Marguerite of Austria: Life Story

Chapter 14 : War

En route to Aachen, the party stopped at Maastricht, where Charles reaffirmed Marguerite as his regent in the Low Countries. A regency council was established, with her at the head, supported by the bishops of Utrecht and Liège. The councils of the different provinces were to be subject to this regency council – a decree that was deeply resented by Charles’ subjects.

The coronation at Aachen took place on 26th October 1520. Marguerite, along with the Dowager-Queen of Aragon, Germaine de Foix (rumoured to be Charles’ mistress, although he was her step-grandson), watched from a specially constructed platform hung with cloth-of-gold and silver. Once the ceremonies and feastings were complete, the imperial party returned to Brussels.

Matters were not going well in Spain, but Charles chose not to return immediately, despite requests for him to do so. He wished to wait in Northern Europe until after the Imperial Diet that he had summoned to meet at Worms in January 1521 had convened – the main business to be a decision on what to do with the renegade (as the established church saw him) Augustinian friar, Martin Luther.

Marguerite’s main concern in the winter of 1521 was not religious controversy, but the possibility of yet another war with France. In accordance with the Treaty of London of 1518, it was incumbent on the parties in a dispute to seek arbitration, and, in accordance with this a congress was convened at Calais to be presided over by Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal of York, chief minister to Henry VIII of England. (More on the arbitration here.

During the arbitration, Wolsey travelled to Bruges, where he concluded a secret treaty, signed by both Charles and Marguerite, which gave substance to the discussions previously held with England – ie that Charles would marry Princess Mary, and that a joint assault on France would be mounted – all this predicated on the arbitration failing.

Not surprisingly, given that neither side wanted peace, and England had its own agenda, the arbitration did fail. France made the first openly hostile move. Marguerite convened the States-General, and urged them with great eloquence to defend themselves and their lord. They responded to her rhetoric, and an army was quickly gathered under Count Hugh of Nassau.

The rest of 1521 was taken up with war in Guelders, in Italy, and the death of the Pope, who was replaced by Charles’ former tutor and regent in Spain, Adrian of Utrecht. Adrian, a man of great personal moral rectitude, proved to be as hopeless at reforming the church as he had been at governing Spain. Charles remained in the Low Countries, with Marguerite alongside, consulted in everything.

In the spring of 1522, Marguerite convened the States-General, who were informed that Charles was once again planning to leave, to attend to his Spanish realms. In his absence, Marguerite was to resume her role of regent, and she received warm words of praise for her ‘praiseworthy and memorable services and great experience’. In an indication that Charles still felt himself to be a Burgundian, his will of 22nd March 1522 appointed as his burial place, the cathedral at Bruges where Marguerite’s mother, Mary of Burgundy, was interred. He departed, stopping in England en route, whence he and Henry jointly declared war on France.

Marguerite turned her attention to the continuing struggle with the duchy of Guelders which had entered a new phase, not resolved until a truce in June 1524. 

In 1523, preparations were made for a joint invasion of France by Charles and Henry. Marguerite was to work with Henry to invade France from the north, whilst Charles, working through the Duke of Bourbon, who had rebelled against François when deprived of his duchy, would invade the south and a third front would open, once again, in the duchy of Milan.

Marguerite offered Henry two thousand mounted soldiers and double that number of foot soldiers, as well as 12 pieces of field artillery (cannon). The English pressed for more, but Marguerite could not afford any greater contribution.  Whilst her envoys were negotiating with Henry and Wolsey in London, Marguerite was both sorry and happy to see her niece, Isabel of Austria, Queen of Denmark, once again within her borders.

Happy, because Marguerite loved all her nieces and nephews, but sorry, because King Christian had been driven from his throne into exile, and Isabel and he had nowhere to turn but to Marguerite.  The royal couple were accompanied by their three children, amongst whom was Christina, later put forward as a bride for Henry VIII. King Christian requested money and men from Marguerite, and also asked that Ferdinand, who was based in Germany as his brother’s deputy in the Empire, might use the influence of the Imperial electors against Christian’s enemies.

Marguerite had no option but to refuse. All her resources were committed to the French war. She was liaising with her old flirt, the Duke of Suffolk, who invaded France through Picardy in the spring of 1523. After initial success, the campaign ended in the usual welter of mud and dysentery and Suffolk was obliged to withdraw. 

Marguerite of Austria

Marguerite of Austria

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