While on a journey through time and space, Beatrice of Portugal, Duchess of Savoy and former owner of the castle, makes a brief stop at Chillon for an interview… Her Highness gives us her prince(ss)ly perspective on the role of an aristocrat in the late Middle Ages, along with some juicy anecdotes…
Answers gathered by Lise Leyvraz Dorier
/ Translation Amy Reid
1504 Born in Lisbon
1521 Marriage to Charles II of Savoy
1522-1537 Gives birth to 10 children, one of whom (a son) lives to adulthood
1536 Bernese invasion of the Pays de Vaud and seizing of Chillon, liberation of François Bonivard, incarcerated by Charles II
1538 Death in Nice
Your Highness, as the daughter of King Manuel I of Portugal and Queen Maria of Aragon and Castile – and with Valentine’s Day just gone – could you please give us a glimpse into your life as a princess and a wife? How did your marriage to Charles II of Savoy play out?
When it comes to the marriage market, as you know, one must always look for the greatest strategic alliance and it is best to have a strong lineage. That’s all any good parent could wish for for their children, even their youngest. After all the usual negotiations – which took five years – my father, the king, first arranged for my marriage by proxy. Soon after, I left Portugal aged 17 for Nice, escorted by a grandiose fleet. The journey took 49 days. The marriage festivities took place over a whole week. The procession before the religious ceremony was magnificent and we threw sumptuous banquets.
So, were you a ‘match’ when you first met?
Ah yes, as you say, we were a ‘match’ for many reasons. We became a team. There were no tournaments of knights in shining armour, ready to win the heart of the princess, like in certain books… rather, there was financial jousting. Initially, we had planned for a dowry of 300,000 ducats, but then we saved 50% on the Portuguese side; in the end, they brought my magnificent trousseau of dresses, jewellery and even a clock, worth a grand total of 150,000. What a steal for the duke! I shouldn’t say, but he was rather penniless… and he had married the daughter of a king, no less!
Anyway, the duke came to find me on board the caravel when the last few administrative details were yet to be finalised. My father, however, had specifically told me not to get off the ship before the final negotiations had been concluded. Imagine my surprise when my husband appeared, I laid eyes on him for the first time, and he even gave me a kiss…! You see what happens when French-Burgundian etiquette meets that of the Iberian world…
I am, after all, daughter of the king and queen, and granddaughter of the Catholic Kings!
However, despite this affront, my excellent education prevailed and l told my husband that I would do as my lord commanded.
Did you ever clash?
What language you use these days… Yes, I will admit that there was a misunderstanding upon my arrival in Savoy. After the wedding, Charles wanted to send back my Portuguese entourage and even my ladies-in-waiting. Inês, my wet nurse who later became my chamber maid, and who had always been by my side, was not spared. Thankfully, I managed to get the archbishop on my side. But I had to bring myself to the brink of tears to convince the duke to abandon his plan even partially. I also suggested that he could post his own noblemen in the Queen’s House… Financial matters are always a source of tension within a relationship. My suite consisted of just 50 people and the duke’s 180… tut-tut! But let it be known that, in my household, the women were just as well paid as the men!
What role did you play in the Court of Savoy?
My role was to give birth, primarily to male heirs. I had to be with child permanently to assure the duke’s lineage. I gave birth to ten children, but the Lord called them all back to be with him, apart from one son – Emmanuel Philibert – who, by some miracle, reached adulthood. I also played a political and diplomatic role, interceding alongside my brother-in-law, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who had married my sister Isabella. I had to protect the duchy of Savoy. I also wrote to my brother John III for financial support. I had a humanistic education – thanks to my mother – so my reading and Latin helped me in several situations with men of the Church and otherwise. I learnt that there were always at least two points of view, and that one must compromise as best one can. It’s like when I had my portrait made… My husband and the artist reminded me not to smile so much, with my mouth open, lest I look like a vulgar woman… That’s why I smiled anyway, gritting my teeth.
Interview primarily based on the French scientific paper :Vies de princesses ? Les femmes de la Maison de Savoie (XIIIe-XVIe siècle).