Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan

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In October 1537 Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, died from complications following childbirth. Henry, a man notorious for divorcing his first wife and beheading his second was in need of a new wife – or at least that was the view of his chief minister Thomas Cromwell.

Cromwell’s attention initially fell upon Marie de Guise a young widow with a son – so a proven track record for the production of heirs. She was also purported to be a tall woman, something that Henry liked the sound of when he Marie was described to him. Marie however declined the offer of marriage explaining that she only had a little neck. She went on to marry James V of Scotland.

Henry next suggested that all the eligible women in France on Cromwell’s list of suitable brides make like to meet in Calais – think of it as a Tudor hen night where the king could choose his next wife on the grounds that Henry didn’t trust his ambassadors and he was determined he didn’t want to marry an ugly princess. Unsurprisingly the prospective brides and their families were not terribly impressed with the idea – the French ambassador explained that diplomatic marriages were not horse markets . There was also the small matter of the fact that Henry had been excommunicated- which rather put off the Catholic brides.

Ultimately Cromwell sent Hans Holbein on a fact-finding trip with his paintbrush and easel. One of the most striking portraits that Holbein painted at this time was that of sixteen-year-old Christina of Denmark. Christina was the younger daughter of Christian II of Denmark and Isabella of Austria (sister of Charles V). Christian was an early follower of Luther – even if Charles V was very Catholic.  Christian was a bit of an unfortunate king – his wife died, his children were effectively confiscated by their Hapsburg uncle and then he managed to get himself toppled and imprisoned – so Christina of Denmark was actually more Christina of the Netherlands. In some ways she was already part of the English royal family because her great-aunt was none other than Katherine of Aragon.

In addition to being a Hapsburg she was also, as this picture shows, a very pretty girl. She’d been married by proxy at the age of eleven to the Duke of Milan who was a mere twenty-six years older that her. He died two years later – hence the deep black of mourning- Christina returning to her uncle in Brussels so that he could arrange the next advantageous diplomatic marriage. Like Marie she was a tad concerned about the English King’s way with the ladies. She is supposed to have said that if she had two heads one of them would be at the disposal of Henry. Charles V who was looking for allies against the French seems little bothered about the way in which his aunt had been treated and was quite prepared to send his niece across the Channel…unless a better offer came along.

As a consequence of the initial negotiations Holbein visited Brussels in 1538. Christina sat for a portrait but only for three hours.  Holbein did his preliminary drawings, came home and whipped up the portrait.  And what a portrait! This is the only full-length female portrait that Holbein made (I think if memory serves me correctly). The colours and the simplicity of the picture concentrate the viewer on Christina’s hands and face as does the beautifully executed fur collar.  There is a hint of a smile on Christina’s face – perhaps she knew she wouldn’t have to marry Henry!  Henry liked the portrait so much that he announced that he was in love.

For some reason the negotiations did not continue. Christina married François, Duc de Bar in 1541, who succeeded his father as Duc de Lorraine in 1544 and died in 1545, leaving Christina Regent of Lorraine with three children. She died in 1590. As for the portrait – well Henry liked it so much he kept it.

The image for this post was accessed from http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/hans-holbein-the-younger-christina-of-denmark-duchess-of-milan 08/11/2015 @ 23:26

1 Comment

Filed under Sixteenth Century, surprising connections, The Tudors

One response to “Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan

  1. Sir Kevin Parr Bt

    Informative certainly though one never truly believes the court painters view of his subjects looks when dealing with a King. Hans sacked before he had time to complete Sit William Parrs painting so all we have is scetch. LittleJohn painted Kateryn Parr in her royal wedding dress in scarlet and gold, her family colours. Henry never believed that the young Duchess of Milan was so desirable but as you say he loved what he saw in Hans portrait

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