25 July 2017

Abdicating Queens

In honor of the 450th anniversary of the abdication of Mary Queen of Scots earlier this month, let's take a look at the list of Queens Regnant who have given up their thrones, starting with the first European lady to do so, Mary herself. Since her, there has been one each century, except in the 20th century which witnessed the abdications of the mother and daughter Dutch Queens Wilhelmina and Juliana.

after Francis Clouet
via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Queen of Scots, 1567
The turbulence and violence of Scotland's monarchy often meant the early deaths of kings followed by the accession of children. Mary, the only surviving child of King James V was only six days old when she became Queen. The Regency for her was hotly debated between Catholic and Protestant claimants while the tiny Queen was sent to be raised at the French court, where at the age of fifteen she married the Dauphin, who became King of France less than a year later. Before the end of the next year, the teenage King died and his teenage Queen returned to her homeland, which could have hardly remembered. The very Catholic Queen was regarded with distrust by her numerous and powerful Protestant noblemen and by her very powerful cousin to the south, Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was little interested in Mary's desire to be her rightful heir in England. When Mary married their shared cousin Henry Stuart Lord Darnley and further strengthened her claim to the English throne, Elizabeth was infuriated. Although a passionate marriage, it was a troubled one. Darnley wished to be Mary's equal and things grew ugly. In an act of jealousy, Darnley and his men murdered her secretary in front of the pregnant Queen. Several months after their son's birth, Darnley's dead body was discovered. Mary was suspected, but then she was abducted, possibly raped and married to the Protestant Earl of Bothwell. Conspiracy rumors were rampant. The once-again pregnant Mary and her new husband faced an open revolt but their supporters abandoned them. He was given free passage to escape and she was imprisoned, and soon miscarried twins. The despondent Queen, just 24 years old, was forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son. However, that was not the end of her story. She escaped to England but Queen Elizabeth was not eager to help her and instead kept her under close observation. She was tried for Darnley's murder, but Elizabeth found it more politically sound to keep Mary prisoner without an actual conviction. From her imprisonment, Mary embroiled herself in various plots and was eventually caught plotting against Elizabeth herself. For this crime, Mary was beheaded at the age of 44. (Read my post about the Tudor & Stewart Queens: Killing Queens.)

By Sebastien Bourdon
via Wikimedia Commons
Christina of Sweden, 1654
Although not an infant like Mary Queen of Scots, Christina was also a child when she inherited her father's throne. The last surviving legitimate child of King Gustav II Adolf, the nearly six-year-old Christina was initially in her mother's physical custody, despite her mother's refusal to allow the king's burial for 18 months and her mother's apparent neglect of her. Christina was eventually placed with her maternal aunt and, after her death, with appointed guardians. Her father had not only doted on her but had clearly accepted that she would be his heir, leaving orders that she would be educated like a prince. She learned men's sports: fencing, riding and bear hunting. She studied politics, religion, philosophy, the classical Greek and Roman texts and knew at least nine languages. She became obsessed with collecting both art and books. She had a keen and curious mind--a fact that would trouble her reign in an age of absolutes. Not only did she refuse to blindly accept the precepts of Lutherans, a religion for which her country had fought wars, she actually studied Catholicism, Islam and Judaism. She forced her government into peace negotiations while bringing the cultural booty back to Sweden. Another disruptive issue was her refusal to wed. In an attempt to quiet the insistence on her marriage, she named a cousin (once considered a possible husband) as her heir when she was only 21. Her views and tastes were changeable as she explored so many different ideas. At one period she was solemn and serious, working ten hours a day, barely eating or sleeping. Then, she swung the other direction, indulging in all things pleasurable. At age 27, having reigned quixotically and controversially, she announced her abdication. She shipped many of her books and treasures out of Sweden and left for Rome, converting to Catholicism along the way. She traveled around Europe, unsuccessfully inserting herself in their politics but always returning to Rome. When her cousin died, she even returned to Sweden with the stated intention of being queen again. She later attempted to have herself elected queen of Poland. She remained a controversial figure for her insistence on her regal prerogative, her politics, her religion, and her manner of dressing and behaving like a man. Christina continues to be a fascinating person. In her own lifetime, she was alleged to be oversexed or undersexed, to be a lesbian, and to be a hermaphrodite. Today, some scholars believe she may have been intersex, while others make a number of other medical assertions, from various endocrine disorders to autism. Her skeleton was even exhumed 50 years ago in an unsuccessful attempt to confirm or disprove hermaphroditism--turns out bones aren't a very good indicator of gender issues. She lived to age 62, always following her own rules, but is one of only three women buried in the Vatican Grotto.

By David von Krafft

via Wikimedia Commons
Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden, 1720
Ulrika Eleonora was the youngest child of Sweden's King Charles XI. She had an older sister and an older brother, the soldier King Charles XII. Her mother died when she was young and Ulrika Eleonora grew up in the shadow of her brighter, prettier, more talented big sister Hedwig Sophia. However, Ulrika Eleonora had one major advantage over her sister: she remained in Sweden after her marriage. While Hedwig Sophia was sent to live in Holstein, Ulrika Eleonora's husband stayed with her in Sweden. So, while her big brother was often (really always) away on military campaigns, he left the government in the hands of his younger sister, who dutifully did only what she thought he would do, never asserting her own thoughts or directions. Those around her, however, including her husband, Frederick of Hesse, were far more ambitious and began positioning her as her bachelor brother's heir. In this, Hedwig Sophia had one more major disadvantage: she had died, leaving behind a young son. By rights of primogeniture, as the son of the older sister, the lad should have inherited the throne when Charles died from gunshot to the head in 1718, but Auntie Ulrika Eleonora surprised the ministers by declaring she had inherited the throne. She pleased them by agreeing to end the era of absolute monarchy and they willingly declared her the Queen. However, she really did support absolutism and continually tried to thwart the new constitution. She also created more nobles (to support her aims) than any other Swedish monarch despite her very short aim. With the recent example of joint British rulers William and Mary, she wished to have her husband crowned co-ruler, but such an arrangement was not permitted in Sweden. Nevertheless, she insisted on sharing state business with him. Ultimately, it was determined that he could be king, if she would abdicate. Although unhappy with this decision, she agreed as long as she would be his heir. Her reign had lasted just 14 months. Before the abdication, her marriage, though childless was happy. Once Frederick became King, however, he began a long-term affair and even had children with his mistress. Ulrika Eleonora was deeply hurt and the ministers were deeply concerned that their much respected queen was being disrespected by her husband. Various plans to ask him to leave Sweden and bring her back to throne never went far, and she predeceased him in 1741 after contracting small pox. A succession crisis ensued with her older sister's descendants finally winning the throne following Frederick's death.

By Federico de Madrazo y Kuntz
via Wikimedia Commons
Isabella II of Spain, 1870
Isabella was the daughter of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, who had lost his throne to Napoleon before regaining it, and his fourth wife, Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies, who was also his niece. Her reign was marked by struggle from the beginning. The ambitious Maria Christina had convinced her husband set aside Salic Law, which forbade female succession, on his deathbed, thereby disinheriting his younger brother Don Carlos in favor of two-year-old Isabella. This launched the Carlist Wars in Spain with liberals supporting the new Queen and conservatives supporting Carlos and, upon his death, his successors. Isabella's early reign was only established through military force and she endured several changes in regency before being declared "of age" and no longer in need of a regent at the ripe old age of 13. At 16, she was pushed into marrying Francisco de Asis de Borbon, a double first cousin, by whom she had 12 children, just five of whom reached adulthood. She was a terrible queen, subject to conspiracies and intrigues and rapid changes of government. She showed favoritism and generally was seen as capricious and perhaps and adulteress. Her enemies, especially the Carlists, spread rumors that her husband was homosexual or impotent and that her children had various husbands. After a revolt in 1868, she went into exile and was replaced with an Italian prince under the First Spanish Republic. Still abroad, she agreed to abdicate in 1870 in favor of her son Alfonso , but the Republic did not invite him to become King and he did not return to Spain until after the Republic fell four years later. Isabella, having left her husband, remained in Paris visiting Spain on occasion and still causing problems. She did form a friendship with her estranged husband and was at his bedside when he died in 1902. She passed away two years later and was buried with the Spanish monarchs in El Escorial.

United Nations Information Office
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Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, 1948
Wilhelmina was the only child King William III of the Netherlands had with his much younger second wife of Emma of Waldeck-Pyrmont. His grown sons by his first wife never married and died before he did. Like most of the Queens already discussed here, Wilhelmina succeeded to the throne when she was still a child although she was older than the others at age 10. Her accession was not marked by controversy as with the others, and her Regent, her mother Emma, was well-admired. She grew to adulthood with grace and was enthroned at age 18. At 20 she married Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a happy marriage sadly marked by several miscarriages. For nearly a decade, it was feared that she would remain childless and be succeeded by a German cousin who was under the influence of the despised Kaiser Wilhelm II. However, her only living child Juliana's arrival in 1909 thwarted that worry. She was strong-minded and not easily intimidated, even standing up to the Kaiser personally. She led her small country successfully through World War I by maintaining neutral. Her popularity help assuage civil unrest after the war. Ultimately, the Kaiser had to surrender his hauteur as he sought refuge in the Netherlands after he lost his throne. Between the wars, Wilhelmina led her country to prosperity with industrial development. She herself was renowned for her business acumen which led to her becoming the world's first female billionaire. Nevertheless, the Nazi invasion in 1940 forced her to flee wearing only her nightgown and housecoat. She took refuge in Britain despite her well-known dislike of England stemming from earlier conflicts between the two countries and their settlers in South Africa. She led the government in exile, becoming a symbol of the Dutch resistance back home. After the war, she did not return to palace living, staying instead at The Hague and touring to visit her subjects around the country by bicycle. By this time, her health was failing and this led to her decision to abdicate in favor of her daughter in 1948, taking the title of Princess, a tradition that has now been followed by both her daughter and granddaughter. She lived a mostly retired life in the country until her death in 1962, emerging only on occasion.

By Hilterman, Dutch National Archive
via Wikimedia Commons
Juliana of the Netherlands, 1980
The only daughter of Queen Wilhelmina, Juliana grew up happily and although educated at home, a small class of students was formed to study with her. She completed a Bachelor's degree at Leiden University, making her the first reigning queen to have a university degree. Because her family was deeply religious Protestants the search for a husband of suitable faith and rank was challenging. Fortunately, Juliana fell in love with the clearly qualified Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld. Nevertheless, the savvy Queen Wilhelmina also made sure that there was an ironclad prenuptial agreement. The couple went on to have four children, all daughters, the third of whom was born in Canada where Juliana had fled with the girls after the Nazis invaded The Netherlands. Her husband stayed in Britain to assist his mother-in-law with the government-in-exile. After the war, Juliana was active as the president of the Dutch Red Cross in an efforts to help her starving and devastated country recover from the brutality of the Nazi occupation. During her final pregnancy, she contracted German measles, causing near total blindness for her youngest daughter, for which the deeply religious Juliana and Bernhard sought all kinds of remedies both medicinal and of the faith healing variety. When her mother's declining health led to her abdication, Juliana ascended the throne at age 39. She continued her mother's tradition of riding around the country on bicycle and adopted a rather casual approach to interacting with her subjects. Her reign saw the decolonization of most of the Dutch overseas territories abroad and by some serious controversies at home. When a devastating storm caused massive flooding in 1953 killing thousands, Juliana threw on her boots and marched into the flood waters to personally help rescue people who were trapped. The affection she earned helped her get through major controversies that arose when it was discovered that she had moved a faith healer into the palace who might be exercising too much influence, when she cut off her second daughter for secretly marrying a Roman Catholic with a Carlist claim to the Spanish throne, and when it was revealed that her husband had accepted $1.1 million bribe. Bernhard had to resign from most of his activities but Juliana recovered and continued a reign until abdicating on her 71st birthday in 1980. She lived another 24 years, suffering from Alzheimer's disease during the last half of that time. Her husband died eight months after her.

By Emil Ketelaar/FrozenImage
via Wikimedia Commons
Beatrix of the Netherlands, 2013
Young Beatrix spent most of her early childhood in Canada, separated from her father and her country due to the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands during World War II. She returned to her homeland at age seven. She not only attended university, but completed a law degree. Her decision to marry a German, Claus von Amsberg, who worked in the German embassy and who had been a member of the Hitler youth and the German military drew huge protests, even on her actual wedding day, when a street battle between protesters and the police erupted. After her mother's abdication, Beatrix faced violent protests again on her investiture day from people wishing to demonstrate about poor housing conditions. Nevertheless, she persisted in the informal and friendly style established by her mother and grandmother and both she and Claus gained popular support and affection. The couple had three sons and eventually eight grandchildren. Claus passed away after a long illness in 2002, leaving Beatrix to soldier on alone. She faced one more violent moment in 2009 when a lone assailant crashed his car into a royal procession. Although none of her family were injured, several people died and the queen was deeply shaken. She faced further tragedy when her second son, Prince Friso, was buried in an avalanche. By the time he was rescued, he had suffered an extended period of oxygen deprivation and remained in a vegetative state. Beatrix decided to abdicate on the 33rd anniversary of her accession, having become at age 75, the oldest reigning queen in Dutch history. She was able to spend more time with Friso, who had reached a minimally conscious state, before his death later that year. Beatrix reverted to the title Princess and still carries out royal duties but not at the level or with the frequency she did while Queen. She spends as much time as she can with her family. (Read my post about the three Dutch queens End of the Queen Streak.)

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