 1375.) 

Constance was a claimant to the throne of Castile, the daughter of Pedro, king of Castile and León from 1350 to 1369, and Maria of Padilla (Pedro's mistress). After Constance's marriage to Gaunt, he claimed the title of king of Castile and León in right of his wife. Catherine was reared as the future heir to her mother's kingdom--in a document from 1381, she was referred to as "Catherine of Spain."

Despite his aspirations and claims, however, Gaunt was never successful in achieving the throne of Castile and León. After his marriage, he set up a kind of government-in-exile (he was in England at this point), and he planned several military expeditions to make good his claims. He was finally able to launch an invasion in 1387 with the assistance of João I of Portugal. (In order to consolidate their alliance, the Portuguese king married Philippa of Lancaster, John of Gaunt's daughter by his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster.)

But after the failure of his military venture, Gaunt negotiated a treaty with Juan I, king of Castile, sealing their agreement with the another marriage: Enrique, heir to his father's throne, was to marry Catherine of Lancaster, daughter of Constance of Castile and Gaunt. As part of the terms of the agreement, Catherine's mother renounced any claim to the throne of Castile and León, receiving a sizable financial compensation, while Catherine was to receive, as her dower, a number of cities, including Guadalajara, Olmeda, and Medino del Campo. 

The fifteen-year-old Catherine agreed to the terms of the contract in August of 1388 and married the nine-year-old Enrique a month later, on 17 September, at the cathedral of San Antolin in Palencia. The couple were given the titles of prince and princess of Asturias.

Little is known of Catherine's life immediately after her marriage, which was not yet consummated because of Enrique's age. The couple experienced a sudden change in their lives when King Juan I died just two years later, in 1390--Enrique, still a minor, suddenly became king. The regency period was a difficult one, with various factions and families struggling for power and control. As Isabel Pastor Bodmer notes in her biographical essay of Catherine of Lancaster, the young and powerless queen of Castile and León was only a spectator to all the conflict--but, in Bodmer's view, the dissension "undoubtedly" influenced Catherine's actions much later, after the death of Enrique, when she would act on behalf of her son, Juan II, who would, like his father, become king when he was still a boy. But that was some years in the future. 

The troubled regency did not last as long as might have been expected. In 1393, when he was just fourteen years old, Enrique wad declared of legal age, and he began his personal rule. At the same time, his marriage with Catherine was consummated. During the years that followed, Catherine dutifully performed her role as queen, traveling with her husband through his kingdom and on official business, working to strengthen ties and loyalties with members of her husband's family and her own, and supporting numerous religious establishments and institutions. One queenly duty she did not accomplish, however, was producing a son and heir.

Contemporary chroniclers attributed this failure to Catherine--her lack of temperance (and love of food) was obviously the cause of "her" failure to conceive. Her husband's physical weakness--the result of his persistent illness, most likely tuberculosis, which began when he was about seventeen--was never to blame.

Queen Catherine, King Enrique,
and their two eldest children,
Maria and Catherine,
from the sixteenth-century
Liber genealogiae regum Hispanie
At last, in 1401, Catherine gave birth to a child, a daughter, named María. She was followed by a second daughter, Catalina (c. 1403), and, at long last, a son, Juan, on 6 March 1405. On Christmas Day the following year, 25 December 1406, Enrique III died, just twenty-seven years old.

Before his death, King Enrique had acted to ensure the succession of his son, arranging a co-regency for Juan, not quite two years old. Enrique's brother, Ferdinand of Aragon (who had been Enrique's heir before the birth of María), was to share the regency with Queen Catherine. Although Ferdinand was expected to be the more powerful, Catherine negotiated for her son to remain in her control, eventually succeeding in her fight for custody.

Despite the efforts of Enrique to avoid problems, the first period of Catherine's regency was filled with conflict and struggle. Catherine was accused of paying too much heed to the advice of her female favorites, who were quickly removed from her court by a regency council. Meanwhile Ferdinand, anxious to establish himself, went to war against the Muslims in Grenada. (Both Catherine and Ferdinand were anxious to suppress the Moors and the Jews living in Christian Spain.)

Catherine of Lancaster,
as queen, detail from 
Liber genealogiae regum Hispanie
Tensions between the two regents and their supporters eventually resulted in the regency council splitting the kingdom, with Catherine controlling the northern parts of Castile and León and Ferdinand the south. When Ferdinand succeeded to the throne of Aragon in 1412, many hoped he would resign his role as regent for his nephew, but that did not happen. 

But with Ferdinand's death in 1416 (he was just thirty-five years old), Catherine began a second regency, this one strengthened by her own supporters. 

She did not live to see her son reach his majority, however--she died of a stroke at the age of forty-five in Vallodolid on 2 June 1418. She is buried in the Capilla de los reyes nuovos, la catedral de Toledo (Chapel of the New Kings, Cathedral of Toledo).

Catherine of Lancaster's tomb,
Cathedral of Toledo

There is no biography of Catherine of Lancaster in English, but if you read Spanish, there is Ana Echevarria's Catalina of Lancaster: Reina Regente De Castilla 1372-1418 (unfortunately, it is very expensive). In her biographical essay, Bodmer provides an ample biography, including one work on Ferdinand's regency, but most of the details about Catherine's life are gleaned from general histories. 

In addition to Bodmer's essay, Anthony Goodman's "Katherine of Lancaster" is in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, if you have access. Ana Echevarria's "Catalina of Lancaster, the Castilian Monarchy and Coexistence" is in Roger Collins and Anthony Goodman's Medieval Spain: Culture, Conflict and Coexistence.  









 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Radegund of Thuringia, Frankish Queen and Patron Saint

Radegund of Thuringia (died 13 August 587)


Probably born between the years 518 and 520, Radegund was the daughter of Berthacar, one of three brothers who, together, ruled the Germanic kingdom of Thuringia. The name of her mother is unknown.

Radegund has left us some details of her life in two epistolary poems that survive, one addressed to her cousin, Amalfred (the poem is now sometimes referred to as De excidio Thoringiae, "The Fall of Thuringia") and one to her nephew, Artachis, written after the death of his father, Amalfred.

Radegunde of Thuringia,
from an eleventh-century 
manuscript
 copy of 
The Life of St. Radegund
In addition to what Radegund reveals in these carefully crafted, highly rhetorical Latin letters, three of her contemporaries wrote about the woman who would become queen of the Franks and, after her death, be recognized as a saint. 

Gregory of Tours, bishop of Tours, who knew Radegund well, mentions her in his History of the Franks, paying particular attention to her foundation of the convent of the Holy Cross. He also includes references to Radegund in his Glory of the Confessors and Glory of the Martyrs, where he focuses on details of her piety.

The poet Venantius Fortunatus, bishop of Poitiers, also knew Radegund. He wrote a number of poems to her as well as her biography, the Vita Radegundis. In addition, he corresponded with her, and several of his letters to Radegund survive (though none of hers to him). Interestingly, although Fortunatus mentions Radegund's grandfather, father, and uncle by name in his life of Radegund, he is silent about her mother.

The third account of Radegund's life is by the nun Baudonivia, a member of the community of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, a convent founded by Radegund. Her De vita sancti Radegundis, addressed to the "holy ladies" of the convent and to their abbess, Dedimia, has been written at their request: "This task you have assigned me of writing the life of the Lady St. Radegund is like attempting to touch heaven with a fingertip," she begins. About Radegund's family, Baudonivia refers to the beginning of Fortunatus's Life for "an account of her royal origin and rank." Radegund is a "noble sprig" who springs from a "royal race"--but Baudonivia has nothing to say about Radegund's maternal family either.

We may know nothing of Radegund's early life, but we know it was filled with violence. In 529, her father, Berthacar. was killed by one of his brothers, Hermanfrid (Amalfred's father), and the girl and her unnamed brother were taken by their uncle to live with him and his wife, Amalaberga (who is said to have encouraged Hermanfrid to eliminate his other brother too . . . ).

But in 531, Thuringia was attacked by the Franks, and while Hermanfrid escaped (he did not live long after his defeat), Radegund was taken as a prize of war by the victorious Chlothar.* Possession of the girl was the subject of a dispute between Chlothar and his half-brother, Theuderic. In the words of Venantius Fortunatus, the "royal girl became part of the plunder of these conquerors and they began to quarrel over their captive." After the dispute threatened to become deadly, the brothers decided the girl's fate by some kind of wager or bet, and Radegund fell "to the lot of the illustrious King Clothar." 

In her own description of the fall of Thuringia, Radegund is only too aware of the fate of its women--the body of a "milk-white woman," lying unburied on the ground, a "matron . . . rapt away," her hands "bound fast," a wife whose "naked feet" walked through a pool of her husband's blood, a "tender sister," who is forced to step over the body of her brother, a mother whose child is "torn" from her arms. Radegund refers to herself as "The captive maid given to a hostile lord, her power fell / From the heights of glory to the lowest depths." She remains as the "sole survivor," the one who must shed tears for all those who have died.

But, as Fortunatus reminds his readers, Thuringia was a "barbarian nation"--Radegund describes herself as a "barbarian woman." Chlothar and the Franks, on the other hand, were Christian--indeed, Chlothar's mother, Clotilde, helped to convert her husband to Christianity. And so Thuringia's fall was to lead to Radegund's salvation. Once she had been taken back to Chlothar's court near Soissons, he arranged for his captive to be sent to Athies, in Vermandois, where she was reared in what Fortunatus describes as "a royal villa." The plan was for her to be educated there until she reached an age suitable for marriage.

Her "upbringing" thus "entrusted" to suitable guardians, the captive girl was not only instructed in the Catholic faith but taught to read and write in Latin as well. She learned her lessons well, as her surviving letters demonstrate. In his Life of Radegund, Fortunatus describes Radegund's many pious acts she performed while at Athies. She also expressed her desire to become a martyr for the faith.

Perhaps that was why, when Chlothar decided to bring her back to court, she "escaped by night" from the villa, accompanied by "a few companions." Her attempted escape may also be explained by Chlothar's decision that "she should be made his queen at Soissons."

Her resistance to marrying Chlothar may have been due to her inclination to a religious life. But it may also have to do with the fact that Chlothar already had a few wives. Not that he had a few wives who had died or been otherwise eliminated--we're not talking about Henry VIII here. Rather, Chlothar was married to several women already--like his father, Chlothar practiced polygyny, and at the time he decided he would marry Radegunde, about the year 540 or a little earlier, he already had a number of wives, at least three and possibly four, but the chronology of his marriages and their dates aren't clear.  

According to one account of the king's marital situation, "At least two of Chlothar's wives, Ingund and Aregund, and possibly also Chunsinna and Radegund, were married to him at the same time," though Chlothar "may have abandoned" Ingund and Aregund before he married Radegund. Chlothar seems also to have married his brother's widow, Guntheuc, around the time of his marriage to Radegund (though Guntheuc may have died before Chlothar's marriage to Radegund). So, a little incest (Ingund and Aregund were sisters, and Guntheuc was his brother's widow) in addition to the more-than-one-wife-at-a-time thing.** (For a little of what Gregory of Tours has to say about Chlothar and his wives, click here. Gregory also notes that Chlothar tricks his mother, Clotilde, and joins in the murder of two of his nephews, Guntheuc's sons, who are in his mother's custody--a third escapes. Sheesh.)

All of this may help to explain why Radegund did not want to marry Chlothar and attempted to escape. She was compelled to do so, however, though the two had no children, and both Venantius Fortunatus and Baudonivia stress that Radegund continued to live her pious life even while she was married. Fortunatus insists that Radegund "avoided the trappings of royalty" and that, though married to a "terrestrial prince," she had not separated from the "celestial one."

And so matters remained. Although married to a king, Radegund devoted herself to the poor and the needy and lived an increasingly ascetic life. But about the year 550, Chlothar had Radegund's brother, the last surviving male in the royal Thuringian line, ambushed and murdered, and she fled the court at Soissons. 

And yet, as Fortunatus reminds his reader, "misfortune often leads to salvation." In his words, Radegund's "innocent brother was killed so that she might come to live in religion. . . . She left the king and went straight to holy Médard," who was the bishop of Noyon. Radegund "earnestly begged that she might change her garments and be consecrated to God." The bishop was "mindful of the words of the Apostle: 'Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed,'" and so "he hesitated to garb the Queen in the robe of a monacha." The bishop may have been worried about scripture, but he was also afraid of the very real wrath of Chlothar. 

Radegund seeks to enter a monastery,
from an eleventh-century 
Vie de sainte Radegonde,
Bibliothèque municipale de Poitiers

But Médard was won over by Radegund, who warned him that divine vengeance would surely be worse than her husband's. And the bishop soon found his way out of his scriptural dilemma too; rather than consecrating Radegund as a nun, he made her a deacon, a state that required neither virginity nor widowhood. And it probably did not hurt that Radegund "divested herself" of all of her "queenly" garb and paraphernalia, laying her golden bracelets, ornaments, pins, and circlets, her gems, and her costly garments at the altar and in the cells of those holy men whom she wished to persuade. As if to affirm that her new status as a deacon conformed to God's wishes, Radegund then experienced a series of visions, which are described by Baudonivia.

Although Chlothar made several attempts to reclaim his runaway queen over the next decade, he was never successful, eventually resigning himself to her loss, perhaps because of a sense of his own impending death. In the mean time, by about 552, she had begun to establish the abbey of Sainte-Marie in Poitiers, the first monastery for women in the Frankish empire. Construction was complete by 560, aided in part by donations from Chlothar.

Radegund was particularly noted by Gregory of Tours for her efforts to obtain a portion of the True Cross for her convent from the Byzantine emperor, Justinius. She was successful, and in 569, her convent was renamed when the relic arrived, now known as the abbey of Sainte-Croix.

Radegund remained at the convent for more than thirty years, until her death on 13 August 587.

In addition to the work of Venantius Fortunatus and Gregory of Tours, to which I've linked, above, I recommend the excellent essay on Radegund by Onnie Duvall at the ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies (click here). Now archived at the Wayback Machine is the Other Women's Voices entry for Radegund (click here). 

Letters written by and to Radegund are found online at Epistolae: Medieval Women's Latin Letters (click here).

First published in 1994, Marcelle Thiebaux's The Writings of Medieval Women: An Anthology is still in print--it contains an excellent selection from Radegund's letters and from Baudonivia's Life, written for the nuns at Sainte-Croix. And a very good chapter, "Radegund, Queen of the Franks and Abbess of Poitiers" is in Jo Ann McNamara's Sainted Women of the Dark Ages.

*The name of the Merovingian Chlothar, king of the Franks, is spelled a number of different ways--Chlothar, Chlotar, Clotaire, even Lothar.

**So much for those who are always pining for "traditional marriage"--but who have no idea of the "traditions" that have been part of marriage . . . 



Saturday, July 24, 2021

Matilda of Tuscany, "La gran contessa"

Matilda of Canossa, margravine of Tuscany (died 24 July 1115)


Far too often when I begin a post, I must note that there is very little evidence about the life of the woman I am writing about. Fortunately, that is not the case for Matilda of Canossa (or Matilda of Tuscany, as she is also known). As only one indication of the wealth of material available for her life and work, just check out Wikipedia.

Although I do not rely on Wikipedia as a source for my posts, it's not because I do not appreciate the efforts of those who contribute to "the free encyclopedia"--it's because anyone can easily access that information for herself. But I always do check to see whether there is an entry for the woman about whom I'm writing--and so today, if you click on the Wikipedia entry for Matilda, you will find a lengthy, detailed history, with an extensive bibliography, including many works on Matilda in German, Italian, and English.

Matilda of Tuscany,
from Donizo of Canossa's
Vita Mathildis
Even so, the date of this remarkably accomplished woman's birth is unknown, though it is generally placed about the year 1046. Matilda's father was Boniface III, margrave of Tuscany (and count of Brescia, Canossa, Ferrara, Florence, Lucca, Mantua, Modena, Pisa, Pistoia, Parma, Reggio, and Verona--whew!!). 

Matilda's mother was Boniface's second wife, Beatrice of Lorraine. Beatrice's maternal aunt, Gisela, was the wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II, and Beatrice had been reared at the empress's court--Boniface first encountered Beatrice there in 1036, and the two were married in 1037. (It was the Emperor Conrad who had awarded Boniface with the lordship of Tuscany, in return for Boniface's support for Conrad's becoming Holy Roman emperor.)

The couple, Boniface and Beatrice, had three children: a son, Frederick, and two daughters, Beatrice and Matilda. Matilda is widely regarded as the youngest of the three, though birth order of the children isn't clear. 

Boniface had his son and heir, which might suggest that his daughters would be expected only to be prepared to fulfill a role in marital politics--but Matilda was well educated, probably under her mother's direction. Matilda's twelfth-century biographer, Donizo of Canossa, claims that the "learned Beatrice" carefully tutored "lofty Matilda, modest in mind." According to the monk, Matilda was literate in Latin, composing her own letters in that language, and fluent in both German and French. 

In his seventeenth-century account of Matilda's life, the Italian chronicler Lodovico Vedriani writes that Matilda received military training as well: she "learnt how to ride like a lancer, spear in hand, to bear a pike as a foot-soldier, and how to wield both battle-axe and sword." The historian-priest also depicts her, armed, riding at the head of her army:
Now there appeared in Lombardy at the head of her numerous squadrons the young maid Matilda, armed like a warrior, and with such bravery, that she made known to the world that courage and valour in mankind is not indeed a matter of sex, but of heart and spirit.

(However appealing these accounts are, modern historians tend to discount Vedriani's claims for Matilda's military training and activity.) 

On 7 May 1052, Matilda's father was ambushed while out hunting and killed. After Boniface's assassination, the widowed Beatrice seems to have acted as regent on behalf of her son, Frederick, but the situation is both murky and fraught--the second of couple's daughters, possibly named Beatrice, after her mother, died on 17 December 1053, and under increasing pressure to preserve her husband's lands and titles (as well as her own), Beatrice married her cousin, Godfrey III of Upper Lorraine. 

The marriage, however, had taken place without the permission of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III (who was Conrad II's son), against whom Godfrey had already rebelled. (Beatrice's first husband, Boniface, had always been a supporter of the emperor). Traveling to Florence in 1055 for a meeting with the pope, the emperor had Beatrice and her surviving daughter, Matilda, arrested--the two were taken back with him to Germany. The young Frederick, meanwhile, died within days of his mother's arrest.

But the emperor himself died suddenly in October of 1056, succeeded by his son, Henry, a minor. The boy's mother, Agnes of Poitou, was appointed to act as the boy's guardian and regent--and she rather quickly reconciled with Godfrey of Lorraine. Beatrice and Matilda were released and reunited with Godfrey, who was recognized as margrave of Tuscany. 

Following her return to Italy in 1057, Matilda largely disappears from the record for the moment, though she accompanied her mother and stepfather to Rome in 1059. But in 1069, as Godfrey III of Lorraine lay dying, Matilda was married to his son, another Godfrey (he would succeed his father as Godfrey IV). 

The two were not well matched and found themselves on opposites sides of the contemporary power struggle pitting the pope against imperial power--Godfrey supported the young emperor, Henry IV, while Matilda supported the pope. Godfrey and Matilda were together long enough to produce a daughter, Beatrice, who was born and died in January 1071. After the child's death, Matilda left Godfrey, and by January of the next year, she was in Mantua, with her mother.

Godfrey demanded Matilda's return, traveling to Italy and attempting to claim control of Tuscany in Matilda's right. He appealed to Pope Gregory VII for assistance in recovering his wife and promised aid if the pope would make Matilda return to him. But nothing could persuade Matilda, and by 1073, Godfrey headed back, wifeless, to Lorraine. He also failed in his promise to assist the pope. Even so, Gregory would not grant the dissolution that Matilda requested. Godfrey would be assassinated on 27 February 1076, thus solving the matter.

A sixteenth-century 
depiction of Matilda--
which I'm including only
because I love the headgear!*
In the mean time, with Godfrey distracted by conflicts and challenges in his own lands, Matilda had begun to assume power in Tuscany, under her mother's tutelage. After Godfrey's death, the two women governed together, but only briefly--after Beatrice died on 18 April 1076, Matilda of Tuscany became "the major imperial feudatory in Italy": despite the fact that, under Salic law, a woman could not inherit a title or land, "Matilda held the counties of Reggio, Modena, Mantua, Brescia, Verona, and Ferrara, as well as Tuscany." Whatever her own strength of character and abilities, it didn't hurt her cause that, without a male heir, her father's lands and titles would otherwise have gone to the emperor. Her support for the papacy and papal power made sure that did not happen. And, for good measure, Matilda made claims in her dead husband's Lorraine as well.

As the rupture between the papacy and the empire grew, Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV--Matilda not only supported the pope but protected him, offering him safety in her stronghold, the castle of Canossa. It was there that the emperor, standing barefoot in the snow, made his penance. Two women--Matilda and Henry IV's mother-in-law, Adelaide of Turin, negotiated the terms of the reconciliation. (It was something of a family affair--Henry and Adelaide were both Matilda's second cousins.)

That wasn't the end of the conflict between pope and emperor, however--while Matilda continued to support the papacy, she also contributed to the dispute when, in 1079, she gave her lands to the pope, despite the fact that she held many of them as fiefs from the Holy Roman Empire. (She reserved the right to govern them through her lifetime.) 

In the years that followed, from 1080 until her death thirty-five years later--through the life of Gregory IV and his successors, Victor III, Urban II, and Pascal II, through the tumultuous years of Investiture Controversy, and even through a politically expedient second marriage to the young heir to the duchy of Bavaria, some twenty-five years her junior--Matilda remained firm in her support of the papal cause.

As Joan Ferrante notes, "Matilda was the major imperial feudatory in Italy, a force in imperial-papal politics, [and] a supporter of the reform papacy. . . . She offers a striking example of a woman who inherited land and power, who ruled over large territories, put down rebellions, and took part in major events."

In addition to her decades of political and military involvements, Matilda of Tuscany promoted manuscript production, encouraged and supported the development of the law and the judicial system, and patronized the building of scores of churches, monasteries, and hospitals. As Michèle K. Spike notes, Matilda's "cultural legacy is enormous" and includes some 136 "extant stone constructions," many of them "listed by UNESCO" as part of the "heritage of the world."

Before her death on 24 July 1115, Matilda of Tuscany may or may not have reconciled with Henry V, who had succeeded his father as Holy Roman Emperor in 1111, and may or may not have recognized him as her heir. Whatever she did or did not do, after Matilda's death, he took possession of all the land and titles Matilda held as margravine of Tuscany.

Matilda of Tuscany died while staying in a small castle in Reggiolo, and she was buried in the Benedictine Abbey of San Benedetto in Polirone (near Mantua), which had been founded by her grandfather. Matilda had developed and expanded the abbey and established its library, commissioning a magnificent gospel book which was her gift to the monastery. In the seventeenth century, her remains were moved to the Basilica of St. Peter (Rome) and placed within a tomb designed by Bernini.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini's tomb for Matilda,
St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

The events of Matilda's life are so well documented and her accomplishments so many that I cannot do them justice here. A readable account of her life, as documented by Donizo of Canossa, is in Joan Ferrante's To the Glory of Her Sex, to which I have linked, above.

Paolo Gollinelli's detailed biographical essay from Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani is available online at the Treccani website (click here). And a large selection of letters to and from Matilda is available at Epistolae: Medieval Women's Latin Letters (click here).

Michele Spike's Tuscan Countess: The Life and Extraordinary Times of Matilda of Canossa was published in 2004 and is readily available. The scholarship is excellent, but it's a bit too romanticized for my taste--you can access Mary Huddy's 1906 Matilda, Countess of Tuscany and Nora Duff's 1909 Matilda of Tuscany, La gran donna d'Italia via the Internet Archive.

I especially recommend Penelope Nash's Empress Adelheid and Countess Matilda: Medieval Female Rulership and the Foundations of European Society--it's very expensive, so maybe Interlibrary Loan?

*I searched through many pages of Google images, trying to find out more about this portrait--it may have been painted by Parmigianino, and it may be in the Museo Diocesano di Mantova. Here's a link. A similar sixteenth-century portrait by an unknown painter is in Musei Reali (Turin).









Monday, June 28, 2021

Carlotta of Lusignan, Queen of Cyprus

 Carlotta of Lusignan, queen of Cyprus (born 28 June 1444)


Born on 28 June 1444, Carlotta of Lusignan was the eldest daughter of Giovanni II, king of Cyprus. Although he was also the titular prince of Antioch and the titular king of Jerusalem (from 1432 to 1458), Giovanni ruled only on the island of Cyprus. (The designation "of Lusignan" here refers not to Carlotta's place of birth but to her paternal family connections.)

Carlotta of Lusignan, queen of Cyprus
detail from Cosimo Roselli,
fresco, Sistine Chapel, c. 1481-2 
Carlotta's mother was Giovanni's second wife, Helena Palaiologina, a Byzantine princess. Giovanni and his first wife had no children.) Carlotta was raised in the Byzantine tradition, among her mother's Greek-speaking women, so she was fluent in that language, which she spoke throughout her life. She understood, spoke, and wrote French and Italian, though she was not fluent, but her knowledge of Latin was less certain. 

In 1450, perhaps concerned that he had only a daughter as heir, Giovanni sought a papal dispensation for Carlotta's marriage to Louis of Savoy, his sister's son. 

These plans did not materialize, however, perhaps because of Queen Helena's disapproval of the marriage of first cousins. Adding to the political turmoil in Cyprus was ongoing religious conflict--the queen's Orthodox Christianity frequently placed her in opposition to the Roman church, and there is some suggestion that she was suspicious of papal intervention in such marital connections. (There was cultural conflict between Giovanni and Helena as well, with the queen welcoming Greeks to Cyprus after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.)

Whether it was due to the queen's opposition or not, in 1456, the twelve-year-old Carlotta was married not to her cousin but to João of Coimbra, the son of the Portuguese duke of Coimbra. Some sources suggest that the choice of the twenty-five-year-old João was Queen Helena's. Following the marriage, João and Carlotta were named prince and princess of Antioch.

The couple took up residence with Carlotta's godfather, Peter of Lusignan, count of Tripoli. Their relocation seems to have been the result of growing tension with members of her father's court. Unfortunately, the young João quickly fell ill and died. And, of course, Queen Helena was suspected of having poisoned her daughter's new husband . . . 

Whatever the reason for her husband's death, Carlotta's first marriage was brief--João had arrived in Cyprus in May of 1457, and he was dead by 22 June. The widowed Carlotta returned to her father's home. 

Meanwhile, although Giovanni's only legitimate child was his daughter, he did have another child, an illegitimate son, Giacomo, born in 1438 or 1439 to the king and his mistress, Marietta de Patras (shortly after Helena Palaiologina married Giovanni, she reportedly had Marietta's nose cut off . . . ) Giovanni had provided well for his son, naming the sixteen-year-old as archbishop of Nicosia in 1456, but after murdering a royal chamberlain, the young archbishop was deprived of his office. (Don't worry--Giovanni quickly pardoned his son and returned the archbishopric to him.)

After the death of Carlotta's husband, her half-brother seems to have been involved in a scheme to arrange the marriage of the widowed princess to a candidate of his own choosing, a nephew of the pope, perhaps even going so far as to enter into a plot to kidnap Carlotta. But, instead of arranging his daughter's marriage to his son's preferred candidate, Giovanni turned his attention once more to his nephew, Louis of Savoy.  

A dispensation for the marriage was needed--again, sources suggest that the alliance was opposed by the queen. But events overtook the king and queen of Cyprus--because of Giacomo's rebellion, they were forced to retreat to the fortress of Nicosia, where they both died, Queen Helena on 11 April 1458, and King Giovanni on 28 July 1458. According to at least one chronicle, Giacomo was responsible for Helena's death--he was said to have poisoned her.

Immediately after her father's death, Carlotta was recognized as his successor--and among those who promptly offered his allegiance was her half-brother, Giacomo. Now fourteen years old, Carlotta was crowned queen of Cyprus on 15 October 1458. The coronation did not proceed altogether smoothly, however--during the ceremony, the crown fell off her head. Later, this unfortunate accident was regarded as a sign of what was to come.

Carlotta's marriage contract with Louis was signed a few days later, and on 7 October 1459, a year after she became queen of Cyprus, Carlotta married Louis of Savoy, who became ure oxis, a co-ruler by right of marriage, not a king consort. 

Although Giacomo had sworn allegiance to his half-sister when she became queen, he was soon claiming the throne for himself "in a such way," writes historian Marina Tymviou, "that it amounted to a military coup." In less than a year after Carlotta's marriage, by 26 September 1460, he had captured Nicosia and then had himself crowned king of Cyprus.

Queen Carlotta, young and inexperienced, did not cede her kingdom immediately, but retreated to the castle of Kyrenia, on the northern coast of Cyprus, which remained loyal to her. But after three years, Carlotta was forced to flee. 

She arrived in Rhodes, seeking support and determined to retake Cyprus. As Tymviou argues, Carlotta maintained her role as a "queen in exile and not a former queen." She sought assistance from her husband's father, the duke of Savoy, and from Rome, where she arrived on 15 October 1461 and met with Pius II, who "welcomed her as a fully sovereign queen."

Carlotta's efforts to regain her throne were notable: she traveled widely throughout the Italian peninsula to rally support for her cause. She eventually reached Savoy, taking up residence at her father-in-law's ducal court. (Though her reception seems to have lacked a bit--Pius II wrote that she was received there "coldly," speculating that the duke had been impoverished by efforts to aid Carlotta.)

Leaving Savoy, Carlotta returned to Rhodes, where she established a kind of court-in-exile and was supported by the Knights Hospitaller. The possibility for regaining her throne grew less likely when she was joined in 1463 by her husband, Louis, who was forced to leave Cyprus. Then, in 1464, Pius II died, replaced by a pope who recognized Giacomo as king of Cyprus. And in 1465, the duke of Savoy died--the new duke, Louis' brother, was not eager to spend more resources in Cyprus.  

Carlotta of Lusignan, queen of Cyprus
detail from Giovanni de Fondulis, 
terracotta sculpture, after 1483 
In the mean time, Giacomo had sought to establish himself as the legitimate king of Cyprus. He too had drummed up support on the Italian peninsula. Although Carlotta had sought and received assistance from Venice, it was Giacomo who received a bride from Venice--he was betrothed to Caterina Cornaro in 1468. The two were married four years later, in 1472. 

But, just as Carlotta's fortunes had turned dramatically, so did Giacomo's--within a year of his marriage, he died, leaving his young wife pregnant. Carlotta saw this as an opportunity to reclaim her throne. 

While Carlotta's supporters on Cyprus assassinated several members of Caterina's household, the young widow managed to escape, support from Venice arrived to reestablish order, and she gave birth to a son, Giacomo III, named after his father. With the birth of a boy, who could become king, the question of who was the "legitimate" ruler in Cyprus seemed to be over.

Once again fate intervened. In less than a year, the boy was dead, and Carlotta was once again eager to regain her throne. But it was not to be. 

Carlotta of Lusignan, queen of Cyprus, was never restored to her throne. Instead, in 1475, she settled in Rome, where she was received by Pope Sixtus IV, installed in an apartment in Castel Sant'Angelo, and provided with a stipend. 

Carlotta was offered a substantial income by Venice if she would renounce her claim to Cyprus, but she refused. She continued to campaign for her return--she seems to have been aided by Naples and Egypt in 1478 and again in 1481, and there is some indication that another effort was considered as late as 1484.

But Carlotta of Lusignan, queen of Cyprus, did not achieve her ambition. She died in Rome on 16 July 1487. She was just forty-four years old. 

Two online sources are particularly good for understanding Carlotta of Lusignan's life and efforts to regain Cyprus. Angela Dillon Bussi's biographical essay, from Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, is available at Trecanni (click here). And Marina Tymviou's doctoral dissertation, "Charlotte of Lusignan and Caterina Cornaro: The Politics of Queenship and Identity in Cyprus and Italy, 1458-1861," is available in its entirety (click here).

Also very useful is the chapter on Carlotta in volume 3 of George Hill's A History of Cyprus.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Levina Teerlinc, Painter at the Tudor Court

 Levina Teerlinc, Artist (died 23 June 1576)


Like her somewhat older contemporary, Susannah Hornebolt, Levina Teerlinc was a Flemish artist, specializing in miniature painting, who lived and work at the court of the Tudor kings and queens. And also like Hornebolt, unfortunately, little is known about Teerlinc's life or work.* 

This 1565 miniature of Queen Elizabeth
is one of those most frequently
attributed to Levina Teerlinc
(it's used to illustrate the entry in
Wikipedia, so I've reproduced it here)

Born Levina Bening, Teerlinc was the oldest of five daughters born to Catherine Stroo and Simon Bening (or Binnink). 

Simon Bening was an accomplished and successful miniaturist and illuminator who had been trained in the family workshop in Ghent by his father, Alexander Bening. Simon Bening's mother was Kathelijn van der Goes, a woman who seems to have been either a sister or niece of another noted Flemish painter, Hugo van der Goes. 

Simon Bening left Ghent about the year 1510, establishing himself in Bruges as a producer of elaborate and expensive books of hours for wealthy patrons. This year--1510--is at times given as the date for Levina's birth, although there is no evidence to support that date, and some sources suggest her date of birth was as late as 1520. 

Aside from the names of her parents, nothing at all is known about the young Levina's life. Given her own father's background, most historians assume that Levina was trained in her father's workshop so that she could continue the family business. 

Her mother, Catherine Stroo, died in 1542, and Teerlinc's father, Simon, would remarry, his second wife adding another daughter to his family. At some point Levina herself married, but there is no evidence as to when exactly the marriage took place. Indeed, the first documented reference to Levina is on 4 February 1545, when her appearance, along with that of her husband, George Teerlinc, is noted in official records of the mayor of Bruges as they close accounts related to the death of George Teerlinc's father. Given the range of dates suggested for her birth, Levina might have been as old as thirty-five or as young as twenty-five when the first real fact of her existence emerges.

At some point after this date in early 1545, Levina Teerlinc arrived in England. By November of the next year, 1546, she had entered into royal service at the Tudor court, where documents note that she was awarded an annuity by Henry VIII, to be paid "during the King's pleasure." (For his part, George Teerlinc seems to have been given something of an honorary position at court, becoming a Gentleman Pensioner.) Levina Teerlinc's tenure at the royal court was to outlast Henry's reign--her service continued for thirty years.

In 1547, after Henry VIII's death, "Maistris Levyn Teerling paintrix" was recognized by Edward VI, who continued her annuity of £40 a year, paid quarterly. Teerlinc remained as a court painter during the reigns of both Mary and Elizabeth (through all these years of service, the amount she was paid did not change). Based on surviving documentary evidence, Edward Towne concludes, "It would appear that her position at court only required her to produce one miniature annually."**

Records indicate that, in 1551, Teerlnc was asked to "drawe owt" a picture of Princess Elizabeth. As a New Year's gift in 1553, Teerlinc presented Queen Mary with "a small picture of the trynitie." In 1559, during the first year of Elizabeth's reign, she completed "the Quenis picture finely painted upon a card" ("card," in this context, refers to vellum). Records of New Year's gifts in subsequent years show Teerlinc's regular presents to the queen: in 1562, she presents a miniature described as depicting "the Queen's personne and other personages in a box fynely painted"; in 1563, a "card . . . with the Queene & many other personages"; in 1564, "a certayne Journey of the Quenis Ma[ges]tie and the Trayne, fynely wrought"; in 1565, "a howse paynted and theraboute certayne personages in a case of walnuttree"; in 1567, "the picture of the queene," this one, notably, a full-length painting--"her whole stature drawne upon a Card"; in 1568, "a paper paynted" with the queen and "the knyghtes of the order"; in 1575, "a carte paynted upon a card" depicting the queen and "other personages"; and, in 1576, another painting of "the Quenis picture upon a Card" (Town 172).

Meanwhile, in 1566, Teerlinc and her husband applied for denization, a grant of citizenship for themselves and their son--so Levina gave birth to at least one child. The couple also built a house on leased land in Stepney.

By this point, in the mid-1560s, Levina Teerlinc's reputation as an artist was so well established that in his 1567 description of the history and art of the Low Countries, Lodovico Guicciardini includes her among his account of only four "living female artists." The first of these, he says, is Levina, "who, like her father, is excellent in miniature." According to Guicciardini, her skill in miniature painting is why Henry VIII "invited her to his court," where she was "highly rewarded." He notes that royal favor continued under Queen Mary and that Teerlinc enjoys "equal esteem" under Queen Elizabeth. 

It is important to note that Guicciardini speaks about Teerlinc only in general terms, so that he is unlikely to have seen any of her work, and he can be mistaken--he claims that Teerlinc was "splendidly married" after she arrived at the Tudor court. In their groundbreaking Women Artists: 1550-1950, Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin note that Teerlinc's "fame was still part of the tradition when Guicciardini wrote" (26).

A document dated 11 August 1576, "given by the queen under her privy seal," notes that Levina Teerlinc died "the xxxiii of June last past." The queen made the quarterly payment of Levina's annuity to her husband "as our gift." She was buried at St. Dunstan and All Saints, in Stepney.

Unfortunately, as with her countrywoman and near contemporary, Susannah Hornebolt, and so many other women artists (like Marietta Robusti, about whom I wrote a month ago), no surviving work has been firmly attributed to Levina Teerlinc. A great deal of effort has gone into identifying surviving miniatures with those described in the New Year's gift lists, but there are no certainties. Of course, if you Google, you'll find lots of miniatures attributed to Levina Teerlinc, but none of these attributions is supported by evidence. One exasperated art historian bemoans "the current epidemic of unsustainable attributions to Levina Teerlinc"!

In addition to her work as a miniature painter, Teerlinc may have produced designs for coins, documents, seals, woodcut illustrations, and, perhaps, needlework, as part of her duties at court--all of these have been suggested by a variety of different art historians, searching for Levina Teerlinc. It has even been suggested that Teerlinc produced a written "discourse on painting, . . . A Very Proper Treatise." Some of these claims are more plausible than others--none is supported by much, if any, evidence.

It has also been suggested--and subsequently accepted by some--that Teerlinc was responsible for instructing and training the well-known Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard in the art of the miniature, but again, there is no evidence to support such a claim and much to disprove it. 

An even more tenuous (and romantic) connection has been made between Teerlinc and Giulio Clovio, an illuminator and miniaturist who was born in the Kingdom of Croatia but who worked principally in Rome. In the mid-1550s, Clovio's portrait was painted by the extraordinary Sofonisba Anguissola. In Anguissola's portrait of the artist, he is holding a miniature, one which, it is said, he so valued that he kept with him until his death. The art historian Federico Zeri, who owned the portrait of Clovio painted by Anguissola, came to believe earlier claims about this picture--that the miniature in the portrait of Clovio represented Levina Teerlinc, and that the Flemish painter had, early in her career, traveled to Rome to be trained by Clovio. However, as Mary Garrard writes, these "conclusions" seem to rest on misidentification and conflation. Zeri had accepted an earlier identification of Teerlinc as a female miniaturist who was said to have written to Clovio in Rome. And, noting that Clovio may have owned a miniature by Teerlinc, he concluded that the miniature Clovio was holding in Anguissola's painting was of Levina Teerlinc. From this came the notion that Levina Teerlinc had, at some point early in her career, traveled to Rome to train with Clovio. As for the evidence of all this--there is none. In the 1540s, Clovio is said to have addressed a letter to a nameless female miniature painter, a young German woman, though this letter survives only in late copies (and Teerlinc was Flemish, not German). Clovio may have had a female painter training in his workshop, but there is no evidence to support the claim that Levina Teerlinc left Bruges and trained with anyone anywhere at any time before she arrived in England. And an inventory of Clovio's property at the time of his death refers to a portrait by (again, not of) "Livinia meniatrice"--this may or may not refer to Levina Teerlinc.***




*In her blog post on Levina Teerlinc, art historian Louisa Woodville writes that Gerard Hornebolt, Susannah Hornebolt's father, is Levina Teerlinc's uncle, thus making the two women cousins. There is no documentation provided, and I have been unable to find this information in other sources. Gerard Hornebolt was married to a woman named Margaret Saunders (or Svanders), so the two, Levina Teerlinc and Susannah Hornebolt, were surely countrywomen, but I cannot confirm a family relationship. In Pens and Needles: Women's Textualities in Early Modern England, Susan Frye notes that Simon Bening and Gerard Hornebolt collaborated on the production of illuminated manuscripts, which may (?) account for the confusion.

**Town, "A Biographical Dictionary of London Painters, 1547-1625," The Volume of the Walpole Society 76 (2014): 172. 

***Mary D. Garrard, "Here's Looking at Me: Sofonisba Anguissola and the Problem of the Woman Artist," Renaissance Quarterly  47, no. 3 (1994): 575. And here is an example of how undocumented claims about Teerlinc become fact: by the time Susan Frye is writing about Levina Teerlinc, she says that Teerlinc "apprenticed" with Clovio in Rome and that she was "trained . . . within the Italian Mannerist movement"--no footnote in sight.