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Jean Plaidy - For a Queens Love: The Stories of the Royal Wives of Philip II

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Author’s Note

I feel it is necessary to add a brief explanatory note when writing of Philip of Spain, whose character has given rise to so much controversy.

From the extensive research which I undertook before writing this book, it would appear that two different men are being dealt with, so diverse and opposite are the appraisals of him. One is a conscientious lover of duty, a worthy husband, and a devoted father; the other is a cold-blooded monster, completely devoid of human feeling, without charm, gloomy, morose, and moreover guilty of several murders including those of a wife and son.

I quote examples which come from two contemporaries: The French Ambassador, who witnessed his farewell to his dying wife, Elisabeth, said that her death was “enough to break the heart of so good a husband as the King was to her.” But William of Orange, on the other hand, charged Philip not only with the murder of his son Carlos, but of this same wife Elisabeth, which crime he declared the King committed because he wished to marry his niece Anne of Austria, the richest heiress in the world.

I have come to the conclusion that the various judgments of Philip’s character have been greatly influenced in each case by the religion of the chronicler; and it has been my aim to clear my mind of prejudice, to cut away religious bias, and to discover the real man.

I acknowledge the invaluable help I have had in this from many sources, the chief of which I detail below:

The Spanish Calendar of Letters and State Papers: English Affairs of the Reign of Elizabeth. Edited by Martin A. S. Hume, FR Hist S.

History of the Reign of Philip II, King of Spain. William H. Prescott.

Spain, Its Greatness and Decay (1479–1788). Cambridge Historical Series. By Martin A. S. Hume. Revived by Edward Armstrong.

Philip II of Spain. Martin A. S. Hume.

The Spanish Inquisition. Janet Gordon.

Spain. Henry Dwight Sedgwick.

The Dream of Philip. Edgar Maass.

Queens of Old Spain. Martin A. S. Hume.

Cardinal Ximenes and the Making of Spain. Reginald Merton.

Lives of the Queens of England. Agnes Strickland.

King, Queen, Jack. Milton Waldman.

The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber. John Swain.

Two English Queens and Philip. Martin A. S. Hume.

British History. John Wade.





Crowds had gathered early in the Plaza Mayor of the city of Valladolid on that May day. Peasants had come in from the slopes and valleys of the Sierra de Guadarrama, and wandering gypsies from as far south as Toledo. There were many vagabonds and beggars looking for easy pickings; they were sure they would find these in plenty, for all true Spaniards who could make the journey on this day would wish to be in the ancient capital of Castile.

In the shadow of San Pablo they stood, but it was not the beautiful façade with its memories of Torquemada that interested them; nor could the exquisite traceries and canopies of San Gregorio attract them at such a time. They chattered, breathing onion-tainted odors at one another, but they did not notice such odors, which were as common as the heat of the sun at noon, the smell of goats, or that of the blood of bulls.

“How long?” was the frequently uttered question. “Surely her time is at hand. Will it be a son, think you? A prince for Spain?”

They hoped so, for then the great bells of San Pablo and Santa Maria la Antigua would ring out; there would be rejoicing in the town; the best bulls would be brought forth, and there would be processions bright with the purple and gold of royalty. There would be free wine for the people. Girls with flowers in their hair would dance—Castilians, Andalusians, and luscious gypsy girls. There would be feasting and merry-making throughout the country. That was what the birth of a prince would mean. So eagerly the people waited, asking one another: “How long?”

In the mansion of Don Bernardino de Pimentel, which was but a stone’s throw from the Church of San Pablo, a young man of twenty-seven sat alone in one of the great rooms. The room was dark and sparsely furnished, but the walls were hung with tapestry, some of which had been worked by Queen Isabella during her pregnancy.

The man stared moodily before him, his hands on his knees, his prominent lower lip jutting out as he stroked the hair on his chin. He was straining his ears for the cry of a child: he did not wish to go into his wife’s chamber until he heard it. There would be women everywhere—his wife’s attendants, and the ladies of the court, as well as those who had come to assist at the birth. It was too important a moment for him to be there, for to these people he was a legend. He was the greatest monarch in the world; he was hard and ruthless, and men and women trembled before him. Now he felt as he did before a great battle—strong, unconquerable, ready to efface himself if necessary for the sake of victory. He, Charles the First of Spain and the Fifth of Germany, would not disturb those women at their all-important task, any more than he would disturb his soldiers in the process of ravishing a town they had won.

He knew how to act, and what was more important, when to act. He was not the most feared man in Christendom for nothing.

He prayed now for a son—a prince, another such as himself, a great ruler who would combine the lusty strength of a Hapsburg with the subtlety of a Spaniard. He himself was all Flemish. He had been born in Flanders, and this land of dark, fierce-tempered people often seemed an alien land to him although he was its king. An accomplished linguist, able to converse in dialect with the subjects of his wide Empire, he spoke Castilian as a foreigner speaks it. He had inherited his love of good food from his Hapsburg ancestors; his fair, florid face was Hapsburg. He had great physical energy which he enjoyed expending on war, jousts, and plump German women.

He was, nevertheless, too clever to deceive himself. There were times when moods of melancholy would envelop him. Then he would remember his mother, Queen Juana, who lived out a poor mad existence in the Alcázar of Tordesillas, refusing to change her filthy rags, letting her gray hair hang in verminous strands (unless the fancy took her to have it dressed with jewels), screaming that she would kill her faithless husband (who had been dead more than twenty years) unless he would give up his six newest mistresses. She had been called a witch; the Holy Inquisition would have taken her long ago and have put her to torture and death by the flames, but for the fact that she was the mother of the Emperor.

The mother of the Emperor a raving lunatic! Such thoughts must bring with them considerable uneasiness when, in a nearby apartment, that Emperor’s son was about to be born.

Moreover, the Emperor’s wife, Isabella, was his first cousin, and she came from the same tainted stock. Could the child escape its heritage? Could it be bodily strong and mentally strong?

The Emperor felt the need to pray.

“Shut out the light. Shut out the light,” cried the woman in the bed.

Doña Leonor de Mascarenhas leaned over the bed.

“No light comes through the window, dearest Highness. All light is shut out.”

Leonor, plump and Portuguese, lifted the Queen’s heavy dark hair out of her eyes before she returned to her stool at the side of the bed.

“It must be soon now, your Highness. It must be soon.”

Queen Isabella nodded. It must be soon. This agony could not long endure. Her lips moved: “Grant me a prince. Let me delight my lord with a prince … a prince who will live in health to please him.”

This was more than the bearing of a child; she knew it well. This was to be the child—the boy—whom his father wished to rule the world. Never had she been allowed to forget her great destiny. As the daughter of Emanuel the Great of Portugal, descended from great Ferdinand and even greater Isabella the Catholic, it was meant that she should marry the man who, through his father, Philip of Austria, would inherit the German dominions of Austria, Milan, Burgundy, Holland, and the Netherlands; this wide inheritance, together with the Spanish crown, which came through the Emperor’s mother, mad Queen Juana, would, it was hoped, fall to the child as yet unborn.

Isabella was a bride of a year only, but there had been times, during her married life, when she had seen her burly husband lapse into deep melancholy. Then she had shuddered, remembering his mother; and she had wondered—but secretly—whether in the fanatical fervor of the great Isabella herself—Charles’s grandmother and mother of mad Juana—there had not been a seed of that which, fertilized in Juana, had grown to a lusty plant entwining itself about her brain and strangling her reason. For if Great Isabella had welded Spain together, she had also, with the help of her husband Ferdinand and the Holy Monk Torquemada, set in motion that mighty organization that brought out the sweat of all who dreaded its domination. Under Isabella the Inquisition had grown from a dwarf to a monster. New tortures had been invented, and from these none could feel entirely safe.

But such thoughts must not be hers at such a time.

The pain came and she could think of nothing but that. Tightly she pressed her lips together. She would not cry out; she dared not. Should the ruler of the world enter it to the sound of his mother’s anguish!

Leonor, large and comfortable, was leaning over her again.

“Highness … you should not restrain yourself. It is bad for you. Cry out. There is none but your ladies and those who love you who can hear.”

The long slender fingers closed about Leonor’s wrist.

“There, there, dearest Highness. There … there …”

Isabella said: “I will die, but I will not wail. Shall my son come into the world to the sound of his mother’s protesting cries? There must only be welcome for him.”

“He’ll not hear them, Highness. He’ll be fighting for his breath. He’ll not remember it against you. Cry out. It relieves the pain. It makes it easier, dearest lady.”

But the lips were tightly pressed together; the sweat ran down her face, but still she did not utter a cry. And the first that was heard in that apartment was the cry of the child.

Leonor took the baby in her arms, exulting, while Isabella lay back exhausted, yet contented. She had done her duty. She had given a boy to Spain.

The bells rang out. The people crowded into the streets. In the churches praises and thanks were chanted. All Spain was rejoicing in the birth of a male heir. They were bringing bulls into the town, for there must be bulls when any event was celebrated. On the way to the bullring, many would be trampled to death in the narrow alleys—relics of the Moorish occupation. Already bulls were struggling in the artificial lake, the water of which was tinged with the stain of blood, for men in boats and others swimming were prodding the bulls with daggers, goading them to fury; this was a new kind of bull-fight, a prelude to the great occasion. Girls with flowers in their hair were dancing the old dances, kicking up their tattered skirts, exposing their shapely yet dirty limbs. There would be much lovemaking under the stars tonight; beside the Puerta they would lie—in the Plaza itself—fighting for a flask of wine or a gypsy girl. Knives flashed; voices were raised. There was laughter; there were screams of anger; and all in honor of the new Prince.

Into the center of this revelry the rider came. He was stained and weary from a long journey; only his desire to be first with the news had given him the spirit and courage to ride so far and so fast in so short a time. Through the gates of the city he had ridden, right into the market square. He was making for the Palace, but the people had stopped him.

“What news? What news?”

“I seek the Emperor. If you detain me, it is at your peril.”

But these were the lawless ones, the robbers from the sierras, the beggars, the gypsies; they cared little for the Emperor’s wrath. They drew their knives and demanded news as they would have demanded a man’s purse when they faced him in a narrow mountain pass.

And when the news was told, they fell back; they crossed themselves—even the wildest of them—and they turned their eyes to the sky for a sign of vengeance. Silence had fallen over the alleys and courtyards.

“Holy Mother of God!” murmured the revellers. “What now? What an omen is this! God will be revenged. Holy Virgin, have mercy on us.”

Here was calamity, for shortly before the royal Prince was making his way into the world, Imperial soldiers had been sacking the City of Rome.

Surely the saints, surely the Holy Mother, surely God Himself would never forgive the outrage.

The Emperor Charles heard the news with horror. Hastily he crossed himself. He threatened to sentence the messenger to death in a cauldron of cold water slowly brought to the boil over a wood fire if the news should prove false. The messenger could only bow his head, tear his hair, and protest his innocence of any mischievous intent.

“I speak the truth, Imperial Highness. I have witnessed such sights with mine own eyes.”

“At such a time!” groaned the Emperor. “At such a time!”

He was accustomed to misfortune; but had there ever been such misfortune as this? The Holy City sacked, the holy virgin nuns dragged into the squares of Rome and publicly raped; and all the drink-crazed soldiers had been starving until they scaled the walls of the city under the command of that fool the Connétable de Bourbon. And Bourbon, who had rebelled against his sovereign lord, the King of France, was an ally of the King of Spain. Hence it would be said that these soldiers, who were guilty of surely one of the worst times in history, were Imperial troops.

“At such a time!” repeated the Emperor. “My son just born … my country celebrating his birth … and now, instead of banners of scarlet and gold, we must plunge our city into sack-cloth and ashes. Let this not be made known. We must keep this secret.”

But already he had heard the sound of wailing in the streets. He strode to the window and saw the people standing about, looking up at the sky, waiting for a sign from Heaven that the wrath of God was about to fall upon the land.

Charles dismissed the bearer of the dire news. He would be alone.

And when he was alone, he smiled slyly. The Pope had escaped to Castle Angelo and so saved his life. He was a prisoner there. There let him remain … the Emperor’s prisoner. In the greatest disaster—any soldier knew—there was often brightness to be found. The Holy City had been desecrated by Imperial troops and the displeasure of Heaven would be directed against Spain just when that land had thought itself blessed by the birth of a prince. Alas! that was a great misfortune. But it must be remembered that the Pope was virtually a prisoner of the Emperor, and that was not such a bad thing. The wily Medici Pope had given Charles much anxiety; well now it would be the turn of Master Clement to feel anxiety on account of Charles. Henry of England was urging Pope Clement to grant him a divorce from Catharine of Aragon; and Catharine of Aragon was Charles’s aunt. He believed that Clement would have granted the divorce in order to placate Henry; but now he would be obliged to reflect deeply. He must ask himself how he dared humiliate the aunt of a man whose captive he was.

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