Élisabeth of France, Balthasar Carlos, Catalan Revolt, Catherine de Médici, Charles Emmanuel of Savoy, Felipe IV of France, King Henri IV of France, Louis XIII of France, Louis XIV of France, Maria Theresa of Spain, Philip Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont, Regent
Elisabeth of France (November 22, 1602 – October 6, 1644) was Queen of Spain from 1621 to her death and Queen of Portugal from 1621 to 1640, as the first spouse of King Felipe IV. She served as regent of Spain during the Catalan Revolt in 1640-42 and 1643–44.
Elisabeth, Madame Royale, was born at the Château de Fontainebleau on November22, 1602. She was the eldest daughter of King Henri IV of France and his second spouse Marie de’ Medici. According to the court, her mother showed a cruel indifference to her, because she had believed the prophecy of a nun who assured her that she would give birth to three consecutive sons.
Shortly after her birth, she was betrothed to Philip Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont, son and heir of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, by Infanta Catherine Michaela of Spain, a daughter of King Felipe II of Spain. Philip Emmanuel died in 1605.
As a daughter of the King of France, she was born a Fille de France. As the eldest daughter of the king, she was known at court by the traditional honorific of Madame Royale. The early years of Madame Royale were spent under the supervision of the royal governess Françoise de Montglat at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a quiet place away from the Parisian court in which she shared education and games with her legitimate siblings and the bastard children that her father had from his constant love affairs.
Besides the Dauphin, (future King Louis XIII) the other Enfants de France (Henri IV’s legitimate children) were Christine Marie, later Duchess of Savoy; Nicholas Henri, Duke of Orléans, who died in infancy; Gaston, Duke of Orléans; and Henrietta Maria, later Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. When King Henri IV was assassinated outside the Palais du Louvre in Paris on May 14, 1610, her brother the Dauphin (with whom Elisabeth had a very close relationship) succeeded him to the throne as King Louis XIII of France under the Regency of their mother Marie de’ Medici.
When Elisabeth was ten years old, in 1612, negotiations were begun for a double marriage between the royal families of France and Spain; Elisabeth would marry the Prince of Asturias (the future Felipe IV of Spain) and her brother Louis XIII the Spanish Infanta Anne.
After her proxy marriage to the Prince of Asturias and Louis XIII’s proxy marriage to the Infanta Anne, Elisabeth and her brother met their respective spouses for the first time on November 25, 1615 on the Pheasant Island in the river Bidassoa that divides France and Spain between the French city of Hendaye and the Spanish city of Fuenterrabía.
This was the last time Louis would see his sister. In Spain, Elisabeth’s French name took on the Spanish form of Isabel. The religious ceremony took place in the Saint Mary Cathedral in Burgos. At the time of her marriage, the thirteen-year-old Isabel became the new Princess of Asturias.
This marriage followed a tradition of cementing military and political alliances between the Catholic powers of France and Spain with royal marriages. The tradition went back to 1559 with the marriage of King Felipe II of Spain with the French princess Elisabeth of Valois, the daughter of King Henri II of France, as part of the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis. The Exchange of the Princesses at the Spanish Border was painted by Peter Paul Rubens as part of his Marie de’ Medici cycle.
Elisabeth was renowned for her beauty, intelligence and noble personality, which made her very popular in Spain.
In 1621, by the time of the birth of the couple’s first child, the couple had ascended to the throne of Spain upon the death of Felipe III of Spain. The new queen of Spain was aware that her husband had mistresses.
Elisabeth herself was the subject of rumors about her relations with the noted poet Peralta (Juan de Tassis, 2nd Count of Villamediana), who was her gentleman-in-waiting.
She was regent of Spain during the Catalan Revolt and supported the Duke of Nochera against the Count-Duke of Olivares in favor of an honorable withdrawal from the Catalan Revolt.
Prior to 1640, the queen does not appear to have had much influence over state affairs, which was largely entrusted to Olivares. Elisabeth did not get along with Olivares, who reportedly assisted her spouse in his adultery and prevented her from achieving any political influence and once famously remarked, when she presented a political view to the king, that priests existed to pray as well as queens existed to give birth.
Between 1640 and 1642, Elisabeth served as regent for the king in his absence during the Catalan revolt and was given very good marks for her efforts. She was reputed to have influenced the fall of Olivares as a part of a “women’s conspiracy” alongside the duchess of Mantua, Ana de Guevara, María de Ágreda and her chief lady-in-waiting Luisa Manrique de Lara, Countess Paredes de Nava.
The fall of Olivares made the king consider her his only political partner, and when the king left again for the front in 1643, Elisabeth was again appointed regent assisted by Juan Chumacero Carrillo y Sotomayor. Her second regency was also given good reviews, and she was credited by the king for her efforts to provide vital supplies for the troops as well as for her negotiations with the banks to provide finances for the army, offering her own jewelry as security. It was rumored that she was intending to follow the example of queen Isabella the Catholic and lead her own army to retake Badajoz.
The Queen died in Madrid on October 6, 1644 at the age of forty-one, leaving two children: Balthasar Carlos and Maria Theresa. After her death, her husband married his niece Mariana of Austria.
Elisabeth’s last child, Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain, would later become queen of France as the wife of her nephew, the future Louis XIV. Unlike her husband and sister-in-law, she would not see the wedding that cemented the peace between her homeland and adopted country, Spain; the countries would be at war until 1659.
One of her great-grandsons, Philippe, Duke of Anjou, became King Felipe V of Spain, and through him, Elisabeth is an ancestor of the subsequent Spanish monarchs