Isabel of Portugal, Day 5 — Queen Leonor

In this expert from one of the several projects I am currently working on, Isabel reflects on the arrival of Leonor of Austria into Portugal and her early marriage to Isabel’s father, King Manuel I of Portugal. Isabel and Leonor have struck up a friendship, possessing an almost sister-like bond, as they discuss family and the past, and how that translates into now.

Leonor de Austria arrived from her land onto ours in July, and married Papa within two weeks. As a child, I recall Mamae describing the physicality of Queen Juana–Leonor fits the bill. She posses a fragile, slim figure, and her auburn hair contrasts perfectly against her pale skin. She also possess the brown eyes of Fernando de Aragon, but her smile is that of her father, Felipe el Hermoso. A handsome man and a beautiful woman created a gorgeous first child–I wonder if Carlos posses beauty, also.

This new stepmother is old enough to be my sister, and she serves as the elder sister I never had. Leonor is warm, welcoming, and kind, which is rather ironic, giving that she is the one who was plucked from her lands and given away as a bride to a strange kingdom. She always includes myself and the older children with her household and advising Papa on matters of state affairs. Happily, the younger ones who spent the least time with Mamae now have Leonor to look up to. She loves the children as if they were her own.

As for her and Papa, I know not whether or not they have consummated their marriage. I can see that my stepmother loves him, but is not in love with him. There were rumors that she loved another, and that was the true reason why Carlos sent her here. This unrequited love proved as a bonding point with my father, who, as much as he hides his grief, continues to mourn Mamae each and every day. In the end, Papa embraces Leonor with a warm affection, but it is not the same love he shared with my mother.

When we are alone, Leonor and I speak of many things– our grandparents, our aunt, Queen Catherine, and our own parents, more specifically, our mothers. She asks me about mine, and I of hers. She smiles and holds back tears as I recount the days of my parents’ happy union, and how she oversaw my and my siblings’ upbringings. Leonor becomes especially emotional when I disclose the smallest of details, like how Mamae would tuck us in and kiss us on the cheeks every night.

Los amo a todos,” she’d tell us in her native Spanish–I love you all.

“How beautiful,” Leonor responds, while putting her handkerchief slightly towards her eyes. “She had so much love and grace within her. I would’ve loved to have met her.”

“And she would have been delighted to have greeted you,” I exclaim, taking hold of her hand. “You look so much like yours, from what Mamae would tell us of her.”

A nervous look glanced forth from Leonor’s face. She looked as though she was about to pull back, but she grasped my hands firmer. It was as if she were afraid.

“You don’t think I look like her, do you?” she asks in fear.

“From what I have heard, yes,” I respond. “But you are so beautiful, Leonor, you have nothing to fret over.”

“Isabel, I have everything to fret over,” she responds, pulling back. “My parents were physically attractive people, but inwardly repulsive. We speak not of the damage they have done, especially towards our grandparents’ kingdoms.”

We both wisely at this point chose to remain silent. As soon as Juan’s widow, Margaret, gave birth to stillborn heir, Juana and Felipe sent word from Flanders immediately declaring themselves Prince and Princess of the Asturias. All the European monarchs-especially my grandparents–were both horrified and disgusted. Not only had they had no respect for their brother and niece or nephew’s soul, but they also completely disregarded the fact that they were not the true heirs–it was their sister, Isabel, mother of my late half-brother, Miguel de Paz, and my father who were the newest heirs to Castile. Only Isabel and Miguel’s deaths would solidify their claim–and that they did, nearly three years later. Things would only grow worse from there.

“But you are not inwardly corrupt,” I interject, seizing the opportunity to ease this newly formed tension. “The kindness that you have shown upon myself and my siblings since your arrival cannot be matched.”

“When I heard that I was to marry into your family, first to your brother, and then your father, I knew I was walking into a newly motherless clan,” she explains. “Some of the fondest memories of my childhood involve my great-grandmother, the Duchess of Burgundy. She was poised, elegant, and charming, a force to be reckoned with. But behind closed doors, she and my aunt, our aunt, Margaret, were the only mothers Carlos, Isabella, and I came to have. Yet, according to blood, the duchess was really our great-grandmother–she was our step-great-grandmother. She would’ve murdered the man who’d remind her of that.”

“I have heard stories about her a lot,” I say. “Your grandmother, Mary of Burgundy, she–”

“She was more her daughter then her stepdaughter,” Leonor beckons with a smile. “And the love she felt was so deep that a part of her died when my grandmother did. She refused to let my grandmother, the Emperor, raised my father and our aunt. She reared their upbringing herself. She loved them so much that she refused to die until my father came back from Castile, the one thing he actually did right.”

“You want to be like her, don’t you?” I ask.

“Oh yes,” she responds, taking hold of my hand again. “And I am grateful to assume the position she held in my family’s life for that of yours.”

We hold each other in a warm embrace, and I thank God for having sent this kind, loving angel to our kingdom. If only he would do the same for me with hers.

  • Julia St. Clair© 2017

    *Image is of Marina Salas as Leonor de Austria in TVE’s Carols, Rey Emperador

Isabel of Portugal, Day 4 — O Cesàr o Nada

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

Isabel of Portugal, Day 1 — Mamae

In this expert from one of the several projects I am currently working on, Isabel of Portugal reflects on her late mother, Maria of Aragon, and the impact that her parent’s loving marriage had on her and her siblings.

“I miss Mama.”

Little Henrique cries almost every night since she passed. Mamae. The queen whom birthed us. Mamae. The woman who raised us. Mamae–the wife who advised her husband, the mother who sought equal education for their children, regardless of gender. Mamae–the first of the last surviving daughters of Isabel and Fernando to follow their mother to the grave.

Maria of Aragon was the fifth child and third daughter of those great rulers of Spain. Their union united the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, and she and her siblings were living embodiments of that merger. Despite growing up in the shadow of her prettier sisters and sole surviving brother, they all adored Mamae, and she felt the same way. That love would be tested by the bonds of time, fate, and tragedy, as two of Mamae’s beloved siblings, Juan and Isabel, would beat their parents to the grave, and their children with them. These tragedies set off the power keg between my grandfather and Philip of Habsburg, my aunt, Queen Juana’s, husband that would drive the formidable Catholic queen into an early grave. While one might not know how my unbalanced, foolish aunt might have fight, I know for a fact that Mamae and her youngest sister, England’s Queen Catherine, were heartbroken.

The world forgets about this daughter of Spain, but the Aviz family and Portugal do not. Mamae was the perfect woman, wife, mother, and queen to Papa and me. Elegant, radiant, calm, composes, patient–the exact opposite of the madness that haunts Queen Juana. Although the marriage was arranged by politics rather than personal choice and a previous engagement was called off, Papa and Mamae ultimately married, producing an army of children started by my brother, Joao, and I. I am the second child and eldest daughter–therefore, when Mamae died, it fell upon me to assume her queenly duties and serve as Father’s foremost companion and advisor until he takes another bride. But poor Papa cannot fathom that at the moment, for he continues to reel everyday from the consequences of having lost the love of his life.

Although they married to maintain alliance in all the kingdoms held within the Iberian peninsula, my parents fell in love, deep, passionate love. This love bonded them forever to one another, and conceived myself and all of my siblings in it. Mamae bore 10 of us–Joao, myself, Beatriz, Luis, Fernando, Afonso, Henrique, Maria, Duarte, and Antonio. Out of the 10 who were born, 8 of us survived, as the unfortunate babies Maria and Antonio died at birth. This was a huge accomplishment for Mamae, Having provided Portugal with an heir and many spares was the ultimate success for Mamae, who, like Queen Juana, was viewed as the paragon of fertility. Sadly, their childbearing was the polar opposite of Catalina, Queen of England, who bore 6 children, most of them stillborn or dying in infancy. Only one, a girl, my cousin, Mary, survived past birth and the basic infant months. How terrifying it must be to bury a child! My parents went through it twice, the last one having led my beautiful mother to her early grave. I, therefore, cannot think of Tia Catalina or her husband’s anguish, and I pray to never suffer as such.

  • Julia St. Clair© 2017

    *Image is of Blanca Suarez as Isabel de Portugal in TVE’s Carols, Rey Emperador

What’s Meant to Be…

…it will, shall be, no matter the length

of time passing between you and

me. Stop dragging your feet, do not

fear — touch, reach out– I promise —

I am here; I bear no ill will, am holding

no grudge. The past is dead, finished, gone —

done. Years down the drain, keep calm — its

time to move on, and cast all anxiety aside. Pick

up the phone and call, what must you lose! We

already lost so much time. But descandsar

rest — I promise as we reunite, we’ll get by — for

what’s meant to be is..shall..will be…for what’s

meant to be is you — you and me.

  • Julia St. Clair, ©2017

    *Image from #StayQuotable via Google Image search


Puncture the wound on the

breast of my heart, tales of

new glories and old woes which

tear us apart, lay down the

blade, grasp deeply my hand, breathe

upon my breath as if this moment is

your last. A hole in a hole — salt massaged

into my wounds. A new day arises, yet

what else is there to do?


Detonate the passions filling

our hearts and minds, the trials, the

hunger to reunite with our own

kind, kind in such a way unthinkable —

not my creed nor religion nor race — kind

as in the qualities in our souls which are

baptized by saving grace, detonate the mind,

explore our kind, reunite twin flames, for the

connection never dies.