Elizabeth of Valois (1545–1568)

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Elizabeth of Valois (1545–1568)

Queen of Spain. Name variations: Elisabeth or Élizabeth de France; Princess Elizabeth of France; Elizabeth of the Peace; Isabel or Isabella of France. Born at Fontainbleau, France, on April 2 (some sources cite April 13), 1545; died in childbirth at age 23 in Madrid, Spain, on October 3, 1568; daughter of Henry II of Valois (1519–1559), king of France (r. 1547–1559), and Catherine de Medici (1519–1589); sister of Claude de France (1547–1575), and Margaret of Valois (1553–1615), as well as Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, all kings of France; became third wife of Philip II (1527–1598), king of Spain (r.

1544–1598), in 1559 or 1560, in Toledo, Spain; children: twin daughters born in 1564 (died at birth); Isabella Clara Eugenia of Austria (1566–1633); Catherine of Spain (1567–1597, duchesse of Savoy); another daughter (b. 1568) died at birth.

At a time of religious conflict throughout Europe, Philip II of Spain married a sweetheart of the French court, Elizabeth of Valois, after the death of his second wife Mary I of England. The Catholic monarchs of France and Spain had just made peace at Câteau-Cambrésis in 1559, both because they were bankrupt and in order to unite their forces against Protestantism. The Treaty was sealed by the marriage of Philip II to Elizabeth, the teenaged and favorite daughter of Catherine de Medici and Henry II, king of France. At the joust held to mark the wedding celebrations, however, Henry II was fatally injured by a lance wielded by a Calvinist noble, the Comte de Montgomery. The lance shattered Henry's helmet, pierced his eye, and entered his brain. Henry's death a few days later brought his oldest son and Elizabeth's brother, 16-year-old Francis II, to the throne.

When Elizabeth died in childbirth in 1568, Catherine hoped King Philip II might marry her younger daughter, Elizabeth's sister Margaret of Valois , but Philip was determined to take his French connection no further, even though Elizabeth's death was mourned in Spain. "Her figure was very fine, taller than that of her sisters, which made her much admired in Spain, where such tall women are rare, and for that the more esteemed," wrote Saint-Beuve. "And with this figure she had a bearing, a majesty, a gesture, a gait, and grace that intermingled the French-woman with the Spaniard in sweetness and gravity; so that, as I myself saw, when she passed through her Court, or went out to certain places, whether churches, or monasteries, or gardens, there was such great press to see her, and the crowd of persons was so thick, there was no turning round in the mob." Elizabeth's subjects called her la reyna de la paz y de la bondad (the queen of peace and kindness).


Saint-Beuve, C.A., and Pierre de Bourdeïlle. Illustrious Dames of the Court of The Valois Kings. Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley. NY: Lamb Publishing, 1912.