Isabella of Portugal – Empress of the Carnation

isabella portugal
(public domain)

Isabella of Portugal was born on 24 October 1503 as the daughter of King Manuel I of Portugal and his second wife Maria of Aragon, a daughter of Isabella of Castile after whom she was named. She was also named for Isabella’s eldest daughter, who had been her father’s first wife. She spent her youth at the Ribeira Palace, which was later destroyed by an earthquake.

On 10 March 1526, Isabella travelled to Seville, where her wedding to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, took place. Isabella had previously worn a medallion with the inscription “Aut Ceasar aut nulla” or “The Emperor or no one.” Now, her wish had come true. Tragically, the news of the death of Charles’s sister Isabella had reached the court, plunging it into deep mourning and leading to the cancellation of several wedding festivities. A week after the wedding, a Portuguese diplomat wrote that Isabella “slept every night in the arms of her husband, and they are very in love and happy.”1 Charles had previously been betrothed to the future Queen Mary I of England, but this agreement eventually fell apart. In 1525, Charles’s younger sister Catherine married King John III of Portugal, Isabella’s brother.

Charles and Isabella were first cousins, but it proved to be a love match. They spent their honeymoon in Andalusia, in the palaces of the Emirs of Cordoba. News of her first pregnancy came out in September 1526. The English ambassador wrote, “We can now openly and with certainty say that the Empress is expecting, much to the joy of the court and the people.”2 The future King Philip II was born on 21 May 1527, and prophets predicted a glorious future for the newborn. Just three months later, Isabella was pregnant again. On 21 June 1528, she gave birth to a daughter named Maria. In total, Isabella would fall pregnant at least nine times, but Charles quickly lost interest in her further pregnancies. Three children would live to adulthood, and upon the death of young Ferdinand, Charles wrote, “Considering our Lord who gave us Ferdinand, took him back we must bow to his will, thank him and beg to maintain what has stayed behind. With deep affection, my lady, I beg you to do this, forgot all the pain and sadness and leave it behind you.”3

Isabella served as regent for her husband twice, from 1529-1532 and from 1535-1539. In her capacity as regent, she travelled a lot, and she often spent the hot summers in Avila. Isabella gave birth to a stillborn son on 21 April 1539. This was followed by fevers, and a haemorrhage and Isabella eventually died on 1 May 1539 at the age of 35. Charles was devastated by her death and never recovered. He dressed in black for the rest of his life and never remarried. He did father a second illegitimate child in 1547, his first having been born before his marriage to Isabella.

She was initially buried in Granada but was transferred to the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial in 1574 by her son, King Philip II of Spain, to be interred alongside her husband.

A succession crisis in Portugal led to her son Philip claiming the Portuguese throne as his mother was the eldest daughter of King Manuel I of Portugal. The personal union with Portugal lasted 60 years.

Isabella was also known as the Empress of the Carnation after Charles introduced the flower to Spain as a token of his love for her.

  1. Keizer Karel V by Geoffrey Parker p.167
  2. Keizer Karel V by Geoffrey Parker p.167
  3. Keizer Karel V by Geoffrey Parker p.216

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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