‘Scènes uit een huwelijk´. Het leven van Béatrix de Cusance (1614-1663)

Translated title of the contribution: ´Scenes from a marriage´. The life of Béatrix de Cusance (1614-1663)

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD thesis

Abstract

In 1653, the English priest Richard Flecknoe dedicated a collection of letters and poems to Béatrix de Cusance, calling her 'the most excellent of her Sex'. Flecknoe was an impoverished adventurer who had left his native England for the continent on account of its hostility to Catholics. While he gained position in Béatrix's entourage on account of his musical and theatrical accomplishments, he is generally considered to be at best a peripheral author, at worst insignificant. That same year, Huygens, by way of contrast a highly respected Dutch diplomat and patron of the arts now considered an iconic figure in the history of the Calvinist Netherlands, admitted that he struggled with his amorous feelings for her.
But who was Béatrix de Cusance? Who was this woman upon whom two such apparently different men fixed their devotion? This biography aims to expose her role in political and cultural networks, her historical significance, and show how the accepted image of Béatrix de Cusance is at odds with historical reality.
While this biography will be largely chronological in form, Béatrix's life did not develop in a predictable pattern, with significant, often shocking events dividing the narrative into eleven episodes, each of which is explored in a dedicated chapter.
Born in Belvoir Castle in the Franche-Comté on 14 December 1614, Béatrix grew up at the Brussels court of Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, governor-general of the Spanish Netherlands, under whose protection she married Leopold-Eugène Perrenot de Granvelle, Prince of Cantecroy (chapter 1). The marriage, which took place in 1635, was arranged by the couple's respective mothers, Ernestine van Witthem and Caroline of Austria, but lasted barely two years, cut short as it was by Léopold-Eugène's untimely demise. Béatrix appears to have taken her bereavement in her stride, however, marrying renowned and erratic condottiere Charles IV de Vaudémont, Duke of Lorraine, a mere ten days after her husband's death: they had conducted a love affair prior to Béatrix's arranged marriage. The duke, however was already married to his cousin Nicole, though Charles assured Béatrix that this union was illegal and could thus be dissolved by the Catholic Church (chapter 2).
The duke was right when he suggested that Rome would pass judgement, but it was not to be as they had hoped. From 1639 they were forced to live apart, a proscription which they found impossible. Excommunicated by Pope Urban VIII in 1641, the couple pretended to comply while secretly ignoring the bull and continuing to cohabit. They were, in fact, inseparable for the first eight years of their marriage. In winter they could be found in Besançon or Brussels, while in the seasons dominated by military campaigns Béatrix would accompany her husband into camp on horseback and in battle dress, in the process becoming beloved of Charles's notoriously brutal mercenary army.
At the French court, where Nicole of Lorraine resided, Beatrix was contemptuously called 'la femme de campagne du Duc de Lorraine', however. But Charles, a mercenary commander with no fixed loyalty, was a key player in the complex power relations of the Thirty Years' War, and this much discussed affair had major political implications. The validity of his marriage to Béatrix was often brought to the table as a point of negotiation, with both the French and Spanish promising to acknowledge it were he to switch sides (chapter 3).
Even Béatrix and Charles's three children were the subject of controversy. While their first, a boy, died shortly after his birth, in 1638, Béatrix's mother-in-law from her first marriage, Caroline of Austria, claimed not only that his true father was her son the Prince of Cantecroy, but that the infant had survived. Caroline subsequently raised a boy as if he were heir to the house of Granvelle, investing in what was her version of the truth to prevent all her property and possessions passing to a male relation, the Count of St.-Amour, on her death. Over the following 25 years several lawsuits, notably at the Council of Flanders and the Grand Council of Mechelen, were pressed regarding this 'enfant ymaginaire'. In 1662, however, Caroline died and the case was closed, her possessions finally accruing to the Count of St.-Amour six years later (chapter 4).
While the couple's excommunication was rescinded in 1645, the first cracks in the relationship between Béatrix and Duke Charles had been opened up by the constant pressure exerted by the Church. The couple finally obeyed the Papal command to live separately, with each of them finding solace in the arms of lovers: it appears that Béatrix had an affair with Charles Stuart II, the exiled English King. In 1649, ten years after the birth of their second child, Anne, a brief reunion between the couple resulted in their third, Charles-Henri de Vaudémont.
As a leading commander in the Habsburg army, Duke Charles was subject to repeated attempts by the French to win him over to their side, using Béatrix as leverage. In the early 1650s, the Frondeurs appealed to Béatrix to persuade her husband to join them in their revolt against the French Crown. These attempts foundered time and time again, however, primarily due to Charles's unpredictability and political opportunism. There had been a claim on the Marquisate of Bergen op Zoom, through Béatrix' maternal line, since 1633. After Charles handed the Marquisate to the King of Spain who, in turn, ceded it to the Dutch stadholder during the treaty negotiations at Westphalia, relations between Béatrix and her husband deteriorated markedly (chapter 5).
While Charles was absent, Béatrix amused herself at her castle in Beersel, near Brussels, with music, dance and theatre, all under the artistic direction of Richard Flecknoe, who dedicated many of his plays and poems to his patroness. Her salon at Beersel soon became renowned as an important space which facilitated the international exchange of literary, musical and artistic ideas (chapter 6).
In 1652, Béatrix met Constantijn Huygens for the first time in Antwerp, a meeting that led to an intense, ten-year long correspondence, and regular meetings to enjoy various musical activities. Constantijn introduced Béatrix to the Dutch courts in The Hague, while Béatrix presented Constantijn to the elite circles of the Southern Netherlands. It is surprising to see just how close a bond they forged over these years (chapter 7).
In 1654, things became more complicated as the marriage was finally, and irrevocably, declared null by Pope Innocentius X. In the same year, Charles was accused by the Spanish of collaborating with the French Crown, resulting in five years in Spanish captivity. In Brussels, and with her husband unable to influence her over such distances, Béatrix was pretty much a free agent. In 1657 Béatrix attempted unsuccessfully to renew her marriage with the duke following the death of his first wife Nicole, and again staked her claim to the Marquisate of Bergen op Zoom, this time involving Constantijn Huygens and the 'Winter Queen' Elizabeth Stuart (chapter 8).
Following his eventual release from Spanish captivity, Charles reconciled himself with the French King but promptly drove both Béatrix and his own family to despair by proposing marriage to several attractive young ladies. The erratic duke was still willing to reunite with Béatrix, however, albeit primarily in order to legitimise their two children. Only on her deathbed, in 1663, Béatrix was finally granted her most deeply-held wish, a lawful marriage (chapters 9 and 10).
Béatrix de Cusance lived through a turbulent period of European history, with massive upheavals in military, political, religious and cultural fields. Born during the Twelve Years' Truce, which interrupted the Eighty Years' War between the Netherlands and the Spanish Empire, she was just five years old when the Thirty Years' War broke out. When this war was finally drawing to a close, a devastating civil war was being fought in England, and the territorial struggles between France and Spain dragged on until 1659. Béatrix's life, like those of her contemporaries, was greatly affected by the changes that took place in European society, and it is these changes, in a period when geo-spatial and socio-political boundaries were both explored and challenged, that form the framework of this biography.
Béatrix herself played a part in these upheavals. Her controversial marriage to army commander and Duke Charles IV of Lorraine met with much resistance from ecclesiastical authorities, leaving its mark on her social life. The relationship with Charles proved disastrous for her reputation, as both contemporary and modern accounts paint her primarily as mistress and intriguer. This characterisation does not, however, do her justice, nor does it accord with the information to be found in the abundant yet hitherto unexplored sources which form the basis of this study. This new material has allowed for a more nuanced Béatrix to be constructed, not least by providing insight into what moved her, both in her early years when happiness seemed to come naturally, but also later on in her life, when events were less forgiving (chapter 11).
The story of Béatrix is not one of a mistress, a supporting player, but one of a leading actor, struggling to achieve a valid marriage and legitimate offspring. It is the story of an independent, enterprising woman who wanted to control her own destiny and took an active and creative part in the social and cultural life of the nobility in Western Europe. This is not the story of Beátrix de Cusance commonly told, but the story seen through her eyes, as well as the eyes of her admirers Richard Flecknoe and Constantijn Huygens.
Original languageDutch
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Nellen, H.J.M., Promotor
  • van Nierop, H.F.K. , Promotor
Award date06 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - 06 Feb 2015

Keywords

  • Béatrix de Cusance; duchess of Lorraine
  • women
  • aristocracy

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