Elisabeth of Valois (April 2, 1545 – October 3, 1568) was a Spanish queen consort as the third spouse of Felipe II of Spain.
She was born in the Château de Fontainebleau, the eldest daughter of Henri II of France and Catherine de’ Medici.
She was raised under the supervision of the governor and governess of the royal children, Jean d’Humières and Françoise d’Humières. Her childhood was spent in the French royal nursery, where her father insisted she share her bedroom with her future sister-in-law, Mary, Queen of Scots, who was about three years older than Elisabeth.
Even though Elisabeth had to give precedence to Mary (since Mary was already a crowned queen), the two would remain close friends for the rest of their lives. While it is acknowledged that her sister Margaret and her future sister-in-law Mary were prettier than she, she was one of Catherine’s attractive daughters. Elisabeth was also described as being shy, timid and very much in awe of her formidable mother; although there is also evidence that Catherine was tender and loving toward Elisabeth.
In 1550, Elisabeth’s father, Henri II, began negotiations for her marriage to Edward VI of England. This arrangement brought condemnation from Pope Julius III who reportedly stated that he would excommunicate both if they married. Henri II, undeterred, agreed to a 200,000 ecus dowry, which became irrelevant upon Edward’s death in 1553.
Elisabeth had originally been betrothed to Felipe II’s son, Carlos, Prince of Asturias, but political complications unexpectedly necessitated instead a marriage to Philip.
Elisabeth married Felipe II of Spain son of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, (Carlos I of Spain) and Isabella of Portugal in 1559. Originally married via proxy at Notre Dame (with Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba standing in for Felipe) prior to leaving France, the actual ceremony took place in Guadalajara, Spain, upon her arrival. The marriage was a result of the Peace of Cateau Cambrésis (1559). His second wife, Mary I of England, had recently died, making Elisabeth of Valois Felipe II’s third wife.
Felipe II of Spain
Felipe II was completely enchanted by his 14-year-old bride, (Felipe II was 32 at the time of his marriage) and by 1564 had given up his infidelities. Despite the significant age difference, Elisabeth was also quite pleased with her husband. (In letters to her mother, she proclaimed herself to be fortunate to have married so charming a prince.)
Her relationship with her troubled stepson Carlos was warm and friendly. Despite reports of his progressively bizarre behavior, Carlos was always kind and gentle to Elisabeth. When it eventually became necessary for Felipe to lock him away (which shortly led to the Prince’s demise), Elisabeth cried for days.
Felipe II was very attached to Elisabeth, staying close by her side even when she was ill with smallpox. Elisabeth’s first pregnancy in 1564 ended with a miscarriage of twin girls. She later gave birth to Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain on August 12, 1566, and then to Isabella’s younger sister Catherine Michelle of Spain on October 10, 1567.
Queen Elisabeth and Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain
Felipe II and Elisabeth were very close to both of their daughters buying them jams, dolls, toys and more. It is said ‘ both rejoiced at the birth of Isabella as if it had been the birth of a son’. Elisabeth had another miscarriage on 3 October 1568, and died the same day, along with her newborn infant daughter.
After the death of Elisabeth, Catherine de’ Medici offered her younger daughter Margaret as a bride for Felipe. Felipe declined the offer.
In 1570 Felipe II married his niece Archduchess Anna of Austria, the daughter of Infanta Maria of Spain, (sister of Felipe II) and Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, who were first cousins. She was born in Spain during the reign of her maternal grandfather, Emperor Charles V, (Carlos I) her future husbands father, but lived in Vienna from the age of four.