Category Archives: Royalty

Marie-Antoinette with her children by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.

Marie-Antoinette: The Maligned Queen

I wrote how impressed I was with how Philippa Langley headed the operation to find Richard III’s grave.

Richard III. A very complex man. Shakespeare brought us the image of a murderous hunchback with a withered arm which caused the king to be maligned.

Is there a “maligned queen” in history?

Hollywood and sensational biographers keep bringing an image of an irresponsible  Marie-Antoinette only caring about looks, the most expensive luxuries in life, and her dashing lovers. And we keep falling for it.

Even I resisted the idea to give her her own post. Everyone knows who Marie-Antoinette is, so why bother? But as I researched her sister-in-law and daughter I was led to a different side of the queen who NEVER said “Let them eat cake.” Very few actually know the real Marie-Antoinette.

One of my favorite websites about strong woman is Elena Maria Vidal’s website Tea at Trianon.  Anyone truly interested in Marie- Antoinette needs to go there. Good layout, pictures, and FACTS about Marie-Antoinette. Vidal backs up her articles with credible sources and gives references where we can learn more. I like how she discusses when certain myths appeared, who made them popular, and their motives. Her article  “Marie Antoinette: A Reputation in Shreds” is a must-read for every student who studies the French Revolution era and every history teacher—including college professors.

Arrest of Louis XVI and His Family Varennes, 1791

Arrest of Louis XVI and His Family Varennes, 1791

Before I post about the three wise women of Christmas, I knew I had to post about Marie-Antoinette. She kept coming to my mind because she was a person who understood the true meaning of Christmas. I thought how she encouraged her children to give away their Christmas presents. How she didn’t leave her husband, and how she strived to keep the family together to the point of her hair actually turning white in prison.

Marie-Antoinette is one of the women I respect most in history.

Marie-Antoinette in the Temple

Marie-Antoinette in the Temple

 

Paintings:
Marie-Antoinette with Her Children by Élisabeth Vigée-LebrunVarennes, 21st June 1791, XIX sec. painting
Marie Antoinette in The Temple, XIX sec. painting

Catherine_of_Braganza_-_Lely_1663-65 September (3)

Keeping Up Appearances: Catherine of Braganza, Charles II’s Underestimated Wife

Game Face

I love it when the “just there” players in reality TV shows make it to the end—and win. Their opponents hadn’t realized they were making moves the whole way. One “just there” historical player is Catherine of Braganza. She played one of the best games in the history of queens vs. mistresses.

It’s easy to overlook the Portuguese princess who married Charles II in 1662. Oh that shameless Charles II. He restored the English monarchy but any wisdom he possessed was overshadowed by his foolishness. The Merry Monarch openly had mistresses and acknowledged his illegitimate children. They even received more attention and had greater political influence than his wife.

“Poor Catherine” and “pity” are the phrases included in articles about the Queen of England. I had similar reactions at first. Catherine was a tender wife. I believe she would not want to be remembered as the pitiful queen who, at best, brought the tradition of tea drinking to England. I think we’ve been deceived. She played the game well and walked away with the money and ultimately didn’t need a man to fight her battles.

We can only feel a little bit of her great pain, but we need to focus on her practical side. What was her agenda?  Why did she stay in a marriage where she was rejected? How did she do it? She had her reasons for staying. After Charles’ death, she wrote to her brother that she married the king for the sake of Portugal. Portugal relied on the marriage alliance for protection.  Catherine had a lot riding on her shoulders.

Escaping Death and Divorce

Catherine got sick from pressures expected of her. She suffered three miscarriages and caught an illness that temporarily left her deaf loss and unable to walk. Good thing she recovered. She loved dancing and continued to enhance the quality of Italian music in the catholic friary she built. Technically British monarchs were not supposed to be practicing Catholics go there but she practiced her religion anyway. She was definitely in danger of treason, though, when she was accused of planning to poison the king along with other conspiracies. King Charles didn’t believe the accusations against his wife and ignored suggestions to divorce her. He said, “She could never do anything wicked, and it would be a horrible thing to abandon her.”

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”

She might have had trouble learning English, but she found ways to communicate and change people’s perceptions. Catherine literally painted herself out to be a saint. After she was painted as St. Catherine, other women at court followed suit. Some of the mistresses attempted at being depicted as heavenly but it wouldn’t do. They had influence in government but Catherine was bold enough to remind them she was the only one who held the title of queen.

For example, look closely at this portrait.

390px-Catherineof_Braganza wikicommons

An accident? It’s almost as if she’s pointing at the crown. Time went on, and most of her portraits included the crown and sovereign orb.

Catherine worked hard on her public image of being a pious woman (but she also loved to party), and conveyed the message that she was still the queen.

The person she needed to convince most was the king. Though he had many mistresses, he viewed the queen as infallible.

The King’s Apology

Part luck, part strategy, and all miracle, Catherine outlived her husband by twenty years. She must have been envied—and admired—by past queens when her husband actually asked for her forgiveness on his deathbed. She sent a message: “to beg his pardon if she offended him all his life.” He said “Alas poor woman! She asks for my pardon? I beg hers with all my heart, take her back that answer.”

Sweet and Sassy

Catherine had been Charles’ angel, but others saw her as someone difficult to work with. Before Catherine returned to Portugal, she stayed in England to pursue a lawsuit. She was determined to get money back from a former chamberlain who neglected her finances. She proved she hadn’t come all the way to a foreign country over two decades before just to be cheated on. She became very wealthy.

Catherine’s current chamberlain worked closely with the now dowager-queen. He took the blame for Catherine’s actions when Mary II found out that Catherine forbade the chapels at Somerset House to say prayers for King William. William once tried to get Catherine out of Somerset House, but Catherine reminded him she was protected with certain rights. It took Queen Mary to talk through things with Catherine.  Finally it was agreed upon that it would be best if she returned to Portugal.

She Rules!

Catherine was greeted like a hero when she returned to Portugal, She assisted her brother ruling as regent. Her rule included victories over invading threats. One of her greatest victories though, was acting as a mother figure to her motherless nephew. She lifted his spirits when his mother died. When Catherine died, he became depressed again. This shows what a positive influence she could have over people.

So, here’s a queen of two countries, who didn’t produce an heir, and surprisingly, didn’t get a divorce. She was accused of treason, but stayed alive well after her husband’s death and left with the wealth she deserved. Catherine, the queen of England and Portugal, proved to be a capable leader and mother figure. The odds were against her, but she came up on top.

The Catherine Club

Catherine of Braganza shared more than just her namesake with some of the Catherines that graced England’s royal scene. .

 

425px-CatherineAragon Catherine of Aragon. Aragon was 23 when she married Henry VIII. Braganza was also 23 when she married Charles. Both marriages lasted about 23 years. Aragon lost her husband through annulment and Braganza lost her husband through the king’s death.

 

Catherine_Parr_from_NPG_croppedCatherine Parr. Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife who’s also known as the one who survived. She and Braganza experienced rumors of divorce and accusations of treason. Despite threats, they both ended up finding favor and outlived their kings.

 

182px-Catherine,_Duchess_of_CambridgeKate Middleton.   Perhaps the Catherine that Braganza identifies with most. The now Duchess of Cambridge will be the first British queen to be named Catherine since Braganza. She is also married to the first direct descent of Charles II expected to inherit the throne.

 

CatherineofBraganza In Black (2)Though Charles II had many illegitimate children, they weren't entitled to the throne. It would be over three centuries before a direct descendant would be eligible to be king.

William_and_Kate_wedding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image credits:
Queen Catherine of Braganza (featured image) by Peter Lely
Catherine of Braganza, Queen of England (pointing to crown) by Jean Baptiste Gaspars
Catherine of Aragon by Michel Sittow
Catherine Parr by William Scrots
Catherine,  Duchess of Cambridge
Catherine of Braganza (in black) by Peter Lely
Charles II in the robes of the Order of the Garter, by John Michael Wright
The Royal Family on the Balcony 

Further Credits:
Catherine of Braganza: Charles II’s Queen by Hebe Elsna

 Catherine of Braganca: Infanta of Portugal and Queen-Consort of England By Lillias Campbell Davidson

Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest By Agnes Strickland, Elizabeth Strickland

Catherine of Braganza by Thomas Fredrick Tout

http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/queen_of_reg/catherine.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_of_Braganza

 

477px-Heinrich_Friedrich_Füger_003 (2)

Poet Profile: Princess Marie-Therese of France

Marie-Therese did not like to think of the time she spent in the cell and would not like to be remembered for being a prisoner in it for so long. Hopefully, she wouldn’t mind being regarded as an example on how to deal with loneliness and painful circumstances.

In an earlier article, I wrote about her aunt Elisabeth helping her find ways to cope and what to do when she was completely alone. Her aunt advised her to keep quiet around guards, When Marie-Therese was alone and needed to voice her frustrations, she turned to writing. Writing was a means of survival. She called herself “the most unhappy creature in the world.” No matter how depressing her writings, writing kept her from going totally insane.

Reading Treasures: A Retreat for Everything Marie Antoinette  included a translation of some of Marie-Therese’s poetry in their post called  “I was your king’s daughter:the poetry of Marie Therese Charlotte in captivity” Her poem “I Was Your King’s Daughter” was found in a book kept by  family of Madeleine Bocquet-Chanterenne. The translation in English reads:

I was your king’s daughter
separated from all my family.
I languish in this sad jail
Alas! I say with good reason
Even though I am alone and sad
My jail would appear happy to me
If I was in this place with my brother.
To my mother, to the Conciergerie
I asked to be reunited
But as an answer, my jailers
Say: this has nothing to do with us.
Spread your blessings on her,
God! Open promptly your jail.
A short time ago, at night
I was sleeping peacefully in my bed.
I got suddenly woken up
By the enraged noise of my locks.
They were coming to my door, they were knocking.
I replied immediately: who is there?
I was asked to open up, I replied:
I am getting up and leaving my bed.
I was hoping that I would get out,
I was expecting to leave the tower.
I go to the door, I finally open it!
They come in with my jailer
I look at them, hoping they would ask me
to follow them and come.
But alas! They stare at me
And suddenly without saying a word, they go out with my jailer.
This poem makes me want to go back in time and say to the teenager that she’ll make it out alive. It was a horrible ordeal but she kept fighting.
This poem also shows it’s important for schools to let their students write poetry. I taught a little English class after school. There was so much material that needed to be covered, I didn’t think about poetry that much. After the last day (when the students actually wrote a poem), I regretted that I hadn’t incorporated  more poetry into the lessons.  Writing poetry wasn’t an academic requirement but I think it would have helped the children more with problems outside of school.
Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France (1778-1851) by Heinrich Fuger 
Elisabeth_Philippine_Marie_Helene_de_Bourbon_Labille-Guiard_1788

The Aunt Who Saved Her Niece : Princess Elisabeth of France

French Revolution. What comes to mind?
Madam Guillotine,  Marie Antoinette, and sink me–The Scarlet Pimpernal. The 1982 film adaption of the book made me laugh so hard. I was also in awe. Did such heroes exist?

There were those who smuggled nobles into other countries. The films shows that Marie-Antoinette and Louis’s son survived and was taken from their prison to a safer place.

Wrong.

The sole survivor was the king and queen’s daughter, Marie-Therese. who clung on to some hope that maybe her brother and mother who were taken away had survived.

I can’t believed I went on for years not knowing about her–or her aunt Elisabeth, the king’s sister.  Elisabeth made sacrifice after sacrifice for the royal family–refusing to marry or take other available routes that would take her out of the country. She endured violent attacks with them and even posed as the queen to buy her sister-in-law more time during one ambush. It’s little wonder that Marie-Antoinette and Louis counseled their children to listen to their aunt.

All too soon the royal family was taken to the Temple Tower. They endured unfair trials and living conditions grew worse.  the king was executed and little Louis was taken to a separate cell. Marie-Antoinette was taken away and also executed, but Elisabeth and Marie-Therese only knew the king’s fate. However, I believe Elisabeth knew her sister-in-law was dead and had a strong feeling her nephew was slowly dying. Marie-Therese had the best chance of surviving.

The Heroic Aunt

The heroic aunt. Elisabeth de France by Vigee-Lebrun.

 
When it was just Elisabeth and Marie-Therese in the cell, Elisabeth comforted her niece. She was an example of piety and
Marie-Therese later said much of her survival was due to prayer. Elisabeth showed and advised her niece on how to groom herself, keep the cell as clean as possible, and how to handle the guards. It was just a matter of time before Elisabeth was taken away and was prepared to die a martyr. Marie-Therese would not find out what happened to her aunt, mother, and brother till much later. The information that her aunt watched around twenty-five nobles executed before her and was purposely saved for last would be withheld.

Marie-Therese was eventually freed and taken to Vienna in 1795 for safety.

The sole survivor. Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France by Heinrich Furger.

The sole survivor. Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France by Heinrich Furger.

She would go on to help royal refugees and raise troops against Napoleon dubbed her the “only man in the family.” She worked hard to preserve the memory of her family. The following comment about her aunt needs to be remembered.”I feel I have her nature . . . [she] considered me and cared for me as her daughter, and I, I honored her as a second mother.”
I hope I have some of Princess Elisabeth in me. Her story sticks out to me. In times of tough decisions, I have thought of my growing niece and my desire to be a good example. The thought points me in the right direction. I love my nieces and nephew. I’m honored when my brothers and their wives let me watch over their kids. Princess Elisabeth is a wonderful role model.  Her story is inspiring because it can make us think of ways we can be more loving toward our families.