A review of Rozsa Gaston’s Margaret of Austria
Rozsa Gaston brings Archduchess Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, to life in this fascinating biographical novel. We discover her as one of the most powerful women of early 16th Century Europe.
The novel weaves between biography and fiction. Gaston fills it with fascinating historical fact and detail, coupled with lively dialogue and spirited narrative. She also begins with a brief explanation of Burgundy and a Cast of Characters to provide a context.
Gaston traces the intricate minutiae of relationships—e.g., Margaret married successively, the Dauphin of France, the Heir Apparent of Spain, and Duke of Savoy. She was also sister to Queen Catherine of Aragon in England, and sister-in-law to Duchess Louise de Savoy, to name a but a few. This and the diplomatic events can make the story heavy going for those who are not familiar with the characters and issues of the period. Yet Gaston writes with a light touch, bringing Margaret’s rich personal life into clear focus. Margaret emerges as a charming and wily heroine.
Introducing Margaret of Austria’s eventful life
On to the story itself. After three unfortunate marriages in France, Spain & Savoy, Margaret of Austria comes into her own after 1504, when she is again widowed. Refusing to marry again despite intense pressure from her father, Emperor Maximilian I, she returns to the Netherlands.
In 1506, Margaret’s life changes dramatically when her brother Philip, Duke of Burgundy & King of Spain, dies in Spain. He left his widow, Queen Juana of Castile, insane in Spain. Their elder four children, including the underage Charles, heir to the duchy of Burgundy, had remained in the Netherlands. Margaret stepped in to care for them. Appointed by her father, Margaret became governor of the Netherlands in 1507. Shen widened her role to broker the 1508 Treaty of Cambrai when Europe’s princes united against Venice.
When Charles came of age as Duke of Burgundy and King of Spain, her enemies ousted Margaret. She won back her position by convincing her nephew of her probity and loyalty. He named her Regent in the Netherlands, where she continued to defend the interests of that area until her death. During this event-filled time in Europe, Gaston brings the family wrangling, power struggles and diplomatic negotiations Margaret orchestrated to life.
This is an excellent book in which Gaston introduces Margaret of Austria during a period in which women played an important, and to-date largely unrecognized, role. I recommend it highly.