English Literature

Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan and Lorraine, 1522-1590 by Julia Cartwright

Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan and Lorraine, 1522-1590 by Julia Cartwright



The 19th of July, 1507, was a memorable day in the history of Malines. A solemn requiem Mass was sung that morning in the ancient church of S. Rombaut for the soul of Philip, King of Castille and Archduke of Austria, and, by right of his mother, Duke of Burgundy and Count of Flanders and Brabant. The news of this young monarch’s sudden death at Burgos had spread consternation throughout the Netherlands, where the handsome, free-handed Prince was very popular with the subjects who enjoyed peace and prosperity under his rule. “Never,” wrote a contemporary chronicler, “was there such lamentation made for any King, Duke, or Count, as for our good King Philip. There was no church or monastery in the whole land where solemn Masses were not said for the repose of his soul, and the mourning was greatest in the city of Antwerp, where all the people assembled for the yearly Fair wept over this noble young Prince who had died at the age of twenty-eight.”[1] The King’s corpse was laid in the dark vaults of Miraflores, where his widow, the unhappy Queen Juana, kept watch by her husband’s grave night and day; while, in obedience to his last wishes, his heart was brought to the Netherlands and buried in his mother’s tomb at Bruges. Now the States-General and nobles were summoned by Margaret of Austria, the newly-proclaimed Governess of the Netherlands, to attend her brother’s funeral at Malines.


From the gates of the Keyserhof, through the narrow streets of the old Flemish city, the long procession wound its way: Knights of the Golden Fleece, nobles, deputies, Bishops and clergy, merchants, artisans, and beggars, all clad in deep mourning. Twelve heralds, followed by a crowd of gentlemen with lighted torches, bore the armour and banners of the dead King to the portals of S. Rombaut. There an immense catafalque, draped with cloth of gold and blazing with wax lights, had been erected in the centre of the nave. Three golden crowns, symbols of the three realms over which Philip held sway, hung from the vault, and the glittering array of gold and silver images on the high-altar stood out against the sable draperies on the walls. A funeral oration was pronounced by the late King’s confessor, the Bishop of Arras chanted the requiem Mass, and when the last blessing had been given, Golden Fleece threw his staff on the floor, crying: “The King is dead!”[2] At the sound of these thrice-repeated words the heralds lowered their banners to the ground, and there was a moment of profound silence, only broken by the sound of weeping. Then Golden Fleece cried in a ringing voice: “Charles, Archduke of Austria!” and all eyes were turned to the fair, slender boy, who, robed in a long black mantle, knelt alone before the altar. “My lord lives! long may he live!” cried the King-at-Arms; and a great shout went up on all sides: “Long live Charles, Archduke of Austria and Prince of Castille!” A sword blessed by the Bishop of Arras was placed in the boy’s hands, and the heralds of Burgundy, Flanders, Holland, and Friesland, raising their fallen pennons, each in turn proclaimed the titles of the youthful Prince, who was to be known to the world as Charles V.

No one wept more bitterly for King Philip than his only sister, Margaret, the widowed Duchess of Savoy, as she knelt in her oratory close to the great church. Although only twenty-seven, she had known many sorrows. After being wedded to the Dauphin at two years old, and educated at the French Court till she reached the age of thirteen, she was rejected by Charles VIII. in favour of Anne of Brittany, and sent back to her father, the Emperor Maximilian. Three years afterwards she went to Spain as the bride of Don Juan, the heir to the crowns of Castille and Aragon, only to lose her husband and infant son within a few months of each other. In 1501 she became the wife of Duke Philibert of Savoy, with whom she spent the three happiest years of her life. But in September, 1504, the young Duke died of pleurisy, the result of a chill which he caught out hunting, and his heart-broken widow returned once more to her father’s Court.


On the death of Philip in the following year, Maximilian prevailed upon his daughter to undertake the government of the Netherlands, and in April, 1507, Margaret was proclaimed Regent, and took up her abode at Malines. She was a singularly able and gifted woman, and her personal charms and rich dowry soon attracted new suitors. Before she became Regent she had received proposals of marriage from Henry VII. of England, which Maximilian urged her to accept, saying that she might divide the year between England and the Netherlands. Louis XII., who in his boyhood had played with the Archduchess at Amboise, would also gladly have made her his second wife, but, as he remarked: “Madame Marguerite’s father has arranged marriages for her three times over, and each time she has fared badly.” Margaret herself was quite decided on the subject, and declared that she would never marry again. Henceforth she devoted herself exclusively to the administration of the Netherlands and the guardianship of her brother’s young family. Of the six children which Juana of Castille had borne him, two remained in Spain, the younger boy Ferdinand and the infant Katherine, who did not see the light until months after her father’s death. But the elder boy, Charles, and his three sisters, grew up under their aunt’s eye in the picturesque old palace at Malines, which is still known as the Keyserhof, or Cour de l’Empereur. The eldest girl, Eleanor, afterwards Queen of Portugal and France, was two years older than her brother; the second, Isabella, the future Queen of Denmark, born on the 15th of August, 1501, was nearly six; and Mary, the Queen of Hungary, who was to play so great a part in the history of the Netherlands, had only just completed her first year. Margaret, whose own child hardly survived its birth, lavished all a mother’s affection on her youthful nephew and nieces. If the boy was naturally the chief object of her care, the little girls held a place very near to her heart. This was especially the case with “Madame Isabeau,” her godchild, who was born when Margaret was living at Malines before her second marriage. A gentle and charming child, Isabella won the hearts of all, and became fondly attached to the brother who was so nearly her own age.

Margaret’s letters to the Emperor abound in allusions to these children, whose welfare was a matter of deep interest to their grandfather. In the midst of the most anxious affairs of State, when he was presiding over turbulent Diets or warring beyond the Alps, Maximilian was always eager for news of “our very dear and well-beloved children.” The arrangements of their household, the choice of their tutors and companions, their childish maladies and amusements, were all fully reported to him. One unlucky day, when the royal children had just recovered from measles, Madame Isabeau caught the smallpox, and gave it to Madame Marie. Then Madame Leonore complained of her head, and since Margaret had been told that the malady was very contagious, and especially dangerous in winter, she felt it advisable to keep her nephew at Brussels out of reach of infection. But this precaution proved fruitless, for presently the boy sickened and became dangerously ill. Great was the alarm which his condition excited, and it was only at the end of three weeks that Margaret was able to inform the Emperor, who was in Italy fighting against the Venetians, that his grandson was out of danger.[3]

May, 1509] A SFORZA DUKE

The education of Charles and his sisters was the subject of their guardian’s most anxious consideration. A lady of Navarre, Dame Anne de Beaumont, took charge of the little girls from their infancy, and watched over them with a tenderness which earned their lifelong gratitude. The old King of Aragon rewarded this lady with the Order of S. Iago, while Margaret begged that she might be allowed to spend her old age in one of the Archduke’s houses at Ghent, seeing that she had served “Mesdames mes nièces” so long and so well, and had been but poorly paid for her trouble. Among their teachers was Louis Vives, the learned friend of Erasmus, who afterwards became tutor to their cousin, the Princess Mary of England, and took Sir Thomas More’s daughters as his models. Vives taught his pupils Greek and Latin, and made them study the Gospels, and St. Paul’s Epistles, as well as some parts of the Old Testament. French romances, then so much in vogue, were banished from their schoolroom, and the only tales which they were allowed to read were those of Joseph and his brethren, of the Roman matron Lucretia, and the well-known story of Griselda. Madame Leonore was fond of reading at a very early age, but Madame Isabeau was more occupied with her dolls, and is represented holding one in her arms in the triptych of Charles and his sisters at Vienna. All the children were very fond of music, in which they were daily instructed by the Archduchess’s organist, and there is a charming portrait of Eleanor playing on the clavichord in Monsieur Cardon’s collection at Brussels. When, in 1508, the Spanish Legate, Cardinal Carvajal, visited Malines, Charles and his sisters were confirmed by him in the palace chapel, and the Archduke addressed a letter of thanks to Pope Julius II. in his childish round hand.

Margaret was careful to provide her young charges with suitable companions. A niece of Madame de Beaumont and a Spanish girl of noble birth were brought up with the Archduchesses, while the sons of the Marquis of Brandenburg and Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg were among Charles’s playmates. Another youth whom the Emperor sent to be educated at Malines in 1509 was his godson, Maximilian Sforza, the eldest son of the unfortunate Duke Lodovico and Beatrice d’Este. While his younger brother, Francesco, afterwards the husband of Christina of Denmark, remained at Innsbruck with his cousin, the Empress Bianca, Maximilian grew up with Charles, and throughout his life never ceased to regard Margaret as a second mother. The young Duke of Milan’s name often figures in the Archduchess’s correspondence with her father. One day Maximilian tells her to borrow 3,000 livres from the Fuggers, and give them to the Duke, who has not enough to buy his own clothes, let alone those of his servants.[4] At another time we find Margaret appealing to her father to settle the disputes of precedence which have arisen between the Dukes of Milan and Saxe-Lauenburg, upon which Maximilian replied that they were too young to think of such matters, and that for the present they had better take the place of honour on alternate days.

It was a free and joyous life which these young Princes and Princesses led at the Court of Malines. If they were kept strictly to their lessons, they also had plenty of amusements. They played games, shot with bows and arrows, and looked on at stag-hunts from the balcony of the Swan, an old hostelry in the market-place. Charles had a little chariot, drawn by two ponies, in which he often drove his sisters through the town and out into the open country. Above all they enjoyed the visits which they paid to the Castle of Vueren, near Brussels, where Charles often went by his grandfather’s orders to enjoy fresh air and take hunting expeditions. The old Emperor was delighted to hear of his grandson’s taste for sport, and wrote from Augsburg that, if the Archduke had not been fond of hunting, people would have suspected him of being a bastard.[5]


When, in 1512, Maximilian came to Brussels, and Charles was sent to meet him, he begged Margaret to bring the three Princesses, without delay, to “amuse themselves in the park at Vueren,” and sent the haunch of a stag which he had killed that day as a present to his “dear little daughters.” At the children’s urgent entreaty, the Emperor himself rode out to join them at supper, and invited them to a banquet in the palace at Brussels on Midsummer Day. When the English Ambassador, Sir Edward Poynings, came to pay the Emperor his respects, he found His Majesty in riding-boots, standing at the palace gates, with the Lady Regent, the Lord Prince and his sisters, looking on at a great bonfire in the square. The Ambassador and his colleague, Spinelli, were both invited to return to the palace for supper, and had a long conversation with the Lady Margaret, in whom they found the same perfect friend as ever, “while the Prince and his sisters danced gaily with the other young folk till between nine and ten o’clock.”[6]

But this merry party was soon to break up. Before the end of the year Maximilian Sforza crossed the Brenner, and entered Milan amidst the acclamations of his father’s old subjects, and eighteen months later two of the young Archduchesses were wedded to foreign Kings.


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