Marguerite of Austria: Life Story

Chapter 16 : The Ladies' Peace

Far away in Eastern Europe, there was more war, as Suleiman the Magnificent advanced on Hungary. King Louis of Hungary and Bohemia, married to Marguerite’s niece, the Archduchess Mary, was killed at the Battle of Mohàcs. His nearest heir was his sister, Anne, married to Ferdinand. Ferdinand attempted to gain election as King of Hungary and Bohemia, but matters did not run smoothly. On this eastern border of Christendom, Ferdinand realised that the squabbles amongst the European kings were giving free reign to the advancing Turks. He wrote to Marguerite, pleading with her to persuade Charles to make peace in the west, before the whole, not just of Hungary and Germany, but of Christendom, fell into ruin.

Marguerite was sympathetic to Ferdinand and Mary’s plight, both personally and politically, and she urged Charles to help. Some money was sent, but not enough, and Charles would not turn his attention east until he had vanquished the French in Italy. 

François had entered into a new league, with the Pope (Clement VII), Venice and the current duke of Milan (who had been installed by Charles). Henry VIII was not a signatory to the League of Cognac, but he supported it, seeing it as his opportunity to earn gratitude from Clement VII, to be shown in the granting of his annulment. But the League could not stand against Charles’ soldiers, who were experienced, hardened and, most relevant, unpaid, and all Europe was shocked when his troops, broke into Rome and sacked it, leaving the city utterly devastated, and the Pope a prisoner.  

Henry and Charles were not formally at war, but the emperor feared that there might be an attack on Marguerite’s territories as a result of the League of Cognac. He managed to spare some money for defence there, but the years of war were bringing economic distress everywhere.  He rejected François’ suggestion that their differences could be solved by personal combat.

In late 1528, it was mooted by Cardinal Wolsey that Marguerite might be able to reconcile Charles and François.  He asked her to send envoys to London to discuss what might be done to restore peace to Europe, where war was encouraging the spread of Lutheranism, and preventing proper attention being given to the advancing Turks. Marguerite agreed, sending Guillaume de Barre to London to liaise with Charles’ ambassador there, Mendoza.  She promised she would not spare herself in efforts for peace, although she did think that the fault lay with François’ failure to keep the terms of the Treaty of Madrid. Following the initial discussions, Wolsey agreed with Louise of Savoy to give Marguerite’s envoy to Charles safe-conduct through France.

Marguerite came up with the idea that a peace was more likely to be concluded by face-to-face discussion with Louise. She wrote to Charles that so many insults and angry words had been written and spoken, that neither sovereign would be able to compromise his dignity by making the first move to conciliation. Ladies, however, would not have the same notions of honour. She added that ‘it is only by a mutual forgiveness of all offences and the total oblivion of the causes of war, and of everything that had passed in writing concerning them that the idea of a peace can be entertained’.

Charles and François agreed, and Marguerite and Louise were given full powers to conclude a peace. They met at Cambrai, scene of so many important events in Marguerite’s life. The next few months were taken up with letters back and forth, making arrangements, and, in a quieter moment, sending legal counsel to Katharine of Aragon, ‘for the poor queen is much perplexed, and there is no-one in England who dares take up her defence against the king’s will.’

True to her stated mission of peace, Marguerite rejected all advice to take any armed guards to Cambrai, or to take any precautions against being held hostage. She confirmed her belief in the goodwill of Louise and François and travelled only with her usual household retinue – there were other dignitaries and ministers also present, but subordinate to Marguerite.

She arrived at Cambrai on 5th July, 1529 and rode through the town to the abbey of St Aubert. A couple of hours later, Louise, together with her daughter, Marguerite of Angoulême, Queen of Navarre, and the Duchess of Vendôme, the latter’s sister-in-law, arrived.

The congress lasted for nearly three weeks. Eventually, on the last day of July (after a false-start on 24th) a treaty was ratified by Marguerite and Louise. In essentials, the treaty reflected that of Madrid, with some concessions – the duchy of Burgundy was still claimed, but it was accepted that it would not be immediately returned; François was to marry Eleonora, and his sons were to be redeemed for cash. Marguerite herself was to be granted the county of Charolais, which would return to the French crown after hers and Charles’ deaths.

Five days later, Marguerite and Louise went in solemn procession to the church of Notre Dame, where Mass was celebrated by the Bishop of Cambrai, and peace announced between the Pope, the Emperor, the King of France, the King of England, and the King of Hungary and Bohemia, along with a separate treaty between Henry of England and Marguerite.  Much public rejoicing followed, with money flung into the crowds, and wine flowing.

On 9th August, François paid Marguerite a visit. She set out to charm him – he would soon be the husband of her niece, and the benefits of family feeling had just been displayed in her agreement with Louise. When he left her, he was thought to have been ‘quite delighted’ by her. Before long, he was relying on Marguerite to help on another family matter. He had heard that his sons were being treated harshly in Spain, and asked Marguerite to intercede. She immediately did so, asking Charles to grant the request of a loving father, which was ‘just and reasonable’. 

Marguerite of Austria

Marguerite of Austria

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