In this expert from one of the several projects I am currently working on, Isabel and Manuel of Portugal learn that Carlos, King of Spain and future Holy Roman Emperor has rebuffed his and Isabel’s engagement, along with that of his sister, Infanta Leonor, and her brother, João, Prince of Portugal. The royals are thrown off when a different marriage is proposed, and Isabel must make light of the situation and encourage her father to accept, much to her brother’s annoyance, while also holding onto hope for her own future.
Our moment is interrupted João and his squire arrive with alarming news. My brother’s squire hands Papa a letter, and at once his joy is ripped away.
“Papa, what’s the matter?”
But even I know that I do not wish to obtain an answer towards my inquiry when I see the smile disappear from my father’s face, his head being held in his hands. He looks at me as though he dares not to speak, fearing that once the words are spoken and thus conveyed fully, the betrayal will be towards not only myself, but him, as well. Papa is not the only person disturbed by the news–my brother’s angry gaze reveals that this bad news concerns not both me and him. João, usually calm, dignified, and composed, now stands still, his resentment masked, or revealed rather, in silence.
“Papa?,” I repeat myself like a scared child.
“I’m sorry, minha filha,” he says with downcast eyes. “Carlos rejected your hand in marriage, as well as refusing the union of that of the Prince of Portugal and Infanta Leonor.”
Leonor was Carlos’ older sister, the most eligible bachelorette in Europe since the death of our grandmother. Even Tia Catalina’s formidable father-in-law, the late old King Henry, attempted several times to break her hand with his namesake in favor of her niece. For awhile, it worked, and her sister-in-law, Princess Mary, was even engaged to Carlos herself. That betrothal would’ve come to fruition, if only this new King Henry weren’t so wishy washy with the Kingdom of France. Now Carlos has projected his rejection unto not only myself, but towards my brother, also. As Papa holds my hands for comfort, I stare at João from across the room, our mutual silence conveys the same emotion–sadness.
“However, my darling daughter, the Infanta will still be coming to Portugal,” Papa reveals through gritted teeth. “Only she won’t be our princess. Leonor de Austria is to be–”
“Our queen?” I interrupt. I already know where this is going. “Papa, you’re to be married?”
“Yes,” he answered shamefully, awkwardly shifting his focus towards João. “But I will tell this young king off. How dare he insult not one, but both of my beloved children! And expect me to take my son’s fiancee for myself, merely a year after the queen, your mother’s death? ”
“Go, Father,” João replies. “Do what you must.”
“No,” I shout, much to the surprise of both kin. “Papa, you must accept this marriage proposal. Carlos does not only the House of Austria, but the House of Aviz, and Portugal herself, this great honor.”
“Isabel, I am confused,” he replies. “This man has insulted us, and you expect me to accept this offer from him?”
“Yes, Altezza,” I answer, showing my obedience to my father through addressing him by his title and offering a slight bow of the head. This is not easy to convey, as I repress my pain to push and comfort my poor father over this bitter blow. “We’ve had peace and friendship with Spain for many years, why give it up now?”
“Isabel, Leonor is a child,” he replies. “She’s just as old as your…”
Papa closes his eyes to cross himself. As he starts, I stop him. Poor Papa–he never forgave himself for leaving his and Isabel’s son in Granada with my grandparents. He assumed he would receive excellent training and return to Portugal once fully grown. No one expect what was to happen next. Everyone was in shock when the little prince of peace died at barely two years old. Yet death has no mercy, breaking in through the night, softly and swiftly stealing souls from their beds and cradles. Had Papa known what was truly destined for his first son, he never would’ve let him out of his sight.
“Then that is a good thing. Leonor is youthful, and fertile,” I smile, trying to make the best of the situation. “She will give you many sons and daughters, children of Portugal.”
“But Portugal already has children, including six healthy, living sons.”
He nods at my brother as if he’s almost required to say what he must.
“I am old–she is young. She should be with your brother–not me.”
“But Papa, don’t you see?” I utter, stopping the small cracks of confusion in my voice. “Carlos wants his sister to be Queen of Portugal now later, but now. This action does not insult you, João, or her as much as it hurts, but honors us all, especially the Infanta.”
Papa still feels the heat of his eldest son’s gaze as I lift my head up. I know what to say to get him to accept–if my words don’t work, no one’s will.
“Portugal needs to maintain the alliance that my grandparents, including your beloved mother, called into action,” I declare. “And if that involves you taking on a new wife, but God you’ll do it.”
João is angry–this I can see, and I understand. But now more than ever, I need him to stop and not think of himself. I gaze at him to urge him to stop. I am not happy about this either, we can’t have Papa upset, nor us lose our motherland as our ally.
“Alright,” Papa sighs, turning to the squire.
“Tell the ambassador that I accept.”
As the squire bows and exits, João trails after him in disgust. Papa gazes off into the garden, closing his eyes and taking a breath.
“Forgive me, Isabel,” he says with his back turned. “You know how much I wish it was you rather than I taking these sacred vows.”
“Don’t worry about me, Papa,” I beam, no longer being able to hide my hope. “I will, I shall. Carlos will come around, just as my namesake did for you, and like you did for Mamae.”
“Minha filha,” Papa utters, smiling at my thoughts. “What are you saying?”
“Only that I shall not settle for one I will not love. I always knew that I was meant to be with Carlos, Papa, from when I was a little girl,” I explain with pride. “Mamae knew it, too. She had a feeling that the deal with England would fall apart, and that he and Mary would not marry. It did–and Austria went to me, to us. For whatever reason, he wishes not to marry now–if he did, we would know just like we know now of your engagement to Leonor, would we not? Descansar–worry not, Papa. Carlos will change his mind, and I shall become his wife. I shall be Queen of Spain and Holy Roman Empress, Archduchess of Austria, and I care not how long I must wait. Whether I’m 20 or 50, I will not settle, I shall not rest. He will marry me, Papa, and I shall love him as much as you and Mamae loved one another, if not more. O cesàr o nada–its Caesar or nothing.”
- Julia St. Clair© 2017
*Image is of Blanca Suarez as Isabel de Portugal and Joan Crosas as Manuel I de Portugal in TVE’s Carols, Rey Emperador