chapter  8
20 Pages

Habsburg Motherhood: The Power of Mariana of Austria, Mother and Regent for Carlos II of Spain

BySilvia Z. Mitchell

In spite of her preeminent political role during Carlos II’s reign, scholars have either ignored or portrayed Mariana’s regency in a negative light, given the chaotic events of her rule:4 the spectacular rise of two unpopular favorites, her confessor, the Jesuit Everard Nithard (1607-1681), and her protégé, the courtier Fernando Valenzuela (1630-1692); their equally dramatic fall from power in 1669 and 1676, respectively; the queen’s exile in 1677; and her substitution at court by a strong masculine figure, Carlos II’s older half-brother, Don Juan of Austria (1629-1679), from 1677 to 1679. Not surprisingly, Mariana has long suffered from her own black legend, and her rule been often misunderstood. Historians writing in the 1980s, for example, assumed that Mariana had no real powerand what little she had, she willingly surrendered to her favorites. They unanimously considered her unfit to rule a vast Empire and uninterested in politics, with a few even venturing that she was ignorant.5 A new generation of scholars is gradually rendering obsolete these dismissive and largely unsubstantiated notions through perceptive gender analysis and rigorous archival research.6 Indeed, several recent studies suggest that Mariana’s power should be considered as part of a culture that sustained multiple forms of female authority. Her regency was sanctioned by her

order to Castilianize her in case she inherited the monarchy. See for example, the opinions of the duke of Osuna, the admiral of Castile, the duke of Alburquerque, and the constable of Castile during the State Council deliberations of 1674 and 1676 (AHN E., leg. 2799).