Margaret of Austria is Shipwrecked and King Henry VII of England Writes to Her at Southampton – 1497

Probably by Pieter van Coninxloo Diptych: Philip the Handsome and Margaret of Austria about 1493-5

When King Charles VIII of France put into motion his plans to extend his power basis into Italy, he attacked Naples which belonged to the sphere of influence of King Ferdinand of Aragon. Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I concluded an anti-French alliance with King Ferdinand which included a double wedding. Maximilian’s children, Philip the Handsome and Margaret of Austria were to marry King Ferdinand’s children, Juan, Prince of Asturias and Juana.

A fleet sailed from Spain taking Juana to the Low Countries and they were married on October 20, 1496. That same fleet then sailed for Spain taking Margaret of Austria. The severe weather hampered the ships and forced Margaret to take shelter at Southampton in England. As soon as King Henry VII heard of her misfortune, he sent her a letter, quoted as follows:

“Dearest and most beloved cousin,

Desirous the more to assure your Excellence that your visit to us and to our realm is so agreeable and delightful to us, that the arrival of our own daughter could not give us greater joy, we write this portion of our letter with our own hand, in order to be able the better to express to you that you are very welcome, and that you may more perfectly understand our good wishes.

We most earnestly entreat and beseech your Highness, from the bottom of our heart, to be as cheerful as though you were with the dearest and most beloved King and Queen of Spain, our cousins, and that you will stay in whatever part of our realms as cheerfully and without fear as though you were in Spain. In all and everything you want, do not spare us and our realms, for you will render us a great and most acceptable service by accepting anything from us. – Palace, Westminster, 3rd February.”

A few days later, in answer to her response, Henry wrote to Margaret again:

“Most illustrious and most excellent Princess, our most noble and most beloved cousin,

We have received today the letter of the 2nd instant, which your Highness has written from the harbour of Southampton, and are much pleased with it. We are also very glad to learn the good news contained in your letter and the letter of the illustrious ambassador, whom our dearest cousins, the King and Queen of Spain, [Isabel and Ferdinand] your most pious parents, have ordered to accompany you. He informs us of your prosperity and good success. We, on our part, have sent to inform you of our inviolable friendship, and to tell you how agreeable in every respect your arrival in our harbour has been to us. On Friday we sent you our servants and domestics, with injunctions to serve you in the same way as they serve ourselves; and a short time after they had left we wrote to your Excellence a letter with our own hand, to give you a hearty welcome in our harbour.

We beseech you to have a cheerful face and a glad heart, to be happy and enjoy yourself as safely as though you were our own daughter, or had already reached the dominions of our said cousins the King and Queen of Spain, your pious parents. We pray your Highness, with all our heart, to dispose of us and of everything that is to be found in our realms, and to spare us in nothing, even if the thing is not to be had in our dominions, and to order any service which we are able to execute. For, by doing so, you will bestow on us a signal and most acceptable favour.

As we hear that the wind is contrary to the continuation of your voyage, wishing that your Highness would repose and rest, our advice is, that you take lodgings in our said town of Southampton, and remain there until the wind becomes favourable and the weather clears up. We believe that the movement and the roaring of the sea is disagreeable to your Highness and to the ladies who accompany you. If you accept our proposal, and remain so long in our said town of Southampton that we can be informed of it, and have time to go and to see you before your departure, we certainly will go and pay your Highness a visit.

In a personal communication we could best open our mind to you, and tell you how much we are delighted that you have safely arrived in our port, and how glad we are that the friendship with you and our dearest cousins the King and Queen of Spain, your most benign parents, is increasing from day to day. We desire to communicate to you in the best manner our news, and to hear from you of your welfare. May your Highness be as well and as happy as we wish. – From our Palace of Westminster . . . . February.”

There is no account of Margaret accepting Henry’s invitation or of their meeting at this time. Some of Margaret’s biographers have speculated that she did meet Henry VII and this is why she firmly turned down any offer of marriage to the king in later years. However, it is more likely Margaret, after three political marriages, just didn’t want another.

She did eventually sail for Spain and safely arrived at the port of Santander in early March 1497. Her wedding was celebrated in Burgos on April 3. Unfortunately, Prince Juan died in October, leaving Margaret pregnant. She gave birth to a stillborn daughter in April 1498 and remained in Spain for two years, only to return to the Netherlands in 1500, just in time to witness the baptism of her nephew, Charles, the son of her brother Philip and Juana of Castile. Margaret would serve this nephew, the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as regent of the Low Countries for many years.

Further reading: “The First Governess of the Netherlands: Margaret of Austria” by Eleanor E. Tremayne