Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fragments ~ Elisabeth of Austria

Elisabeth of Austria
As Queen of France
by Georges van der Straeten

Born on July 5, 1554, Princess Elisabeth of Austria was the second daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II and Maria of Spain. Elisabeth and her older sister Anna, along with their younger brother, Mathias, lived a relatively cloistered life on the grounds of her parents’ palace in Vienna. As was customary in those times, both Anna and Elisabeth were destined for the royal marriage market – Anna to Spain, and Elisabeth to France. In 1570, at the age of 16, Elisabeth was married to the French king, Charles IX.

The beautiful and pious Elisabeth loved her new husband dearly, and they maintained a genuinely affectionate relationship, but Charles' heart was already engaged to his long-standing mistress. Soon after her marriage, evidently shocked by the dissolute court life she had found in Paris, Elisabeth more-or-less retired from public view, no doubt encouraged by her devious mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici, who wanted her kept out of royal politics. Elisabeth occupied herself with needlework, reading, and doing good works. A devout Catholic herself, she was nevertheless horrified when she discovered that Charles had conducted a bloody purge of French Protestants. 

Soon thereafter, Elisabeth gave birth to a daughter, called Marie Elisabeth of Valois. Unfortunately, after Marie Elisabeth was born, Charles, who had never been healthy, suddenly died. Elisabeth, who had no doubt lived a lifetime by then, was only 20 years old. She genuinely mourned her husband’s death, but was literally cast out of his chambers by Catherine, who had other plans. Those plans included taking charge of Marie Elisabeth and marrying Elisabeth, newly dubbed the “White Queen,” to Charles’ brother, now King Henry III. But Elisabeth firmly rejected this proposal -- which was probably easier to get away for her than with than it might have been for others because she was the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor.  In fact, in addition to escaping an apparently unwelcome second marriage, Elisabeth also received a large widow’s dowry consisting of extensive properties in France.

When Marie Elisabeth was only 3 years old, Elisabeth left Paris for the last time, never to see her daughter again. Marie Elisabeth died in 1578 at the age of 6. Elisabeth’s sister Anna died in 1580, after which Elisabeth received another marriage proposal from Anna’s widower, King Philip of Spain. But Elisabeth once again refused, saying firmly, “The Queens of France never remarried.”

Elisabeth of Austria
in retirement
by Jakob de Monte

The remainder of Elisabeth’s life was devoted to church-related work, financed largely by her huge widow’s dowry. When she died in 1592, her mother was reported to have said, “The best of us is dead.”

The information for this post and the portraits of Elisabeth, by artists Georges van der Straeten and Jakob de Monte, were found at Wikipedia.

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