Margaret of Parma – Governor of the Netherlands

Margaret of Parma by Antonis Mor (source)

Margaret of Parma by Antonis Mor (source)

Margaret of Parma (28 December 1522 – 18 January 1586) was the Governor of the Netherlands from 1559 to 1567 and from 1578 to 1582. She was the illegitimate daughter of Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, and Johanna Maria van der Gheynst, a Flemish servant, and was raised by her great-aunt, Archduchess Margaret of Austria, and her aunt, Mary of Austria, successive Governors of the Netherlands.

At the age of 5, she was engaged to Alessandro de’Medici, Duke of Florence. Two years later, in 1529, Margaret was acknowledged by her father and the marriage agreement was officially signed. At this time, she was allowed to take the name Margaret of Austria. In 1533, Margaret went to live in Italy and three years later, married Alessandro. However, the marriage ended when Alessandro was assassinated only one year later. The next year, on November 4, 1538, she was forced to marry the 14-year-old grandson of Pope Paul III, Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma. The marriage was an unhappy one, but in 1545, Margaret gave birth to twin sons, Charles and Alexander, though only Alexander survived infancy.

Parma was a point of contention between the Pope (Farnese family) and Margaret’s father Charles V, and in 1555 the Farnese family was given control over Parma by Spain in exchange for the custody of Alexander. So Margaret left Italy to return to the Netherlands and place Alexander in the care of her half-brother Philip II of Spain.

In 1559, Philip appointed Margaret Governor of the Netherlands, but unlike her aunts, who had trained her well, she was given little authority. There was discontent among the people against Spain, specifically the Inquistion, and she was expected to abide by the advice of Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle who had been appointed Prime Minister and was greatly disliked. In 1564, growing hostility of the people forced Granvelle to retire to France, forcing Margaret to have her actions appoved officially by Philip in Spain, in spite of the time delay in communications. Over the next two years, an opposition party arose and riots took place all over the Netherlands. Margaret received complaints and promised to stop religious repression, but Philip responded by sending military troops under the command of the Duke of Alba. She warned that military action would lead to disaster, but realizing that Alba had more authority than she did, she decided to resign and return to Italy.

In Italy, Margaret was appointed Governor of Abruzzo, and advised her son and half-brother John of Austria. In 1578 when Alexander was appointed Governor of the Netherlands, she briefly served as co-regent, but they were unable to work together. In 1583, she once again retired to Italy where she died on January 18, 1586 and was buried in Piacenza.

Find out what else happened on January 18 in Women’s History.

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