anne roussel

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Elisabeth of France (1602 – 1644)

She was one of the six children of King Henry IV of France and his second wife Marie de Medici. Elisabeth was born at the Château de Fontainebleau on 22 November 1602. It said that her mother showed a cruel indifference to her, because she blindly believed the prophecy of a nun who assured her that she would give birth three consecutive males. As the eldest daughter of the king, Elisabeth was known at court by the traditional honorific of Madame Royale. Shortly after her birth, she was betrothed with Philip Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont, who died young in 1605.

The early years of Madame Royale were spent at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a quiet place away from the Parisian court in which she shared education and games with her legitimate siblings and the bastard children that his father had from his constant love affairs. When her father was assassinated in 1610, her brother succeeded him to the throne as King Louis XIII under the Regency of their mother. Elisabeth had a very close relationship with him.  

When Elisabeth was ten years old, negotiations were begun for a double marriage between the royal families of France and Spain; Elisabeth would marry the Prince of Asturias (the future Philip IV of Spain) and her brother Louis the Spanish Infanta Anne. After her proxy marriage to the Prince of Asturias and Louis’s proxy marriage to the Infanta Anne, Elisabeth and her brother met their respective spouses for the first time on 25 November 1615 on the Pheasant Island in the river Bidassoa that divides France and Spain between the French city of Hendaye and the Spanish city of Fuenterrabía. This was the last time Louis would see his sister.

In Spain, Elisabeth’s French name took on the Spanish form of Isabel. The religious ceremony took place in the Saint Mary Cathedral in Burgos. At the time of her marriage, the thirteen-year old Elisabeth became the new Princess of Asturias. In 1621, by the time of the birth of the couple’s first child, the couple had ascended to the throne upon the death of Philip III of Spain. Elisabeth becomes Queen consort of Spain and Portugal. She gave birth to eight children, but only two survived. The queen was aware that her husband had mistresses. Elisabeth herself was the subject of rumors about her relations with the noted poet Juan de Tassis y Peralta, Count of Villamediana, who was her gentleman-in-waiting. 

On 14 May 1622, a fire broke out while the Villamediana’s masque La Gloria de Niquea was being acted before the court. The Count of Villamediana carried the queen in his arms to a place of safety, which caused suspicion of a deep relationship between them. It is believed that Villamediana felt a platonic love for Queen Elisabeth. He was murdered as he stepped out of his coach. The responsibility for his death was divided between Philip IV and Count-Duke of Olivares, at the time, Prime Minister and King’s favorite. The crime remained unpunished.

Queen Elisabeth was renowned for her beauty, intelligence and noble personality, which made her very popular with the Spanish people. She was regent of Spain during the Catalan Revolt and supported the Duke of Nochera against the Count-Duke of Olivares in favor of an honorable withdrawal from the Catalan Revolt. Elisabeth of France died in Madrid at the age of forty-one, leaving two small children: Balthasar Charles and Maria Theresa. 

Unlike her husband and her sister-in-law, she would not see the wedding that cemented the peace between her homeland and adopted country, Spain; the countries would be at war until 1660. Elisabeth’s last child, Infanta Maria Theresa, would later become Queen of France as the wife of her nephew Louis XIV. After her death, her husband married his niece Mariana of Austria. One of her great-grandsons, Philip, Duke of Anjou, became King Philip V of Spain (x)

Anne Roussel played Elisabeth of France in the movie “El Rey Pasmado” (1991)