Maria of Portugal – “Not for lack of greatness” (Part one)

Maria of portugal
(public domain)

Maria of Portugal was born on 18 June 1521, the daughter of King Manuel I of Portugal and Eleanor of Austria. Her father had been married twice before, to Isabella of Aragon and Maria of Aragon, who were Eleanor’s aunts. Maria had half-siblings from both these marriages, although some had predeceased her. She also had one full sibling, a brother named Charles, who died in April 1521, shortly after his first birthday.

Maria’s birth as portrayed in Carlos, Rey Emperador (2015)(Screenshot/Fair Use)

Maria would never know her father as he died on 13 December 1521 when she was just six months old. He was succeeded by Maria’s elder half-brother, John III. Although Eleanor’s wedding clause had stipulated that she and any children she had would be allowed to leave Portugal upon King Manuel’s death, the new King refused his permission to allow Maria to leave with her mother. Nevertheless, Eleanor had to return home, and negotiations continued. She was still young, only 23 years old, and could serve her brother, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, by making another advantageous match. However, King John would not let Maria leave and so Eleanor would have to leave her little daughter behind. She left on 15 May 1523, although she would always regret leaving Maria behind.

Maria was left in the care of a governess named Jeanne de Blaesvelt, who would later also become her lady-in-waiting. Her education was supervised by her half-brother, King John. In 1525, Eleanor’s sister, and thus Maria’s aunt, Catherine, became the new Queen of Portugal as King John’s wife and Maria’s elder half-sister Isabella became Empress as the wife of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. During this time, Eleanor attempted to be reunited with Maria and she promised John not to marry her off without his consent. King John would not be moved, and so he and Catherine became Maria’s foster parents. However, John did not care very much for his younger sister as he disapproved of the match between Eleanor and his father. But he made sure she had a good education, and she became known as one of the most cultured princesses in Europe.

She was still very young when a possible marriage to the French Dauphin (later Francis III, Duke of Brittany, who predeceased his father) was arranged, but this would eventually fall through. Her mother would remarry to King Francis I of France in 1530 as part of the Treaty of Cambrai. Eleanor continued to wish to be reunited with Maria, and she was kept informed of her health and education.

She also received portraits of Maria, and after receiving a new one in 1542, she wrote to Maria, “I rejoiced greatly, my daughter, with your painted portrait, for I cannot see the real one. Please God, that this will happen one day, with your contentment, which will also be mine.”1 For this reason, she was also in favour of the match with Dauphin Francis, as this would mean they could be reunited in France. Despite Eleanor’s wishes, Maria continued to be linked to others as well, such as her cousin, the future Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor.

In 1537, Maria received her own household in the palace of Santa Clara, and several female tutors, such as Paula Vicente, a scholar and musician, and Angela and Luiza Sigea, came to further her education.

As Maria reached a marriageable age, Eleanor felt it was her motherly duty to see her daughter settled, and she desperately wrote to her sister Catherine to talk to her husband, King John, to allow Maria to come to France. She also wrote to Maria asking her not to consent to anything less than being allowed to go to France with a full dowry. Once again, John refused to let Maria go, and he promised to marry her off quickly and as well as possible. Despite everything Eleanor had tried to do, Maria was effectively a stranger to her now. In 1544, Maria was created Duchess of Viseu in her own right, with the appropriate income.2

Maria and Catherine as portrayed in Carlos, Rey Emperador (2015)(Screenshot/Fair Use)

After Eleanor was widowed in 1547, she again tried to be reunited with Maria, but as a dowager Queen, she had less influence than before. In 1552, she wrote to King John and implored God not to let her leave this life without seeing Maria again.3 Eleanor returned home to Castile, but even there, Maria was not allowed to join her. She would be allowed to come to Portugal, but it would be inappropriate for Maria to travel to Castile.

Read part two here.

  1. Éléonore d’Autriche by Michel Combet p.202
  2. Royal and Elite Households in Medieval and Early Modern Europe edited by Theresa Earenfight p.391
  3. Éléonore d’Autriche by Michel Combet p.237

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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