Showing posts with label monarchy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label monarchy. Show all posts

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Damn, Girl-Queen Christina of Sweden, Minerva of the North

One of the most colorful queens of history, Christina of Sweden lived many lives within the span of 62 years. An enigma wrapped in a mystery deep-fried in a contradiction, she ruled Sweden for fourteen years and oversaw some of the best infrastructural and cultural improvements of the country at the time, yet she abandoned her country to live unfettered by duty. She was a philosopher and a patron of the arts whose collecting and patronage preserved some of the best late Renaissance/early Baroque art and music, and was a major player on the European political stage.

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Christina
Christina was born in December of 1626 to Queen Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg and Gustav II Adolf, who were desperately seeking an heir. Maria had had three previous miscarriages, and all of them had been girls. When Christina was born, Maria was very disappointed that she had another daughter instead of the son she had hoped for. Gustav, on the other hand, was ecstatic that they finally had a living child and ordered that she be treated and educated as a prince. Four years later, she was declared heir apparent.

Gustav was deeply embroiled in the Thirty Years War, and after being separated from his men, he died in battle in 1632. Gustav was a remarkable ruler in his own right, but his wife was...unstable. Before his death, Gustav had ordered that Christina be raised by her aunt Catherine and not by her mother. However, that order was disobeyed, and Christina lived with her mother for several years.

To say that those years were unhappy would be an understatement. Maria Eleonora had plunged into a deep depression after the death of her husband. She had her apartments draped in black and refused to let Gustav be buried keeping his body lying in state, except for his heart, which she kept with her in a small, gold casket. She insisted that Christina be with her at all times and, in turns, verbally abused her daughter for not being a boy, criticized her for not being feminine enough, and scarred the young queen with outbursts of violent affection. The governors appointed by Gustav to take care of Christina during her minority deemed Maria unfit as a mother and gave custody of Christina to her aunt. Maria Eleonora was exiled to Gripsholm castle.

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Gustav II Adolf
Christina's youth with her aunt and cousins was filled with lessons. This might have been tedious to any other child, but Christina passionately loved learning and would spend her life in hours of daily study, and she often said that her favorite activity was learning new languages¹. In her childhood, she would rise at five, then spend six hours at her lessons. On weekdays, those lessons were the academics one would expect. On weekends, she was tutored in the princely sports of riding, shooting, and swordfighting. Afternoons saw politics lessons with Axel Oxenstierna², one of the most accomplished politicians of the era.

Christina's main tutor was Johannes Matthiae, a retired clergyman and skeptic of the Lutheran faith. The Lutheran faith, then as now, was the state religion, and rulers were required to be Lutheran. Mathie taught Christina to question Lutheranism, a skill that would aid and plague her throughout her life.

Though Christina would not formally assume the throne until 1644,³ she was consulted in serious political matters as early as 1638, when she was just twelve years old. She started ruling with the council in 1640. During these early years, she showed a strong inclination against warmongering and favored the improvement of Swedish infrastructure and extending welfare and education to the lower classes. Achievements of this time include overseeing the refurbishment of Stockholm, and the setting out of the "Instructions", a document that stated in exacting detail how the colony of New Sweden was to be run. The "Instructions" contained progressive ideas like not warring with the surrounding colonists and not massacring the Native Americans. It instructed that colonists were to pay tribes for their lands and that they were to practice religious tolerance.⁴

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Maria Eleonora
After reaching majority, Christina most notably helped bring an end to the Thirty Years' War by declaring that the official religion of a state should be the same as the religion as its ruler. She established the first Swedish newspaper and opened up education to all citizens.

Christina's goal was to bring the fledgling Enlightenment north. She wanted to turn Stockholm into the "Athens of the North", and for this, she is often known as the "Minerva of the North". A big fan of philosophy, going so far as to claim it was more important than science, Christina imported philosophers to her court--most notably Rene Descartes, who tutored her personally.⁵

All of this was quite expensive, and Christina's habit of giving away crown lands and her refusal to marry worried her nobles. Even more worrying was her relationship with her beautiful Maid of Honor, Ebba Sparre.

Ebba Sparre was the daughter and granddaughter of politicians and was also a celebrated beauty. As is the case with so many people of the era, much of the details of her life are lost to history, and the lady herself might have been entirely forgotten had she and Christina not been lovers.

Though not much is known about their affair, that it existed is unquestionable. Even for an era where friendship was proclaimed in far more florid and intimate terms than it is now, Christina was suspiciously demonstrative of her love for Ebba. She proclaimed Ebba as her royal bedfellow and frequently gushed about her "friend" to foreign ambassadors, urging them to appreciate Ebba's beauty and wit. Surviving letters from Christina to Ebba paint an undoubted picture of extreme passion. In 1656 Christina wrote to Ebba:
"How happy I should be if only I could see you Beautiful One. But I am condemned by Destiny to love and cherish you always without seeing you; and...I cannot be completely happy when I am separated from you. Never doubt this fact, and believe that, wherever I may be, I shall always be entirely devoted to you, as I have always been...Goodbye Beautiful One, goodbye. I embrace you a million times."⁶
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Ebba Sparre
Though Ebba married Jakob de la Gardie in 1652, some sources claiming on Christina's suggestion, others her ire, the two women remained in contact throughout their lives. Christina tried to visit Ebba several times but was prevented by Ebba's family. The pair would never meet again after Ebba's marriage.

In 1654, Christina finally achieved her dream of abdicating. She had been trying to give up the throne since 1650 and had petitioned the Riksdag no less than 20 times, claiming that ruling was bad for her health. They had previously denied her requests, but in 1654 they relented.

Why, exactly, the Riksdag relented is a matter of some debate. Some sources claim that it was because Christina had alienated the nobility with her spending and attempts to enlighten her court. Some sources say that the affair with Ebba Sparre and Christina's refusal to marry made the Riksdag worried about the future of Sweden. Other sources claim that it was because Christina had converted to Catholicism, and that the Riksdag was forced to let her abdicate. Whatever the reason, Christina designated her cousin and once fiance Carl as her heir and abdicated.

The Swedes, at large, were NOT happy with this development. Despite the feathers she ruffled, Christina was still wildly popular with nobles and peasants alike, so popular that she had to uncrown herself during her abdication ceremony, as the gentleman assigned to the task refused to do so.

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Christina was described as being "short,
pockmarked, with a humped right shoulder"
Dressed as a man, Christina left Sweden, and arrived in Rome. In 1655, she officially converted to Catholicism, which was a huge coup for the Vatican. The conversion of a previously Protestant ruler made Pope Alexander VII so happy that he gave her sumptuous apartments in the Vatican and gave her a stipend from church coffers to help maintain her lifestyle. This enamorment didn't last long, as the pope soon discovered that Christina wasn't one to blindly accept the religious teachings of the church. That aside, Christina kept a home in Rome for the rest of her life and was called friend by seven popes.

Finally, free to do as she wished, Christina traveled Europe. She became a major patron of the arts, amassing a huge collection of Venetian school paintings, opening the first opera house in Rome, sponsoring the composers Arcangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti, founding the still functioning Arcadia Academy, and rescuing the reputation of the architect Bernini. She began writing herself, publishing three main philosophical works and sponsoring philosophical conventions around Europe.

Though Christina spent most of the rest of her life writing, art collecting, and philosophizing, she did make two more forays into politics. In 1657, it came to light that Christina had been plotting the takeover of Habsburg Naples with the support of the French crown. The scheme collapsed after Christina attended the summary execution of a traitorous servant at Fontainebleau. In 1667, she attempted to have herself elected queen of Poland but was unsuccessful. She was, reportedly, not too distressed about this failure.

In 1670, Christina returned permanently to Rome and lived there until her death in 1689. She died a well-respected philosopher and patron of the arts. She was buried in the Vatican Grotto--one of only three women to be buried there.

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Christina in her later years
Christina's main focus in philosophy, like so many other philosophers of her day, was on the nature of love. According to Christina, real love was religious in nature, and very rare. She also believed that men and women were equal, saying that "soul had no gender". She was also a big fan of religious tolerance, exerting her influence to protect Rome's Jewish community and the Huguenots in France. In government, Christina was a big fan of Enlightened Despotism, believing that a good and enlightened ruler with absolute power was the only way to properly govern a country. She wrote three books on her philosophical views.

One of the most commonly discussed aspects of Christina is her gender and sexuality. Historians have been quibbling over the question since before Christina was history, and unless Christina rises from the grave to give us a definitive answer, it is unlikely that we will ever have a definite answer. Christina has been, by turns, described as straight and slandered, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, hermaphrodite, and asexual.

This historian strongly favors the bisexual and lesbian theories, as Christina's name was later linked with that of Cardinal Decio Azzolino, as well as that of Ebba Sparre. Christina also wrote passionate letters to women whose writings she admired and once spent several hours alone with a famed courtesan. Whatever Christina may have felt and done with other people, it seems likely that Ebba was the love of Christina's life. Christina's lifelong letters to Ebba show a woman who is very much in love, and neither party ever found happiness with another person (Ebba's marriage was famously unhappy).

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Christina's tomb beneath St. Peter's Basilica in Rome
Christina was a woman of contradictions. She hated the task of ruling, yet attempted to take over two countries. She believed in gender equality, but said on multiple occasions that she didn't think women should rule. She loved women, but did not often enjoy their company. Christina led a troubled life and has gone down in history as one of the most complex and intriguing monarchs in European history.





¹Christina reportedly learned to speak Latin, Spanish, Italian, German, and French, in addition to Swedish. She also had some knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic. Out of all of these, French was the one she used most frequently and the language she wrote in.
²Christina loved learning from Oxerstina and claimed to prefer learning from him above all else. However, later in her reign, she limited his power, resentful of his attempts to limit her power during her minority. Oxerstina, a devout Lutheran, tried to limit Christina's contact with her cousins due to the Calvinist leanings of their parents. This may also have contributed to Christina's later ambivalence toward him.
³Though she assumed the throne in 1644, she was not officially crowned until 1650 because of Sweden's involvement in constant warfare.
⁴Religious tolerance aside, colonists of New Sweden were still supposed to try and convert the Native Americans to Christianity.
⁵Descartes unfortunately died of pneumonia four months after reaching Stockholm. This may have been contributed by Christina's insistence at 5 am study sessions in the freezing winter.
⁶Quote taken from "'A Girton Girl on a Throne': Queen Christina and Versions of Lesbianism, 1906-1933" by Sarah Waters.


This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.

More on Similar Topics



Sources
"Christina of Sweden" by Marguerite Horan Gowen
"Christina of Sweden (Continued)" by Marguerite Horan Gowen
"A Girton Girl on a Throne': Queen Christina and Versions of Lesbianism, 1906-1933" by Sarah Waters
"Two Portraits of a Queen: Calderón and the Enigmatic Christina of Sweden" by Deborah Compte
Wasa, Kristina (1626-1689)
Christina, Queen of Sweden
Famous Queen Christina
Queens Regnant: Christina of Sweden--the Girl King
Queen Coins: LGBTQ Rulers Through History

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

How the Bernadottes Came to Sweden

What do Napoleon, the son of a French lawyer, and being kind to prisoners of war have to do with the Swedish monarchy? Significantly more than you would think. In 1810, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was elected Prince Royal of Sweden, and eight years later became the founding king of the dynasty that rule Sweden to this day, proving that, contrary to what Michael Palin said, sometimes you do vote for a king.

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Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, the hero of our tale.
To understand the Bernadotte's rise to power, you have to understand late eighteenth century Europe. In the summer of 1789, Louis XVI, an absolute monarch from a long line of absolute monarchs attempted to solve his financial issues using the nominal democratic system France already had in place. This went poorly, and resulted in the common people calling for a new constitution, taking the Bastille, forcing Louis and his family from their opulent home in Versailles, and culminated in a lot of very wealthy and important people losing a very important appendage to the guillotine. "What does this have to do with the price of meatballs in Sweden", you ask? Well, the act of dethroning and de-heading Louis, scion of the long and noble line of Bourbon, sent a shock across Europe. After all, if the French monarch could be thrown out of power, and a 'democracy' instituted in less than two years, were any of the other absolute monarchs of Europe safe?

With the English kicked out of their American colonies, and the French monarchy quite literally headless, it seemed that the age of the 'enlightened despot', or the benevolent philosopher dictator was coming to an end. This was particularly worrying to the Swedish king Gustav III who was a great admirer of Marie Antoinette. He was a little more politically savvy than Louis XVI, and he survived his initial summoning of the Riksdag--or the (at the time) nominal Swedish democratic system. However, he made enemies, and bit a bullet Abraham Lincoln style  in 1792.

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Gustav III
Gustav III left his throne to his thirteen year old son, Gustav IV, or Gustav Adolf. The years in which Gustav IV's uncle served as regent were the best of his reign. Gustav Adolf grew into a paranoid and arrogant king, which lead to him losing Finland, Pomerania, and the Aland islands. He was forced to abdicate, and handed the throne to his uncle, Charles XIII.

Charles XIII wasn't so much the best choice for king as he was the only choice for king. The House of Vasa had been struggling since the abdication of Queen Kristina in 1654, and Charles had only tenuous claims to the throne himself. Furthermore, Charles was childless and a bit senile. It was clear to Charles and the ruling class of Sweden that if they wanted to continue to have a monarchy, they would have to elect somebody. The year was 1809.

Now, the 'election' of a monarch wasn't an uncommon thing, the Vasa's themselves had been elected. In cases where a royal line was dying out without an heirs, or in the case of creating an entirely new country, the nobility of a country would take a look at all the princes of Europe, and see who they liked. This sort of thing had been happening since medieval times, and in the tumultuous world of nineteenth century Europe, it was nothing to balk at.

Two distant cousins of Charles XIII were nominated as heirs, but one was an idiot, and the other died. There was a whole host of unsuitable candidates for Crown Prince of Sweden, and a significant portion of the Riksdag were sick of it. They wanted a successful monarch, someone who wasn't an idiot who would lose Finland. And who was more successful than the plucky young Corsican ruling France?

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Bernadotte again
There was no way in hell that any self respecting Swede was going to invite Napoleon to be their king--they were an independent country after all. But maybe one of his brothers, or one of his Marshals, the military geniuses who had won Napoleon his vast empire.

Enter Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. A commoner from Southern France, he ran away from his apprenticeship as a lawyer at age eighteen to join the French army. Like Napoleon, he had used the chaos of the French Revolution to rise rapidly through the ranks, eventually becoming a general. He supported Napoleon on his campaigns, eventually being made the French Minister of War, a Marshal, and then the Prince of Ponte-Corvo, a small principality in Italy.

Bernadotte was an attractive candidate for a number of reasons. He was a proved general, a proved administrator, and he already had an heir. He was extremely popular in Sweden, having received and made peace with Swedish officers independently of Napoleon's commands. He was also unemployed, which was very convenient for the Swedes.

Most importantly, he had been kind to the right person back in the day. Baron Otto Morner was about to become the brother-in-law to the Swedish Chancellor, and he was a big fan of Bernadotte. Bernadotte had been a major player in the Battle of Lubeck, during which Bernadotte and the French had roundly kicked Prussian and Swedish ass, but, like, nicely. Bernadotte captured a contingent of Swedish soldiers, and was so nice to them that Otto Morner was still a huge Bernadotte stan four years later. While in Paris, Morner brought the proposition to Bernadotte, who was incredulously flattered.

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Jean's wife, Desiree Clary. She and Napoleon
used to date.
There was a lot going against Jean Baptiste Bernadotte however, and he knew it. He didn't speak Swedish, he wasn't Lutheran, and all of this was seemingly happening behind Napoleon's back. Napoleon and Jean Baptiste had never been great friends, and they certainly weren't bosom friends at the time, but Bernadotte said that the religion and the language thing could be fixed easily, and that, should Emperor Napoleon and King Charles agree, he would be happy to have his name up for consideration.

There was a hiccup. Morner hadn't been acting entirely officially. He was just a lieutenant, not an ambassador. An ambassador had, in fact, been sent to Napoleon, asking him on his opinion on who should succeed Charles XIII. Napoleon had backed King Frederick VI of Denmark-Norway, hoping to unite Scandinavia under a friendly flag. When he found out that Jean Baptiste had been offered the position, he wasn't crazy about Bernadotte being on the Swedish throne, but he loved the idea of a Frenchman on the throne. He went to his ex-stepson, Eugene, the Viceroy of Italy, and offered the position to him. Eugene refused. Napoleon decided to, well, not support Bernadotte, because if Bernadotte failed it would be embarrassing for Napoleon, but he wasn't not not supporting Bernadote.

Jean Baptiste discussed it with his wife, and after getting Napoleon's 'do it if you want', formally submitted his name for consideration. Baron Morner was an enthusiastic hype-man, campaigning for Bernadotte much like how modern pundits campaign for elected officials. Though there was a significant faction in favor of Frederick VI, and King Charles still wanted to elect his idiot cousin, Jean Baptiste was elected unanimously.

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Some of today's Bernadotte's.
Pictured: King Carl Gustav XVI, his daughter,
Crown Princess Victoria, and her eldest child,
Princess Estelle.
There were a few hurdles that had be overcome before Jean Baptiste could become Prince Royal, however. He had to become a Lutheran, that was non-negotiable. He also had to promise not to give any Swedish posts to Frenchmen, and allow Charles XIII to adopt him. Jean acceded, and took the name Charles John, becoming king Charles John XIV, or Carl Johann XIV to the Swedes.

The new Charles was good to his word, and any worries of a French takeover of Sweden were assuaged for good in 1813 when Charles and Swedish forces joined the sixth coalition to fight against Napoleon. Charles was Crown Prince for about eight years, from 1810 to 1818. During this time, he conquered Norway, and unified Sweden and Norway again. By the time he became King, he had thoroughly won over his new people.

Jean Baptiste Bernadotte's legacy lives on today in the ruling family of Sweden. The current king, Carl Gustav XVI is the great, great, great, great grandson of Jean Baptiste. When Carl Gustav's daughter, Crown Princess Victoria, becomes Queen Regnant, she will be the eighth Bernadotte monarch.

More on Similar Topics



 Sources
Bernadotte: Napoleon's Marshal, Sweden's King by Alan Palmer
Karl Johann XIV-King of Norway and Sweden
Charles XIV, King of Sweden and Norway
The Bernadotte Dynasty
The House of Bernadotte
Charles John XIV, King of Sweden and Norway
         

Friday, January 25, 2019

Damn, Girl-Isabella, Queen of England, 'She-Wolf' of France

Militant and ruthless, Isabella of France was the sort of queen HBO and Starz make television shows about. Married at twelve, Isabella spent the early years of her reign being scorned and passed over for her husband's male favorites. Forced to stand between her husband, his aristocracy, and England, Isabella became a wily diplomat and politician, which later saw her ousting her corrupt and weak husband with the help of her lover. Though she saw real power for only four years, she saw her son onto the throne, and was instrumental in holding England together during the tumultuous years of Edward II. Deemed 'the she-wolf of France'¹, Isabella was a fierce defender of what was hers.

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Our girl Isabella, deciding the fate of her enemies.
Born sometime between 1292 and 1295, Isabella was the sixth child and only surviving daughter of King Philip the Fair of France, and Queen Jeanne of Navarre. Very early in her life Isabella was given into the care of Theophania St. Pierre, who served as her nurse and companion even after her marriage.

Despite being cared for by Theophania, Isabella was, in no way, neglected by her parents. As their only girl she was much indulged, and given several grants of land, making her wealthy even as a child. In addition to being given land, Isabella was also given a rudimentary education,being taught to read even though her father generally held the belief that only nuns should be taught to read. Isabella developed a love of books and learning that would sustain her throughout her life.

It is important to note the sort household that Isabella was raised in. While by no means normal, Isabella's family was idyllic by the standards of the times, and the modern day. Her parents were in love, and it was very likely that their marriage had been a love match. Isabella's mother ran her country, Navarre, independent of Philip's France, and Philip was a strong, if somewhat brutal, king of France. Isabella was raised by exemplary monarchs with strong relationship. This would stand in stark contrast to the men in her own future, and may have contributed to the disillusionment that Isabella would experience later in her life.

At the time of Isabella's birth France and England were, unsurprisingly, at war. Traditional enemies, England and France's latest quarrel was over the regions of Aquitaine and Gascony, regions that the two countries had been fighting over since Eleanor of Aquitaine's marriage to Henry II, and the transfer of her lands to English hands, four generations previous. Philip IV and Edward I were ready to call a temporary truce, and they decided to seal the deal with a double marriage--Philip's sister, Margaret of France, to Edward I, and Edward I's son, Edward of Caernarvon, to Philip's only daughter, Isabella.

The marriage was agreed to in 1298, and Edward pressed for Isabella to marry his son immediately, but an intervention from Pope Boniface VIII, proposing that marrying off a three year old was perhaps a little unethical, delayed the union. The couple were married by proxy when Isabella was seven, then married for real in 1308.
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Edward Caernarvon at his coronation.
Twelve year old Isabella was hailed as a beauty, and was greeted joyously by her new English public. Her husband, Edward, however, wasn't as enthused. It wasn't that he disliked Isabella, it was just that he was enamoured with another man, and he was completely indifferent to the twelve year old he had just vowed to love, honor, and obey. Edward already had someone to love, honor, and obey, his husband favorite, Piers Gaveston.

Piers Gaveston and Edward II went all the way back to 1300, when Edward was 15 (ish). Edward's father, Edward (hereafter referred to as 'Big Daddy Ed'), wasn't too terribly impressed with his son. Big Daddy Ed was a Medieval King's Medieval King. His hobbies included holding tournaments, producing heirs, and warring with the Scots. Edward, on the other hand, liked music, swimming, rowing, and thatching. Big Daddy Ed was disgusted with his son, and so he installed Piers Gaveston, the son of a poor knight, in Edward's household. Piers was the sort of fellow that Big Daddy Ed would have liked to have for a son--athletic, refined, and a great lover of warring with the Scots. He'd hoped that Piers would be an improving influence for his son, unfortunately, Piers was anything but. Piers and Edward fell in love almost immediately, and the pair proceeded to wreak havoc among the nobility and common people.

While Piers doesn't appear to have been present at Edward and Isabella's marriage, he was most notably present at their coronation (Big Daddy Ed having died a few months before). Piers had controversially been raised to the title of Earl of Cornwall², and as such had the right to wear cloth of gold at the coronation. Piers, however, decided to show up in purple silk, essentially claiming status on par with Isabella and Edward. He also proceeded Isabella and Edward in the procession, and was given several other prestigious duties during the ceremony. This infuriated Edward's nobles, as Piers was, outside of his flashy new titles, not particularly blue-blooded.

The real insults came at the banquet succeeding the coronation. Edward had been given substantial sums of money by the French for the coronation, and had spent it on lavish tapestries displaying the arms of himself and Gaveston. Edward took several of the jewels and wedding presents meant for Isabella, and gave them to Gaveston, and spent much of the evening with his husband favorite, instead of with his new bride. The French delegation was outraged, and Isabella wrote to her father that she felt like a nonentity in her own marriage.

For the first few years of her marriage, Isabella had very little political power, and much of the drama and intrigue of this time concerns Edward and Piers. Edward burned through goodwill and money quickly, and had alienated his nobility not long after his coronation. His continued indulgence and promotion of Gavestone, as well as his neglect of the kingdom and ineffectual warring with the Scots, led his barons to draw up the Ordinances of 1311, which severely curtailed his powers. He was forced to banish Gaveston multiple times, but always managed to recall him at a later date. Isabella more or less was dragged along with them, with very little power of her own. However, everything changed when Isabella turned sixteen.

There was no formal agreement about what age Isabella had to reach before she and Edward would consummate their marriage, but even in Medieval times it was generally agreed upon that getting pregnant at twelve was sheer dangerous idiocy. Getting pregnant at sixteen, however, was merely dangerous. Consequently, Isabella was pregnant by 1312.

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Map of the British Isles in 1300. Not
included are the Plantagenet lands in
southern France.
Now, at this time Edward and Gaveston were in the middle of yet another one of their power struggles with the English aristocracy. Gaveston had been exiled again in 1311, and his return to England had ruffled more than a few feathers. Additionally, the Scots were feeling frisky again, and they were making war in Northern England.

Unfortunately, Northern England was where Isabella was, and her husband's war making was so incompetent, that she soon found herself in danger. Edward marched south with his army, leaving Isabella with scant protection from the advancing Scots.

Isabella and Edward both made it safely back to London, but Gaveston was not as fortunate. He had been trapped in Scarborough Castle by his enemies, and executed, leaving Edward bitter and heartbroken. On November 13th Isabella's first child, the future Edward III, was born.

The next four years would be the happiest of Edward and Isabella's marriage. Two of their four living children--John and Eleanor--were born during this period. During this time Edward put significant efforts into repairing his relationships with his subjects, enacting reforms and reassigning lands that had been unfairly given to Gavestone. Edward seemed contrite, and for a time England enjoyed a brittle peace. However, things grew uneasy as another royal boyfriend favorite rose over the horizon.

The Despenser family were related to Edward, and Hugh Despenser the Younger (Hereafter known as 'Horny Hugh') was technically Edward's nephew. In 1318, Horny Hugh was made Edward's royal chamberlain. Horny Hugh Despenser and his father, Hugh Despenser, both had political ambitions. Unlike Gavestone, who was content to be a wealthy, lowborn, nuisance, Horny Hugh wanted to rule. He was given large swathes of the marchlands, angering the Marcherlords³ to whom the land rightfully belonged.

Furthermore, Horny Hugh and Isabella didn't like each other. It's unknown what sort of relationship Isabella had had with Gavestone, but given that Isabella was little more than a child during Gavestone's tenure as royal husband favorite, it seems likely that they didn't have much of a relationship at all.

However, with Horny Hugh, things were different. Isabella was becoming a political person in her own right, and she was painfully aware that Horny Hugh and the Despensers elevation insulted her, her French family, and the realm. She was frequently called upon by the barons to curb the king's worst impulses, and her and Edward's relationship grew increasingly tense. In 1322 Edward asked Isabella to swear an oath of loyalty to the Despensers. When she refused, he took away her lands, and gave custody of their two youngest children--Eleanor and Joan--to Horny Hugh.

Meanwhile, Isabella's brother Charles had become King of France, and he was eyeing Gascony with increasing amounts of lust. Squabbles started popping up in the region, and despite multiple attempts at diplomacy, including sending Edward and Isabella's eldest son to France, war seemed inevitable. In 1325, Edward decided to send Isabella to intercede.

Once back in France, Isabella had very little reason to be loyal to Edward. He had taken her children, confiscated her lands, and reduced her to little more than a pauper. She had been insulted and humiliated for seventeen years, and she was done. Safe at her brother's court in Paris, Isabella declared her contempt for her husband and the Despensers. She took up the garb of a widow, saying, essentially, that her husband was dead to her, and that she considered him unfit for the office he held. With the help of her cousins in the Lowlands, Isabella began plotting to remove Edward from the son in favor of their eldest son.

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Roger speaking with Isabella on a battlefield
Enter Roger Mortimer. He was a young, handsome nobleman with vast estates in Wales and Ireland. He had been exiled from England for his political policies of attempting to overthrow the Despensers, and he had a thirst for vengeance. He and Isabella had met many times before, as Mortimer had been a regular at court, but with Isabella in widow weeds, and Mortimer driven from his home, something had changed. They began to plot together, and that plotting soon moved to the bedchamber, where it is widely assumed that they began plotting Edward's overthrow in a horizontal position.

Roger and Isabella's relationship is an interesting one. It is quite obvious that she was very enamored of him. She was permissive of his bad behavior far beyond what someone using him as a means to an end would have been. However, it is difficult to ascertain Mortimer's feelings. While they had some things in common--love of art, love of Arthurian Romance--he frequently disregarded her wishes concerning their plot, and later the running of the country. After attaining the regency, he used her to gain vast lands and wealth. This may be constructed just as him being the typical medieval man, but there was also the fact that Mortimer was already married to a woman it was widely rumored to be in love with. However, he and his wife had been separated for three years, and it was possible that his ardor towards his wife had cooled, and he truly had feelings for Isabella.

Though they were nowhere near as open about it as Edward and his husbands favorites, it soon became common knowledge that Isabella and Mortimer were lovers. This enraged Edward, who swore that if he saw Isabella again he would kill her. Because of her adultery, Isabella's brother refused to help her with her coup.⁴ Luckily, Isabella's cousins in Hainault⁵ held no such compunctions, and gave them ships and Dutch mercenaries to begin their invasion.

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Berkeley Castle, where Edward died.
Isabella and Mortimer landed in Suffolk in September of 1326. Edward's few allies quickly abandoned him, and England was taken with almost no bloodshed. Horny Hugh was hanged, drawn, and quartered, and Edward was deposed and imprisoned in Berkeley Castle. Isabella and Edward's eldest son, Edward (hereafter referred to as 'Baby Edward'), was placed on the throne.

As Baby Edward was only fourteen, a regency was necessary. As queen, this position was granted to Isabella, and she, along with Mortimer, would serve as regents for about four years.

About a year into their regency, Isabella and Mortimer decided to deal with the problem of the old king. Despite imprisoning him in a dank dungeon, and throwing dead animals and rotting corpses into his cell in hopes he would die of disease, Edward stubbornly remained alive. He remained a rallying point for those who opposed Isabella and Mortimer, and in September of 1327, he mysteriously died.
There are a few stories about how Edward died. Least gruesome is that he was smothered in his sleep. Most popular is that a flaming hot poker was inserted into his anus, and run through his entrails. There are some stories as well that claim he didn't die, but instead escaped, and fled to Italy to live out the rest of his life as a monk.⁶ While neither Isabella nor Mortimer confessed to having ordered or committed the murders, it is widely assumed that they at the very least signed off on the order.

Unfortunately, their regency wasn't entirely popular. Isabella herself remained widely respected, it was Mortimer who was the problem. Like all of the other husbands favorites in Isabella's story, Mortimer was greedy and grasping; sending England to the brink of bankruptcy to enrich himself. He was very unpopular, and Baby Edward grew resentful.

In 1330 Edward had had enough. With support of Henry of Lancaster, Edward staged a dramatic midnight coup, taking a secret passage into the castle where his mother and Mortimer were living, pinning them and their advisors in an enclosed chamber, forcing them to abdicate. Mortimer was hanged a short while later, while Isabella was placed under house arrest.

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Baby Edward
There were several people who called for Isabella's execution, but Edward declined, instead spinning the narrative that she was innocent in the affair, and that the blame rested squarely with Mortimer. Her lands were seized, and she was pensioned off, placed under house arrest at Castle Rising in the Norfolk countryside where she couldn't cause any more problems.

The last years of Isabella's life saw her growing closer to her family, and finding religion. Her daughter, Joan, came to live with her after leaving her husband, and Isabella doted ceaselessly on her grandchildren. Towards the end of her life, she and Baby Edward reconciled. She became a nun in 1358, and died shortly after.

Looking at her life, it can be difficult to determine if Isabella was a plotting villainess or a woman making bloody, bloody lemonade. It is apparent that she struggled for much of her life to become an active agent in her own fate, and was met with mixed success. Today she is mostly forgotten, lost in the blinding glare of her son, Edward III, who is frequently touted as being England's greatest king. However, she should be remembered as a brilliant queen and stateswoman in her own right, who was instrumental in ensuring stability in England, even if she had to do it by force.



¹The title was borrowed from Shakespeare's play Henry IV, Part III. The original title referred to Margaret of Anjou, but has since become a byname for Isabella.
²This caused a major scandal, because the Earldom of Cornwall was then, and now, a royal title. (It's currently held as an auxiliary title of Prince Charles.) While Cornwall is no longer an Earldom but a Dukedom, it is still considered to be the right of the first born son of the monarch.
³A Marcherlord was a nobleman with holdings along the border with Wales, who was expected to defend the border.
⁴Adultery was a major crime for a Medieval noblewoman. Charles' first wife had committed adultery, and Charles had had her lovers beaten to death in a public square. It is unsurprising that he was less than permissive about his sister's liaison with Roger Mortimer.
⁵The aforementioned Lowland cousin. Coincidentally, this same cousin, Joan of Hainault, was responsible for throwing Isabella and Mortimer together.
⁶This story was later used to support the causes of people who would rebel against Baby Edward.

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Sources
The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England by Alison Weir
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
Isabella, the 'She-Wolf of France'
Edward II Marries Isabella of France
Isabella of France: Queen of England
Isabella of France
Edward II: King of England
Edward II:1307-1327
Edward II (1284-1327)
Edward II:1307-1327 AD
Piers Gaveston, Hugh Despenser, and the Downfall of Edward II
Roger Mortimer
Edward III

Friday, June 29, 2018

Damn, Girl-Sisi of Austria-Hungary

Known to her family as 'Sisi', Elisabeth, Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, remains one of the most Romantic (the capital R is on purpose) and tragic queens in history. Married to her cousin at only age sixteen, Elisabeth was thrust into a life of strict etiquette and heavy media scrutiny. Deeply unhappy, she wandered Europe for more than three decades searching for peace.

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Elisabeth on her wedding day.
Elisabeth was the fourth child of Duke Maximilian in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria. Ludovika and Maximilian were cousins, and were almost constantly at loggerheads with each other. Maximilian was something of a free spirit--preferring to roam Bavaria disguised as a commoner, playing the zither in taverns for public amusement. Maximilian also had several affairs, and had a distinct distaste for life in Possenhofen--the castle where Elisabeth and her siblings grew up. Though Maximilian seemed to have dislike Possenhofen, he didn't dislike his children. He would frequently take them on long nature expeditions, lasting weeks at a time. Due to this, and her mother's disbelief in an extensive education, Elisabeth's education was fairly unsettled, and she did not have the  education she would later need to rule.

From all accounts, Elisabeth's childhood at Possenhofen was idyllic. She played with her siblings, avoided her lessons, wrote poetry, and rode horses. However, all of that changed in 1853 when Elisabeth was 15.

Western Europe at the time contained many more countries than it currently does. At the final dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Empire split in 360 smaller states. Many of those states banded together to form the German Federation in 1815. The German Federation was a loose collection of states presided over by the Austrian Emperor. Elisabeth was born into Bavaria--the third biggest of these German Federation states, and the direct neighbor of the much larger Archduchy of Austria.¹

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Europe 1854, note the closeness of Bavarian and the
Austrian Empire
The archduke of Austria, Franz Joseph, was single, not opposed to mingling, and was the most eligible bachelor in Europe. Princess Ludovika was Franz Joseph's aunt, and she, along with Archduchess Sophie, Franz Joseph's mother, hatched a plan to marry Franz Joseph to Elisabeth's older sister, Helene. When Ludovika took Helene to meet the emperor, she had Elisabeth accompany them, presumably so she could set Elisabeth up with an equally enticing gentleman.

The plan was perfect--one trip, two marriages. However, Ludovika and Sophie didn't take Franz Joseph's feelings into mind. In a rare occurrence of love (or lust, if you're feeling cynical) at first sight, Franz Joseph informed his mother that he would not be marrying Helene, but that he would be marrying Elisabeth, and that was that. He proposed to Elisabeth after only a week.

Elisabeth, of course, accepted, and the couple announced their engagement on August 19, 1853. The fact that Franz Joseph was 23 to Elisabeth's 15, and that the couple were cousins doesn't seem to have mattered much to the parties involved. Franz Joseph loved Elisabeth, and one didn't tell the emperor no. It is, however, difficult to ascertain the depths of Elisabeth's feelings for Franz Joseph. Any hesitations she may have had aside, the couple was married in the April of the next year.

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Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna. 
Adjustment to the Imperial Court at Hofburg was difficult for Elisabeth. Etiquette was draconian, recalling the strict rules in place at Versailles. Particularly the rules about dressing irked Elisabeth. Court etiquette stated that the Empress could wear a pair of shoes only once before giving them to a lady in waiting. Gloves had to always be worn. There was a strict system of precedence, and a great deal of activities Elisabeth had previously enjoyed were deemed 'unseemly'. Elisabeth crossed swords with her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie over this more than once, particularly after the birth of Elisabeth's children.

In the view of the archduchess, Elisabeth's role was to provide heirs and look pretty, nothing more. This rankled Elisabeth, who had some interest in governing, particularly with the Hungarian part of the empire. However, Elisabeth's distaste for etiquette, and reticence at public gathering pushed her to the fringes of power, and isolated her at court.

This isolation, combined with a lack of freedom made Elisabeth deeply unhappy. Furthering her unhappiness was the fact that upon their births her first three children were taken away from her, and she was allowed little contact with them. She and Franz Joseph had three children in the first four years of their marriage, with two surviving to adulthood. These children--two daughters and a son--were raised by a staff of servants and the archduchess Sophie.

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Probably the most famous of Elisabeth's
portraits, this dress was later the inspiration
for the 'Think of Me' dress in the 2004
'Phantom of the Opera' movie.
Elisabeth was a private person with a distaste for crowds and invasions of her privacy. Unfortunately for her, Elisabeth lived at a time when more people in Europe were literate than ever before, and European press was becoming a bigger and bigger industry. Royal reporting became the newest craze, with presses constantly cranking out articles and pamphlets about what Elisabeth ate, wore, and did.  (and who she allegedly did) This only increased Elisabeth's feelings that she was in a sort of gilded cage, and imprisoned. Though she was much beloved by the masses, and she was welcomed everywhere she went, Elisabeth believed that she was viewed as a curiosity, once comparing herself to a dancing monkey.

Despite her distaste for it, Elisabeth discharged her duties as empress with great aplomb. She was, as mentioned, much loved by her people, and with good reason. She was known for personally interacting with her subjects, and taking time to speak with the people in front of her. She frequently would visit hospitals, a lady in waiting in tow, and would hold the hands of and converse with the patients.²

What Elisabeth is best known for, of course, is her legendary beauty. With wide dark eyes, and eighteen inch waist, and ankle length hair, Elisabeth was considered one of the most beautiful women of the era. Numerous paintings and sculptures were done of her, with, according to her husband, only a few coming close to actually capturing her good looks.

Elisabeth spent hours on her beauty routine. She would spend hours exercising, applying various compresses and ointments, and spent three hours having her hair done each day. While having her hair done, Elisabeth studied, learning Greek, Latin, and Hungarian.

As might be expected from a couple with an eight year age difference, who'd known each other a week before making a lifetime commitment, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph's marriage was less than congenial. Franz Joseph viewed Elisabeth's dislike for public duty as childish, and Elisabeth found Franz Joseph dull and humorless. Both had numerous extra-marital affairs.

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A portrait of Elisabeth featuring her
famous hair.
Though she was a beautiful woman, Elisabeth was not a healthy woman. She suffered from depression, and exhibited all the signs of what we now recognize as anorexia. She ate little, at times only living off raw milk and oranges. She exercised obsessively, spending hours in a gym she'd had specially set up for her. She had a morbid fascination with death, and frequently remarked that insane people were the only ones who made sense. Her depression combined with her eating disorder took a great toll on Elisabeth, and unsurprisingly in 1862, Elisabeth had a nervous breakdown.

After her nervous breakdown, Elisabeth began to travel extensively, often spending more time outside of Austria than in it. She took long cruises on the royal yacht, sailing around the Mediterranean and western Africa. Elisabeth tried to keep a low profile while traveling. She wasn't making or receiving state visits, she was traveling for herself, often under an assumed name or auxiliary title. She eventually purchased land on the island of Corfu, and began to build a castle there.

In 1866 Elisabeth returned to her husband, and began putting pressure on him to treat with the Hungarians to make them an equal part of the country. Elisabeth was successful, and in 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Compromise was passed, granting Hungary equal status with Austria, and allowing them a greater degree of sovereignty. It is unknown exactly how much Elisabeth had to do with the passing of the compromise, but it is known that following the compromise Franz Joseph forbade her from interfering in politics ever again. Franz Joseph couldn't have been too angry, however, because the couple's fourth child was born in 1868.

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Elisabeth at her coronation as Queen of Hungary
For some time Elisabeth's life was more or less uneventful. She was allowed to raise her last child, Marie Valerie, and they were quite close, Elisabeth taking her daughter with her on her travels. Though she and Franz Joseph didn't stay reconciled, the couple seemed to have been on amiable terms. And in 1890 Elisabeth was able to persuade Franz Joseph to allow Marie Valerie to marry the archduke of Austria-Tuscany, a man Marie loved despite his lack of dynastic connections.

While ostensibly a happy occasion, the engagement of Marie Valerie to her archduke dug up some bad feelings in the family. Crown Prince Rudolf, Elisabeth's third child, and heir to the throne, had been pressured into marrying a Belgian princess nearly a decade earlier, and seeing his younger sister get to marry for love rankled him. On January 30, 1889 he was found dead in a hunting lodge along with his mistress, having apparently shot her then himself.

Elisabeth went into deep mourning after the death of her son. She gave away her jewels, and dressed in black for the rest of her life, much in the same way Queen Victoria had been doing since 1861. She wandered Europe listlessly and without purpose.

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This is the last photograph of Elisabeth, taken
shortly before she died.
In 1898 Elisabeth found herself in Geneva, Switzerland. She was there visiting a friend when on September 10 she was stabbed by anarchist Luigi Lucheni³ in front of a hotel. Luigi had stabbed Elisabeth with a small file, and Elisabeth had initially thought that he'd punched her until one of her ladies noticed the blood on her dress. Though they called for a doctor, Elisabeth soon died.

Today Elisabeth is remembered as a romantic figure--the beautiful empress who never wanted to be empress. Though her story was undeniably tragic, it must be remembered that she could wield great power when she wanted to. Her actions in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise contributed a great deal to Hungary's later independence from the empire. Given her huge impact with just one issue, it is easy to imagine just what she might have done had she been allowed to properly rule.



¹It is worth noting that while Austria may have been classified as an Archduchy in the context of the German Federation, it retained its status of an Empire due to it's possession of the Kingdom of Hungary and associated territories.
²This, along with many other parts of Elisabeth's life have led to many comparisons between her and  Princess Diana.
³Luigi Lucheni didn't have anything against Elisabeth personally, he just hated the ruling class. He hadn't even come to Geneva for Elisabeth, he'd come to assassinate Prince Henri of Orléans. However, Prince Henri had canceled his visit at the last minute, and Luigi, not wanting to waste the trip, decided to assassinate Elisabeth instead.

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Sources
"The Anorectic Empress: Elisabeth of Austria." by W. Vandereycken and T. Abatzi
Elisabeth, Empress Consort of Austria
The Tragic Austrian Empress Who Was Murdered By Anarchists
Sisi Museum
Empress Sisi
Elisabeth, Empress of Austria