23 December 2019

Christmas Princesses

Each year as Christians prepare to celebrate the Nativity of their Savior on Christmas Day, we often don't think about others who were born on Christmas Day. Throughout history, this day of worldwide rejoicing has sometimes been the cause of deeply personal rejoicing for royal families. Let's take a look at some of the royal ladies who were born on Christmas day...and give a thought to their mothers, who probably did not get to observe many other festivities that day!

Alice de Lacy (1281-1348)
daughter of Margaret Longespee 4th Countess of Salisbury and Henry de Lacy 3rd Earl of Lincoln
Through her mother, Alice was descended in an illegitimate line from King Henry II of England. Her real royal ties, however, came through her first marriage to Edmund 2nd Earl of Lancaster, a grandson of King Henry III. As the only surviving heir to her parents (one brother drowned in a well and another fell off of a castle), Alice was an extremely sought-after heiress. The right man could make his fortune by marrying her. She was just 12 years old when she married into the royal family, with a marriage contract that guaranteed her father's earldom would go to the royals even if she had no children with Lancaster, which she didn't. Thirteen years later, Alice was abducted by one of Lancaster's enemies and held for several years while the two men fought each other. Thomas rebelled against his cousin the King for which he was executed and his properties as well as most of his wife's properties, were taken by the Crown. The King also imprisoned Alice, releasing her only after she paid a huge ransom. The King kept the Earldom of Salisbury but let her have back the Earldom of Lincoln. She remarried at age 42 and took a vow of chastity when she was widowed. Nevertheless, a rich woman in those days was often a target. At age 54, she was kidnapped and raped by a baron, and per the standard of the day, wed her attacker, who then also gained control of her estates. The baron, however, lived less than a year to enjoy his "success". Soon thereafter, her castle and men were attacked and robbed by her second husband's nephew and her illegitimate half-brother, each of whom had a claim as her heirs. Alice finally found peace in death at the age of 66.

Image by Jacques la Boucq via Wikimedia Commons
Margaret of Scotland (1424-1445)
daughter of Joan Beaufort and King James I of Scotland
Although the first child of a medieval "love match", Margaret was subjected to a political marriage at an earlier age. Her father had fallen for the lovely Joan while being held prisoner by the English. He welcomed marriage to the daughter of the Lancastrian branch of the English royal family as much from his desire for her as for the fact that it was a condition of his release. However, this attempt at brokering peace between Scotland and England did not last long and their daughter Margaret was sent to cement Scotland's alliance with England's other traditional enemy, France. The princess was only 11 years old when she met the future Louis XI on the day before their wedding. Due to her young age, the couple were separated, which only seems to have exacerbated their dislike of each other and Margaret seems to have taken her father-in-law's side against her husband's in family disputes. Things were not helped when a soldier spread unsavory lies about Margaret's fidelity. The situation stressed and depressed her so much, that she offered no will to live when she was struck by a fever at age 20, never having become Queen as Louis did not ascend the throne for another 15 years.

Image by LĂ©onard Limousin via Wikimedia Commons
Antoinette de Bourbon (1494-1583)
daughter of Marie of Luxembourg and Francois Count of Vendome
Born into a branch of French Royal House of Bourbon, Antoinette's great claim to fame is that she was the maternal grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots. Antoinette married into the rival house of Guise, with her 12 children vying for more political influence and power in France and, after her daughter Marie of Guise married the Scots King, in Scotland. Although her famous granddaughter inherited the French throne when she was less than a week old, Antoinette did get to know her during the time that Mary was in France as the child bride of King Francis II. Since Marie of Guise had been required to remain in Scotland as Regent, Antoinette became a chief adviser and influence on the young Queen, sharing with her a strong sense of family and female authority in a man's world. Widowed at age 55, she lived another 34 years, which was long enough to see all but one of her children die, including her oldest son Francis Duke of Guise, who was assassinated in the 1563 siege of Orleans. In truth, it was not the assassin who killed him but the doctors who treated him by bleeding him to death. Nevertheless the incident led to an act of vengeance known to history as the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.

Image by Jost vom Hoff - Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel
via Wikimedia Commons
Christine of Saxony (1505-1549)
daughter of Barbara Jagiellon of Poland and George Duke of Saxony
Just two weeks before her 18th birthday, Christine was forced into a political marriage with Philip I of Hesse to try to calm the religious conflicts between the two nations in the wake of emerging Lutheranism. Despite Philip's distaste for his sickly wife, the couple had 10 children together, including three who were born after Philip had married someone else. That's right; he was a bigamist, but Christine is believed to have approved of the second marriage his sister's teenage lady-in-waiting Margarethe van der Saale. Interestingly, church reformer Martin Luther also agreed with the bigamist marriage, encouraging Philip that having two wives was less sinful than having a mistress or divorcing Christine. Philip and Margarethe had nine children together. Christine's last three children were each born within weeks of children born by Margarethe. Even with apparent harmony at home, the bigamous marriage caused outrage across the German states, where the religious strife was already so heated and, for a time, the Lutheran Philip aligned himself with the Catholic Emperor, but that didn't last long. When Philip once again turned against the Emperor, he was captured and imprisoned him for five years, leaving Christine as regent for their young son in Hesse until her own death at age 43.

Image by Joseph Heintz the Elder - Photography made by Maciej Pokrzywa, 05-10-2012, Budapest, National
Art Gallery via Wikimedia Commons
Margaret of Austria (1584-1611)
daughter of Maria Anna of Bavaria and Archduke Charles II of Austria
The granddaughter to one Holy Roman Emperor and sister to another, Margaret married a close cousin like so many other Habsburgs. At 14, she became Queen of Spain and Portugal by marrying King Philip III, son of the much married Philip II. (She and her husband were first cousins once removed. Her parents were also first cousins once removed. His parents were a niece and her uncle.) Margaret's marriage, however, turned out to be personally and politically successful, despite a six-year wait for their first son (after two daughters). She used her considerable influence over her husband to promote Spain's leadership within Catholic Europe and to support the arts and culture. Nevertheless, some resented her "foreign" influence as so often happened with Queens but she was generally able to overcome their objections against her. Five of Margaret's eight children survived childhood, with four of them gaining great authority as King of Spain, Queen of France, Holy Roman Empress and Cardinal of Santa Maria in Portico. Margaret died at the age of 26 following the birth (and death) of her last child. The King lived another decade but never remarried.

Image by Dorothy Wilding - National Portrait Gallery
via Wikimedia Commons
Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott (1901-2004)
daughter of Lady Margaret Bridgeman and the 7th Duke of Buccleuch
The fifth of eight children of Scotland's greatest landowner, Alice grew up amidst great luxury but remained very down-to-earth and as a young girl was imbued with a sense of purpose following a near-drowning accident. She spent her young adulthood traveling the globe looking for what her purpose might be before finally "settling down" by marrying the third son of Britain's King George V. Alice was 35 when she married Prince Henry The Duke of Gloucester, and she was a fashionably unique bride -- her gown was a soft pink color! Unfortunately, the wedding was scaled way back following the death of her father two weeks earlier. Then, her father-in-law died two months later. The newlyweds faced other struggles, too, including frustrated attempts at parenthood that resulted in miscarriages and the start of World War II, which separated them as the Duke took on dangerous duties on the Continent. Following the birth of their first son Prince William of Gloucester just one week before her 40th birthday, Henry was nearly killed in a bombing as he escaped Belgium after a failed attempt to get the Belgian King to evacuate. (The King stayed; he and his young family were held captive by the Nazis.) Their second son Prince Richard of Gloucester arrived three years later just before the Gloucester were sent through enemy-infested waters to travel to Australia where Henry became Governor General. After the war, the family returned to Britain becoming important supporters of Henry's brother King George VI and then his niece Queen Elizabeth II. The 1970s, however, brought great sadness. First their son William was killed in a flying accident while performing in an airshow and then Henry died following a series of strokes. The newly married Prince Richard became Duke of Gloucester (see my post about his Danish wife Birgitte). Queen Elizabeth granted her aunt the right to be called Princess Alice, and she continued to remain publicly active well into old age. She died shortly before her 103rd birthday making her the oldest ever member of the British Royal Family, ahead of her sister-in-law Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. (Prince Philip is currently #3. He will surpass Elizabeth in December 2022 and Alice in April 2024.) See my full post about Alice.

By LancasterII via English Wikipedia
Alexandra of Kent (1936- )
daughter of Marina of Greece and Denmark and George The Duke of Kent
Our most recent Christmas princess is celebrating her 83rd birthday in 2019. Named for her great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, she was the first Kent princess to be born since Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent in 1819 -- she is better known to history as Queen Victoria. A first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, Alexandra is also closely related to Prince Philip on her mother's side. Alexandra and her two brothers were raised by their mother alone following the wartime death of their handsome and popular father in 1942. They grew up primarily at the family's home in Buckinghamshire but due to their extend regal relations on both sides of their family, they were constantly involved in royal gatherings around Europe. Alexandra holds the distinction of being the first British princess to attend school; a precedent that has now been followed by Princess Anne, the York princesses, The Lady Louise Windsor and Princess Charlotte of Wales. Alexandra's first big public moment came when she served as a bridesmaid for Elizabeth and Philip when she was 10 years old. As a teenager, she began accompanying her mother on royal duties and soon became an active and independent working member of the Royal Family. In 1963, she married a the Hon. (later Sir) Angus Ogilvy, a younger son of the 12th Earl of Airlie. Angus later regretted turning down a title for himself because he felt it set a bad precedent for other men who married into the family. The couple had two untitled children, who produced four grandchildren. Since her husband's death in 2004, Alexandra has continued her royal duties although ill health has caused her to cancel some engagements in recent years. (See my full post about Alexandra.)

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