Sunday, April 27, 2008

Isabella of Portugal and Charles V

In doing research on François I's longtime rival, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), I came across this lovely portrait of his wife, Isabella of Portugal (1503-1539). Isabella married the Emperor in 1526, and despite the match being a political one, the two are purported to have fallen love during their honeymoon and remained devoted to each other for their entire marriage. Isabella died giving birth to their fifth child in May 1539, while Charles was away. The Emperor never recovered; for the rest of his life he wore black and never remarried (although he did father a son, Juan of Austria, in 1547).

Charles visited Fontainebleau on a state visit in December of 1539, only seven months after his beloved Isabella's death. His grief must certainly have affected his demeanor and actions during the weeks he spent as François's guest. Learning of the Emperor's happy marriage and his wife's untimely death is an example of how a fortuitous research find can yield much fruit in the writing of fiction. Now, when I write the section of my second novel which depicts the festivities at Fontainebleau organized in Charles's honor, I will be able to bring some psychological depth to my portrayal of him. In addition, I have a possible seed (an insensitive remark? an unfortunate comparison?) for the intense dislike that springs up between him and another character during that visit, a dislike which has important political and dramatic repercussions.

Plot points aside, I've posted the painting of Isabella here in light of our recent discussions of the use of women's portraits on the covers of historical novels. I find this to be one of the most beautiful Renaissance portraits I've seen--Isabella's grace and gentleness emanate from the canvas, and her costume is elegant but not ostentatious. (And don't you just love her 'do?!) It would make a wonderful cover. The problem with using portraits, however, is that if the painting depicts an easily identifiable person, the face cannot be shown in full. (Especially if the person doesn't even figure in the novel!) In any case, I'm glad to have learned a bit about Isabella. Who knows? Maybe I'll revisit her someday--my list of possible subjects for future novels keeps growing.


Sarah said...

I've seen this portrait of Isabella of Portugal before, and have always liked it. I'm reasonably sure no novel has been written about her (not anytime recently, anyway) so she is definitely up for grabs as a subject!

Julianne Douglas said...

Thanks, Sarah! You're the expert on what's been written and what hasn't.
As this post contains all I know about Isabella, I don't know how interesting a story her life would be, but I'm definitely keeping her on my list.