Margaret of Austria (1480–1530)

views updated May 14 2018

Margaret of Austria (1480–1530)

Duchess of Savoy who governed the Low Countries for most of the period between 1506 and 1530 . Name variations: Marguérite; Marguerite d'Autriche; Margaret Hapsburg; Duchess of Savoy and regent of the Netherlands. Born in Brussels, Belgium, on January 11, 1480; died in Malines on November 30 or December 1, 1530; daughter of Maximilian I, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1493–1519) and king of Germany, and Mary of Burgundy (1457–1482); sister of Philip I the Fair (also called the Handsome [1478–1506], husband of Juana La Loca); stepdaughter of Bianca Maria Sforza (1472–1510) of Milan; engaged to future Charles VIII of France, in 1482; married Infante Juan also known as John of Spain (1478–1497), Spanish crown prince and son of Ferdinand and Isabella I, on April 3, 1497 (he died a few months later on October 4); married Philibert II, duke of Savoy (1497–1504), in 1501; children: none.

Margaret's maternal grandfather, Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, died (1477); Margaret's mother, Mary of Burgundy, died (1482); Treaty of Arras, subjecting duchy of Burgundy to French crown (1482); Louis XI died (1483); accession of Maximilian as Holy Roman emperor (1493); marriage of Philip to Juana La Loca of Castile and Margaret to John of Spain (1496); Charles VIII died (1498); Charles V born (1500); Isabella I of Castile died (1504); Philip the Fair died (1506); Margaret was appointed regent of the Netherlands (1507–15, 1519–30) and guardian of her nephew Charles, later Charles V (1507); Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII married (1509); Ferdinand of Aragon died (1516); Charles became king of Spain (1517); Lutheran Reformation began (1517); Charles elected Holy Roman emperor (1519); Comunero Revolt broke out in Castile against Charles V (1520–21); Charles V and Martin Luther confrontation at Diet of Worms (1521); battle of Pavia and Francis I captured (1525); Charles V married Isabella of Portugal (1526); Henry VIII attempted to annul marriage to Catherine of Aragon (1526); Charles V's army sacked Rome (1527); Philip II born (1527); Margaret and Louise of Savoy negotiated the treaty of Cambrai, known as the "Ladies Peace" (1529) between France and the Netherlands; Mary of Hungary appointed regent of the Netherlands (1531).

Margaret of Austria was born on January 11, 1480, in Brussels, the second child of Mary of Burgundy and Archduke Maximilian I, the future Holy Roman emperor. Margaret's brother, Philip the Fair, was two years older. In 1482, their mother died from a riding accident. The tragedy touched off a dynastic crisis for Maximilian. As an Austrian, he had claim to Burgundy only through his wife, the daughter of Charles the Bold. With her dead, the Burgundian leaders refused to recognize Maximilian's authority. They pledged their loyalty to Philip, as long as he remained in the Low Countries to be raised as a Burgundian. This tension between dynastic ambition and nationalist sentiment foreshadowed one of the challenges of Margaret's public life.

To counterbalance Maximilian's influence, the Netherlandish provinces could always appeal to France for assistance. Thus, French intervention in the Low Countries menaced Maximilian's own authority and Philip's Burgundian inheritance. To forestall such trouble, in early 1483 Maximilian negotiated with Louis XI three-year-old Margaret's marriage to the Dauphin Charles, crown prince of France. Terms of the betrothal required Margaret to live in France, where the French could raise and educate her. During the summer of 1483, Margaret made her official entrance into Paris, and shortly thereafter in Amboise the three-year-old girl married her twelve-year-old prince. When Louis XI died two months later, Charles became King Charles VIII and Margaret was queen of France. She spent a happy childhood at Amboise. Anne of Beaujeu (1461–1522), Charles' older sister and regent of France, acted as Margaret's guardian, and she developed the young girl's intellect and aesthetic sensibilities. The child's happiness lasted until 1491, when Charles decided to annul their unconsummated marriage and wed Anne of Brittany (1477–1514).

Bitter about the snub, Margaret finally returned to the Low Countries and her father Maximilian in 1493. For the rest of her life, she remained culturally French but did not forgive what Charles and the Valois dynasty had done to her. Writes historian Henri Pirenne: "She had preserved tastes and a spirit totally French. She was not at all the enemy of France but of the house of France."

In late 1493, Maximilian became Holy Roman emperor, and he shortly arranged another marriage for Margaret to serve his political aims. His negotiations with Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile produced a double wedding between the Spanish and Habsburg royal families. These marriages joined Spanish and German forces to curb French intervention in the Low Countries and Italy. On November 5, 1495, by proxy, Margaret married John of Spain, heir to the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. Arriving in Spain in early 1497, she pleased the Spaniards with her intelligence and beauty: "a lovely girl, tall and fair, with masses of waving golden haire, a brilliant complexion, soft brown eyes, and a rather long narrow face, with the full under-lip so peculiar to the house of Austria." Meanwhile, her brother Philip wed Juana La Loca (1479–1555), another of Ferdinand and Isabella's children. But fate snatched the Spanish crown from Margaret's head just as it had stolen the French throne from her. She was pregnant when John suddenly died of a fever on October 4, 1497. The grieving widow suffered another blow when she delivered a stillborn child. With neither husband nor heir, Margaret served no great geo-political purpose in Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella treated her kindly and reluctantly bid her farewell when she departed for the Low Countries in September 1499 at Maximilian's insistence.

By her talents, ability, and rare aptitude for business, [Margaret of Austria] eclipsed more powerful rulers, and soon became the pivot of political life in Europe.

—Eleanor E. Tremayne

Back in Flanders, she attended the baptism of her nephew, the future Charles V, on March 7, 1500. Meanwhile, Margaret's father negotiated another marriage for her, this time with Duke Philibert II of Savoy. Handsome and virile, the duke was Margaret's age. Wed on December 2, 1501, she began the happiest period of her life. Devoted to the hunt and his wife, Philibert showed little interest in governing his domains. Margaret willingly managed his affairs from their residence in the castle of Pont d'Ain at Bourg. Her bliss did not last. Philibert took ill and died of pleurisy on September 10, 1504. Margaret cut off her long blonde hair and donned widow's clothing. For a while, she considered taking religious vows.

But despair did not drive her from the world. She endowed the construction of a monastery at Brou, together with an elaborate tomb for Philibert and herself. Adept at word games, she created a new device for herself, displayed prominently on the tomb: FORTUNE. INFORTUNE. FORT. UNE. According to a biographer, Eleanor Tremayne , the motto means "Fortune strongly persecutes a woman." Other interpretations have also been suggested. But as biographer Ghislaine de Boom notes regarding Philibert's death: "It could be that, had he lived, his amiable frivolity would have ended by boring his wife's noble intelligence; but his premature death consecrated him" as the widow's "prince charming."

Margaret of Austria remained in Savoy for two years following her husband's death. Meanwhile, Queen Isabella of Castile died in late 1504, raising Margaret's brother Philip and his wife Juana La Loca to the throne. They eventually went to Spain to claim the Castilian crown. Their son Charles (V) stayed behind, for the Burgundians refused to accept him as their ruler unless he were raised in the Low Countries. Without Margaret's consent, her brother Philip and father Maximilian negotiated her marriage to Henry VII, king of England. She refused to cooperate, determined to avoid further marital sorrow. Then, on September 25, 1506, Philip died. This plunged the House of Burgundy into a new crisis. Charles was alone in the Low Countries, and his mother, Queen Juana La Loca, could not return to raise him: the Castilians would not allow her to abandon the kingdom and furthermore she was mentally unstable.

With Charles too young to govern, the provinces of the Low Countries voted to make Maximilian their regent. Preoccupied with his affairs in Germany, Maximilian urged Margaret to return to the Low Countries and care for Charles. She arrived in early 1507. Maximilian appointed her Charles' mambour or governesstutor and empowered her to exercise the regency. Margaret, of course, was no political neophyte. Her education under Anne of Beaujeu had prepared her for civic life, and her marriages had placed her on the public stage. In Savoy, Philibert's disinterest in the affairs of state had given Margaret political opportunities that she gladly seized. Of those years in Italy, Ghislaine de Boom wrote: "For the first time, Margaret was revealed as an able and energetic woman, even imperious." Now, at age 27, her true public career began, and Margaret remained a chief player in European politics for the rest of her life.

As regent of the Low Countries, she shared the stage with some of the great figures of European history: Ferdinand of Aragon, Charles V, Henry VIII, Francis I, Erasmus, Martin Luther, Pope Julius II, Suleiman the Magnificent, and the Emperor Maximilian. When he visited the Low Countries in 1509, her father officially invested her with full, independent authority. Each of her acts was to carry the same weight "as though we ourselves did it." Her task was not easy. The Low Countries lacked any centralized political institutions. Furthermore, writes Pirenne, "she was and always remained a foreigner," having been raised at the French court. Margaret knew neither Flemish nor German, and her principal advisers were Italians who had followed her north. Thus, she was less concerned about the interests of the Low Countries than how she could use their resources to her family's benefit. Margaret's chief responsibilities were to maintain political stability and economic prosperity in the Netherlandish provinces, while caring for Charles and then providing funds for his international gambits once he became emperor in 1519.

At Malines, she purchased the palace of Jean Laurin, lord of Watervliet, and installed herself there. She treated her nephew Charles with maternal love and lavished great care on his education, as her ambitions for the Habsburg dynasty depended on him. Almost immediately, she confronted the hostility of Guillaume de Croy, lord of Chièvres, who had been Charles' tutor and a dominant political figure at court. Chièvres retained the boy's trust, but his pro-French leanings brought him into conflict with Margaret's support for Maximilian. Furthermore, Maximilian was at war with the French, yet Louis XII was feudal sovereign of some Netherlandish provinces. As duke of Burgundy, for example, Charles was a vassal of the French king. To preserve the Low Countries for Charles, Margaret persuaded Maximilian to make peace with Louis. She then journeyed to Cambrai in November 1508, where "she revealed herself as the most able diplomat of her time," according to Pirenne. The treaty forming the League of Cambrai, signed on December 10, 1508, largely removed the French threat to the Low Countries and made it easier for Margaret to deal with an internal rebellion led by Charles of Egmont, duke of Guelders.

Margaret and the Low Countries were enmeshed in Charles' and Maximilian's political entanglements and Habsburg dynastic objectives. Where possible, she tried to keep the Low Countries at peace. In 1513, she persuaded her father to join a papal alliance with Spain and England against France, although she maintained the Low Countries in neutrality. To curb Chièvres' pro-French influence over Charles, Margaret created a council containing representatives of Maximilian, Ferdinand, and Henry VIII. The traditional animosity between France and England made it nearly impossible to align the Low Countries with either of their Western neighbors without antagonizing the other.

Jealous of Margaret's power, Chièvres and some nobles, working through the provincial Estates, pressed Maximilian to declare Charles of

age to rule. The Estates paid Maximilian to resign as regent and installed Charles, who was not yet 15 years old, on January 5, 1515. Negotiated secretly behind Margaret's back, her dethronement was a public humiliation. In his aunt's place, Charles established a council of regency. Margaret served on the council but had no vote in its deliberations. She was angry and hurt, and Maximilian shortly saw his mistake. Chièvres completely dominated Charles and urged upon him policies that conflicted with Habsburg interests. On March 24, 1515, Chièvres persuaded Charles to sign a treaty with France that recognized Francis I's sovereignty over Burgundy and gave little in return. Margaret's ministers, such as Mercurino de Gattinara, found themselves thrust aside and even persecuted.

The death of Charles' two grandfathers, Ferdinand and Maximilian, enabled Margaret to regain her powers. Ferdinand of Aragon died on January 23, 1516, opening the way to Charles' Spanish inheritance. His mother Juana's insanity allowed him to claim the crowns of both Castile and Aragon. To make an effective claim, however, he had to go to Spain. Maneuvering adroitly behind the scenes, Margaret paved the way for Charles to become king. After much hesitation and delay, he departed in September 1517 for Spain, taking Chièvres and other Flemish and Walloon advisers with him.

Charles soon recognized his need for Margaret and her ministers. In June 1518, he appointed Gattinara grand chancellor, and he helped arrange Margaret's return as regent of the Low Countries. On June 24, 1518, from Zaragoza, Charles restored his aunt's powers. Given her father's poor health, Margaret and Charles began to negotiate the latter's election as emperor even before Maximilian's death on January 12, 1519. The papacy and French strongly opposed Charles. Margaret, thinking first of the dynasty, then suggested supporting instead Charles' younger brother Ferdinand I (b. 1502). But Charles refused to withdraw and eventually prevailed on June 28, 1519.

When Charles arrived as emperor in the Netherlands, he retracted the council of regency's power and proclaimed Margaret "regent of the Low Countries … in consideration of the great, inestimable and praiseworthy services that our said lady and aunt has done us." On a subsequent visit to the Low Countries in mid-1520, he renewed her authority and made her governor-general. Again, she loyally served the dynastic ambitions of her family. Ignoring the Netherlandish nobility except for Antoine de Lalaing, lord of Hoogstraeten, she formed a privy council of non-aristocratic outsiders to help her rule. "She governed them well," writes Pirenne, "for she was intelligent and hardworking, but she governed them without sympathy."

The Low Countries occupied a crucial position between France, England, and the Empire and represented the northern most bulwark of Charles and Spain's power. Serving her nephew's policies, Margaret of Austria gathered money, troops, and supplies to support Charles' wars, especially against Francis I and the German Protestants. In 1521, Habsburg forces seized the bishopric and city-state of Tournai and added it to Margaret's jurisdiction. In following years, the Habsburgs consolidated their hold over Friesland, Utrecht, and Overijssel.

Margaret also cooperated in the emperor's campaign to eliminate Protestantism. In late 1521 and 1522, Charles created a secular inquisition, headed by François van der Hulst, to ferret out heretics. In Brussels on July 1, 1523, the inquisitorial fires claimed their first Protestant victims, two former Augustinians from Antwerp. More moderate than her nephew, Margaret feared that intense persecution of Protestants would only strengthen them. Ignoring her opposition, Clement VII also appointed an inquisitor-general in 1525. Repression of heresy in the Low Countries grew with the publication in 1529 of Charles V's "Placard." Despite the efforts of the emperor, his aunt, and the inquisitors, local officials were often lax in persecuting the heretics. Their negligence sometimes reflected sympathy for Protestantism and other times a desire to assert autonomy against the centralizing efforts of the Habsburgs.

Meanwhile, Margaret's court at Malines helped to introduce the energy and aesthetic values of the Italian Renaissance to Northern Europe. A poet herself, she collected books and paintings and patronized writers and artists. Visiting Malines in 1521, Albrecht Dürer wondered at her many "precious things and precious library." Among them was Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Wedding. She continued to finance construction of the church and tomb at Brou.

Margaret of Austria's last diplomatic achievement was the Peace of Cambrai, sometimes called the Ladies Peace (1529). Journeying to Cambrai, she met Louise of Savoy , Philibert's sister and the mother of Francis I. They arranged an end to a war that Francis could no longer sustain. The pact favored the dynastic interests of Charles; besides withdrawing French forces from Italy, Francis renounced his claims to Flanders, Artois and Tournai, which were part of Charles' patrimony. This diplomatic triumph placed Margaret at the peak of her glory throughout Europe. She was busy negotiating a double marriage between the children of Charles and Francis when she died.

According to a legend about Margaret's death, she stepped on a shard of glass, and the resulting wound became gangrenous. In reality, however, her health had declined since 1527, and an abscessed leg had tormented her during the negotiations in Cambrai. On November 20, 1530, a high fever caused by her infected leg forced Margaret to bed, and neither piety nor medicine made any headway against the spreading gangrene. She died shortly after midnight on December 1. Margaret had previously provided an endowment for the completion of the magnificent tomb at Brou, and her will, amended shortly before her death, left her remaining possessions to Charles V. She also urged her nephew to protect the sovereignty of the Low Countries against the centralizing tendency of his imperial administrators. Upon completion of her tomb, Margaret's body was transferred to Brou in 1532 and buried next to Philibert's remains.

An able diplomat, patron of the Renaissance, and effective ruler, Margaret of Austria was a central political figure of the early 16th century. Although unfortunate in her private life, she compensated by caring for her brother Philip's children. Margaret also helped Charles V overcome his uncertain steps at the outset of his reign and became an invaluable asset to his rule. The emperor had both personal and political motives to mourn her passing. He bemoaned "the loss that we have made and principally I who held her as a mother and for the lack she does me in the government of the countries where she was in charge."


Boom, Ghislaine de. Marguerite d'Austriche. Brussels: La Renaissance du Livre, 1946.

Evans, Mark. The Sforza Hours. London: The British Library, 1992.

Halkin, Léon-E. La Réforme en Belgique sous Charles-Quint. Brussels: La Renaissance du Livre, 1957.

Hare, Christopher [Mrs. Marian Andrews]. The High and Puissant Princess Marguerite of Austria: Princess Dowager of Spain, Duchess Dowager of Savoy, Regent of the Netherlands. NY: Scribner, 1907.

Pirenne, Henri. Histoire de Belgique des origines a nos jours. 4 vols. Brussels: La Renaissance du Livre, 1948.

Rady, Martyn. The Emperor Charles V. Seminar Studies in History. NY: Longman, 1988.

Tremayne, Eleanor E. The First Governess of the Netherlands: Margaret of Austria. NY: Putnam, 1908.

suggested reading:

Altmeyer, Jean Jacques. Marguerite d'Autriche, sa vie, sa politique et sa cour. Liège: Jeunehomme frères, 1840.

Correspondance de l'empereur Maximilien Ier et de Marguerite d'Autriche: sa fille gouvernante des Pas-Bas, de 1507 à 1519. 2 vols. Paris: J. Renouard et Cie, 1839.

Correspondance de Marguerite d'Autriche et de ses ambassadeurs à la cour de France concernant l'exécution du traité de Cambrai, 1529–1530. Ed. by Ghislaine de Boom. Bruxelles: M. Lamertin, 1935.

Correspondance de Marguerite d'Autriche, gouvernante des Pays-Bas, avec ses amis sur les affaires des Pays-Bas de 1506–1528. 2 vols. Leiden: S. et J. Luchtmans, 1845–1847.

Headley, John M. The Emperor and His Chancellor: a Study of the Imperial Chancellery under Gattinara. NY: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Kendall W. Brown , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

Margaret of Austria (1480–1530)

views updated May 23 2018

Margaret of Austria (14801530)

The daughter of Emperor Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy, Margaret of Austria became known as a wise and just ruler of the Spanish Netherlands, then part of the Holy Roman Empire. She was born in Brussels and betrothed at the age of three to Prince Charles, later King Charles VIII. She moved to the royal court of France but returned to her family when Charles repudiated her and married Anne of Brittany. In 1497 she married Prince Juan of Asturias, the heir of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, but the marriage ended with Juan's death six months after the wedding ceremony. In 1501 she married Philibert II, the Duke of Savoy, who died in 1504. She became regent of the Netherlands in 1507, and played an important role in the troubled and rebellious lands that were under the nominal rule of her father, the emperor. A talented musician and composer, she welcomed many of Europe's leading musicians to her court. In 1529, representing her young nephew Charles V, she settled the Treaty of Cambrai with Louise Savoy, mother of Francis I. This Ladies' Peace confirmed Habsburg control of contested territory in northern Italy.

See Also: Charles V

Margaret of Austria (1480–1530)

views updated May 18 2018

Margaret of Austria (1480–1530)

Duchess of Savoy. Name variations: Marguérite; Marguerite d'Autriche; Margaret Hapsburg; Duchess of Savoy and regent of the Netherlands. Born in Brussels, Belgium, Jan 11, 1480; died in Malines, Nov 30 or Dec 1, 1530; dau. of Maximilian I, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1493–1519) and king of Germany, and Mary of Burgundy (1457–1482); sister of Philip I the Fair (also called the Handsome [1478–1506], husband of Juana La Loca); stepdau. of Bianca Maria Sforza (1472–1510) of Milan; engaged to future Charles VIII of France, in 1482; m. Infante Juan also known as John of Spain (1478–1497), Spanish crown prince and son of Ferdinand and Isabella I, April 3, 1497 (he died a few months later on Oct 4); m. Philibert II, duke of Savoy (1497–1504), in 1501; children: none.

At 3, married the 12-year-old Dauphin Charles (VIII), crown prince of France (1483); when Louis XI died two months later, became queen to Charles' king; returned to the Low Countries and her father Maximilian after Charles had marriage annulled (1491); when 3rd husband Philibert showed little interest in governing his domains, willingly managed his affairs; her true public career began at age 27, when she was named regent of the Netherlands and guardian of her nephew Charles, later Charles V (1507); remained regent (1507–15, 1519–30) and was a chief player in European politics for the rest of her life; with Louise of Savoy, negotiated the treaty of Cambrai, known as the "Ladies Peace" (1529) between France and the Netherlands; helped to introduce the energy and aesthetic values of the Italian Renaissance to Northern Europe.

See also Eleanor E. Tremayne, The First Governess of the Netherlands: Margaret of Austria (Putnam, 1908); and Women in World History.

About this article

Margaret of Austria

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic


Margaret of Austria