Catherine of Austria – Grandmother and regent (Part three)




catherine of austria portugal
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Read part two here.

In 1543, the marriage between Maria Manuela and her cousin Philip was settled, which had been one of Catherine’s greatest desires, although it was quite controversial at the Portuguese court. Maria Manuela was second in the line of succession, and it was not outside of the realm of possibilities that she could succeed to the Portuguese throne. Maria Manuela had been brought up by her mother as a model of what a Princess should be, and she had been carefully prepared for her role as Princess of Asturias and future Queen. Dressed in a white satin dress with gold beading and rich jewels, Maria Manuela became the Princess of Asturias. Catherine wore black satin trimmed with velvet.1 She later wrote, “I’m happy to see what I wanted so much completed.”2

Although the ceremony had taken place in March, Maria Manuela did not leave Portugal until October. Catherine said goodbye to her daughter, knowing full well that they would likely never see each other again. Maria Manuela kissed her mother’s hand as she wept during their final farewell. Her father accompanied her part of the way, and it was later written that, “one could clearly see the great love that the King had for the Princess and the great longing he felt for her.”3 Maria Manuela had not even had her first period yet, and she underwent treatments during the early months of her marriage for it. In the summer of 1544, she had her first period, and she fell pregnant just a few months later.

On 8 July 1545, Catherine became a grandmother when Maria Manuela gave birth to a son named Carlos. Everything seemed to have gone well, but Maria Manuela soon became ill with puerperal fever. She was bled several times in an attempt to save her life. One observer reported that “one would say they had bled her to the last drop.”4 Maria Manuela died on 12 July 1545 as the nation celebrated the birth of an heir. The eight-year-old John was now Catherine’s only living child.

John was a sickly child who was often treated with bloodletting, which served to weaken him further. In his infancy, it was feared he was deaf and mute, as he could not speak at the age of three. However, all hope was now vested in him, and his parents fretted over him. With his sister’s marriage to Spain’s heir, Philip, John’s own marriage was also settled. He would, in due time, marry Philip’s sister, Joanna. When he was 14 years old, it was decided that the marriage could now take place. On 11 January 1552, the proxy wedding took place, and John was given his own establishment. He reportedly fathered an illegitimate daughter during this time.5

After her departure was repeatedly postponed, Joanna finally arrived in October 1552. As a wedding present, Catherine presented her new daughter-in-law with a diamond necklace with a diamond cross and a pearl necklace. Catherine and Joanna appeared to be getting along, and Joanna “asks her for her opinion and advice in everything.”6 Joanna fulfilled her primary duty almost immediately as she quickly fell pregnant. However, it became clear that John was sick as he was quickly losing weight. This was likely caused by diabetes, which had no treatment. On 31 December, he fell unconscious, and he died on 2 January 1554 at the age of 16.

Just 18 days later, Joanna gave birth to a son with Catherine holding her hand. He was named Sebastian, as he was born on the feast day of Saint Sebastian. It was likely that Joanna was only told of her husband’s death after the delivery. She was devastated and threw herself onto her bed in tears. Catherine had now lost all of her children, although her new grandson now represented the future of the monarchy. He was baptised eight days after his birth, and Catherine was one of his godparents.

Just three months later, Joanna was recalled to Spain to act as regent for her brother Philip, as he would be travelling to England to be married to Queen Mary I of England. Catherine and Manuel only gave their consent to this on the condition that she would return to Portugal when Philip returned to Spain. However, Joanna never returned to Portugal, and she never saw her son again.

In 1555, Catherine also lost her mother, who had been incarcerated at Tordesillas for many years. Catherine, who had shared her captivity until her marriage, had not seen her mother since. Contact between the two had gone mostly through official channels and via family members, although she did not often discuss her mother with her brother Charles. Upon her mother’s death, she told the Portuguese ambassador in Spain to express her great sorrow.7 The following years would also see the deaths of her brother Charles, and her sisters Mary and Eleanor. This left just Catherine and Ferdinand as the surviving siblings, as Isabella had died in 1526.

However, the death of her husband, King John III, would have the most impact on Catherine’s life. He died on 11 June 1557 at the age of 55. With all their children dead, the crown passed to their grandson Sebastian, who was just three years old. Catherine was with him when John and she closed his eyes and covered him with a sheet. During her husband’s illness, Catherine had already been taking a more active political role, and she was appointed as regent for her grandson with the assistance of her brother-in-law Henry, who was a Cardinal. Catherine did not attend his enthronement ceremony, which took place on 16 June.

Sebastian’s mother also made a claim for the regency from Spain, but she was vetoed by Charles V, who was in the last year of his life. Together with Catherine, he was in secret negotiations to position Maria Manuala’s son Carlos as Sebastian’s heir if he were to die childless. This seems to explain his veto of Joanna as regent.

Read part four here.

  1. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.271
  2. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.272
  3. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.278
  4. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.285
  5. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.291
  6. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.304
  7. Catarina de Austria by Ana Isabel Buescu p.315






About Moniek Bloks 2746 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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