Nephews and Nieces

Charles planned numerous dynastic marriages for his relations.

Family members, particularly female ones, were politically very useful in marriage contracts, often used to cement alliances and secure dynastic ties. Frequently younger princesses were not consulted, but this did not always mean that there was no discussion at all. The views and wishes of other family members had to be heard and were sometimes accepted. For instance, Charles’ sister Mary made it clear that she did not wish to re-marry after the death of her husband, Louis II of Hungary. But it was generally accepted that as head of the family Charles could make decisions over such matters, and over the course of forty years he came up with numerous plans, many involving his nieces and nephews. The following are only examples of such plans.

Both the daughters of Charles’ deceased sister Isabella were married as part of Charles’ political manoeuvres. Dorothea, born in 1520, was married in 1535 to Frederick, Count Palatine, aged 53. Frederick was an important figure within the Holy Roman Empire, and had served the Habsburgs well as a military commander, one whom Charles needed on his side. He had already been linked with Charles sisters, Eleanor and Mary, and was disappointed not to have married either.

Charles’ younger niece, Christina, born in 1521, was married in May 1534, at the age of 12, to Francesco II Sforza, Duke of Milan. The marriage contract, which included an agreement for immediate consummation, was keenly opposed by Charles’ sister Mary, who was effectively Christina’s guardian. In a lengthy letter to her brother she wrote that although she accepted Charles’ right as head of the family to make such decisions ‘it is against nature and God’s laws to marry off a little girl who cannot yet in any sense be called a woman, and expose her to all the dangers of child-bed’. Charles on this occasion overruled his sister arguing that an element of sacrifice was necessary for the sake of the dynasty, and that the issue of age ‘will be a much greater problem for the duke than for our niece’. We will never know quite what Charles meant by this but the Duke died the following year aged 40. Having returned to the Low Countries, Christina soon became the focus of negotiations with Henry VIII, recently widowed by the death of Jane Seymour. This was not welcomed by Christina herself, who is reported to have said ‘If I had two heads, one of them would be at the disposal of the king of England’. Henry’s reputation had obviously spread throughout Europe. In 1541 Christina married Francis, Duke of Bar, who became Duke of Lorraine in 1544. She acted as regent in Lorraine after his death during the minority of their son.

Charles’ brother Ferdinand and his wife Anne of Hungary had 15 children and later in his reign Charles, aware of the shortage of marriageable princesses elsewhere in the family, was involved in numerous discussions about their marriages. However Ferdinand had his own dynastic interests to consider and also made it clear that he was opposed to the marriage of his children at too young an age. Nevertheless many of them figured in diplomatic arrangements. In 1548 Maximilian, his eldest son, married Charles’ daughter, Maria. His daughters married King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland (Elizabeth in 1543 and Catherine in 1553), Albert V, Duke of Bavaria (Anna in 1546), William, Duke of Julich-Cleves-Berg (Maria in 1546), Francesco III Duke of Mantua (Catherine in 1549), William, Duke of Mantua (Eleanor in 1561) and Francesco I de Medici, Duke of Florence (Joanna in 1565).