Anne of Austria (1601–1666)
Anne of Austria was queen of France. Anne of Austria, the eldest daughter of Philip III of Spain (ruled 1598–1621), married King Louis XIII of France (ruled 1610–1643) in 1615. After Louis’s death, she became regent of the realm from 1643 to 1654 under the minority of her son Louis XIV (ruled 1643–1715). Her destiny illustrates how difficult the life of an early modern princess could be. Her wedding to the French king was a political tool used to strengthen the political and religious ties between the Spaniards and the French. The bride and groom were barely fourteen years old, and their characters were close to incompatible. Anne rarely if ever received a nightly visit from her husband for the four years that followed their wedding. But they became closer, and the queen was pregnant in 1622. A miscarriage due to her carelessness—she fell while running through the Louvre with her two closest friends—drew them apart. Louis became suspicious of his wife. As they had to fulfil their political and religious duties, they continued to have a marital life marked by other miscarriages and finally the births of two sons.
Anne, who wanted to play a political role in France, never won the trust of her husband and his principal minister, Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642). Things went from bad to worse when the duke of Buckingham, a favorite of the English king, fell in love with the queen. Deeply offended, Louis decreed that henceforth no male could visit her quarters unless he was present. Their relationship deterioratedas Louis tried to take control of the queen’s entourage. In answer Anne involved herself in political plots. As a Spanish princess, she was especially outraged by the anti-Habsburg policy of Louis and Richelieu. France and Spain were at war, but she developed a secret correspondence with her brother, King Philip IV of Spain (ruled 1621–1665). Although she did not reveal any political secrets, she did write some strong anti-French sentiments. This was close to treason, and Anne narrowly escaped repudiation in 1637. Louis forgave her, and Anne gave birth to their first son on 5 September 1638.
Anne’s priorities changed with the birth of the future Louis XIV and, two years later, the birth of her second son Philip. Afraid she could be deprived of their care, she grew closer to the policies adopted by her husband’s government. This was too little too late, as the king did not have complete confidence in his wife. As he neared death, Louis XIII tried to limit her grip on power, bequeathing to Anne a regency council whose votes were to be binding. When Louis XIII died, she had his will broken by the Parlement of Paris. For the next ten years she governed France with the help of Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602–1661), who succeeded Richelieu as principal minister.
Anne inherited a disastrous financial situation. She also had to face a political crisis as many grandees who had fled the authoritarian rule of the previous government came back to France. The regent had to satisfy their pleas to return to some benefits while satisfying as well the demands of those who had served her late husband. The number of solicitors was simply too large for what the regent had to offer. A movement nicknamed the “cabal of the important” loudly voiced the indignation of its adherents. Anne reacted quickly by arresting its leader, the duke of Beaufort. She thereby demonstrated that she had a strong will and that she intended to keep France on track for Louis XIV.
To the surprise of many, the Spanish regent and her Italian minister continued the financial and political policies of Louis XIII and Richelieu. Although everyone prayed for a peace with Spain, Anne was not ready to sacrifice her son’s interests in favor of her Spanish relatives. Despite increased tensions within the realm, she raised old taxes and created new ones to meet the country’s military needs. In doing so she was not afraid to attack some of the privileged members of French society. This policy had its dangers, and a period of civil wars known as the Fronde plagued the kingdom from 1648 to 1652. Even though the rebels’ principal target was Cardinal Mazarin, Anne was not spared by her enemies. Nevertheless the two managed to put an end to the conflict. The return of peace within the kingdom allowed the queen to educate her son politically, and the war with Spain finally came to an end in 1659. With the help of Mazarin, Anne distilled in Louis’s mind the idea of a king’s greatness. A shaky marriage to a man who was indifferent toward her, an attachment to her native land, and the difficulties she had faced in the Fronde, during which she never failed France, did not prevent this Spanish princess from passing France’s heritage to the Sun King.
Kleinman, Ruth. Anne of Austria: Queen of France. Columbus, Ohio, 1985.
Moote, A. Lloyd. Louis XIII the Just. Berkeley, 1989.
—MICHEL DE WAELE