The Year of Isabella I of Castile – Margaret of Austria, The pearl of Burgundy (Part one)

margaret of austria
(public domain)

Margaret of Austria was born on 10 January 1480 as the daughter of Mary, Duchess of Burgundy and the future Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. Her elder brother, Philip, would go on to become King of Castile by right of his wife Joanna.

Margaret was just two years old when her mother tragically died after a fall from her horse. That very same year, the Treaty of Arras promised her hand in marriage to the future King Charles VIII of France, who was twelve years old at the time. At the time, both Philip and Margaret were being held hostage in Ghent. After the children were reunited with their father, it was time to act on the treaty. Margaret, by now three years old, was to move to France. Her physicians were worried about her health and managed to delay her departure until April 1483, but by the 24th, it was time to leave.

Margaret with her step-grandmother Margaret of York in The White Princess (2017)(Screenshot/Fair Use)

With a vast retinue, three-year-old Margaret departed, dressed in black satin with gold thread.1 Upon arrival at Hesdin, she was greeted by Anne of France, Duchess of Bourbon, eldest daughter of King Louis XI and thus Margaret’s future sister-in-law. It was Anne who inspected little Margaret for any physical deformities, and she found none. After a grand welcome in Paris on 2 June, Margaret was taken to the Chateau d’Amboise, where she would be formally betrothed to Charles.

Due to her age, the actual wedding ceremony would not take place for a while yet, and meanwhile, Margaret received an excellent education under the supervision of Anne. In August 1483, King Louis XI died, and Anne became regent for her brother Charles. Margaret’s daily care was in the hands of Madame de Segré. Margaret learned to read and write in French and was also taught embroidery, needlework, music and painting. She also had a custom-made bow for archery competitions. She grew up alongside other noble and royal children, such as Louise of Savoy, who would go on to become the mother of King Francis I. These were happy years for the young Margaret, but it would all come to an abrupt end.

Charles repudiated Margaret in 1491 to marry Anne, Duchess of Brittany. Margaret’s father, who had been married by proxy to Duchess Anne, was furious. Anne had been forced to set aside this proxy marriage to marry the French King and keep her lands. To make matters worse, Margaret could not return home until the matter of her dowry was settled, and until then, she was effectively a prisoner. Madame de Segré attempted to console the heartbroken would-be Queen. Although Margaret was described as dignified throughout the entire ordeal, she reportedly commented, “Do not be surprised if the wine is green this year, considering not a single oath is fulfilled”, after the grape harvest failed.2 She later desperately wrote her father, “I want to go home, even if it is only in my chemise.”3

Finally, on 23 May 1493, the Treaty of Senlis was signed, in which Charles agreed to release Margaret and her dowry to her father. The 13-year-old Margaret was finally allowed to go home. Despite the snub, King Charles gave Margaret a magnificent farewell and on 12 June, she was officially transferred into the custody of her father’s ambassadors. Saying goodbye to her French retinue was difficult for her, and she gave Madame de Segré several expensive gifts. At the head of the Burgundian welcoming party stood Margaret of York, her step-grandmother. Her brother Philip welcomed her in the city of Bergen, and they returned to court at Mechelen. The would-be Queen of France was home again.

For now, the excellent education she received in France was continued under the watchful eye of Margaret of York. In 1494, she got to know the Low Countries a bit more during the celebrations for her brother’s majority. They travelled to Antwerp, Brussels and Maastricht. In Antwerp, Margaret witnessed the welcoming ceremony for her father’s new wife, Bianca Maria Sforza. Meanwhile, he was also looking for a new strong alliance, and he found it with Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. A double marriage between Philip and the couple’s second daughter, Joanna, and Margaret and the couple’s only son and heir, John, was planned. Once again, Margaret could become a Queen.

On 5 November 1495, both weddings took place by proxy at the Saint Peter’s Church in Mechelen. Margaret was given a dowry of 200,000 ducats, although she did have to give up her rights in Burgundy. Joanna would be the first to travel to the Low Countries to marry Philip in person before Margaret would travel to Castile to marry John. Joanna left Laredo on 22 August 1496 and arrived at Walcheren on 9 September. The in-person wedding took place on 18 October in the Saint Gummarus Church in Lier. Margaret would now travel to Castile in the same fleet that had brought Joanna. However, the weather was quite adverse, but a route over land was not possible due to the political tensions.

On 22 January 1497, it was decided to set sail, even though the weather was still not ideal. The ships were forced to land near the English coast during a storm. King Henry VII immediately sent food and aid, and the ships were forced to wait for three weeks. During a second attempt, Margaret’s ship hit another ship, and a terrified Margaret jumped from the ship into a boat. During the third attempt, many ships in the fleet were destroyed during subsequent storms, and Margaret wrote this melancholic verse, “Here lies Margaret, the willing bride, twice married but a virgin when she died.”4

On 6 March 1497, two ships limped into the harbour of Santander, and one of them carried Margaret.

Read part two here.

  1. Margareta van Oostenrijk by Johan de Cock p.17
  2. Margareta van Oostenrijk by Johan de Cock p.21
  3. Margareta van Oostenrijk by Johan de Cock p.22
  4. Margareta van Oostenrijk by Johan de Cock p.29

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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