Margaret of Parma

Margaret of Parma (Italian: Margherita di Parma; 5 July 1522 – 18 January 1586) was Governor of the Netherlands from 1559 to 1567[1] and from 1578 to 1582. She was the illegitimate daughter of the then 22-year-old Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Johanna Maria van der Gheynst. She was a Duchess of Florence and a Duchess of Parma and Piacenza by marriage.

Margaret of Parma
Margaret of Parma by Antonio Moro, circa 1562 (detail)
Duchess consort of Florence
Tenure18 January 1536 – 6 January 1537
Duchess consort of Parma and Piacenza
Tenure10 September 1547 – 18 January 1586
Born5 July 1522
Died18 January 1586(1586-01-18) (aged 63)
SpouseAlessandro, Duke of Florence
Ottavio, Duke of Parma
IssueCharles Farnese
Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma
HouseHouse of Habsburg
FatherCharles V, Holy Roman Emperor
MotherJohanna Maria van der Gheynst


Margaret's mother, Johanna Maria van der Gheynst, a servant of Charles de Lalaing, Seigneur de Montigny, was a Fleming. Margaret was brought up in Mechelen,[2] under the supervision of two powerful Spanish and Austrian Habsburg Imperial family relatives, her great-aunt, the Archduchess Margaret of Austria, and her aunt Mary of Austria, who were successive governors of the Netherlands from 1507 to 1530 and from 1530 to 1555, respectively.[3]

Her early life followed a strict routine set forth by her father, Charles V, who used his daughter as part of his plans to secure his empire.[4]

In 1527, the year she turned five, she became engaged to the nephew of Pope Clement VII, Alessandro 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 1529, Margaret was acknowledged by her father and allowed to assume the name Margaret of Austria, and in 1533, the 11-year-old girl was brought to live in Italy and educated in the courts of Florence, Rome, and Parma.[5] There, she was taught skills that helped her grow as an independent woman.[6] As Margaret did not spend much time with her husband, she used this time to become exposed to the surrounding Italian culture.[7] Though she was multi-lingual, she preferred the Italian language for the rest of her life.

In 1536, she married Alessandro, who was assassinated in 1537. On 4 November 1538, the 15-year-old widow married Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma, the 14-year-old grandson of Pope Paul III. At first she refused to marry him.[2] Although the union proved an unhappy one, it gave her years of experience in Rome, and produced twin sons, one of whom died in infancy. She would continue her studies of the arts and politics while being married to Ottavio.[8] The couple lived separately for much of their lives, and Margaret maintained her own court and chapel.[2] She was in a somewhat difficult position, as the Pope and the Emperor argued about authority over Parma. In 1555, the Farnese family were acknowledged as 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 half-brother Philip II. Philip appointed her Governor of the Netherlands when he left in 1559 for Spain. As governor, Margaret faced the rising storm of discontent against the Inquisition and Spanish despotism, and Philip had left her but nominal authority. He was determined to pursue his own arbitrary course, and the result was the revolt of the Netherlands. Margaret was forced to adjust herself to the advice of Cardinal Granvelle, Philip's choice for her chief councilor, who would grow to be greatly disliked in the Netherlands. After Granvelle's exile from the Netherlands in 1564, Margaret was forced to rely on the grandees in her Council.[9] In 1565, an opposition party was formed from the Dutch nobility. Margaret received its complaints and, having no army to put down the dissenters, promised to stop religious repression. In 1566, Iconoclastic riots took place all over the Netherlands but she managed to quell them, with the help of her stadtholders Philip of Noircarmes (who subjugated the cities of Tournai and Valenciennes) in Hainaut and William of Orange in Holland . The next year, Philip sent her military help led by the Duke of Alba. Margaret warned Philip that actions by Alba would lead to catastrophe, but instead of trying to stop Alba, she resigned when she learned that Alba's power of attorney, granted by Philip, superseded her own.[10]

In 1567 Margaret retired to L'Aquila in Italy. She was appointed Governor of Abruzzo,[5] where she had inherited a domain from her late husband. She acted as the adviser to her son and to her royal bastard half-brother, John of Austria. In 1578, her son Alexander Farnese was appointed to the office of governor-general of the Netherlands; Philip appointed her his co-regent, intending that they would balance each other. However, they were unable to work together, and Margaret retired to Namur in 1582. She was given permission by Philip to return to Italy in 1583. She died in Ortona in 1586 and was buried in the church of S. Sisto in Piacenza.

Charlie R. Steen describes her as "a woman dedicated to compromise and conciliation in public affairs."[5]


She had two sons with her second husband Ottavio:


See also


  1. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Margaret of Austria (1522-1586)" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 703–704.
  2. Niwa, Seishiro. "'Madama' Margaret of Parma's Patronage of Music", Early Music 33.1 (2005): 25-37
  3. Motley, John (1883). The Rise of the Dutch Republic: A History, Vol. 1. New York, New York: Harper and Brothers. p. 227.
  4. Steen, Charles (2013). Margaret of Parma: A Life. BRILL. pp. 10–12.
  5. Steen, Charlie R., Margaret of Parma: A Life, Brill, 2013 ISBN 9789004257443
  6. Steen, Charles (2013). Margaret of Parma: A Life. BRILL. p. 23.
  7. Steen, Charles (2013). Margaret of Parma: A Life. BRILL. p. 20.
  8. Niwa, Seishiro (February 2005). "'Madama' Margaret of Parma's patronage of music". Early Music. 33: 25–38. doi:10.1093/em/cah039.
  9. Davies, C.M. (1851). "The history of Holland and the Dutch nation: from the beginning of the tenth century to the end of the eighteenth; including an account of the municipal institutions, commercial pursuits, and social habits of the people; the rise and progress of the Protestant reformation, in Holland; the intestine dissensions, foreign wars, &c". Google Books. G. Willis. Retrieved June 3, 2018., pp. 511-520
  10. Motley, John (1855). The Rise of the Dutch Republic, A History Vol. 2. Philadelphia, PA: David Mckay. pp. 119–124.


Margaret of Parma
Born: 5 July 1522 Died: 18 January 1586
Political offices
Preceded by
Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy
Governor of the Netherlands
Succeeded by
Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba
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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