Anna of Austria was born on 2 November 1549 as the daughter of first cousins Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, and Maria of Austria. She had been born in Spain but had been mostly brought up in Vienna from the age of 4. From an early age, she was considered for several marriages, most notably to her cousin Don Carlos of Spain, the only son of her uncle King Philip II of Spain. Unfortunately, he died in 1568, but the idea of a Spanish match was revived when Philip II’s third wife Elisabeth of Valois died following a miscarriage. Anna’s engagement to her uncle was announced in February 1569. On the second anniversary of Elisabeth’s death, Anna landed in Spain. She was later described as a “homely, devout soul, submissive and obedient to her husband, ever busy with her needle and her household cares; and, like the other members of her house, overpowered by the vastness and majesty of the mission confided by heaven to its chief.”
There are no records of Philip having mistresses during their marriage, and Anna gave birth to five children in quick succession, including four sons. This was later cynically described with the words, “The niece wife of Philip II bore him many children, of whom one weakling alone survived to inherit the oppressive crown of his father.” Indeed, three sons and a daughter did not survive infancy. Two of those died from illnesses; Ferdinand died from dysentery, Diego died from smallpox – the others are unknown. During her ten years at court, Anna was known to be a good stepmother to Philip’s daughters from his third marriage. Anna also painstakingly elaborated the etiquette governing the household of the Spanish Queens and that of the royal children. The rules meant a very strict enclosure for the Queen and the women in her household, as well as limiting access to her apartments and interaction between her ladies and outsiders. It also included instructions on how the Queen and her ladies were supposed to behave and established the Queen as the overseer of her own household.
En route to Portugal, Philip fell ill at Badajoz and Anna began to fervently pray that he might be saved, even if she had to be sacrificed instead. Her prayer was answered as Philip’s condition improved, but Anna herself fell ill. Anna died on 26 October 1580 at the age of 30 – leaving Philip a widower for the fourth time. She was initially buried at Badajoz but was later transferred to El Escorial.1