Duchess

10 03 margaret of tyrolToday I want to tell you about Margaret of Tyrol. She was born around 1318. I don’t know the day of her birth but she died on this day in 1369. She was the only surviving child of Henry, Duke of Carthinia and Count of Tyrol. Because he had no male heir, in 1330 he made an agreement with Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV that Margaret could inherit his estates.

Also in 1330. when Margaret was 12, she was married off to an eight-year-old boy called John Henry, the younger son of the King of Bohemia. Margaret and John Henry disliked each other from the beginning. Then in 1335, when her father died, Emperor Louis decided to give away her Carthinian estates to someone else. The reasons are too complicated and boring to go into, so we’ll just say it seems a little unfair but emperors can do pretty much what they want. Margaret and John Henry still had Tyrol, but he was a bit of a rubbish ruler and no one liked him. In 1341 John Henry went away on a hunting trip and when he came home Margaret refused to let him back in her Castle. With the aid of her nobles, she made sure he couldn’t go anywhere else in Tyrol either, so he was forced to flee.

A little over three months later Margaret married the son of Emperor Louis, also called Louis. There was a massive fuss about it because she was still married to John Henry. She claimed her first marriage had never been consummated but Margaret and her second husband were excommunicated by Pope Clement VI. They were both absolved by Pope Innocent VI in 1659. In 1661, her husband Louis died and their son became Count of Tyrol. But he died two years later without any heirs, so Margaret lost her lands and died in exile.

10 03 ugly duchessAs it all happened so long ago and details are sketchy, it’s hard to tell exactly what went on. But Margaret was left with a very bad reputation and an awful nickname. She was known as ‘Maultasch’ which translates as ‘bag mouth’. This could mean that she had an abnormally oversized mouth but it was also German slang for a prostitute or an ugly woman. History remembers her as ugly, but that could easily be a rumour spread by her enemies. The first painting above is a contemporary picture of her. Her mouth looks a bit weird, but nothing very unusual. The painting on the left dates from around 150 years after her death. It is called ‘The Ugly Duchess’ and because of her reputation it was widely assumed to be a portrait of the Duchess of Tyrol. This painting though, which is by the Flemish artist Quentin Matsys, bears a striking resemblance to a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci somewhere between 1480 and 1510. Da Vinci’s drawing was probably drawn from life, because he liked that sort of thing.

Incidentally, this painting was used by Sir John Tenniel as a basis for his illustration of the Duchess in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.10 03 the duchess

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