Anne of Austria: b. 1601, Valladolid, Spain; d. 1666, Paris, France; Queen of France 1615-1666; Regent of France, 1643-1651.

Despite what could have been a much more engaging biography, for she lived in a time of great political turmoil, Anne of Austria somehow managed to have her name go down in history primarily as an echo of the illustrious men in her life. She was the daughter of Philip III of Spain, the wife of Louis XIII of France, the mother of Louis XIV, the political victim of Cardinal Richelieu, the political benefactress and patroness of Cardinal Mazarin, the beloved (so they say) of the Duke of Buckingham and the romantic heroine of Alexander Dumas.

It's a bit of a shame, really. She had ample potential for controversy; a marriage that started as a dinastic alliance between France and Spain turned into a political inconvenience when France allied herself with the Protestant states against the catholic Spain in the Thirty Years War. Anne came under grave suspicion of plotting against the state, but was pardoned in 1637. Richelieu may be forgiven his continued distrust of her, for she apparently turned from her unhappy marriage to the company of Mme de Chevreuse, a court intriguante and a dogged enemy of the Cardinal. There is also the persistent story about a flirtation with England's First Minister Buckingham (the infamous episode of the diamond studs apparently has some basis in reality), but any assertions beyond the public and courtly are probably apocryphal.

That the marriage between the French King and Queen was unhappy, however, is not in doubt. It took them four years to consummate their marriage, twenty three years to produce an heir. They lived in virtual estrangement and reputedly loathed each other. It is not difficult to imagine how such a personal enmity between the two figureheads personifying temporal power in France should lead to political divisions, factions and intrigue at court.

Upon the King's death, Anne was declared Regent of France by parliament, in the teeth of her husband's will. Having gained the regency, however, she seems to have been content to delegate government almost entirely to her first minister, Cardinal Mazarin. Nevertheless, the two of them together braved the civil unrest of the Frondes and manged to preserve Absolute Rule intact for Louis XIV in the face of violent attempts at encroachement from both parliament and nobility.

Upon her son's accession to the throne in 1651 the Queen retired, apparently docilely, to a monastic life which lasted until her death in 1666.

All in all, a pretty interesting life - it's no wonder Anne of Austria is cited as a mover of events in two Dumas novels. How could she fail to make a strong impression in her own right, then? All encyclopedia references list her mostly as daughter-of, wife-of, mother-of. Even the epitomal victim Catherine of Aragon gets better press than that!

Maybe Loius XIV didn't want his mother's political legacy to overshadow his own and so downplayed her role in his accession to the throne. Maybe she was a bad self-promoter. Maybe the over-romanticised versions of events in both Dumas' books and 20th century films did her an injustice. I just feel that there should by rights be more of verve and interest to write about this woman, but somehow I can't find it out.

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