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Mary of Hungary (1505–1558)

Mary of Hungary (1505–1558)

Queen of Hungary and regent of the Netherlands . Name variations: Marie of Austria or Marie d'Autriche; Maria of Hungary; Maria of Castile; Mary Habsburg or Hapsburg. Born in 1505 in the Netherlands; died in 1558 in the Netherlands; daughter of Philip of Burgundy also known as Philip I the Fair, king of Castile and Léon (r. 1506), and Juana La Loca (1479–1555) of Aragon, queen of Castile; sister of Ferdinand I and Charles V, both Holy Roman emperors, and Catherine (1507–1578), Eleanor of Portugal (1498–1558), and Elisabeth of Habsburg (1501–1526); married Lajos also known as Louis II (1506–1526), king of Hungary (r. 1516–1526), around 1520; no children.

Mary of Hungary served as regent of the Netherlands for 27 years. She was born in 1505 into the royal families of Spain and Austria, the daughter of Philip I the Fair, heir to Austria and the Netherlands, and Juana La Loca , titular queen of Castile. Her father died in 1506; her

mother, who had always suffered from mental illness, became completely insane after Philip's death and had to be kept in isolation. Mary and her siblings, now effectively orphaned, were reared by their aunt, Margaret of Austria , who had just taken over the government of the Netherlands for Mary's brother Charles (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V).

At age seven, Mary of Hungary was betrothed to Prince Louis (II) Jagellon, heir to the throne of Hungary. When she was about 15, she left the Netherlands for Hungary, where she and Louis were married. The marriage did not last long; in 1526, Louis was killed in battle during an invasion of Hungary by Turkish forces. Since Mary had borne no children during her marriage, she thus lost her position as princess of Hungary. She soon returned to her native land, where she took up residence once again at the court of the regent, Margaret of Austria. Although Mary of Hungary's brother Charles V was now an adult and had been named Holy Roman emperor, Margaret of Austria had remained regent for him, because the vast empire he now controlled made it impossible for him to personally govern each region.

Mary of Hungary, who refused to remarry, remained a rather quiet figure at the court until Margaret of Austria's death in 1530. Charles V, needing a new regent who was familiar with the Netherlands and could be trusted to act as he wished, turned to his younger sister, and thus Mary of Hungary was named regent in 1531. She proved to be an astute choice, for she was a wise, thoughtful ruler, interested in promoting the welfare of her subjects. She left Charles V free to concern himself with the rest of his empire, and she enjoyed great popularity among her people.

In 1549, she acted as tutor to Charles' son and heir, Philip (II), who stayed at her court for two years to learn about the people and institutions of the Netherlands. Philip was impressed with Mary of Hungary's deft handling of domestic affairs; so much so that upon his accession as emperor in 1555, he asked Mary to continue as regent in his name. She agreed and governed successfully for another three years, until her death at age 53.


Hopkins, Lisa. Women Who Would Be Kings: Female Rulers of the Sixteenth Century. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

suggested reading:

Hale, John. The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance. NY: Macmillan, 1993.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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