Germaine de Foix, Queen of Aragon

Power and Politics in Germaine de Foix’s Marriage

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

The Renaissance marriage of Germaine [Germana] de Foix, King Louis XII’s niece, is a perfect example that for centuries, royal women were pawns on the chessboard of power and politics. She even lost her name when she married King Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1505.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Three Troubling Questions about Germaine’s Life

There are three main questions that trouble historians of Germaine’s life. The first concerns her first marriage to King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Second, did she have an illegitimate daughter with Emperor Charles V? Third, how responsible was she for the violence of the repression of the Valencian uprising (1519-1523) after she became vicereine.

Who was Germaine [Germana] de Foix?

Ursula Germaine de Foix (Mazères, France, 1488-Liria, Valencia, October 15, 1536), daughter of Marie d’Orléans (1457-1493) and Jean of Foix, count of Étampes, Viscount of Narbonne, (1450-1500); second wife of Ferdinand II of Aragon, was queen consort of Aragon (1505-1516); she married second Margrave John of Brandenburg-Ansbach on 17 June 1519 (1493- 5 July 1525 in Valencia ). Widowed, she married third, Ferdinand of Aragon, Duke of Calabria in 1526 (xxxx-1554). She was named vicereine of Valencia for the entire period from 1523 to her death in1536 at 48 years old in Valencia. She had no children from any of her marriages.

Germaine de Foix in France

Ursula Germaine of Foix was born in 1488, the daughter of Marie d’Orléans (1457-1493). Marrie married Viscount of Narbonne, Jean of Foix, count of Étampes (1450-1500) and went to live with him in southwestern France where he had his lands.

Through her father, Germaine was a member of the Foix-Grailly royal line in Navarre. She had one younger brother, Gaston, who later became a celebrated warrior during King Louis’s wars and was named Duke of Nemours. Like so many of the highest nobility, they were closely related to the highest European nobility. Their father and Anne of Brittany’s mother were siblings, making Anne their first cousin. Marie was sister to King Louis XII of France making him their uncle. Germaine’s paternal grandmother, Queen Leonor of Navarre, was the older sister of King Ferdinand of Aragon, so she was his great-niece.

When their mother died in 1493, Anne now queen of France, brought both Germaine and Gaston to live at her court where they grew up since their father, Viscount Jean joined King Charles VIII on his Italian campaign to conquer Naples in 1494. Germaine became one of Queen Anne’s ladies when Anne became queen of France for the second time after marrying King Louis XII.

Germaine, King Ferdinand, and the Politics of Marriage

In late 1505 King Louis XII and King Ferdinand of Aragon [now widower of Queen Isabella of Castille] signed the Treaty of Blois that ended their war over the Kingdom of Naples. By its terms, Germaine [called Germana from then on] married King Ferdinand by proxy at Blois in late October 1505. She was 17 and he was 53.

At that moment, both France and Aragon shared similar political interests that made the marriage desirable.

King Louis agreed to the marriage because of his obsession with Naples. His troops had suffered the disastrous loss of Naples in December of 1503. Louis bargained with Ferdinand over Naples. Louis and Ferdinand agreed that any child of the couple’s would inherit both the Neapolitan and Aragonese kingdoms but stipulated that the rights to Naples would return to France if the marriage produced no descendants.

King Ferdinand’s Political Considerations

After Queen Isabella died in 1504, Ferdinand hoped the Castilian cortes would make him titular king of Castile. Ferdinand was unpopular in Castile, and they chose Juana, the legitimate heir, who was the wife of the Hapsburg Duke Philip of Burgundy. Duke Philip claimed the title of King of Castile in right of his wife Juana, the rightful heiress.

Annoyed, and already at war in Italy, Ferdinand decided his best strategy would be to ally with France. He knew that Germaine de Foix was unmarried and saw a possibility to claim Navarre through her. [The Navarrese succession is so large a topic it deserves a blog post of its own.] A second marriage so soon after the death of Isabella made him even more unpopular in Castile, but its cortes had already rejected him, so he did not let that stand in his way.

King Ferdinand also wanted to prevent Aragon from passing to the Hapsburgs through his daughter, which he could achieve only if he had a son to inherit his kingdom of Aragon.

The Results of the Marriage

Unfortunately for both Louis and Ferdinand fate failed them both. Ferdinand and Germana had only one son, Juan, who only lived a few hours (May 3, 1509) and Ferdinand never had any intention of returning Naples to the French.

The political marriage between Germana and Ferdinand lasted until January 1516, when Fernando died. During that time Germana did not engage in politics although she occasionally represented Ferdinand ceremonially. She travelled with him and presided over his court, proving herself to be as supportive as his Aragonese agenda as they could hope, annoying the French in the process.

Also, after Gaston de Foix died in 1512, Ferdinand claimed Navarre in right of Germana, went to war against the French, and won the Spanish Navarrese territories for Aragon to French outrage.

Emperor Charles V and Queen Germana’s reputation

After her husband died, Germana moved to Castile, where she met a chilly reception. Having been raised in the early French Renaissance courts of France, Germana enjoyed gaiety–music, poetry, lively conversation, good food, dancing, fine clothing, and fine furnishings. The religious who populated the Hispanic courts considered her frivolous because of her ‘lightness.’

This reputation persists to the present day. It undoubtedly contributes to the long-standing opinion that when seventeen-year-old Charles [later known as Emperor Charles V] arrived in Castile in 1518, Germana and he engaged in a passionate love affair. She was 29 at the time. She is accused of falling pregnant and having an illegitimate daughter named Isabel with the emperor, who promptly married her off to Marquis Johan of Brandenburg in 1519.

Margrave Johann of Brandenburg-Ansbach, Germana's second husband

Germana’s Spanish Reputation & her Will

This speculation is based on the Spanish view of Germana’s frivolity & a bequest in Germana’s will for she left a string of pearls to an Isabel whom she calls daughter of the emperor. Her will said [translation:]

“Item, we bequeath and leave the string of 133 large pearls, which is the best that we possess, to the Most Serene Infanta Isabel of Castile, daughter of His Majesty the emperor, my son and my lord, on account of the great love that we feel for His Highness.”

Since Germana’s surviving husband, the Duke of Calabria, asked for instructions about where to send these pearls repeating the word daughter, it is considered proof that this Isabel must be a secret illegitimate daughter of Charles and Germana’s. Even recent historians such as Jaime Salazar and Manuel Fernández Álvarez have agreed with this interpretation, pointing to the will and its cover letter to suggest this possibility. This is flimsy evidence indeed.

Recovering Germana’s Dignity

More recently, in his 2019 biography of Charles V, Geoffrey Parker points out that in Valencia the emperor’s daughter, Maria was known as Isabel. He states, “the emperor did not sire a daughter named Isabel; neither with Queen Germaine nor with anyone else.” In her biography Germana de Foix (2003), Rosa Rios Lloret observes that the will only names a daughter of Charles as Isabel; it does not name her mother. Jaime de Salazar y Acha states that “the recent theory that Queen Germana left illegitimate offspring is completely unfounded.”

Moreover, it was common at the time to use terms of familial relationship where they did not exist as the term means to us, whatever it might have meant at the time. For example, Emperor Charles writing to Germana after appointing her vicereine addresses her as, “Most Serene Queen, our very dear and beloved Lady, Mother and Lieutenant-General.”

The Valencian Revolt and Germana’s Viceregal Power

In 1523 Charles V named Queen Germana, now Marquesa of Brandenburg vicereine and lieutenant general of Valencia and her husband as captain general of that kingdom.

In this position, he wanted Germana to solve the problem of the 1519–1523 Revolt of the Brotherhoods (Catalan: Revolta de les Germanies). The repression of the popular revolt of the guilds was brutal, and historians blame Germana. They argue that she showed the true essence of her personality by signing thousands of death sentences. This assessment does not accord well with her December 1524, when Germaine signed a pardon that officially ended the persecution of the remaining accused. Instead, she imposed fines on the guilds and guild-aligned cities that took them many years to pay.

Duke of Calabria, Germana's third husband

In 1525 her second husband died and Emperor Charles ordered her to marry Fernando of Aragon, Duke of Calabria. Charles then named the couple viceroys and lieutenants general of Valencia. Once again, historians blame her for the authoritarian and repressive government they headed. But Valencia faced banditry and internal struggles, piracy from North Africa, the indebtedness of the nobles and the rebellion of the Moors. Viceroy Fernando signed all documents where there was only one signature and she only signed those they both signed.

In both her viceroyalties, Emperor Charles sent instructions for how the revolts should be repressed and the insurgents punished. Germana and her husband implemented but did not decide upon them. Charles also showed himself equally harsh when suppressing uprisings in his other dominions.

Germana de Foix’s Death

Germana died in Liria at 48 years of age of an edema linked to her obesity, undoubtedly related to her love of fine food and drink. True to her love of luxury, she was shrouded in a dress of gold tissue and her head rested on a pillow covered with ermine. In her testament she also left a bequest to construct the magnificent complex of San Miguel y de los Reyes, where she still lies.

Sculpture from the tomb of Germana de Aragona in the Church o Sant Miquel dels Reis, Valencia

To conclude, even in death she demonstrates that her early French influences marked her for life. Nonetheless she was a woman of her times who loved gaiety and a cultured life, but she was not Jezabel who seduced her young step-grandson or bore illegitimate children. She was royal and had more good sense than that.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

ARAM, Bethany (2001), La reina Juana. Gobierno, piedad y dinastía, Marcial Pons, Ediciones de Historia, S.A., Madrid.

COSANDEY, Fanny (2000), La reine de France. Symbole et pouvoir, XV-XVIII siècles, Editions Gallimard.

DE SALAZAR Y ACHA, Jaime (5 June 2022). “Germana de Foix”. Real Academia de la Historia.

Germana de Foix, la misteriosa segunda esposa de Fernando el Católico (elnacional.cat)

Germana de Foix – Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre

PINILLA PÉREZ DE TUDELA, Regina (1994), Valencia y la reina doña Germana. Castigo de agermanados y problemas religiosos. Consell Valencià de Cultura, Valencia.

RÍOS LLORET, R. E. (2005). Doña Germana de Foix. Última reina de Aragón y virreina de Valencia. Fundación Española de Historia Moderna. http://doi.org/10.20350/DIGITALCSIC/12080

RÍOS LLORET, Rosa E. (2003), Germana de Foix. Una mujer, una reina, una corte, Biblioteca Valenciana, Valencia

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