Elisabeth of Austria (1554-1592)

Elisabeth of Austria (1554-1592)

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Elisabeth of Austria was a German princess member of the House of Habsburg, by birth Archduchess of Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 and by marriage Queen of France.

She was the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

 Maximilian II
Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor
Maximilian II was king of Bohemia and king of the Romans from 1562, king of Hungary and Croatia from 1563, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation from 1564 until his death...

 and Maria of Spain
Maria of Spain
Archduchess Maria of Austria was the spouse of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia and Hungary. She was the daughter of Emperor Charles V and twice served as regent of Spain.-Life:...

.

Early years


Elisabeth was the fifth child and second daughter of her parents' sixteen children, of whom eight survived infancy. During her childhood, she lived with her older sister Anna and younger brother Matthias
Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor
Matthias of Austria was Holy Roman Emperor from 1612, King of Hungary and Croatia from 1608 and King of Bohemia from 1611...

 in a pavilion in the gardens of the newly built Schloss Stallburg near Vienna. They enjoyed a privileged and secluded childhood and were raised as devout Catholics. Her father Maximilian visited her often and Elisabeth seems to have been his particular favorite child. She resembled him, not only in appearance but also in character: Elisabeth was just as intelligent and charming as her father.

With her flawless white skin, long blond hair and perfect physique, she was considered one of the greatest beauties of the era; demure, pious and warm-hearted, she was also naive and intensely innocent because of her sheltered upbringing. Elisabeth's brothers were educated by the Flemish
County of Flanders
The County of Flanders was one of the territories constituting the Low Countries. The county existed from 862 to 1795. It was one of the original secular fiefs of France and for centuries was one of the most affluent regions in Europe....

 writer and diplomat Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq
Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq
Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq was a 16th century Flemish writer, herbalist and diplomat in the employ of three generations of Austrian monarchs...

. The curious princess soon joined and even overshadowed them in their studies. Her mother Maria took care personally of the religious education of her daughters, and since her early childhood she was impressed by her namesake Saint Elisabeth of Hungary
Elisabeth of Hungary
Elizabeth of Hungary, T.O.S.F., was a princess of the Kingdom of Hungary, Countess of Thuringia, Germany and a greatly-venerated Catholic saint. Elizabeth was married at the age of 14, and widowed at 20. She then became one of the first members of the newly-founded Third Order of St. Francis,...

 and reportedly took her as a model.

Very early, around 1559, was suggested a marriage between her and the future King Charles IX of France
Charles IX of France
Charles IX was King of France, ruling from 1560 until his death. His reign was dominated by the Wars of Religion. He is best known as king at the time of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.-Childhood:...

. In 1562 the Maréchal de Vieilleville
François de Scépeaux
François de Scépeaux de Vieille-Ville , lord of Vieilleville, 1st comte of Durtal, was a French governor, diplomat, ambassador, conseillé du roi and marshal under king Francis I of France. He was also a prominent figure in the French Wars of Religion between the Protestant Huguenots and the...

, a member of the French delegation sent to Vienna, after seeing the eight-years-old princess, exclaimed: "Your Majesty, this is the Queen of France!". Although Vieilleville was not entitled to make an offer, Elisabeth's grandfather, the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I
Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor
Ferdinand I was Holy Roman Emperor from 1558 and king of Bohemia and Hungary from 1526 until his death. Before his accession, he ruled the Austrian hereditary lands of the Habsburgs in the name of his elder brother, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.The key events during his reign were the contest...

, appeared interested. They exchanged gifts and initiated contacts between both countries, but no-one bothered to teach French to the princess.

Queen of France


Only in 1569, after the failure of marriage plans with Kings Frederick II of Denmark
Frederick II of Denmark
Frederick II was King of Denmark and Norway and duke of Schleswig from 1559 until his death.-King of Denmark:Frederick II was the son of King Christian III of Denmark and Norway and Dorothea of Saxe-Lauenburg. Frederick II stands as the typical renaissance ruler of Denmark. Unlike his father, he...

 and Sebastian I of Portugal, the French offer was seriously considered. Queen Catherine de' Medici
Catherine de' Medici
Catherine de' Medici was an Italian noblewoman who was Queen consort of France from 1547 until 1559, as the wife of King Henry II of France....

, mother of Charles IX and the power behind the throne, initially preferred Elisabeth's elder sister Anna over her; but the oldest Archduchess was already chosen as the new wife of her uncle King Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

. Queen Catherine finally agreed to marriage with the second daughter Elisabeth, as France absolutely needed a Catholic marriage in order to combat the Protestant parties as well as to cement an alliance between the Habsburg
Habsburg
The House of Habsburg , also found as Hapsburg, and also known as House of Austria is one of the most important royal houses of Europe and is best known for being an origin of all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1438 and 1740, as well as rulers of the Austrian Empire and...

 emperors and the French Crown.

Elisabeth was first married by proxy on 22 October 1570 in the Cathedral of Speyer
Speyer
Speyer is a city of Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany with approximately 50,000 inhabitants. Located beside the river Rhine, Speyer is 25 km south of Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. Founded by the Romans, it is one of Germany's oldest cities...

 (Elisabeth's uncle, Archduke Ferdinand of Further Austria-Tyrol
Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria
Ferdinand II, Archduke of Further Austria was ruler of Further Austria including Tirol.-Life account:...

, served as proxy for the French King). After long celebrations, on 4 November she left Austria accompanied by high-ranking German nobles, including the Archbishop-Elector of Trier. Once in French territory, the roads were impassable thanks to the constant rain; this caused the decision that the official wedding was to be celebrated in the small border town of Mézières-en-Champagne (now Charleville-Mézières
Charleville-Mézières
Charleville-Mézières is a commune in northern France, capital of the Ardennes department in the Champagne-Ardenne region. Charleville-Mézières is located on the banks of the Meuse River.-History:...

). Before reaching her destiny, Elisabeth stayed in Sedan, where her husband's younger brother Henry, Duke of Anjou
Henry III of France
Henry III was King of France from 1574 to 1589. As Henry of Valois, he was the first elected monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the dual titles of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1573 to 1575.-Childhood:Henry was born at the Royal Château de Fontainebleau,...

, received her. The King, curious about his future wife, dressed himself as a soldier and went to Sedan to observe her incognito while she was walking in the palace of Sedan's garden with Henry: he was reportedly happy about what he saw.

King Charles IX of France and Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria were formally married on 26 November 1570 in Mézières; Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon
Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon
Charles de Bourbon was a French cardinal. The Catholic League considered him the rightful King of France after the death of Henry III of France in 1589.-Biography:...

, performed the ceremony. The occasion was celebrated with immense pomp and extravagance, despite the dire state of French finances. The new Queen's wedding gown was of silver and her tiara was studded with pearls, emeralds, diamonds and rubies.
Because of the difficult journey and the cold weather, at the beginning of 1571 Elisabeth was very sick. Since the wedding took place far away from Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, it was only in the spring that the German-French alliance was celebrated once again with magnificent feasts in the capital. On 25 March 1571 Elisabeth was consecrated as Queen of France by the Archbishop of Reims
Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine
Charles de Lorraine , Duke of Chevreuse, was a French Cardinal, a member of the powerful House of Guise. He was known at first as the Cardinal of Guise, and then as the second Cardinal of Lorraine, after the death of his uncle, John, Cardinal of Lorraine . He was the protector of Rabelais and...

 at the Basilica of St Denis. The new Queen officially entered Paris four days later, on 29 March. Then, she disappeared from public life.

Elisabeth was so delighted about her husband that she, to general amusement, did not hesitate to kiss him in front of others. However, King Charles IX already had a long-term mistress, Marie Touchet
Marie Touchet
Marie Touchet , Dame de Belleville, was the only mistress of Charles IX of France.-Humble origins, mistress to the king:...

, who famously quoted: "The German girl doesn't scare me" (L'allemande ne me fait pas peur); after a brief infatuation with his teenage bride, the King soon returned to his mistress, encouraged by his own mother, Queen Catherine, who made sure that her new daughter-in-law was kept out of any affairs of state.

Although they never fell in love, the royal couple had a warm and supportive relationship. Charles realised that the liberal ways of the French Court might shock Elisabeth and, along with his mother, he made an effort to shield her from its excesses. Queen Elisabeth spoke German, Spanish, Latin and Italian with fluency, but she learned French with difficulty; also, she felt lonely in the lively and dissolute French court; one of her few friends was, surprisingly, her controversial sister-in-law, Margaret of Valois. Busbecq, her former tutor who accompanied her in her trip to France, was made her Lord Chamberlain.

The Queen, shocked with the licentious ways of the French court, dedicated her time to embroidery work, reading and especially the practice of charitable and pious works. She continued to hear Mass twice a day, despite being horrified at how little respect was shown for religion by the supposedly Catholic courtiers. Her one controversial act was to make a point of rejecting the attentions of Protestant courtiers and politicians by refusing the Huguenot
Huguenot
The Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th centuries. Since the 17th century, people who formerly would have been called Huguenots have instead simply been called French Protestants, a title suggested by their German co-religionists, the...

 leader, Gaspard II de Coligny the permission to kiss her hand when they paid homage to the royal family.

Despite her strong opposition to the Protestantism in France, she was horrified when she received news of the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre on 24 August 1572, when thousands of French Protestants were slaughtered on the streets of Paris. During the massacre, the Queen was given petitions to speak for the innocent, and she managed to assure a promise to spare the lives of the foreign (especially numerous German) Protestants. Elisabeth, then heavily pregnant, never publicly rejoiced at so many deaths - like other prominent Catholics did. According to Brantôme, the next morning after the massacre, the shocked Queen asked her husband if he knew about that: when the King told her that he was the initiator, she said she would pray for him and the salvation of his soul.

A few months later, on 27 October 1572, the Queen gave birth her first child, a daughter, in the Louvre Palace. She was named Marie Elisabeth
Marie Elisabeth of Valois
Marie Elisabeth of Valois was the only child of Charles IX of France and Elisabeth of Austria. Her maternal grandparents were Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria of Spain, her paternal grandparents were Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici. Her father had times of madness, so her...

 after her grandmother, Empress Maria, and Queen Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

, who were her godmothers.

By the time of Marie Elisabeth's birth the already poor health of the King deteriorated rapidly, and after long suffering, in which Elizabeth rendered him silent support and prayed for his recovery, he died on 30 May 1574; the Queen, who was at his bedside (weeping "tears so tender, and so secret," according to one eyewitness), was at the end expelled from the King's chamber by her mother-in-law, Queen Catherine.

After having completed the 40 days mourning period, Elisabeth, now called la reine blanche (the White Queen), was compelled by her father to return to Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

. Shortly before, Emperor Maximilian II made the proposition of a new marriage for her, this time with her dead husband's brother - now King Henry III of France
Henry III of France
Henry III was King of France from 1574 to 1589. As Henry of Valois, he was the first elected monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the dual titles of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1573 to 1575.-Childhood:Henry was born at the Royal Château de Fontainebleau,...

; however, she firmly refused. By Letters Patent dated on 21 November 1575, King Henry III gave up the County of Upper and Lower March (Haute et Basse-Marche) to his sister-in-law Elisabeth as her widow's dowry; in addition, she received the title of Duchess of Berry
Duke of Berry
The title of Duke of Berry in the French nobility was frequently created for junior members of the French royal family. The Berry region now consists of the départements of Cher, Indre and parts of Vienne. The capital of Berry is Bourges. The first creation was for John, third son of John II, King...

 and in 1577 she obtain the Duchies of Auvergne and Bourbon
Duke of Bourbon
Duke of Bourbon is a title in the peerage of France. It was created in the first half of the 14th century for the eldest son of Robert of France, Count of Clermont and Beatrice of Burgundy, heiress of the lordship of Bourbon...

 in exchange. On 28 August 1575 Elisabeth visited her almost three-years-old daughter in Amboise
Amboise
Amboise is a commune in the Indre-et-Loire department in central France. It lies on the banks of the Loire River, east of Tours. Today a small market town, it was once home of the French royal court...

 for the last time and on 5 December she finally left Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 after leaving little Marie Elisabeth under the care of her grandmother Queen Catherine. Elisabeth would never see her daughter again.

Widowhood and Death



Once she returned to Vienna, Elisabeth lived at first in her childhood home, Schloss Stallburg. On 12 October 1576 her beloved father Maximilian II died, and her brother Rudolf II
Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor
Rudolf II was Holy Roman Emperor , King of Hungary and Croatia , King of Bohemia and Archduke of Austria...

 succeeded him as Holy Roman Emperor. Her last great tragedy came on 2 April 1578, when her six-year-old daughter Marie Elisabeth died. When a new proposal of marriage was made to her, this time from King Philip II of Spain after the death of his wife Anna in 1580, she again refused; according to Brantôme
Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme
Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme was a French historian, soldier and biographer.-Life:Brantôme was born in Périgord, Aquitaine, the third son of the baron de Bourdeille...

, she replied to the offer with the famous phrase: "The Queens of France never remarried" (Les Reines de France ne se remarient point), once said by Blanche of Navarre, widow of King Philip VI
Philip VI of France
Philip VI , known as the Fortunate and of Valois, was the King of France from 1328 to his death. He was also Count of Anjou, Maine, and Valois from 1325 to 1328...

.

In France, where Busbecq managed her properties, Elisabeth built a Jesuit college in Bourges
Bourges
Bourges is a city in central France on the Yèvre river. It is the capital of the department of Cher and also was the capital of the former province of Berry.-History:...

, despite the fact that she never received the monetary revenues from her domains.

In early 1580 Elisabeth bought some lands near Stallburg and founded the Convent of Poor Clares Mary, Queen of Angels (Klarissinnenkloster Maria, Königin der Engel), also known as the Queen's Monastery (Königinkloster). Elisabeth henceforth devoted her life to following the example of her convent's holy patron in the exercise of piety, poor relief and health care. Even impoverished noble daughters found her support. She also financed the restoration of the All Saints Chapel in Hradčany
Hradcany
Hradčany , the Castle District, is the district of the city of Prague, Czech Republic, surrounding the Prague Castle.The castle is said to be the biggest castle in the world at about 570 meters in length and an average of about 130 meters wide. Its history stretches back to the 9th century...

, Prague
Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

, which was destroyed after a fire in 1541.

Elisabeth also acquired several relics for her convent. In 1588 she obtain the consent of her brother, Maximilian, as Coadjutor of the Teutonic Order, to have some of the bones of Saint Elisabeth of Hungary, placed in Marburg
Marburg
Marburg is a city in the state of Hesse, Germany, on the River Lahn. It is the main town of the Marburg-Biedenkopf district and its population, as of March 2010, was 79,911.- Founding and early history :...

, sent to her.

After her departure from France, Elisabeth maintained a regular correspondence with her sister-in-law Queen Margaret of Navarre, and when the latter was ostracised from the rest of the royal family, she made half of the revenues she received from France available to Margaret. Brantôme relates that on one occasion, Elisabeth sent to Margaret two books (now lost) written by her: a devotional work (Sur la parole de Dieu) and a historical work (Sur les événements considérables qui arrivèrent en France de son temps).

Elisabeth died on 22 January 1592 victim of pleurisy
Pleurisy
Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura, the lining of the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs. Among other things, infections are the most common cause of pleurisy....

, and was buried in a simple marble slab in the church of her convent. About her death, Brantôme wrote:
When she died, the Empress [...] (her mother) said [...] "El mejor de nosotros ha muerto" (The best of us is dead).


In the course of the Josephinist
Josephinism
Josephinism is the term used to describe the domestic policies of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor . During the ten years in which Joseph was the sole ruler of the Habsburg Monarchy , he attempted to legislate a series of drastic reforms to remodel Austria in the form of the ideal Enlightened state...

 reforms, the Queen's Monastery was closed in 1782 in order to create the Lutheran City Church
Lutheran City Church, Vienna
The Lutheran City Church is a Lutheran church building in Innere Stadt, the first district of Vienna.- Location and architecture :The Lutheran City Church is located at Dorotheergasse 18, next to the Reformed City Church and opposite of the auction house Dorotheum. It was built in the Renaissance...

. By order of Emperor Joseph II
Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor
Joseph II was Holy Roman Emperor from 1765 to 1790 and ruler of the Habsburg lands from 1780 to 1790. He was the eldest son of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I...

, Elisabeth's remains were transferred to one of the crypts beneath St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna.

In her will, Elizabeth donated money not only for the poor and sick, but also included funds for prayers for her late husband in the convent's church. Her Spanish, German, French, Italian and Latin books from her library, a number of works of the Jesuit preacher Georg Scherer
Georg Scherer
Georg Scherer was a Roman Catholic pulpit orator and controversialist.Born at Schwaz, in Tyrol, Scherer entered the Society of Jesus in 1559. Even before his ordination he was famed for his preaching powers. For over forty years he labored in the Archduchy of Austria. To Scherer, in part, it owes...

, a book of prophecies of the French astrologer Nostradamus
Nostradamus
Michel de Nostredame , usually Latinised to Nostradamus, was a French apothecary and reputed seer who published collections of prophecies that have since become famous worldwide. He is best known for his book Les Propheties , the first edition of which appeared in 1555...

 written in 1571 and the tragedy of Antigone
Antigone
In Greek mythology, Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, Oedipus' mother. The name may be taken to mean "unbending", coming from "anti-" and "-gon / -gony" , but has also been suggested to mean "opposed to motherhood", "in place of a mother", or "anti-generative", based from the root...

of the ancient Greek poet Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

 were left to her brother Emperor Rudolf II. Her wedding ring was given to another brother Ernest
Archduke Ernest of Austria
Archduke Ernest of Austria was an Austrian nobleman, the son of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria of Spain....

.

Family and Children


Elisabeth and Charles IX
Charles IX of France
Charles IX was King of France, ruling from 1560 until his death. His reign was dominated by the Wars of Religion. He is best known as king at the time of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.-Childhood:...

 had one child:
  • Marie Elisabeth of Valois
    Marie Elisabeth of Valois
    Marie Elisabeth of Valois was the only child of Charles IX of France and Elisabeth of Austria. Her maternal grandparents were Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria of Spain, her paternal grandparents were Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici. Her father had times of madness, so her...

     (27 Oct 1572 - 2 April 1578), who died at the age of six

Sources