Friday, April 10, 2009

Question from Jill - Queens regnant in 16th century Europe


I'm curious - other than England, Spain (Castile that is), and Russia, and Scotland, what other countries, if any, in Christendom in medieval/Tudor times allowed women to be Queen-Regnant?



4 Comments:

Blogger Foose said...

Whether a woman had the absolute right to succeed -- or whether she was merely "allowed" in default of a male heir or absent a stiff challenge from a collateral male --varied from country to country. Sometimes there were no clear rules in place -- so a woman's succession might be largely opportunistic or so hedged in with restrictions that in effect she merely transmitted the right to her husband.

Isabel of Castile, for example, is pointed to as an example of female succession in Castile -- but she was able to enforce her right to succeed and extract a formal recognition of her status as heiress apparent from her half-brother, Henry IV. (The other challengers, though, were Henry's daughter Juana -- generally considered a bastard -- and her own husband Ferdinand, and Ferdinand tried a few times to get himself recognized as the primary heir to Castile.)

In Ferdinand's own Aragon, the female right to succeed was not recognized and the nobles were quite firm about it, having successfully seen off several potential regnant queens in earlier centuries and sticking to their guns even when the male Aragonese line became extinct. (They imported the uncle of the king of Castile.) Juana, Ferdinand's mad daughter, was only allowed to succeed in the 16th century after a great deal of negotiation and concessions.

Neighboring Navarre did accept queens regnant, but they'd had them since the 12th century. However, these queens usually were married off to either a French or Spanish noble and effectively dominated by their spouses and the foreign power their spouse represented. In the 16th century, Queen Catherine de Foix inherited Navarre and promptly lost half of it to an invasion by her uncle Ferdinand of Aragon. Later in the century, her granddaughter Jeanne III was a much more effective and assertive, even aggressive, ruler than the usual Navarrese queen regnant -- but even she orbited the French court to a large extent.

In Portugal it was uncertain. There was a king with one daughter in the 14th century, but her succession was spiked by the fact that her mother was widely hated and she herself was married to the king of Castile, threatening a Castilian takeover. A bastard uncle was able to claim the throne. In the 16th century, the Portuguese house became extinct when King Sebastian died on crusade -- but there was at least one surviving female heiress, the Duchess of Braganza. It's hard to say who the Portuguese would have chosen as king or queen, but Philip of Spain seized the throne on the basis of the claim transmitted from his Portuguese mother. Portuguese queens regnant did inherit in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In France the Salic law disqualified women from inheriting the throne. However, the French were careful not to allow a deceased king's daughters (with no brothers) to marry out of France, because they were perceived to possibly carry a right to the throne, and their fathers had usually bestowed large chunks of French territory on them as a dowry. (Hence the anxiety when Louis XII betrothed his eldest daughter Claude to the future Emperor Charles V.) Certain French duchies observed the same rule -- Mary of Burgundy succeeded her father, but the duchy had originally been founded by a brother of Charles V of France, and the French claimed that consequently girls could not inherit in Burgundy, either. This was the basis of the ongoing quarrel between Mary's grandson Charles V and Francis I of France in the 16th century.

Italy is a mixed bag. There were two queens of Naples -- a kingdom technically subject to the Pope -- in the Anjou line, but when the Aragonese took over in the 15th century they may have imported their prejudice against female rulers. After the males were exterminated by the French and the Imperials, however, females of the house were still sought in marriage because of the potential rights to Naples they could transmit (Henry VII pursuing Joanna of Naples or Cesare Borgia trying to bully Carlotta of Naples into matrimony). In the Italian duchies male succession was the rule, but Popes and dukes sometimes fudged the arrangements when they were unable to produce a male heir -- orphaned Catherine de Medici was called "Duchessina" in her early life, in view of her claim to the Duchy of Urbino, a title the Pope had bestowed on her father, and Bianca Maria Visconti, the illegitimate daughter and only child of the last Duke of Milan, founded a new line of heirs through her marriage to the condottiere Sforza (a succession not recognized by the Emperor, however, who held suzerainty over Milan -- hence the perpetual quarrel over the duchy in the 16th century).

In Poland, there were queens who may have technically inherited in their own right but the nobility was careful to arrange their marriages and devolve the power on the queen's husband (hence, Anna Jagiellon in the 16th century was married off to the much-younger Stephen Bathory, who did the actual ruling). It's complicated by the fact that after the extinction of the last Jagiellon king the monarchy became elective.

The German principalities and duchies seem to have observed the principle of male succession. The Emperor was technically elected, and was always a male. (Habsburg Maria Theresa, much later, was able to engineer her husband's election, but she did the ruling.)

Some of the patchwork of duchies and counties making up the Netherlands had in previous centuries recognized female succession - hence Jacqueline of Bavaria, heiress to Hainault, who was never able to exercise her rule because of the interference of the Duke of Burgundy and the determination of her four husbands to rule her territories without her input. By the 16th century, Burgundy had taken over many of these small states -- often through crafty marriages with the heiresses involved, in which the heiresses never really acted independently.

In Scandinavia, Queen Margaret had successfully ruled the North a couple of centuries before Henry VIII. However, her succession seems to have been partly inherited, partly marital, and partly elected -- the dearth of male heirs and the deficiencies of the existing ones seem to have played an important role. I'm not sure if there were formal rules in Denmark or Sweden -- although in the 17th century Queen Christina inherited without trouble. Back in the 16th century, Henry VIII briefly pursued Christina of Milan, a Danish princess by birth, whose sister signed herself Queen of Denmark -- but her father was an exile and although she might have had the technical right, the Danish weren't having that branch of the family back, especially since there were only Catholic women left in that line (Denmark had meanwhile embraced the Reformation).

In Hungary, male succession was the rule but I think the monarchy became elective -- and males were the ones elected. In Bohemia, the monarchy was also elective, as the old dynasty had died out with the Emperor Sigismund. They had imported a Polish prince (also elected to the throne of Hungary as well as Bohemia), whose daughter Anne of Hungary might be said to have inherited a right to the Bohemian and Hungarian (and subseqently Polish) thrones, but as she was married to Ferdinand of Habsburg the Czechs and Hungarians were not exactly enthusiastic. She never ruled as Queen Regnant -- Ferdinand ruled as "King of Hungary and Bohemia" and later as Emperor.

There are also other small states that admitted or at least tolerated a female succession in default of a male heir, like Brittany -- whose last independent ruler, Duchess Anne, had her country overrun by the French and herself married to the King of France.

The 16th century is considered a golden age for queens -- but besides queens regnant, there were a lot of widowed and married queens acting as regents. Even states with a strong prejudice or actual laws against female succession often allowed de facto rule by a female if she was the mother of a minor male (Catherine de Medici in France), or appointed to rule by a recognized male authority (such as the females successively appointed by the Emperor and Philip of Spain to rule Burgundy and the Netherlands -- Margaret of Austria, Mary of Hungary, Margaret of Parma, the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia).

April 10, 2009 9:02 PM  
Anonymous PhD Historian said...

Very thorough and well done, Foose. You leave me only one realm to address, and it is one that is perhaps so obvious that we seldom think of it: Ireland.

Technically, Ireland was a separate and legally distinct kingdom until the Second Act of Union of 1801. From the 12th century until 1541, the kings of England were "Lords of Ireland," but Henry VIII had himself elevated from Lord of Ireland to King of Ireland in 1541. The Crown of Ireland Act of 1542 specified "heirs and successors" without reference to gender, implicitly accepting female monarchy. Thus the three queens-regnant of England in the sixteenth century were also Queens of Ireland (Jane, Mary, Elizabeth).

(Though it should be noted, of course, that the Papacy attempted to transfer the Crown of Ireland to Philip of Spain in 1555, unsuccessfully.)

April 10, 2009 9:45 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

Oh, I am ashamed to say that being half-Irish I forgot about Ireland!

A very good point about the Irish succession not being restricted to males. I recall there is a 16th-century personage called Queen Grania, or as she is popularly known Grace O'Malley, who claimed to be Queen of Ireland but I don't know that her queenship was really recognized outside her clan and following.

Per my comment, I would like to qualify: France did allow Claude of France's younger sister to marry outside France after her sister had borne three male heirs (but Renee was to return to France and persistently assert her right to rule Brittany, confirming French fears) and Anne of Hungary was actually a great-granddaughter of Emperor Sigismund, so she did preserve a certain element of the original bloodline for dynastic sentimentalists (but Sigismund was widely disliked in his realms).

April 10, 2009 10:11 PM  
Blogger Alysia said...

Russia was also willing to have a woman on the throne,
Catherine I ruled as regent for Peter II for two years after Peter the Greats death, Anna ruled for 10 years after Peter II (1730-1740) Elizabeth sucessfully overthrew Ivan VI to become Empress of Russia from 1741-1762 as well as Catherine the Great overthrowning her Husband Peter III.

April 11, 2009 8:18 AM  

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