|The King and Queen of Tunis, by Václav Hollar aka Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677), |
a Bohemian etcher, of unknown date. Image courtesy of University of Toronto
"Cariacatures and deformities after Leonardo".
Much of history is written with the absence of facts. Especially history of times long ago where there is little or no extant written records nor reliable images, just paintings and sculpture which are always suspect. But this has never stopped writers. Despite all efforts to leave behind any biases (an impossible task even with the best intentions and most prodigious efforts) most historical writings smack of heroics, abominations, or cautionary tales. This is no less true about two European women.
Margaret, Countess of Tyrol (1318 - 1369) was the last Countess of Tyrol from the Gorizia Meinhardiner dynasty. She was the daughter of Henry of Gorizia-Tyrol, Duke of Carinthia and Count of Tyrol, and his second wife Adelaide, daughter of Duke Henry I of Brunswick-Lüneberg. Henry had no male heirs, and sought for Margaret to inherit his Carinthian and Tyrolean estates. He made an agreement with the Wittlesbach Emperor Louis IV in 1330 that this would happen.
|Image courtesy of fembio.org.|
That same year 12-year-old Margaret was married to 8-year-old John Henry of Luxembourg, the son of King John of Bohemia. King John had deposed Henry from the throne of Bohemia in 1310. He was also the brother of the future emperor Charles IV. When Henry died in 1335, Emperor Louis IV gave the Carpinthian estate to one of Margaret's cousins - Duke Albert II of Austria. Because of her affiliation with the House of Luxembourg, she retained the Tyrolean estate.
Margaret's husband, John Henry, was arrogant and immature, and not well-liked by the Tyroleans. In 1341 when John Henry returned from a hunting trip, Margaret barred him from the Castle Tyrol and had him removed from the estate. She was then married to Louis V of Wittelsbach, the eldest son of Emperor Louis IV, without getting divorced. The Wittelsbach were rivals of the Luxembourgs.
|Margaret of Tyrol, 18th century engraving, artist unknown.|
Image courtesy of www.aeiou.at.
Her new husband, Louis V, along with his father declared her first marriage null and void. Several scholars defended this declaration, including William of Ockham (he of the razor), on the grounds that John Henry never consummated the marriage, but this infuriated the papacy, as well as the House of Luxembourg and the Habsburgs. Pope Clement IV, the fourth Avignon pope (i.e., French) excommunicated them both in 1342, and the scandal spread across Europe. A political marriage between their son and a daughter of Duke Albert II von Habsburg led to the new Pope Innocent VI absolving them from the excommunication. But the church as a whole was still not happy with the whole turn of events, and Margaret was the one who suffered. She was referred to as "Maultasch", a German euphemism for a whore or an ugly woman (I guess they were one in the same), which literally means "bag mouth".
The players are confusing, but the bottom line is Margaret's inheritance, which her father clearly wanted her to have and was rightfully hers even though she was born the wrong gender, was put into political play. Men of power used her but she retained the bad reputation. Never, never, never piss off the Church.
She eventually lost everything when first her husband and then her son died. She died in exile but not her reputation. She has gained much notoriety, and is even thought to be the subject of a bizarre painting done approximately 150 years later:
|Grotesque Head by Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1480-1510. Red chalk|
on paper. Image courtesy Windsor Castle, Royal Library.
|The Duchess from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Illustration by |
Sir John Tenniel, 1869. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
There is much discussion on whether these truly are depictions of Margaret of Tyrol. Erasmus wrote In Praise of Folly in 1509 (published in 1511, and dedicated to Sir Thomas More) which was a satirical attack on the traditions of European society (especially women), and the Catholic Church. This, too, has been applied to Margaret of Tyrol. However there are few extant images of her, and she does not appear particularly ugly:
|A 16th century oil on canvas of Margaret of Tyrol|
with the Tyrolean, Bavarian, and Carinthian coat of
arms. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
|A seal of Margaret of Tyrol.|
Image courtesy of fembio.org.
|Another of her seals, courtesy of tirol-geschichte.tsn.at.|
In 2008 it was determined that Matsys and da Vinci's works featured a sitter suffering from a rare form of Paget's disease, also known as osteitis deformans, where the bones become enlarged and deformed. Therefore these are likely depictions of a real person with the disease. Who attributed the works to Margaret of Tyrol is anyone's guess, but it goes to show how myth entwines itself into history, particularly when it comes to women. Contemporary descriptions of her praise her beauty. Yet, even now writers blast her with the usual accusations of an overwhelming sex drive, political intrigues of her own making, power-grabbing, and general evilness. Case in point is this recent blog, which exemplifies the monster she was made into.
Now, let's look at another Margaret, some 200 years later. Margaret of Parma was an illegitimate daughter of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and his chamberlain's servant. Charles acknowledged her and she was raised by his sister and aunt, who were very well educated, had a great library (which included the famous illuminated Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry), and entertained some of the great humanists of the time, including Erasmus. Margaret was engaged to the Pope's nephew, Alexander de Medici but he was assassinated a year later. She then married Ottavio Farnese, the grandson of Pope Paul III.
|Margaret of Palma by Anthonis Mor, circa 1555.|
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Her brother was Philip II, King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, and Sicily. He appointed her governor of the Netherlands, but with nominal authority. Everything she did had to be approved by Philip, even though letters at the time took months to be delivered. She is credited with stopping the Inquisition in the Netherlands, which is not a credible fact as her power was only titular. She eventually resigned and went to Italy, but returned to the Netherlands where she co-governed with her son. When that didn't work out she retired to Italy, where she lived until she died.
Now here is a woman who legally had no right to an inheritance as she was not only a woman but illegitimate, which had a stigma attached to it then. But she had great papal ties. So she, too, was a pawn in men's political games, but faired better even though we will never know what she could have done if she had been really allowed to use her fine education and wield some power.
|Another work of Margaret of Parma by Anthonis Mor,|
circa 1555, also courtesy of Wikipedia.
Two women serving their usefulness as marriage objects for political ties - one hated by the church, the other the darling of the Church. No wonder the U.S. founding fathers were adamant about the separation of church and state! History is unfair and selective. The job of a historian is to tease out meaning from the facts or lack of them, and not pass on biased information or add to fabrications and innuendo. Perhaps one of the hardest jobs ever.