Welcome to August! I must admit, it's not my favourite month of the year as I don't like the hot weather. But it is nice to see so many flowers in people's gardens, and I suppose it makes a change from all the rain we had over winter.
Even though the website has only been up for a month it's still been one of change. Along with sorting out some new photos for a few badges I also released a new product line; fridge magnets! At 58 mm they're a lovely size and I deliberately went with bright colours for the designs so that they stand out on the fridge, I've got I Love Ancient History on my fridge at the moment and I always smile when I see it.
Naturally August isn't going to see me slowing down. There will be new badge designs and a brand new product line. There will also be more blog posts, with the first one coming on Monday for a certain important anniversary that we've been building up to for a while now...
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If you're not familiar with certain aspects of history, and you're working through a book on medieval history, dozens of unfamiliar terms and situations can assail you. Salic law, primogeniture, proxy weddings.
Proxy weddings? What on earth is that!?
What was a proxy wedding?
A proxy wedding will generally only refer to a marriage that is being held between two upper-class people in different countries or territories. Most of the time it will involve a Prince and a Princess, but one or both parties could be a duke, duchess or another highborn person, since these were the people who contracted marriages across whole countries. Such a marriage would often be designed to cement alliances or provide a balance against regional political problems. Quite often the first step would involve officially arranging a betrothal, this could involve children but also infants and newborns, at least one French Royal marriage was arranged when the bride was a mere three months old.
Once the bride reached a suitable age - twelve was the legal minimum for marriage but was no guarantee that anything would take place before they were fourteen or fifteen - a proxy wedding would be held. This ceremony was identical to the proper marriage ceremony, but with a stand-in or "proxy" for the groom, sometimes a close family relative or another highborn nobleman from his country. This marriage was completely legally binding, but only between the bride and the real groom, the proxy had no claim over the bride. The marriage would be celebrated by the bride's family with the usual banquets and festivities, and it was often soon after this that the bride would be packed up and sent to her new husband and home in the company of those who had been sent over to take part in the proxy wedding.
Upon arrival at her new country a second marriage ceremony would often be performed with her real groom, complete with even more celebrations. There was no real need for a second ceremony as the first was technically legally binding, but it did give an opportunity for a party and gave the political elite a chance to show off to their people.
Anne of Denmark had a proxy wedding to James VI of Scotland (image from WikiCommons)
Why was it needed?
Proxy weddings served both a personal and public service. The bride and groom would be strangers, they may have exchanged some letters as they grew up if they had been betrothed as children, but they wouldn't see each other until the day before their wedding, or a few days earlier if they were lucky. If the bride got to her new home and the groom or his family took an instant dislike to her then the legally-binding proxy wedding prevented them from sending her home in disgrace. They could annul the wedding, but that was a lengthy process that involved appealing to the Pope, and in the meantime they would have to deal with vociferous complaints from the bride's family and demands to cover the costs of sending her home. Likewise it protected the groom, should the bride find that she didn't want to marry then there was no choice, short of possibly entering a convent (and even then the groom's family could appeal to the Pope, who could nullify any Holy Orders she had made since she was, technically, married). By marrying by proxy neither party could flee the altar.
On a public level it provided the bride with protection. Travelling in the medieval period was a dangerous business. While it was unlikely that a common thief would attempt to rob a Princess escorted by a dozen knights, her ladies and a retinue of servants, a hostile nation with an army was a very real threat as were pirates in the Mediterranean and the English Channel. Should the bride end up captured, or forced by bad weather to take shelter in hostile territory, then it was in the best interests of her groom's family to help her family retrieve her since he couldn't marry someone else.
Very often there is some confusion between a betrothal and a proxy wedding. Generally a betrothal would be considered to be the first step in the process, it was a promise that the couple would marry in the future. Betrothals were also legally binding, but it was fairly easy for them to be revoked in the future should circumstances change. In a proxy wedding the couple were married, just at a distance.
It should also be kept in mind that not all upper-class medieval weddings included a proxy marriage, for some a betrothal was enough. Marriages could also be arranged when the bride was past the canon-age for consummation, while it was possible for some to be betrothed in the cradle others were teenagers before a suitable groom came along.
Proxy weddings in history include James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark and Arthur Prince of Wales and Catherine of Aragon.
On this day in 1501, Isabella of Austria was born to Philip of Burgundy and his wife Juana “the Mad” of Castile. I first came across Isabella when researching 30 Women in History, and her story has always struck me as one tinged with sadness.
Isabella of Austria (image from Wikipedia)
Her family life was unconventional even for the time. She was left with her father’s step-mother-in-law, and then his sister, while her parents frequently travelled to Spain. Philip died when Isabella was only five years old and her mother was declared mad and eventually locked up in Castile by Isbella’s grandfather Ferdinand of Aragon. She was under the care of her aunt Margaret, with her grandfather Maximilian, the Holy Roman Emperor, acting as father in Philip’s place.
When she was fourteen she was married to King Christian II of Denmark, making her Queen of Denmark. But Christian had a mistress, Dyveke, and Isabella found that she came second in both her husband’s heart and at court, where she had very little influence. She only came into her own after Dyveke died.
She and Christian had three sons (of whom two died in infancy) and two daughters, as well as a further stillborn son. But in 1523 her husband was overthrown as King of Denmark (and Norway, and he had also conquered Sweden for a short time) and she was given a choice between exile with her husband or staying in Denmark under the protection of the new King. She chose her husband, and the pair of them moved to Germany, seeking allies who would help Christian regain his throne. It was in Germany that Isabella came in contact with Lutherism. It is believed that she had been considering a conversion to what would become Protestantism, but when her fiercely Catholic Hapsburg relatives heard about her new interest they were furious and Christian encouraged her to keep her feelings quiet, probably because he was worried her family would refuse to help him regain his throne.
In 1525 Isabella fell ill and never recovered. She died later that year near Ghent in modern-day Belgium. She was only twenty four years old. Even in an age of high mortality and powerless women she seems to have had more than her fair share of problems, and it’s quite sad that she is rarely remembered.
As part of my eBook research, and because I enjoy reading about other areas of history, I buy and read quite a lot of history books. One of the best ones I’ve read this year is “Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe” by Nancy Goldstone (please excuse the research tabs I've had to stick in the book, it's proved to be very useful XD)
I’ve read some of Goldstone’s works before, one of the main ones being “Joanna: The Notorious Queen of Naples”. That was a book I found a hard slog to go through, partly because Joanna faced a lot of problems during her reign and so the book was very large, partly because it just seemed like the writing was a bit difficult to get through. Naturally I was worried that Four Queens would be the same, but luckily it wasn’t.
Four Queens tells the story of the daughters of Raymond Berenger, the Count of Provence, and his wife Beatrice of Savoy. They had four daughters and no sons, and one by one their daughters married into two of Europe’s leading families. Their eldest daughter Margaret became Queen of France, Eleanor (the second daughter) married King Henry III of England, Sanchia married Henry’s brother Richard Earl of Cornwall, and the youngest sister Beatrice married Margaret’s brother-in-law the Count of Anjou and also inherited Provence from their father.
Normally English history only focuses on Eleanor of Provence since she and Henry faced rebellion during their reign. But as this book shows, these sisters all had interesting lives. Margaret and Beatrice both went on Crusade with their husbands and Beatrice went with her husband when he conquered Sicily, while Sanchia followed Richard to the continent when he became King of the Germans. Thanks to the efforts of Margaret and Eleanor, England and France spent a great deal of time at peace, rather than constantly fighting between each other.
This book starts off with the girls’ childhood in Provence and follows each one chapter by chapter. Generally Goldstone tries to focus one chapter on each woman, but there are points where even though a chapter is focusing on one woman, one or two of her sisters will get a prominent role as well, simply because they spent time together. This alternating between women actually makes the book easier to read without becoming too confusing, it also gives plenty of stopping-off places if you’re reading during lunch or tea break and need to put it down.
Goldstone also does her best to make sure the book actually focuses on the women themselves. There are many history books, even those that are meant to be about women in history, that focus purely on kings. While the husbands are mentioned frequently to explain the historical context, Goldstone then ensures that she explains the women’s side of things, postulating theories on their feelings and reactions. It helps that her research has included letters between Margaret and Eleanor, which give a more personal flavour about the relationship between the two queens (even though the letters were probably dictated to clerks by the queens themselves).
If there is one complaint I have about this book, it’s that there is a presumption towards understanding or second-guessing the thoughts of the women involved. But this may simply be due to the evidence Goldstone has used, I imagine that reading letters and personal accounts gives a far more intimate glimpse into the lives than simply summing them up does.
Overall I think this is a really good book, I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about Eleanor of Provence, and especially anyone who wants to know more about upper-class women in Medieval Europe.
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I will be using this space to highlight new products, give book reviews on both historical fiction and non-fiction, tell you about any interesting historical places I've been recently, or just post up an interesting historical fact or figure that I've heard about.
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