Saturday, September 21, 2013

Renaissance Women: Margaret of Austria

Margaret of Austria, Mary of Burgundy, Maximilian of Austria, Anne of Brittany, Philip the Handsome, Catherine of Aragon, Louise of Savoy, Anne of France

When last we saw Anne Boleyn, our elegant & intrepid guide for these Renaissance ramblings, it was 1513 and she was heading to the court of Margaret of Austria to begin her European education (see Anne Boleyn: The French Connection).  Modern-day references to Margaret are often brief and made in passing to denote her relationships with others.  Frequently appearing in the biographies of others; often tagged as "Aunt of" or "Sister in law of"; Margaret has a fascinating story all of her own.
Born in 1480 to Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian of Austria, Margaret of Austria certainly had a lot of high-powered family connections (both through blood and through marriage) given that her mother was  the Duchess of Burgundy in her own right, her father was the elected Holy Roman Emperor and her parents were the co-sovereigns of the Low Countries.

In 1482, when Margaret was only two years of age, her mother died as the result of a riding accident.  This tragic turn of events accelerated Margaret's entry into the political arena and she was soon  betrothed  to Charles (the current dauphin of France and soon-to-be Charles VIII) in a deal to end the conflict between Burgundy and France.

Château d'Amboise

As part of this arrangement, a three-year-old Margaret was sent to the French royal court at Amboise to be raised as the future queen of France.  Her education was supervised by Anne of France, her fiancé's sister, who was acting as his regent during his minority.  Anne, one of the most powerful women of her time, was both a ruler and an educator of the aristocracy's children, a model that Margaret herself would later emulate.

It's fascinating to think of the young women that surrounded Anne and the lessons they learned as they watched her govern.  Considering that Louise of Savoy was with Margaret at Amboise and Diane de Poitiers joined Anne's court some years later, Anne's influence certainly seemed to produce powerful Renaissance women.

While Margaret learned much directly from Anne's example she was also taught by French masters:

to paint and draw, to sing and play the lute. to dance in the style of the French court and to appreciate the music of the royal chapel there.  She learned to write French verse of considerable fluency, and French books would dominate her reading throughout life.

But Margaret's role as queen of France was not to be.  At the age of ten she was jilted by Charles VIII who in a series of political and military maneuvers managed to marry Margaret's then "step-mother" Anne of Brittany.  You see, I wasn't kidding when I told you that the royal Renaissance network was all a-tangle and it's only going to get more complicated!

Margaret remained in France until 1493 when she was returned to the Low Countries.  She was thirteen years old and her education continued uninterrupted under the watchful eye of her step-grandmother, the formidable Margaret of York.

In 1495 a double marriage of their children was negotiated by Maximilian and the joint rulers of Spain, Queen Isabella I of Castile & King Ferdinand II of Aragon.  This double alliance saw Margaret engaged to John of Asturias while her brother Philip the Handsome wed Joanna of Castile in 1496.

Margaret travelled to Spain and on April 3, 1497 at the age of eighteen she married John becoming Princess of Asturias and the presumed future Queen of Spain.  As an interesting side note, Margaret was now sister-in-law to Catherine of Aragon (John's sister) whom she taught to speak French.

Apparently Margaret & John enjoyed a passionate relationship, turning a political alliance into a good marriage, but they only had six months together as John died, possibly from tuberculosis, in October of the same year.  Two months later, Margaret delivered a still-born girl.  She subsequently returned to the Low Countries in 1500 at the invitation of her brother Philip to become godmother to his newborn son, Charles.

In 1501 Margaret entered into marriage for a second time with Philibert II, Duke of Savoy (first cousin of Charles VIII).  Again, this marriage seems to have developed into a relationship that was more than political and again it was of short duration as Philibert died just three years later.

Margaret vowed to never marry again.

At twenty four years of age, Margaret returned to Mechelen, this time to stay.  She still had half her life ahead of her and was just about to embark on a remarkable career as a political leader, guardian, mentor and patroness of the arts.

We'll see what Margaret gets up to next, including her role in the education of Anne Boleyn, in the next post.

Renaissance Women: Margaret of Austria by on 2013-09-21
Frequently appearing in the biographies of others, Margaret of Austria has a fascinating story all of her own.

Images: Margaret of Austria Connections 01 composed by Tatiana Dokuchic; Château d'Amboise Unknown; Paolo Und Francesca Anselm Feuerbach

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