A pink ribbon for Anne of Austria

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A reminder to all of us that, when it comes to cancer, vigilance, early detection and aggressive treatment are key to survival.

Anne of Austria RubensThis brings us to Anne of Austria. Like two of her successors, Queens Marie-Thérèse (wife of Louis XIV) and Marie-Antoinette, she was a Hapsburg. Daughter of King Philip III of Spain, Ana Mauricia married King Louis XIII of France when they were both fourteen. It was by all accounts an unhappy union, marked by grave personal and political disagreements. Louis XIII disliked his wife and shunned her bed for months or years on end.

The royal couple would briefly reconcile on occasion, but all of Anne’s pregnancies ended in miscarriages. Her situation at Court became still more precarious when France and her native Spain found themselves at war. The Queen’s secret correspondence with her brother, now Philip IV of Spain, was discovered, and she was accused of conspiring with the enemy. This is the backdrop for The Three Musketeers: the defense of a beleaguered Queen against the wily and all powerful minister Cardinal de Richelieu.

Louis XIV and His Brother Duc dOrleansNow should I mention the part my region of Auvergne played in Anne’s destiny, and that of France? Anne had reached middle-age, and it was considered highly unlikely that she would ever bear a child. So she went to Auvergne, took the waters in Vic (the setting of the first part of my novel, Mistress of the Revolution) and like my heroine Gabrielle, and me, attended the pilgrimage of Notre-Dame de Consolation in the nearby town of Thiézac. If you happen to visit the beautiful Church of Thiézac, you can still admire a lace altar cover donated by Anne in gratitude.

For the miracle did happen: in 1638, at age 37 and after 23 years of a childless marriage, Anne gave birth to a healthy boy, named Louis-Dieudonné (“Godgiven.”) Another son, Philippe, ancestor of the Orléans branch of the royal family, was born two years later. Here are the two children, Philippe still in his baby’s robes.

Her relationship with her elder son was – and remained till her death – one of mutual adoration. I, for one, find the physical resemblance between mother and child striking. Louis-Dieudonné was only four when his father died and he became Louis XIV. Anne became Regent of France. Her late husband had tried to limit her role after his death (he apparently disliked and distrusted her till the very end) but she had the provisions of his will stricken by the Parliament – meaning Court of Appeals – of Paris.

Assisted by a new minister of her own choosing, Cardinal de Mazarin, she was an able ruler. Some French historians even speak of her “political genius.” What is sure is that she defeated the Fronde, a revolt of the nobility and the people of Paris against the Crown (a strange foreshadowing of the French Revolution.)

Then Louis XIV came of age, married Anne’s niece, assumed power, transformed the modest château of Versailles into the royal palace we know. Anne retired to the abbey of Val-de-Grâce in Paris, where she died in 1666, at the age of 64, from breast cancer. At the time the only thing her physicians could have done for her was to alleviate her pain, but they insisted that she undergo useless and barbaric treatments and surgeries.

Yet another reason to count modern medicine among our many blessings.

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20 Comments to “A pink ribbon for Anne of Austria”

  1. Just read through this particular post and had to say thank you personally. Precise and succinct!

  2. Catherine Delors says:

    Louise – Certainly Louis and Anne, in spite of their many (and very deep) disagreements, cannot be faulted for not trying nonetheless to have children.

    True, physicians could do nothing to save her. What is really sad is the needless suffering she endured at their hands.

  3. Louise says:

    Such a relief to see Anne’s previous miscarriages mentioned. In Anglo-Saxon references at least, there are still countless “no children for twenty-three years” comments, generally aimed at “blaming” Louis. Apart from his duties keeping him away from court much of the time, I would hardly blame a man for not wanting to make love to a woman he believed all his life to have conspired to kill him, and that, in order to marry his brother. “I am obliged to forgive the lady, but not to believe her,” was his comment on his deathbed, when Anne sent a message saying she had not been involved in the Chalais conspiracy.

    Anne’s death was truly dreadful, and barbaric is too kind a word for the treatments her doctors gave. They so rarely did anyone any good. As P. Erlanger comments of Louis’s illnesses, his doctors never correlated the facts that whenever they gave him up for dead, he would recover! Not that Anne had any chance with breast cancer, but it is true of so many illnesses before modern medicine.

  4. Catherine Delors says:

    Oh certainly, Penny, let’s not forget to count modern medicine among our blessings. Yes, Anne was devout, and this portrait is gorgeous. Rubens is one of my favorite artists.

  5. Penny says:

    Thank You. I had not realised how important or powerful Queen Anne was. She was also very religious as well, wasn’t she? I love the portraint, especially her long slender hands.
    Madame D’Arbly and her mother also died from breast cancer. thank heavens for MRI, sonograms, etc.

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  8. Catherine Delors says:

    Quite possibly, Carlyn. Also he may have been right, given the state of medical care at the time…

  9. So sad that she died of breast cancer in an age when she could do nothing but endure the pain. Louis XIV seemed to have such a fear of doctors throughout his life and I have to wonder if it was partly because of what he saw his mother go through.

  10. Catherine Delors says:

    Well I have not seen that version of the Three Musketeers, but the cast seems interesting, esp. great actors like Christopher Lee and Faye Dunaway playing the villains. The fault must rest with the screenplay: Anne was never a passive woman, Dumas himself makes that clear.

    And yes, Elizabeth, rumor had it that she was “romantically involved” as we would say (I like your phrase too: extremely close in the physical sense”) with Mazarin, and quite a number of other men. Did her alliance with Mazarin, which was undoubtedly extremely close, go beyond the realm of politics? Maybe, but nothing is sure. From an intuitive standpoint, it doesn’t really fit with Louis XIV’s long-standing affection and respect for Monsieur le Cardinal.

  11. I’ve found Anne of Austria intriguing. She seems so passive in the 1970’s film as played by Geraldine Chaplin, that I was amazed when I read later about how politically astute she was. There’s that rumor that she and Mazarin were extremely close in the physical sense.

  12. Catherine Delors says:

    “Three Musketeers” is a beloved childhood read. I haven’t read the Plaidy. What did she make of Anne?

  13. Catherine Delors says:

    “Three Musketeers” is a beloved childhood read. I haven’t read the Plaidy. What did she make of Anne?

  14. Elisa says:

    I’ve read the “Three Musketeers” and enjoyed it. Quite a stirring story!

    Anne of Austria is also a character in Jean Plaidy’s reissued novel “Loyalty in Love” (formerly published as “Myself, My Enemy”) which is about Henrietta Maria, consort of Charles I.

  15. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Sandra! Your Mistress of the Sun reminded me of Anne’s breast cancer. And I also thought of you while writing about the current Josephine exhibition at Malmaison…

  16. Catherine, those portraits are beautiful! I’ve often read of the Queen’s pride — her hands; this portrait displays them clearly. Lovely indeed.

  17. Catherine Delors says:

    I agree, Amanda, she is a fascinating character. She was considered beautiful, and I too find this portrait by Rubens absolutely gorgeous. Uma Thurman would have been considered way too skinny to be attractive then…

  18. Amanda says:

    Oh I’ve always been facinated with her because she seems to have overcome a lot in her life. And I love Dumas’s works. I think her portrait looks like a plumper version of Uma Thurman.

  19. Catherine Delors says:

    Wow, Mike, that was fast!

    And imagine another leap in generations, between Gabrielle and I. With Queen Anne, all three of us went to Thiezac (with entirely different consequences, though.)

  20. Franklin Michaels says:

    Catherine –

    What a wonderful posting! And the tie-in over a couple of generations between The Three Musketeers and Mistress is great.


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