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Category: Unlucky Princesses

  1. Unlucky Princesses: Claude of France

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    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. Unlucky Princesses: Isabella of England

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    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.


  3. Unlucky Princesses: Madeleine of Valois

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    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.


  4. Unlucky Princesses: Margaret, Maid of Norway

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    In 1543 King Henry VIII signed the Treaty of Greenwich, which included the betrothal of the future King Edward VI of England to his cousin, Mary the future Queen of Scots. Such a marriage could potentially have united the two crowns through the birth of one son and heir. Ultimately it failed as Edward died and Mary married the French Dauphin. But it wasn’t the first time such a marriage had been mooted, and it had also ended with an early death.

    The life of Margaret "the Maid of Norway" was brief and sad. Born in 1283, she was the only child of King Eric II of Norway and his wife Margaret of Scotland, whose father was King Alexander III of Scotland. When Margaret of Scotland married in 1281 the possibility that the Scottish throne might fall to her was being considered – she only had one younger brother still living. King Alexander was aware of the problems this could cause and set out several documents detailing who should inherit and when. 

    Margaret’s birth in 1283 was a mixture of joy and sadness for Alexander. It gave him another new heir but was followed by the death of her mother soon after she was born. Alexander was now reduced to a son and a baby granddaughter. He remarried in November 1285 to Yolande of Dreux. But King Alexander died in five months later in March 1286 after a riding accident. Out riding at night he appears to have missed the edge of a steep embankment. His body was found the next morning with a broken neck. Scotland held it’s breath as Queen Yolande was reportedly pregnant. The chronicles don’t mention what happened to her baby, leaving historians to presume she miscarried. When it became clear that Alexander’s only direct biological heir was three-year-old Margaret, the Bruce family rebelled. 

    Alexander had seen the problems that his death could cause, and had appointed a group of Guardians to rule until Margaret came of age. After the Bruce rebellion fizzled out the Guardians were reluctant to move to punish them. They seem to have been equally as reluctant to summon their toddler Queen. In the end King Eric appealed to King Edward I of England. 

    Edward I proposed the union of the two countries. His eldest son and heir, Edward of Carnarvon, would marry Margaret. Together they would be King and Queen of England and Scotland, and their future son would inherit both thrones. Having spent most of his reign battering the Welsh, the thought of adding the Scottish crown to the Plantagenet domains was just too tempting for the King. Especially since both Prince Edward and Princess Margaret were still children and therefore a long regency would be needed.

    Margaret of course was being raised in the Norwegian court by her father. Eric wouldn’t remarry until ten years after his wife’s death. Actual records about Margaret’s life are scarce, but she would have been cared for in a nursery, albeit without the company of siblings.

    In late August 1290 she was finally dispatched from Norway, bound for the island of Orkney. But on the journey over the North Sea the young princess fell ill. Her escort reached Orkney and disembarked for more comfortable quarters (and hopefully better care) but it was in vain. Margaret died on 26 September aged just 7 years old. She never saw Scotland or met her intended bridegroom. Her death plunged Scotland in to a constitutional crisis as two separate branches of the extended Royal family fought over the throne. Her body was taken back to Norway where her grieving father had her buried next to her mother in Christ Church cathedral, Bergen. Her grave, and that of her mother, was lost when the church was destroyed in 1531.

    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Ingeborg of Denmark.

  5. Unlucky Princesses: Ingeborg of Denmark

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    A Danish princess by birth and a Queen of France by marriage, Ingeborg of Denmark tends to be forgotten about. The great Royal marriage battle between King and Queen that most people remember, is the one between King Henry VIII of England and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. But Ingeborg's own battle was not only far more protracted, it was ultimately successful.

    Ingeborg was born some time around 1174 although the exact date and place of her birth is unrecorded. Her father was King Valdemar “The Great” of Denmark, while her mother was Sofia of Minsk. Valdemar died in 1182 leaving Ingeborg's eldest brother Canute as King Canute VI.

    In 1190 the Queen of France, Isabelle of Hainault, died leaving King Philip II a widower. It's unknown whether Philip made the original enquiries about Ingeborg, or whether Canute suggested his sister as a possible bride, but by 1193 a treaty had been negotiated and the marriage agreed. King Philip had requested support from the Danish fleet and the rights of the Danish royal family to the English throne. Canute instead gave ten thousand silver marks, a hefty dowry but not quite what Philip had wanted.

    Ingeborg of DenmarkThe marriage ceremony took place on 15 August 1193 with the coronation held the next day. But the festivities did not end happily. Philip reportedly started to feel ill on seeing his new wife at the coronation, and soon after the ceremony was complete he tried to persuade the Danes to take her back with them to the Danish court. He claimed that he hadn't consummated the marriage and wanted an annulment. Ingeborg, alone in a foreign country bar the Danes who had accompanied her, fled in to sanctuary in a convent at Soissons. From there she appealed to Pope Celestine III for help convincing Philip that she was his lawful wife.

    Philip's response was to have a fraudulent genealogical map drawn up that showed that he and Ingeborg were too closely related for the marriage to be allowed. An ecclesiastical council, based in France and thus under Philip's control, agreed and declared the marriage void. The Pope refused to believe it, especially after the Danes presented their own family tree disproving the French version. Philip then claimed that the marriage hadn't been consummated as he had been made impotent through witchcraft on the wedding night. Ingeborg insisted that this wasn't true either.

    Three years after Ingeborg had fled in to sanctuary Philip remarried to Agnes of Merania. They had two children, Marie and Philip, but successive Popes refused to validate the marriage or recognise the children as legitimate. Philip was repeatedly told to repudiate Agnes and return to Ingeborg, but he refused and spent years trying to prove that his second marriage wasn't valid. Ingeborg spent just as much time begging for help and support. Although she had gone to the convent “willingly” she was still at the mercy of Philip. She claimed she was refused proper spiritual guidance, she was not allowed to confess and rarely heard Mass. This was considered to be excessively cruel treatment of a pious woman, and did nothing to help Philip's reputation.

    There is still some debate by historians over the real reason for Philip's sudden change of heart over the marriage. Chroniclers at the time claimed he had been struck down by an illness, others sought to place the blame on Ingeborg. She was accused of having bad breath, something wrong with her body, or not being a virgin (the first two excuses were also used by people to excuse Henry VIII's dislike of Anne of Cleves). Alternatively it could be that Philip realised the Danes were unlikely to be particularly useful allies. At best he'd probably bought their neutrality, what he wanted was active support and the use of their navy. Historian George Conklin has also suggested that Ingeborg showed very early on that she was an independent, intelligent woman, who was unlikely to be a silent partner in their marriage.

    Whatever his reasons for trying to divorce Ingeborg, in 1213 Philip suddenly agreed that he and Ingeborg had been lawfully married after all. Agnes of Merania had died in 1201, reportedly of a broken heart after Philip dismissed her in an attempt to get the Pope on side. But Ingeborg was wife and Queen of France in name only. Philip continued to live apart from her and she does not appear to have created any kind of court environment of her own. Philip's death in 1223 finally freed Ingeborg. On his death bed Philip reportedly asked his son Louis to treat Ingeborg well, possibly through guilt that he had failed to do so. She spent the last years of her life living quietly in a convent that she had founded near Corbeil, granting generous support to various religious houses and groups such as the Cistercians. She died some time after 1237 and was buried at St John's church in Corbeil. Sadly the brass that covered her tomb was destroyed during the French Revolution, leaving only a drawing of how it looked.

    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Margaret of Austria.