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Archduchess Margaret of Austria (January 10, 1480 – December 1, 1530) was Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands from 1507 to 1515 and again from 1519 to 1530. She was the first of many female regents in the Netherlands.

Archduchess Margaret was born on January 10, 1480 and named after her stepgrandmother, Margaret of York. She was the second child and only daughter of Maximilian of Austria (future Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I) and Mary of Burgundy, co-sovereigns of the Low Countries. In 1482, her mother died and her three-year-old brother Archduke Philipp the Handsome succeeded her as sovereign of the Low Countries, with her father as his regent.

The same year her mother died, King Louis XI of France signed the Treaty of Arras, whereby her father promised to give her hand in marriage to Louis’ son, Dauphin Charles. The engagement took place in 1483. With Franche-Comté and Artois as her dowry, Margaret was transferred to the guardianship of Louis XI, who died soon after. The Dauphin became King Charles VIII and Margaret was raised as a fille de France and prepared for her future role as Queen of France.

Under the supervision of her governess Madame de Segré, and Charles VIII’s sister, regent of France Anne de Beaujeu, Margaret received a fine education alongside several noble children, amongst whom was Louise of Savoy.

Although their union was political, the young Margaret developed a genuine affection for Charles VIII. However, he renounced the treaty in the autumn of 1491 and forcibly married Margaret’s former stepmother Anne, Duchess of Brittany, for political reasons.

The French court had ceased treating Margaret as their future queen but she could not return to her ex-stepmother’s (Anne of Brittany) court until June 1493 after the Treaty of Senlis had been signed in May that year. She was hurt by Charles’ actions and was left with a feeling of enduring resentment towards the House of Valois.

In order to achieve an alliance with Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Fernando II of Aragon, Maximilian started negotiating the marriage of their only son and heir, Juan, Prince of Asturias, to Margaret, as well as the marriage of their daughter Juana to Archduke Philipp. Margaret left the Netherlands for Spain late in 1496. Her engagement to the Prince of Asturias seemed doomed when the ship carrying her to Spain hit a storm in the Bay of Biscay. In haste, she wrote her own epitaph should she not reach Spain:

“Here lies Margaret, the willing bride,
Twice married – but a virgin when she died.”

However, Margaret actually married Prince Juan on April 3, 1497 in Burgos Cathedral. Tragically, John died of a fever after only six months, on October 4. Margaret was left pregnant but gave birth to a premature stillborn daughter on April 2, 1498.

Duchess of Savoy

In 1501, Margaret married Philiberto II, Duke of Savoy (1480–1504), whose realm played a decisive role in the rivalry between France and the Habsburgs in Italy on account of its strategic position in the Western Alps. They had a very stable relationship for those 3 years. When Margaret came to Savoy, the government was in the hands of René, Philiberto’s bastard brother.

Margaret fought hard to strip away his powers and possessions, even involving Maximilian (as Holy Roman Emperor, he was overlord of Savoy) to nullify the letters that gave René legitimacy. René, being declared a traitor, took refuge in France and was welcomed by his half-sister Louise of Savoy, mother of King François I of France. She then took hold of the government, while her husband focused on private hobbies like hunting (which she did share with him). She summoned councils, appointed officers, and when her brother Philipp visited, she discussed and approved his plan regarding a continued reapproachement with France.