Catherine of Austria – Her mother’s solace (Part one)




catherine of austria queen of portugal
(public domain)

Catherine, or Catalina, of Austria was born on 14 January 1507 as the daughter of Queen Joanna of Castile and King Philip I of Castile, by right of his wife.

Her father had died on 25 September 1506, and she was born as his funeral procession rested in Torquemada for three months. It had been a difficult labour, which nearly cost Joanna her life.1 She was the last of six siblings, but only she and her elder brother Ferdinand were not born in the Low Countries. Her siblings were Eleanor (later Queen of Portugal and France), Charles (later Holy Roman Emperor), Ferdinand (later Holy Roman Emperor), Mary (later Queen of Hungary), and Isabella (later Queen of Denmark). At the time of Catherine’s birth, only Ferdinand lived with them. The others lived in Flanders. Just four days after her birth, plague struck the town, and one of Joanna’s maidservants died.

Her godparents were Bernardino Fernández de Velasco, 1st Duke of Frías and Diego Ramírez de Villaescusa, Bishop of Málaga, who had supported her in the months after Philip’s death, and her baptism took place at Santa Eulalia. By the spring of 1509, Joanna was being held prisoner at the Royal Palace in Tordesillas by her father due to her supposed mental instability. Catherine’s brother Ferdinand had already been taken from them, and now only Catherine remained with her mother in captivity.

Catherine with her mother at Tordesillas (public domain)

Pietro Martire d’Anghiera wrote that Joanna was “secluded of her own accord and always will be while she lives.” 2 He added that she spent her days educating Catherine and busying herself with domestic duties. The reality was probably a bit more horrifying, and there can be no doubt that Joanna was a prisoner. No matter what she did, she would never be allowed to leave.

In 1515, Catherine’s brother Charles was declared to be of age, and the following year, he and their sister Eleanor set out from the Low Countries following the death of their grandfather, King Ferdinand. By then, the two other siblings, Mary and Isabella, were already married. They slowly made their way towards Tordesillas to meet with their mother and the sister they had never met. When Charles met his mother on 4 November 1517, he bowed deep to kiss her hand, but she refused the gesture of respect to embrace them both. They spoke in French throughout, and it was an amicable conversation. She agreed to be co-monarchs with Charles. They did not stay long, and they moved on to Valladolid, where they would meet their brother Ferdinand. Catherine remained with her mother.

Catherine meets her siblings as portrayed in Carlos, Rey Emperador (2015)(Screenshot/Fair Use)

On 13 March 1518, Catherine was secretly moved from Tordesillas by her brother Charles, who wished to include her in his marital discussions. She had been moved through a hole cut in the soft masonry behind a tapestry in the room. She had openly wept “because of her love for the Queen” but was ordered to obey.3 Joanna discovered the hole not much later and immediately went on a hunger and thirst strike. Catherine was returned to her mother two days later. Joanna threatened that if Catherine were taken away, she would “throw herself out of the window or stab herself to death.” 4

The situation at Tordesillas deteriorated under a new regime, and Catherine desperately wrote to her brother that the servants “take everything, use it, and spoil it, so that I have nothing of my own and nothing lasts me.” She also revealed that their mother was also being stolen from and was subjected to severe restraint. She begged Charles to allow their mother to walk for her recreation.5

It would be another six years before Catherine would be allowed to leave her mother. At the end of 1524, she began to prepare for her marriage to King John III of Portugal. They delayed telling Joanna, and the ambassador wrote, “Please God, some vexation will not come from this, although I think that it cannot be prevented because not an hour passes without her wanting to see [Catalina] and asking after her.”6 The marriage contract was signed on 5 July 1524, and Charles stayed at Tordesillas from 3 October to 5 November to form her dowry. Many items were taken without Joanna’s knowledge, and chests with items were moved, only to be returned with different items of a similar weight.

Catherine dressed in cloth of silver for the proxy wedding before reverting quickly back to black to see her mother. Charles left for Madrid, and on 1 January 1525, Catherine finally asked her mother to bless her marriage. The following morning, she ate breakfast, heard mass and made a secretive departure. Joanna was distracted by conversation and only later discovered that Catherine was gone. It was reported that she stood for an entire day and night in the corridor, gazing out of the window and then she “entered her chamber and took to her bed, remaining thus for two days; and no wonder, for this daughter was her solace.”7

Read part two here.

  1. Juana I: Legitimacy and Conflict in Sixteenth Century Castile by Gillian B Fleming p.160
  2. Juana I: Legitimacy and Conflict in Sixteenth Century Castile by Gillian B Fleming p.195
  3. Juana I: Legitimacy and Conflict in Sixteenth Century Castile by Gillian B Fleming p.221
  4. Juana I: Legitimacy and Conflict in Sixteenth Century Castile by Gillian B Fleming p.225
  5. Juana I: Legitimacy and Conflict in Sixteenth Century Castile by Gillian B Fleming p.265-266
  6. Juana I: Legitimacy and Conflict in Sixteenth Century Castile by Gillian B Fleming p.283
  7. Juana I: Legitimacy and Conflict in Sixteenth Century Castile by Gillian B Fleming p.284






About Moniek Bloks 2763 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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