Catherine of Austria – Great sorrow (Part two)




catherine of austria portugal
(public domain)

Read part one here.

Catherine married her first cousin, King John III of Portugal, in the town of Estremoz on 10 February 1525. He was described as a “Prince of medium height, thicker rather than delicate, with a cheerful and authoritative presence.”1 During the religious ceremony, Catherine was described as looking “very handsome” in a white brocade gown with gold fabric and crimson sleeves set with “excellent diamonds.”2 Apparently, the King “had her the first night.”3 After a few days of rest, the newlyweds travelled to Almeirim. However, they likely stayed in Évora until the start of the summer. Catherine wouldn’t see the capital of her new Kingdom, Lisbon, until the beginning of 1527 due to the plague. Even then, it was a short visit as they left again due to yet another outbreak of the plague.

By then, Catherine had given birth to her first child. Just one year after her marriage, Catherine gave birth to a son named Afonso on 24 February 1526. He was baptised on 4 March in the great hall of the Almeirim palace by the bishop of Lamego. Around this time, John’s sister Isabella married Catherine’s brother, Charles, Holy Roman Emperor. Although there was great rejoicing at the birth of a son and heir, it was to be short-lived. He was a sickly infant, and he was born with an abscess on his head. He was moved to Santarém because its higher ground was “healthier for illnesses of the head.”4 He died there in June of that same year. Reportedly, John was resigned to his son’s death “because he went like an angel to paradise,” but Catherine was more visibly grieved.5

Tragically, Catherine and John would lose many more children in the years to come.

On 15 October 1527, Catherine gave birth to a daughter, who was named Maria Manuela. Little Maria Manuela would survive the childhood perils only to die in childbirth at the age of 17. When she was two years old, it was written that “the Princess is very well and their Highnesses are extremely pleased with her, and they are right because she is very beautiful.”6 From an early age, she was promised to her first cousin, the future King Philip II of Spain.

In the early months of 1528, Catherine suffered a miscarriage, which left her very weak. It wasn’t long before she conceived again. Around 11 in the morning on 29 April 1529, Catherine gave birth to another daughter, who was named Isabella. Although there was relief at the birth of a healthy child, there was general disappointment that the child was not a boy. Little Isabella died just a few months later, on 23 July.7 Catherine’s chief chamberlain wrote to Charles, “The Infanta has been taken to heaven by our Lord, and although she was very small, she gave Their Highnesses great sorrow.” In the same letter, it was written that it was already suspected that Catherine was pregnant again.8

Sometime between 30 March and 7 April 1530, Catherine gave birth to another daughter, who was named Beatrice. The little girl was about a month premature. Catherine wrote to her brother that she was “very ill after giving birth, but now I am well.”9 She was again suspected to be pregnant in August 1530, but this was either a false rumour or it ended in a miscarriage. She conceived again around March 1531, but while she was pregnant, Infanta Beatrice died on 1 August 1531 at the age of just 17 months. Catherine wrote to her brother that “it was a pious thing to see her die […] who was so patient and meek.”10 Little Isabella and Beatrice are buried together in the Jerónimos Monastery.

On 1 November 1531, Catherine gave birth to the longed-for male heir. However, he was baptised immediately following birth as he had not cried, and it was believed that he would not live. When the little boy finally appeared to be in the clear, a grand baptism was held, and he received the name Manuel. Catherine’s “pleasure was great at seeing herself give birth to a son, which was the thing in this world she most desired.”11 On 25 March 1533, Catherine gave birth to another son named Philip. The birth of another son, named Dinis, in April 1535 seemed to secure the succession at last. That same year, Manuel was designated as the heir to the throne. Tragically, little Infante Dinis died on 1 January 1537, followed by Manuel on 14 April 1537. Both possibly had epilepsy.

As she laid two of her sons to rest, Catherine was already pregnant again. She gave birth to another son, named John, on 3 June 1537. More tragedy was to come, as Philip died following a bladder disease on 29 April 1539. Catherine had just given birth to another son in March; he was named Antonio. Just a few days later, word reached the Portuguese court that John’s sister Isabella had died in childbirth.

Little Antonio died before his first birthday, leaving John as the “sole and only heir of these kingdoms, on whom their succession and conservation depended.”12 Catherine and her husband were deeply affected by his death “because they could no longer hide it.”13 However, Maria Manuela was also still alive. Catherine was still only 32 years old, but she did not become pregnant again. The Spanish ambassador wrote, “Catherine does everything she can to get pregnant; she hasn’t been pregnant in a year and has already given birth nine times.”14 After a series of treatments of purging and bleeding, Catherine became so faint that the court became alarmed by the state of her health.

Read part three here

  1. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.164
  2. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.170
  3. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.170
  4. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.185
  5. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.185
  6. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.192
  7. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.195
  8. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.194
  9. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.194
  10. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.196
  11. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.197
  12. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.207
  13. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.209
  14. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.210






About Moniek Bloks 2729 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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