Margaret of Parma

Margaret of Parma
Margaret of Parma
Duchess consort of Florence
Duchess consort of Parma
Governor of Habsburg Netherlands
Spouse Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence
Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma
Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma
House House of Habsburg
Father Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Mother Johanna Maria van der Gheynst
Born 28 December 1522(1522-12-28)
Died 18 January 1586(1586-01-18) (aged 63)

Margaret, Duchess of Parma (28 December 1522 – 18 January 1586), Governor of the Netherlands from 1559 to 1567 and from 1578 to 1582, was the illegitimate daughter of Charles V and Johanna Maria van der Gheynst. She was a Duchess consort of Florence and a Duchess consort of Parma and Piacenza by marriage.



Her mother, Johanna Maria van der Gheynst, a servant of Charles de Lalaing, Seigneur de Montigny, was a Fleming. Margaret was brought up by the Douwrin family, under the supervision of her great-aunt, Archduchess Margaret of Austria, and her aunt, Maria of Austria, who were successively governors of the Netherlands from 1507 to 1530 and from 1530 to 1555, respectively. In 1529 she was acknowledged by her father and allowed to assume the name Margaret of Austria, and in 1533, she was brought to Italy. Though she was multi-lingual, she was to prefer the Italian language for the rest of her life.

In 1527, in the year she turned five, she became engaged to the Pope's nephew, Alexander de Medici, Duke of Florence, to assist her father's ambition in gaining influence in Italy. The marriage negotiations had been initiated in 1526, and in 1529, the agreement was officially signed by her father and the Pope. In 1536, she married her betrothed, but he was assassinated in 1537. On 4 November 1538 she married Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma, the grandson of Pope Paul III. He was fourteen years old, she fifteen. She did not wish to marry him, as she wished to marry Cosimo de Medici instead. The union, which proved an unhappy one, produced twin sons, one of whom died in infancy. The couple lived periodically separated lives. She was in a somewhat difficult position, as the Pope and the Emperor argued about the authority over Parma. In 1555, the Farnese family was acknowledged rulers of Parma by Spain in exchange for the custody of her son.

In 1555, she left Italy for the Netherlands, where she left her son in the care of her brother Philip II. Like her aunts, who trained her, Margaret had many abilities. Philip II appointed her governor of the Netherlands when he left them in 1559 for Spain. In ordinary times she could probably have proved as successful a ruler as her two predecessors in that post, but her task was very different from theirs. She had to face the rising storm of discontent against the Inquisition and Spanish despotism, and Philip left her but nominal authority. He was determined to pursue his own arbitrary course, and the issue was the revolt of the Netherlands. Until 1564, she was forced to adjust herself to the advices of Granvelle, who was greatly disliked in the Netherlands, and after he left, she was forced to have every task approved by Philip, despite the fact that a letter from Netherlands and Spain could take months to reach its recipient. In 1565, an opposition party was forged. She received its complaints, and promised to stop religious repression, as she had no army to put against them. In 1566, Iconoclastic riots took place all over the Netherlands; she managed to stop them, but the next year, Philip sent her military help with the duke of Alva. She warned that Alva's actions would lead to catastrophe, but decided to resign when she noted that his power of attorney from Philip was bigger than her own.

In 1567 Margaret resigned her post into the hands of the duke of Alva and retired to L'Aquila in Italy. She was appointed governor of Abruzzo, and acted as the adviser of her son and Juan d'Austria. In 1578, her son Alexander Farnese was appointed to the office of governor-general of the Netherlands: Philip appointed her his co-regent, with the thought that they would balance each other. They could, however, not work together, and Margaret had to retire to Namur in 1582. She was given permission by Philip to return to Italy in 1583. She died in Ortona in 1586.


On August 27, 1545, she gave birth to twin boys with her second husband Ottavio:

Only the latter survived infancy.


See also


Margaret of Parma
Born: 28 December 1522 Died: 18 January 1586
Italian royalty
Preceded by
office created
Duchess of Florence
Succeeded by
Eleanor of Toledo
Preceded by
Girolama Orsini
Duchess of Parma
Succeeded by
Margherita Aldobrandini
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy
Governor of the Netherlands
Succeeded by
Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alva
Regnal titles
Preceded by
John of Austria
Governor of the Netherlands
Served alongside: Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma
Succeeded by
Peter Ernst I von Mansfeld-Vorderort

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