Friday, 25 May 2012

Marguerite de Valois – La reine Margot

Marguerite of Valois, infamously known as Reine Margot, was born May 14th 1553 at the Château of St. Germain-en-Laye to Henry II of France and his Queen, Catherine de’Medici. Again, a fairytale princess come to life – a beauty with her dark eyes, intelligent with a fabulous fashion sense. But she had a dark side as well – she became well known for her scandals and extra marital affairs and worse still her August 18th 1572 wedding was overshadowed by the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre when the Catholic supporters of her family instigated a wave of terror and violence against the Protestant Huguenots, which was a huge problem considering her husband was the Huguenot King of Navarre. Yeah ... not a great start to the marriage – my family kills your family on our wedding day ... love you! To Marguerite’s credit she did save her husband’s life and the lives of other Protestants by hiding them in her rooms at the Louvre.

Poor Marguerite – it seems as if her life was marked by tragedy after tragedy but her spirit proved to be impossible to break. As a young girl Marguerite was madly in love with Henri de Lorraine, Duc de Guise but her family refused this match – they had much bigger plans for her considering one of her sisters married the King of Spain and the other to the Duke of Lorraine. 

Marguerite and Henry IV

Marguerite was married to her cousin, Henri of Navarre. Neither Marguerite nor Henri were too thrilled with this arraignment and it’s probably not surprising that their marriage was not a happy one considering the events that took place on their wedding day. Both Marguerite and Henri openly took lovers and seemed pretty content with their separate lives. They did however present a united front against Marguerite’s family, whom she seems to have disliked immensely. 

Somehow Marguerite managed to alienate herself from both her husband and her brother Henri III in 1582. Henri III actually banished his sister from his court and had her imprisoned in the Château d’Usson where she remained a prisoner for 19 long years. Even this did not break her ... Marguerite decided to use this time to write her memoirs and no secret was kept and no one was safe. She dished about her own love affairs, the love affairs of her husband and brothers, everything was revealed. 

In 1575, Marguerite’s brother Henri III was assassinated and since he died with no heir the crown of France fell onto the head of her husband, now Henri IV, King of France and Navarre therefore making Marguerite Queen of France and Navarre. Her scandalous lifestyle and lack of children proved to be a problem – now that she was Queen she needed to produce an heir to the throne and she needed to live a life of decorum – one befitting of a Queen, not a harlot. This proved to be too much for Henri and it didn’t take long for him to start the annulment process and plans to marry a younger, beautiful possibly foreign princess and to drop the dead weight of his aging, barren wife.

The annulment didn’t really faze Marguerite and she gave in gracefully to her husband’s request. She continued to stylize herself as la Reine Margot and lived in a magnificent mansion on the banks of the Seine in Paris, and she was even welcomed at court of her former husband and his new bride Marie de’Medici. Marguerite lived out her life in comfort in her mansion and she died on March 27th 1615 at the age of 61.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York

File:Cecily neville.jpg

Mother of two Kings of England, Queen by Right, Cecily was born the 3rd of May 1415 at Raby Castle in England. She was the 10th child of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland and Joan Beaufort; Cecily was the great-granddaughter of Edward III. Cecily was known as the “Rose of Raby” and “Proud Cis” in her youth, the first for the castle at which she was born and the latter for her pride and temper that went along with it. Cecily was betrothed to Richard Plantagenet, the heir and protector of Henry VI, when she was just 9 years old. The two were married by October 1424. The marriage seems to have been a genuinely happy one as well as being particularly fruitful – they had a grand total of 12 children, however unfortunately only half survived into adulthood.

At the outbreak of the English Civil War, aka the War of the Roses or the Cousin’s War, Cecily decided to remain at her family’s home, Ludlow Castle. The years of civil war would be turbulent for both the House of York as well as the House of Lancaster. Although the Yorkists would prevail multiple times over the Lancastrians, even going as far as capturing the Lancastrian King Henry VI, tragedy would strike at the Battle of Wakefield when the Duke of York (Richard Plantagenet) and his son Edmund were killed. Now a widow, Cecily continued to fight for the House of York, her son Edward became the Yorkist leader and pushed on despite the tragic turn of events. It was in 1461 that the House of York would finally triumph over the Lancastrians as they were turned away from London and later forced out of England which allowed Edward to crown himself King of England.

Once her son was crowned King of England and the war seemed to be over, Cecily could live out the rest of her life in peace, or relative peace at least. She was not content with her son’s choice of a wife as Elizabeth Woodville was a simple commoner, and was not good enough for her son the King. There was also that brief period of time when Henry VI regained control of the crown from 1470-71 that she needed to wait out until her son reclaimed the throne (and possibly murdered Henry while doing so . . .) Then there was the unfortunate event that saw her son George, Duke of Clarence executed in 1478 for plotting against his brother’s throne. Other than that, Cecily had it pretty good as mother of the King until 1483 that is when Edward IV suddenly died and left his crown to his teenaged son Henry V. Well, we all know the story of the Princes in the Tower . . . where Edward and his brother Richard went missing in the Tower of London (they were probably killed but not known for sure) and their uncle Richard became King Richard III. Holy family drama going on here! Cecily’s sons had some serious brotherly rivalry – they all wanted to be King apparently and would stop at nothing - plotting, murder, to get the position for themselves. Despite all of Richard’s efforts to become King, he didn’t last for very long – only 2 years into his reign he was killed at Bosworth by the Lancastrian claimant Henry VII. Upon Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth of York, Cecily’s granddaughter, the Houses of Lancaster and York were forever united and once again Cecily was able to live in Peace. Cecily lived a long life, one that was plagued by civil war and family dysfunction. She died at the age of 80 on the 31st of May 1495 in Hertfordshire. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Queen Isabella I of Castile

Isabella of Castile was a shining example of queenship in the late medieval age. The blue-eyed, reddish-blonde haired, fair skinned Queen of Castile united the country of Spain with her husband, King Ferdinand II of Aragon as well as fearlessly led her soldiers into battle. Isabella was quite a woman – deeply religious and devout yet deviously ruthless; brave yet tender towards her children; a woman of many talents and who wielded extreme power.  

Isabella was born April 22nd 1451 to King John II of Castile and Isabella of Portugal in Madrigal de las Altas Torres Spain. Isabella had two brothers; an older half-brother Enrique (Henry) and a younger brother Alfonso. When her father died in 1454, when she was only 3 years old, her older brother Henry became king of Castile and León as Henry IV. Isabella was then raised by her mother in squalor until 1457 when Henry IV brought his half-siblings to live with him at court where the conditions vastly improved. Isabella was educated in many subjects: reading, spelling, writing, grammar, mathematics, art, dance, music, embroidery and religion.

When Henry’s first marriage ended in divorce without children and his second marriage produced only daughter Juana the opposition attempted to replace Henry with Alfonso which in turn was met with defeat culminating with Alfonso’s death by poison in 1468. The nobles attempt to take things into their own hands and offered the crown to Isabella, who refused, but Henry decided to compromise – he would make Isabella is heiress after the Battle of Olmedo in 1467.

Since Isabella was his ward, Henry was able to do with her as he pleased in terms of her future and there were many betrothals – all of which were politically beneficial to him at the time. Isabella was betrothed to many men including Ferdinand and Charles IV of Navarre, both sons of John II of Aragon; and Alfonso V of Portugal to name a few. In the mist of all of the marriage negotiations civil war broke out in Castile due to Henry’s inability to rule. Perhaps if he focused a little more on matters of state and ruling his country and a little less time on marriage negotiations for his sister, he would have been able to rule properly and prevent civil war. But alas one must find the perfect ally for the future, not matter what the costs. As you may imagine, Isabella being a strong and independent woman, grew tired of waiting upon her incompetent brother so she decided that she was going to marry Ferdinand of Aragon without her brother’s permission. The two required a papal dispensation as there was an issue of consanguinity (they were second cousins after all) which was granted and the two married October 19th, 1469 in the Palacio de los Vivero in Valiadolid.

Queen Isabel of Castile (1451-1504), known as 'Isabel la catolica'
She is portrayed beside her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon

Once Henry found out about his sister’s marriage he was enraged to say the least – he even threatened to throw her into the dungeon, but of course he could not due to her popularity with the nobles. Henry then withdrew his recognition and again named his daughter Juana as his heiress. Upon Henry’s death in 1474 a war of succession ensued with Alfonso V of Portugal supporting his new wife Juana’s claims. The confusion over who was the right full queen of Castile led to a long and bloody war – the war of the Castilian succession, until the Battle of Toro took place and the war was finally settled in 1479 with Juana denouncing her claim as queen and Isabella was recognized as Queen of Castile and Portugal gained a favourable share of the Atlantic territories.

By this time Ferdinand was now King of Aragon and along with his Castilian Queen, the two began the unification of Spain beginning with reducing the power of the nobility and increasing the power of the crown as well as rectifying the disastrous reign of Isabella’s predecessor Henry IV. The two would rule Spain for 35 years, it would become known as a golden age for Spain. Their marriage would produce 5 children; 4 daughters and 1 son: Isabella (1470), Juan (1478), Juana (1479), Maria (1482) and Catherine (1485).

With the physical unification of Spain complete, Isabella and Ferdinand embarked on a process of spiritual unification of their country as well, their desire to bring Spain under one common faith: Roman Catholicism. Isabella and Ferdinand began the Spanish Inquisition in 1480. The Inquisition was just one of the many changes to the church the Catholic monarchs made in their country. The Inquisition was aimed mostly at Jews and Muslims who had overtly converted to Christianity but who were still practicing their own religions in secret, as well as at heretics who rejected the Roman Catholic orthodoxy – it was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in the kingdoms.

The Surrender of the Moors to Isabella and Ferdinand

Throughout the Inquisition, Isabella fought alongside her husband and the couple lived in tents along with their soldiers instead of in cozy palaces. They spent years on crusade attempting to rid their beloved Spain of Jews, Muslims and those who were not of the Catholic faith, burning them as they went in the name of God. The Catholic monarchs began on a series of campaigns known as the Granada War which began with the attack of Alhama de Granada – the city fell in 1482 and after 10 years of many battles the Granada War ended in 1492 when the Moors handed over the keys of the Alhambra Palace to the Castilian soldiers. The Moors were actually pretty darn lucky – they were treated way better than the Jews as they were actually allowed to practice their own religion and were exempt from taxes for many years thanks to the Treaty of Granada.

Surrender of the Moors

Ferdinand and Isabella ordered the expulsion of all Jews and Muslims from Spain – many converted to Catholicism as a way of avoiding expulsion but many of the conversos were accused of secretly practising their original religion and they were arrested, imprisoned, interrogated under torture and in many cases burned to death. Finally in 1492 the Catholic monarchs created the Alhambra Decree which ordered the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. The Jews were given 4 months to vacate Spain or to convert – tens of thousands of Jews abandoned Spain in favour of other lands to whom Ferdinand would address a letter later that year, you are welcomed to return to Spain as long as you become Christians. The Muslims were given the same orders – either convert or leave Spain; the other choice was death. They were just a little harsh weren’t they . . .

Isabella and Ferdinand also brought Spain their “golden age” by funding Christopher Columbus’ adventure to find India . . . or at least to find America and other lands, he never did find India, maybe he should have sailed in the other direction . . . Despite his failure to reach India, Columbus did find a land rich with gold, silver and spices and declared her for Spain. This land is what we know as Cuba and Columbus thought that it was located somewhere in Asia and that the island of Hispanola (modern day Dominican Republic and Haiti) was just off the coast of China. Maybe Isabella and Ferdinand should have bought Columbus a better map and compass. Anyways, that’s beside the point, point is that the Catholic monarchs grew undoubtedly richer from Columbus’ travels – he brought them back treasures of all kinds; agriculture, cloths, glass, steel weapons and leather goods – all in thanks for their funding. Isabella was made protector of the Native Americans and she established laws against the abuse of the Native American people by colonists and adventures.

Christopher Columbus Return
Isabella and Ferdinand receiving Columbus
Isabella’s later life was filled with grief – the deaths of her daughter Isabella and her son Juan as well as her grandson Miguel. Isabella officially withdrew from governmental affairs in September 1504 and she died that same year in November in Medina del Campo. Upon her death, her crown of Castile passed on to her daughter Juana. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Lucrezia Borgia

Stubborn, beautiful, sexually promiscuous and by reputation ruthless, Lucrezia Borgia was said to have rivaled her brother Cesare and her father Pope Alexander VI in jealousy, intrigue, and murder. But was Lucrezia as bad as historians have made her out to be? Or was she simply an innocent pawn used by her family to reinforce alliances?

Lucrezia Borgia was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, future Pope Alexander VI, and Vanozza dei Cattanei born April 18th 1480 at Subiaco, near Rome. Lucrezia was described as being absolutely stunningly beautiful, with long, heavy blonde hair, a beautiful complexion, hazel eyes and a perfect figure and she had the ability to move with such grace that it seemed as if she was floating on air. Apparently she had all of the qualities that were valued in Rome at that time of a perfect woman. Lucrezia spent her childhood at first in her mother’s home and later in the household of Giulia Farnese, her father’s mistress. Lucrezia was educated as most young ladies were, in the arts of needle work and other ladylike tasks and Lucrezia was used as most daughters of powerful men were – as a pawn in their father’s quests for power by being married off to other men who would only increase their own power and wealth. In Lucrezia’s case, this was done on three occasions and since her father was the all-powerful Pope Alexander VI of Rome, he sought to be allied with the most powerful and founding dynasties of Italy.

Lucrezia’s first marriage was to Giovanni Sforza on the 12th of June 1493 when she was only 13 years old. The marriage was not a happy one, Giovanni often abused his young wife and before long Alexander no longer needed the Sforzas – he required much more advantageous political allies – and Lucrezia would soon be freed of her husband, much to her relief. Alexander ordered Giovanni’s execution however Lucrezia found out about the plan from her older brother Cesare and informed her husband who then fled to Rome. Why she would tell him after all of the abuse at his hands, who knows, perhaps it was her conscious that saved the monster she called a husband. Anyways, Alexander would not be deterred and along with Cardinal Ascanio Sforza they attempted to persuade Giovanni to agree to a divorce. Not surprisingly Giovanni did not consent – he, an illegitimate son was married to the daughter of the Pope of Rome, never would he give up his position of power, and he in turn accused Lucrezia of paternal and fraternal incest. This wasn’t this first accusation of incest among the Borgia family and it would not be the last. The Pope then tried a different tactic – he then claimed that the marriage had never been consummated and was therefore invalid. When Giovanni protested this claim he was challenged to “prove his manhood” by taking Lucrezia in front of the Borgia and Sforza families, he could not “rise” to the occasion. Alexander then offered to pay Giovanni all of Lucrezia’s dowry and the continued protection from the Sforza family in exchange for the divorce and signed confessions of impotence. Reluctantly Giovanni finally agreed and the annulment was granted.

Giovanni Sforza
Everything appeared to be going as planned however Lucrezia threw an unexpected wrench into the plans – she was pregnant. Now, how could she be pregnant if the marriage was never consummated? Turns out that Lucrezia was having an affair with the Pope’s messenger Perotto while she was still married to Giovanni. Lucrezia retired to a convent to wait out the long months of pregnancy until Lucrezia was required to stand before the papal court to prove that she was virgin and that the marriage was in fact never consummated. Even though she was about six months pregnant at the time her brother Cesare still declared her a virgin. Maybe he thought that she had simply put on a ton of weight while living in the convent but when he discovered the truth after the trial he reacted in anger and attacked Perotto with a sword, and although wounded, the servant survived. Not for long however as the body of Perotto was discovered in the Tiber along with a maid six days later. Lucrezia supposedly gave birth to a baby boy, Giovanni, in March of 1498. In order to protect Lucrezia’s innocence two papal bulls were issued that recognized Giovanni as the son of Pope Alexander VI and a mistress and that he was not Lucrezia’s child but rather her half-brother.

Alfonso of Aragon
After her divorce Lucrezia was soon married off to Alfonso of Aragon, the half-brother of Sancha of Aragon, wife of her younger brother Gioffre, in 1498. The marriage produced one son, Rodrigo who was born the 1st of November 1499. Alfonso was essentially a non-functioning consort but he was enraptured by his beautiful wife. Unfortunately the marriage would not last long as Alfonso’s family soon fell out of favour with the Pope and he would be murdered in 1500. Not long after the birth of their son, Alfonso was attacked by Cesare’s henchmen and although he was wounded he did not die . . . at least not right away. He was taken to Lucrezia’s chambers where she attempted to nurse him back to health, playing the role of devoted and loving wife until her brother Cesare ordered her out of the rooms. When Lucrezia was allowed to return she discovered that her beloved had been strangled to death, most likely by her brother Cesare.

Alfonso d'Este
Poor Lucrezia, widowed twice by the time she was 20 years old. Her third and finally marriage was quick orchestrated and she soon became betrothed to Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. The two, both widowed, married in 1502 in Ferrara. Lucrezia proved to be a respectable and accomplished Renaissance duchess and the two lived happily in Ferrara. Their marriage produced six children: Erole II d’Este (1508), Ippolito II d’Este (1509), Alessandro d’Este (1514), Leonora d’Este (1515), Francesco d’Este (1516) and Isabella Maria d’Este (1519). Though their marriage was happy, neither Alfonso nor Lucrezia were faithful. Lucrezia enjoyed a long relationship with her brother-in-law Francesco II Gonzaga, an affair that continued until Francesco contracted syphilis and was forced to end the relationship. It is said that their affair was extremely passionate and that it was more sexual than it was sensual. Throughout the affair Lucrezia attempted to maintain a friendship with her lover’s wife Isabella . . . oh what a friendship that must have been. Lucrezia was not satisfied with only having one lover in addition to her husband, she was also having an affair with the poet Pietro Bembo.

Lucrezia died in Ferrara from complications after giving birth to her eighth child, Isabella Maria, who died hours after being born. Lucrezia died 10 days later on the 24th of June 1519.

There were many rumours about Lucrezia; alligations of incest, adultery, poison, murder to name a few. It was suggested that she not only had an incestuous affair with her brother Cardinal Cesare Borgia but also with her father Pope Alexander IV. Eww! In fact it is unknown who the biological father of her son Giovanni was … was it Perotto? Or Cesare? Or even Alexander? It is also said that Lucrezia possessed a hollow ring that contained cantarella that she frequently used to poison her lovers as well as her families political enemies. Though she was devoted to her family the image of Lucrezia Borgia remains that of a woman rampant with ambition, cruelty and selfishness with the poison ring firmly placed on her finger. 

Empress Catherine I of Russia

From the daughter of a Lithuanian peasant to the first female ruler of Imperial Russia, Catherine overcame a lot of obstacles in her life.

Born Marta Helena Skowro ńska on April 15th 1684, she was of Lithuanian stock; her origins remain unknown. Marta’s parents died of the plague when she was still a young child after which she was taken to Marienburg by her aunt and uncle where she was adopted by Pastor Glück where she served as a housemaid. Pastor Glück rid himself of this orphaned girl by marrying her off to a Swedish dragoon when she was 17, with whom she lived with for 8 whole days before the Swedish troops were forced out by the Russians. Marta sure got around a lot during her time … she was the mistress to Brigadier General Rudolf Felix Bauer then to Prince Menshikor and finally to Peter the Great.

Peter made no secret of his feelings towards Marta; he had at last found the woman he longed to be with. Marta made things a lot easier for the relationship to flourish by converting to Orthodoxy and taking the name Catherine Alexeyevna in 1705. The two married in secret in 1707 and their marriage produced 12 children however only 2 survived until adulthood: Anna born in 1708 and Yelizaveta born in 1709. When Peter decided to move the capital to St. Petersburg in 1703, Catherine and Peter lived in a three room log cabin while they waited for the city to be built with Catherine doing the cooking and child care and Peter tended to the gardens – just like any other ordinary family rather than the Tsar and Tsarina. Peter and Catherine’s love and affection was true as proven in their correspondence. Aww . . . The Tsar fell in love with his lowly born mistress and raised her to the Tsar of all of Russia.

Catherine became an inseparable companion, even accompanying Peter on campaign. Catherine accompanied Peter during the Pruth campaign in 1711, and it is said that it was because of Catherine that the Russians were successful in getting out of the disastrous war alive. Apparently she suggested that they use her jewels and those of the other women to bribe the Turkish Grand Vizier Baltaji into allowing a retreat, which he in turn allowed. Peter credited Catherine with that success and in show of his gratitude he married her again, officially and publically, on the 9th of February 1712 at Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

In 1722 Catherine was proclaimed Peter’s successor, thereby excluding the grand-duke Peter and on the 7th of May 1724 Catherine was crowned empress-consort and co-rule of Russia. Of course this would not be a true royal story if there wasn’t a rumour of adultery, in this case against the empress herself. The alleged affair was said to have taken place between Catherine and one of her gentlemen of the bedchamber, William Mons, a handsome upstart and brother of a former mistress of Peter. Although there was no proof of said affair, Mons lost his head anyways, just to be sure, but Catherine seemed to escape unharmed as she remained in the Tsar’s favour until his death on January 28th, 1725. Catherine was at once raised to the throne as Empress of Russia with her great popularity with the army only strengthening her claim before the reactionary party had any time to prepare an opposition.  Though Catherine remained quite illiterate, she was an uncommonly shrewd and sensible woman and a powerful ruler who paved the way for a century that was almost exclusively dominated by women in Russia including her own daughter Elizabeth and Catherine the Great. Empress Catherine died on May 16th 1727. 

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, Prince Henry of Battenburg

The baby of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore was born April 14th 1857 at Buckingham Palace. She was the 5th daughter and the last of 9 children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Beatrice caused some major controversy before she arrived . . .  Queen Victoria announced that she would be using chloroform to ease through those horrible birth pains – something that was definitely frown upon by the Church of England, but Victoria through caution to the wind and used “that blessed chloroform” anyways. Really, who could blame her, this was kid number 9 and by then I’m sure that she was just tired of having children and this was before the days of epidurals. Princess Beatrice quickly became her parents favourite child – for Victoria this was a first; she really was not a fan of children especially babies but things were different with Beatrice. Beatrice was a beautiful and plump baby with golden blonde hair and big blue eyes whom Victoria actually enjoyed to bath. As for Albert, he thoroughly enjoyed his daughter’s precociousness. Unfortunately Albert died when Beatrice was only 4 years old.

After her father’s death, Beatrice attempted to console her mother the best should could – she was only 4 years old after all! After Albert’s death, Victoria began to isolate her children, with the exception of Alice and Beatrice. Then tragedy struck again when Victoria’s own mother, the Duchess of Kent, died and once again, it was up to Beatrice to attempt to comfort her mother. Beatrice remained at her mother’s side as her confidante and as her personal secretary and was quite content to play this role for the rest of her life as she planned on never marrying – and her mother had the same plans, to keep her daughter at her side. Not something that was very common in the British royal family.


Despite the fact that neither Victoria nor Beatrice wanted the latter to marry, there were still many suitors including Napoleon Eugene, Imperial Prince and son of Napoleon III. The Imperial Prince and Beatrice grew quite close and rumours started regarding a pending engagement began however these rumours came to a screeching halt with the death of the Imperial Prince in 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War. After the Imperial Prince’s death, Beatrice is said to have been inconsolable and feel into a period of deep grief. This coming from the woman who said she would never marry . . . Once Beatrice was officially back on the market, her brother the Prince of Wales attempted to marry her off to her brother-in-law Louis IV, the widow of their sister Alice. This arraignment would allow for Beatrice to remain in England with her mother and to become a mother to Louis and Alice’s children. However this was forbidden by law much to the Prince and Queen’s dismay.

While attending a family wedding in Germany Beatrice met Prince Henry of Battenburg with whom she fell deeply in love with. When Beatrice returned home to England and informed her mother of her intentions to marry, Victoria did not take the news well. In fact Victoria did not speak to her daughter for 7 months, communicating only by written notes. One could say that Victoria was threatened by the loss of her baby and when she finally came around to the idea of the marriage it came with some stipulations – the couple were to remain in England and Henry had to give up his German commitments, terms to which the happy couple happily obliged. 

The wedding took place on July 24th 1885 at Saint Mildred’s Church at Whippingham. Beatrice honoured her mother by wearing Victoria’s own Honiton lace veil as she married the love of her life. Beatrice and Henry enjoyed a marriage much like that of her parents, a love that seemed to get stronger as time went on. The marriage produced 4 children: Alexander born in 1886, Victoria (Ena) in 1887, Leopold in 1889 and Maurice in 1891. Beatrice was widowed in 1896 when Henry died from malaria.

After the death of her mother Queen Victoria in 1901 Beatrice’s position at court changed drastically. She was not close with her brother Edward VII and she was not included in his inner circle. Beatrice spent her later years to transcribe and edit her mother’s journals for publication. Beatrice died peacefully in her sleep on the 26th of October 1944 at 87 years old, out living all of her siblings as well as most of her children. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Marguerite of Navarre

Known as the “First Modern Woman”, Marguerite was responsible for the celebrated intellectual and cultural court and salons in France during her time.

The eldest child of Louise of Savoy and Charles, Count of Angoulême, Marguerite was born on April 11th 1492 in Angoulême. Charles was a descendent of Charles V and was a legitimate heir to the throne, providing that there were a few untimely deaths and lack of legitimate heirs. Her younger brother, Francis, was born two years later. Like her mother before her, Marguerite was a very intelligent and beautiful child and followed in her mother’s footsteps as one of the most brilliant feminine minds in France. Francis and Marguerite spent most of their childhood in Cognac and in Blois. After her father died when she was 4 years old her mother became the head of the household and it was Louise of Savoy who took control of her children’s futures. For Marguerite that meant a top notch education – Latin, Italian, Spanish, German, Greek and Hebrew as well as philosophy, history, theology and Scriptures. When she was 10 years old her mother attempted to marry Marguerite to the Prince of Wales, the future Henry VIII of England however the offer was politely rejected. In hindsight that was probably a good thing . . . her head would stand no chance of being detached from her body.  

When Marguerite was 17 years old she was married off to Charles IV of Alençon by the order of King Louis VII. Charles was described as a dolt and a laggard – totally below Marguerite’s intellect. The marriage was one that was for purely political reasons – it was extremely advantageous to her brother, the heir presumptive to the throne of France.

In 1515 Marguerite’s brother came to inherit the throne of France after Louis XII died without a legitimate male heir and since France was under Salic law, his daughters could not inherit (apparently France didn’t think that a woman could rule the country . . . ) therefore the crown when to his daughter’s husband and heir in his own right, Francis. Once her brother was securely on the throne, Marguerite packed up her life and moved to her brother’s court where she continued to live a life of privilege and where she patronized scholars and explored religious reform. When Queen Claude, the wife of Louis XII, died in 1524 she left her two young daughters Madeline and Margaret in the care of Marguerite and Marguerite raised the girls until her brother married Eleanor of Austria in 1530.

Francis I of France

Luckily for Marguerite the marriage to the Duke only lasted for 8 years when her husband was injured in the Battle of Pavia in 1525 and he later succumbed from these injuries. Interestingly enough, Marguerite’s brother Francis was also captured during this battle and was held prisoner by Emperor Charles V in Madrid, Spain. It was thanks to his brilliant and strong-willed sister Marguerite that he was set free. Marguerite actually traveled all the way to Madrid to negotiate her brother’s release in exchange for a high ransom.

Marguerite wouldn’t be single for long as in 1527 she married Henry II, King of Navarre with whom she had a daughter Jeanne who was born on November 16th 1528. Jeanne would eventually become Jeanne III of Navarre and mother of King Henry IV of France and Navarre. Throughout her marriage to Henry, Marguerite would remain an active and driving force at the court of Francis I. 

Henry II of Navarre
She would become the most influential woman in France, her salon “New Parnassus” became internationally famous and with her brother; they brought the Renaissance from Italy to France. Marguerite was a generous patron of the arts; in fact she befriended and protected many artists and writers including Rabelais and Marot. In fact, Marguerite was also an accomplished writer – a feat that most women could only dream of. She was able to do what most other women of her time could not – she was able to garnish success in a man’s world doing a man’s profession.

Marguerite was not only a cultural woman but she was also a religious woman. In fact, she even played a role in the religious Reformation. Her writings included a piece called “Miroir de l’âme pécheresse” which played a large role in the Protestant Reformation in England. Not only did it influence Anne Boleyn, but Elizabeth also translated this work into English and gave it to her step-mother, Catherine Parr, as a gift. Back in France, Marguerite played the role of mediator between the Catholics and the Protestants and she even tried to protect the reformers from her brother’s wrath. Marguerite’s role in the religious stability of France did not seem to large or important until after her death as in the years following her death there were no fewer than eight religious wars occurred in France including the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 (which interestingly enough also happened to be her grandson’s wedding day to another Marguerite, daughter of her nephew Henry II and Catherine de’Medici).

Margurite died December 21st 1549 in Odos, France at the age of 57.