Character interview: Elizabeth of Austria, Queen of France
[Queen Elizabeth came to our interview accompanied by an interpreter, Baroness Charlotte de Sauve, wife of the Chancellor of France. When the queen spoke to us in French, he words were heavily accented with German, but were obviously improving. While the Queen was subdued, Madame de Sauve often interpreted, sometimes leaving the two women in helpless laughter]
Q: Your Majesty, how are you recovering from the shock of the events on St. Bartholomew’s Day?
It was horrific, for me and for all of France. I want to leave it all in God’s hands, but sometimes I feel as if it is almost too much for even him to handle.
My husband the king has been criticized for the attacks, but I feel that he acted as best he could, given the advisors around him. I blame their poor planning and advice for how quickly things got out of hand. Had it remained the simple excursion the king planned, this bloodshed would not have occurred. Certainly, there were Protestants who planned to planned to revolt that day, and had that been taken care of effectively, this horror would never have occurred.
Perhaps, if some of the great men of France had not used the opportunity to exact revenge, then–[at this point the queen waves her hand and asks to change the subject]
Q: You’ve been criticized for not showing a more conciliatory attitude towards the Protestants. Is there anything that you would like to clear up on that aspect?
I feel that all of us fall short of the divine and are equal sinners in God’s hands. I pray every day that those who choose to follow the Reformed religion do not do at the peril of their immortal souls. That is my fear, that in receiving them officially I am sending the message that I feel their choice of faith is one that they will not regret throughout eternity.
The idea that I am being rude or cruel to these men is misguided; I want to clear up the idea that I am doing this as a form of judgement.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with your mother in law?
Given her reputation abroad, I expected Catherine di Medici to be an actual dragon from a fairy tale. On the contrary, she’s gone out of her way to go out of retirement to take over official duties for me. I never feel as if I’m left to flounder since I have her support.
I think that people expected the queen and her daughter the Queen of Navarre to elbow me out of court functions as soon as possible. I suppose it’s due in part to the fact that Margot and I have such different personalities. Margot has been a saint to me, taking me under her wing. I’m sure she wants to get to her own kingdom as soon as possible, but having her here has been a relief for me. A selfish part of me hopes that she stays at French court much longer, but I know she’ll have to leave for Navarre eventually. Luckily, I’m surrounded by my ladies including Madame de Sauve and the Princess of Conde
[Prior to their marriage, the Queen Mother had actively sought the hand of Elizabeth’s older sister, Anna for King Charles IX. Before the marriage contract could be signed, King Phillip II of Spain married the Archduchess Anna himself, earning the anger of Catherine di Medici and snubbing the French court]
Q: Do you ever feel as if the French feel as if you were second best?
[Smiling brightly] No! I had worried during my trip from Austria that I wold be a disappointment to them. At the time, I couldn’t speak a word of French [at this point, the Queen and Madame de Suave dissolve into laughter]. Well, now I can speak a few words of French, which is improving. I was convinced that they would see me as unpolished, given the reputation of the French court for its worldliness.
On the contrary, everyone seems to be taking my presence in stride. The kindness I’ve experienced from the French has gone beyond my expectations.
Q: What can you tell us about Princess Elizabeth?
She is beautiful. She has her own little court at Ambroise, the royal chateau outside of Paris. Her nurses write to me every day to say that she is the kindest and most agreeable child they have ever taken care of. I try to go to see her every chance that I can, but my duties mean that I can not visit the royal nursery as often as I would like.
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