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  1. Reportedly shy with an interest in religion, not to mention severe health problems, Claude probably would have lived longer if she had been able to dedicate her life to a convent. Instead necessity led to a political match that put her on her mother's throne, and a series of pregnancies that considerably shortened her life.

    Born in October 1499 Claude was the eldest daughter of Anne of Brittany and her second husband King Louis XII of France. Anne had been married to the previous King of France, Charles VIII, and his death without a surviving male heir saw his cousin Louis claim the throne and marry his wife. Both men were keen to ensure that Brittany became part of the French kingdom. But this would only happen if Anne, the last Duchess of Brittany, had a son who was both King of France and Duke of Brittany.

    Posthumous portrait of Claude of France surrounded by women in her family.While the birth of a daughter may not have been ideal for Louis, it gave Anne a way out for her beloved Duchy. Claude's gender made her ineligible to inherit the French throne, but it didn't stop her inheriting Brittany. Behind the scenes Anne manoeuvred to get Claude a husband from beyond France's boundaries. Just before her second birthday in 1501, Claude was officially betrothed to the 18 month old Charles Habsburg. Charles would eventually become Holy Roman Emperor, Duke of Burgundy, and King of Spain, Duke of Brittany would have been an added bonus. That was without the rest of Claude's dowry, rights to a collection of lands in France and Italy would have significantly added to the Emperor's domains.

    But in France itself Anne was facing opposition. As the years went by and a male heir failed to appear King Louis looked around for a back up plan. The next potential heir was Francis d'Orleans, who was five years Claude's senior. He was being raised by his mother Louise of Savoy, who was was far from keen to see her son's inheritance reduced by Queen Anne. Louise reportedly persuaded the King to promise her that Francis and Claude would be married. Louis fell sick in 1505 and at one point may have feared for his life. He set up plans for Francis to be helped by a regency council that included both Anne and Louise, and called off Claude's betrothal to Charles. Instead she was officially recognised as the future bride of Francis. When her father died she would be Queen of France, and her son by Francis would inherit Brittany through her.

    Queen Anne's following pregnancies all ended in miscarriages until Claude was finally joined by a baby sister, Renee, in 1510. When Anne had married Louis she had included a clause in their marriage contract that Brittany should be inherited by the second surviving child, boy or girl. In January 1514 she suffered a severe kidney-stone attack. As it became clear that she wasn't going to survive she dictated her will, in which she granted her beloved Brittany to Renee. Louis cancelled the bequest, gave Brittany to Claude, and married her to Francis four months after Anne's death.

    Anne hadn't even been dead a year when Louis married again, to Mary Tudor the younger sister of King Henry VIII of England. Mary was Queen of France for three months before Louis died, and Claude stepped up to her mother's throne.

    Sadly for Claude her ill health meant that she couldn't play the key role she might have hoped for. Francis was close to his family and had his mother and older sister Marguerite at court with him. Both women were clever, sophisticated, beautiful and elegant. They commanded attention and carried out the kind of patronage that should have been expected of Claude. But the young Queen appears to have been rather shy. This wasn't helped by her health problems. She was quite short and had such severe scoliosis that she reportedly had a hunched back, along with a problem with her hips (possibly dyplasia) that she inherited from Anne.

    Francis notoriously had a number of mistresses, but seems to have been relatively discreet. His and Claude's first child was Louise, born in August 1515 and presumably named for her paternal grandmother. Charlotte, Francis, Henry, Madeleine, Charles and Margaret all followed over the space of another 8 years. In fact Claude was pregnant for most of her marriage. Her pregnancies made her health worse and she grew increasingly obese. Of her children Henry eventually inherited the throne from his father, Madeleine became a short-lived Queen of Scotland, and Margaret became Duchess of Savoy. The others all died young or before they were married.

    Sadly Claude never saw her children grow up. She died on 20 July 1524 just six weeks after giving birth to Margaret. Her cause of death was never recorded. It could have been a postnatal infection, or an underlying health problem that was made worse by successive pregnancies. There was even some suggestion from sources that Francis had given her syphilis, which had caused her death.

    Although he was devastated by the news Francis himself was too busy preparing to go to war to arrange the kind of funeral a Queen required. Claude's remains were embalmed and sealed in a lead casket and left at Saint-Calais church in Blois. She was finally buried at St Denis in Paris in November 1526. Her daughter Charlotte, who had died 2 months after her from measles, was buried at the same time.

    If you've enjoyed this post you might want to check out the rest of the Unlucky Princess series.


  2. At the death of Queen Anne on 1 August 1714 the throne of Great Britain passed from the House of Stuart, to the House of Hanover. Despite multiple pregnancies Anne's only child to live past the age of three had been Prince William, Duke of Gloucester.

    Born in July 1689 at Hampton Court Palace, William was recognised from birth as being second in line to the thrones of England and Scotland. The year before his grandfather, King James, had been deposed in the “Glorious Revolution”. King William III and Queen Mary II, Anne's sister and brother-in-law, now sat on the throne. As the pair were childless Princess Anne was recognised as their heir, with her children succeeding to the throne after her.

    William Duke of Gloucester with ermine-lined cloak and wearing the Order of the GarterWilliam's birth was greeted with celebration. Here at last was the male Protestant heir who would guarantee the nation's future and religion. At birth he appeared to be healthy, but at 3 weeks old he suffered a series of convulsions that impacted his health for the rest of his life. His mother had him moved to Craven House at Kensington, where the gravel pits were believed to have purer, healthier air. William was even placed in his own miniature carriage that was pulled by Shetland ponies, and driven around the surrounding estate, in order to benefit from the air.

    Whatever the original cause of his convulsions (seizures in babies can be caused by ear infections, chicken pox and meningitis), it seems to have led to hydrocephalus. As a child his head was reportedly so big it would fit a man's hat, and his doctors occasionally had to draw off fluid from it. He was unable to speak until he was three, and for some time he refused to walk up stairs without servants holding him. He may have felt unsafe on his own feet if his illness was causing balance issues. However in typical 17th century parenting style his father, Prince George, birched him as punishment. After this William agreed to walk unaided.

    As he grew older William's life became a battleground between his mother and his aunt and uncle. King William and Queen Mary were fond of him, often visiting him at his home or entertaining him at theirs. King William complimented him on his miniature army of local children, called the “Horse Guards”, while Queen Mary spoiled him with frequent toy purchases from his favourite shop. But Anne had fallen out with the King and Queen, and only allowed the relationship as a way to keep their focus on William as the future heir to the throne.

    Mary died in December 1694, when William was just five. His mother and uncle had a public reconciliation, which included Anne moving to St James' Palace with her husband and son, but personally things remained cold between them. The King had a greater say in Prince William's life than his mother would have liked.

    For his seventh birthday Prince William became a knight of the Order of the Garter at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. The banquet thrown to celebrate left the little boy sick and retiring to bed early, but he joined in the hunt the next day. A year later in 1697, Prince William was granted his own establishment. However King William and Princess Anne fought over appointments to the household, particularly in 1698. King William was eventually persuaded to accept Anne's requests to put her Marlborough friends in prominent positions, but he kept his choice of tutor despite Anne's dislike of the man.

    Although Prince William had been slow to talk and unsteady on his feet, he was a fast learner under the tutelage of Bishop Burnet. 17th century education wasn't particularly inspired, consisting of committing facts and dates to memory. But William appears to have had particularly good recall, making him a success. King William also made him an honorary commander of a regiment of Dutch footguards, as his child model army had been disbanded.

    On 24 July 1700 Prince William's 11th birthday was celebrated with a party at Windsor castle, including a banquet followed by dancing and a firework display. The Prince threw himself wholeheartedly in to the festivities, and ended up being put to bed feeling chilled and with a sore throat. Over the following two days his temperature rose until he fell in to delirium. No one knew what the cause was, he didn't show any other signs of smallpox. The doctors attending him bled him, but when another physician – Dr Radcliffe – arrived, he claimed that such actions had effectively killed the patient.

    Prince William died in the early hours of 30 July at Windsor Castle. He had never been joined in the Royal nursery by a little brother or sister, his death left his parents heirless. He was buried at Westminster Abbey, and the throne eventually passed to a distant cousin, George of Hanover.

    Last month's Almost King was Prince Albert Victor.


  3. Some princesses, even unlucky ones, could at least wield some kind of political power. They ruled the domestic side of a court, had a certain degree of patronage of artists and writers, or gained reputations for piousness and charity. But sometimes even a princess can become a virtual cipher to history.

    Isabella of EnglandIsabella of England was the fourth child of King John and his wife Isabella of Angouleme. Born some time in 1214, probably in the city of Gloucester, Isabella grew up with her siblings rather than her parents. Her father John died in 1216. Queen Isabella saw her eldest son Henry crowned King of England, but less than a year later she returned to France to claim Angouleme in her own right. With her went her eldest daugher, Princess Joan, who was to be raised in the home of her betrothed, Hugh Lusignan. In 1220 Queen Isabella usurped this arrangement and married Hugh herself, and then refused to send Joan back to England until she received guarantees about her dower.

    Very little is known about the early life of Isabella, or her younger sister Eleanor. They certainly didn't join their mother in France. Although Henry was King he was too young to rule on his own, so the regency who ruled in his name no doubt arranged appropriate care for Isabella and Eleanor too. At some point, once she was older, Isabella probably took up a place at her brother's court. Henry didn't marry until 1236, and Joan may have been in Scotland as early as 1221, leaving Isabella to be the first lady of the English court.

    In 1235 Isabella was betrothed to the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Aged around 21 at the time, Isabella was marrying a bit late by royal standards. Her sister Eleanor had married young, to the son of William Marshall (also called William). Her older sister, Joan, had been married to the King of Scotland following the collapse of her betrothal to Hugh Lusignan. Had Joan refused to go north, or had she died in childbirth early on, it might have been Isabella who was sent to replace her. However Henry himself was still unmarried, and several potential betrothals had been scuppered by the French. It's possible that Henry's attention was on his own marital plans, leaving Isabella sidelined until someone stepped forward with an offer to marry her.

    Reportedly Isabella's marriage came about after a suggestion from the Pope to Emperor Frederick himself. Frederick had been married twice already and wasn't going to take a third wife without some financial benefit. Henry had to find thirty thousand marks as a dowry for his sister, and the resulting tax lead to loud complaints in England. Nonetheless Isabella was suitably catered for, and took a trousseau and a bevy of servants to the continent when she left England that summer. She proved to be popular as she travelled across Europe, even removing her veil so the women of Cologne could see her face. She finally met Frederick in July 1235 and married him at Worms Cathedral that same month. She was crowned on the same day, becoming Holy Roman Empress.

    Sadly though the marriage was a farce. Frederick promptly sent all his wife's English servants, bar two women, back to England. Isabella was rarely seen in public, instead she was placed in Frederick's “harem”. Her primary residence was at Noventa Padovana near Padua in northern Italy, where her husband periodically visited her. Very little was heard of her from that point on. She's believed to have had four children in five years, of which only two survived.

    In 1240 Isabella received a special visit from her brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Richard had been on crusade and was now returning to England via a “grand tour” of Italy. However even this visit couldn't release Isabella from her confinement. Frederick threw a lavish reception for Richard, but refused to let Isabella attend. Her meeting with Richard was a private affair, and if he heard any complaints from her he doesn't appear to be publicised them. He was the last family member that Isabella would see. On 1 December 1241 she died at Foggia shortly after giving birth to her last child, believed to be her daughter Margaret. She was, at most, just 27 years old. Frederick buried her at Andria Cathedral next to his second wife, another Isabella. As Empress she might have expected some key public role, and a court to run like her sister-in-law Eleanor of Provence. Instead her life and death were virtually anonymous, and mentioned only in reference to the men in her life.

    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Madeleine of Valois.


  4. After surviving the usual childhood illnesses, as well as a stint in the Royal Navy, Albert Victor was virtually a shoe-in to one day become King Albert I. Unfortunately a winter chill changed everything.

    Born two months premature in January 1864 at Frogmore House in Windsor, at the time of Albert's birth his grandmother, Queen Victoria, was still on the throne. He wasn't Victoria's first grandchild, but he was the first of her eldest son Edward, Prince of Wales. Therefore Albert was second in line to the throne from birth.

    Prince Albert Victor as a young man in military uniformAlbert and his brother George, younger by seventeen months, were given the same tutor and same education. Neither of them did particularly well, something which could be blamed on poor teaching. But as he grew up Albert showed little interest in anything academic. He learned Danish, but struggled to pick up French and German, languages his parents and grandmother were fluent in. In 1877 both Albert and George were signed up to the navy and sent to the training ship HMS Brittania. Albert fell ill with typhoid but recovered, and by 1879 he was ready to be deployed. He and George spent 3 years travelling the world as crewmen on HMS Bacchante. By the time they returned the pair had seen more of the British Empire than their father and grandmother combined.

    On returning to Britain, Albert was enrolled in Trinity College Cambridge. He still wasn't particularly academic, but he was excused from taking exams so it hardly mattered. He was finally awarded an honorary degree by Cambridge in 1888, three years after he left. Instead of continuing his education he was enrolled in the army, in the 10th Hussars. He trained at Aldershot before being promoted to captain in 1887. But again his lack of talent prevented him going further than Major, and then his classmates proceeded to be promoted above him. He may also have contracted an STD by this point, as letters to his doctor refer to him taking medication that was generally used to treat gonorrhea.

    As an adult Albert was a diffident young man. He was considered to be perfectly affable and good natured, but with no talent and no occupation he quickly grew bored. He might have been given Prince Albert's name, but he was as far as one could get from the kind of King that his grandfather would have wanted. He had inherited his father's interest in card games and pretty women, but unlike Edward he lacked any kind of work ethic.

    In July 1889 the police raided a male brothel in Cleveland Street, London. During interrogation the names of the clients were soon divulged, including Albert's equerry, Lord Albert Somerset. Although Albert's name was never mentioned by any of those arrested, it wasn't long before the association between the two men led to a rumour that Albert also visited the same establishment. This wasn't helped by Somerset's lawyer, who claimed that if his client went to court he would reveal the name of one “P.A.V.” (Prince Albert Victor) who also visited Cleveland Street. Somerset himself fled abroad and refused to condone the rumours about Albert.

    In the end Albert's father the Prince of Wales intervened and made sure that none of the clients would end up in court. For some this is proof that Albert had indeed visited the brothel and his father covered it up as a result. It may be that Albert was bisexual, or followed expectations at the time and been firmly in the closet. Alternatively Somerset's lawyer may have spread the rumours himself to take the focus off his client. But the scandal was enough to prompt the family to step in and draw a line under the matter, and to start hunting for a suitable bride.

    A further scandal enveloped Albert's life long after his death. In the 1960s it was suggested that he could have been Jack the Ripper. However papers from the time show that Albert was no where near London during several of the murders. It's also generally accepted that killer had some kind of surgical skill, well beyond the capabilities of Albert.

    The search for a bride for Albert started as early as 1889. His cousin Princess Alix was considered to be the frontrunner. But when he proposed she declined. She would go on to fall in love with and marry Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. A year later Albert was quite over her, and instead had fallen in love with Princess Helene of Orleans. Originally Queen Victoria was against the match, but the young couple convinced her that they were in love. Always sentimental at heart when it came to love, and with a soft spot for Albert, Victoria decided to give her blessing.

    But other family members were less forthcoming. The Princess' father in particular was opposed to the match, and the Prince of Wales wasn't thrilled either. Helene had offered to convert from Catholicism in order to marry Albert, but her father refused to accept this as a condition. In a desperate attempt to get around her father, Helene even travelled to Rome to appeal to the Pope in person. Why she thought this would work is a mystery, naturally the Pope refused to give her permission to convert from the Church. Ultimately the pair gave up, Helene would go on to marry the Duke of Aosta in 1895.

    But a bride had to be found for Albert, and there was a shortage of suitable women. Apart from his European cousins, Queen Victoria reportedly complained that other potential continental brides were too stupid or too ugly to be considered. However waiting in the wings at home was another relation – Princess Mary “May” of Teck. Mary's mother was a cousin of Queen Victoria, as she was another granddaughter of King George III. Mary was beautiful, educated, down to earth and well liked. She took an active interest in charities and good works, and was considered to be a practical, sensible young woman. The hope was that she would help reform Albert, who was entertaining himself with actresses.

    The Prince was quite taken with his pretty potential bride, and proposed to her in December 1891. Unlike Princess Alix, there was no refusal from Princess Mary. A public announcement was made that the pair were engaged, and the wedding was set for February 1892. Together they moved on to Sandringham to spend the festive season with Albert's family, the Prince and Princess of Wales held Christmas at Sandringham every year. However early in the New Year Albert felt ill while out on a shooting trip in the cold January air. He quickly fell sick with the flu. He struggled through his birthday celebrations on 8 January, but took to his bed shortly after. As his temperature rose he reportedly cried out for Princess Helene. Flu developed in to pneumonia, and he died on 14 January 1892. His death shocked the nation. The sudden loss of a healthy twenty eight year old heir to the throne came out of the blue. He was buried in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

    In similar style to Arthur Tudor and Catherine of Aragon, Albert's younger brother Prince George took both the throne and the bride. Mary was still considered good enough to be a Queen Consort, and she had merely been engaged to Albert. George and Mary became close during their period of mourning, and were married in July 1893.

    Last month's Almost King was Henry Stuart.


  5. Like many princesses, Madeleine of Valois wanted to be a Queen. Sadly the man that fell for her was the King of a country whose climate wasn't ideal for a young woman in poor health.

    Born in August 1520, Madeleine was the fifth child and third daughter of King Francis I of France and his wife, Claude. By the time of her birth her eldest sister Louise was already dead, but the nursery still had Charlotte, Francis, and Henry. Madeleine herself was followed by Charles in 1522, and Marguerite in 1523.

    Madeleine of Valois in a black dress with white fur draped over her arms.In 1524, just over a year after Marguerite's birth, Claude died at the Château de Blois. Madeleine's sister Princess Charlotte died two months later. The Royal nursery, which was under the care of Madame du Brissac, now fractured. Madeleine and Marguerite were sent to live with their paternal aunt, another Marguerite de Valois, the Duchess of Alencon. A year later Madeleine's father King Francis was captured at the Battle of Pavia, and Young Francis and Henry were sent to Spain as hostages in his place.

    Through the political upheaval Madeleine continued to reside with her aunt, even when Marguerite married the King of Navarre. Marguerite was highly educated, and like her mother Louise of Savoy had gained a reputation as a mediator and diplomat. She was an ideal role model for a Royal princess; clever, witty, generous to the poor, and a patron of artists and writers. She wrote and published poems and plays, and kept up a prolific written correspondence. Although little is known specifically about Madeleine's own education, her aunt would have neglected her duty if she didn't ensure that her two nieces were well educated.

    In 1530 Madeleine moved again. Francis had married for a second time. His new bride was effectively foisted on him as part of the treaty negotiated with Emperor Charles. The new Queen of France was Charles' sister, Eleanor of Austria. A former Queen of Portugal by her first marriage, Eleanor was the niece of Catherine of Aragon. Although Francis married her and had her crowned at Saint-Denis, he was a reluctant groom and preferred the company of his mistress. Although her marriage was unhappy Eleanor was determined to make the most of her new life. She gathered her Royal step-children around her, including the two surviving princesses.

    At some point in her childhood Madeleine appears to have contracted tuberculosis. Her health was fragile, she wasn't strong enough to ride or hunt, and had to be transported in a carriage when the household was on the move. So when King James V of Scotland stated that he wanted to marry her, his proposal was shot down by Francis.

    The problem was that France and Scotland had signed the Treaty of Rouen, one of the terms of which was that a French Princess would be given as a bride to the Scottish king. Francis feared an early death for his daughter if he married her off, she was hardly likely to survive childbirth. Instead he negotiated for James to marry Mary de Bourbon, daughter of the Duke of Vendome. Although James initially agreed, even signing a marriage contract, he still wanted a Princess. He decided to pay a visit to France to view Mary, arriving at Dieppe in September 1536. Ultimately he decided that Mary wasn't the one for him. He'd been promised a Princess, and even the promise of a dowry worthy of one of the Royal blood wasn't enough.

    James had chosen his time badly. Shortly before his arrival the Dauphin Francis had died. The court was officially in mourning, but King Francis invited the Scottish king to meet with him at Lyons. When they met James reminded Francis that the Treaty of Rouen had stipulated a French Princess for a bride. Francis was now caught in an unenviable position; help James break the marriage contract with Mary, and agree to a new bride. Furthermore King Henry VIII, who was James' uncle, had sent word to Francis that he personally objected to any marriage between the two countries.

    Francis managed to juggle his competing issues. Mary was proposed as a bride for the Lorraine family. Henry VIII was facing problems at home so could be safely ignored. The Pope was contacted and agreed to a marriage between Scotland and France. All James needed to do now was pick which of the two French princesses he wished to marry. Francis may have been hoping he would pick Marguerite, who had none of the health problems that plagued her eldest sister.

    But James chose Madeleine. It may even have been a love match, when she was well Madeleine was reportedly charming and lively. She actively wanted to be a Queen, after all she was daughter of the Queen of France, step-daughter to the Queen of Portugal and had been raised by the Queen of Navarre. Her family however were deeply upset. Scotland was considered to be a harsh country. The people were uncivilised, and the climate was too cold and wet for someone with her health problems. She had grown up in the comfort and luxury of the French court, the Scottish one would never be able to match up.

    But Madeleine insisted, and so did James. The marriage contract was signed in November 1536. Madeleine was granted a large dowry, and James agreed she would be given a variety of properties as her dower. On 1 January 1537 the pair were married at Notre Dame cathedral, with King Francis escorting his daughter to the cathedral. The marriage was celebrated with a banquet, followed by several weeks of parties. Francis bestowed a collection of expensive gifts to his daughter and her new husband, from tapestries to beds, and silver plate to carpets.

    As the winter weather improved the Royal family began to move towards the coast for James and Madeleine's departure for Scotland. Madeleine fell ill with a bad fever on the way, and took a long time to recover. They finally reached the coast in May, embarking for Scotland several days later. Their journey was difficult, with bad storms delaying the start of the journey. The ships finally arrived at Leith on 19 May 1537.

    Sadly though Madeleine still hadn't recovered her health from her earlier fever. James wrote to Francis asking him to send over another doctor. She was moved to Fife, where the air was considered to be healthy, but insisted on returning to Edinburgh to be near her husband. She might even have convinced herself that she was on the mend. A letter to her father dated 8 June stated that she was feeling much better.

    Preparations were being made for her coronation. She was writing to Francis asking for some pearls and robes he had promised her, she may have wanted them for her official entry in to Edinburgh. But the return to better health was only brief. She fell ill again and died in James' arms on 7 July, having never had her coronation. She was nicknamed “The Summer Queen” on account of her brief reign as James' wife. Despite his love for his wife James still needed an heir. A year later he was walking down the aisle with another French woman, Mary of Guise. James' own early death meant that Mary had to step up to an unexpected political role, protecting the throne for their daughter Mary. As a result, and due to the shortness of their marriage, Madeleine tends to be forgotten as James' first Queen.

    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Margaret of Norway.