18 January 2015

Today's Princess: Anne of Austria

After Peter Paul Rubens via Wikimedia Commons
The Spanish-born Queen of France Anne of Austria is one of the more famous princesses in history because she is a central figure in The Three Musketeers. As such, she has been portrayed in numerous adaptations of that novel and its sequels, including The Man in the Iron Mask.

Her real claim to fame is much more important: she invented chocolate! Okay, that is quite an overstatement. Chocolate, of course, was a popular beverage in Mesoamerica that the Spaniards had brought back for its aristocracy to secretly enjoy. It was not shared with the rest of Europe until the Infanta Anne gave it to her groom, King Louis XIII of Spain, or so some assert. The introduction of chocolate into the marriage of these two 14 year-olds, did not sweeten their relationship. Forced to consummate his marriage while two nurses watched (to ensure no future possibility of annulment), the king stayed well away from his queen for months after that. In fact for the next 22 years, their infrequent marital activities resulted in only four pregnancies, all of which miscarried. The birth of their son, the future Sun King Louis XIV, when they were both 36 was considered a true miracle.

Anne's life in France was far from stable. Personally raised by her own parents, she was not prepared for the stiffness and distance of the French royal family. Her husband had been raised in a completely different household and rarely ever saw either parent. When his father was assassinated, he became king at age 8, but his mother Marie de Medici did her best to keep him away from power for as long as she could. As a result, he was always highly distrustful and this did not have a positive impact on his relationship with his wife. To make matters more complicated, Anne had been indoctrinated by her beloved father, King Philip III of Spain, to keep the needs of Spain first in her life and politics. This frequently brought her under suspicion, especially when France and Spain were once again at war.

Her husband tried to prevent Anne from becoming regent for their son, but he was unsuccessful. She assumed the regency for five-year-old Louis XIV. With the help of Cardinal Mazarin she helped put down the first Fronde, an aristocratic rebellion, and she ended the war with Spain, sealing the peace by marrying her son to her Spanish niece, Maria Theresa of Spain.

Once Louis XIV reached maturity, Anne retired to a convent and died five years later of breast cancer at the age of 64. Her second son, Philippe Duke of Orleans, is the forebear of the Orleans branch of the family that would briefly sit on the throne following the French Revolution.

For more about Anne:
Anne of Austria on Biography.com
A Little Gossip: Queen Anne of Austria & Spain on It's About Time
A Pink Ribbon for Anne of Austria on Versailles and More

Books about Anne:

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