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The Fifteen Princesses of Orange: Charlotte of Bourbon

Charlotte of Bourbon

Charlotte of Bourbon

The third Princess of Orange was Charlotte of Bourbon. She was born in 1546 or 1547 as the daughter of Louis, Duke of Montpensier and Jacqueline de Longwy, Countess of Bar-Sur-Seine. She was their fourth daughter and fifth child. Supposedly her father intended her for the church as well as some of her sisters, as he did not want to pay a dowry for all of them. She was taken into the care of her aunt, who was the abbess of the Jouarre Convent. She was professed at the age of 13, despite a written protest. In 1565, when she was just 18 years, she herself became the abbess of the convent. She supposedly received a secret Calvinistic education while at the convent. She shocked her family when she escaped the convent in 1572 on the advice of Jeanne d’Albret, the Queen of Navarre and converted to Calvinism. She fled to the court of the Elector Palatine in Heidelberg, Germany.

It was at the Heidelberg Court that she met her future husband, William the Silent, in 1572. Though supposedly it was love at first sight, it wasn’t until 1575 that William officially asked for her hand in marriage. It seemed like a strange match. There were hardly any upsides to marrying Charlotte, despite her connection to the Palatine court. She had broken with her family and he could not have expected a dowry of any kind. Furthermore, William was still officially married to Anna of Saxony. The dubious annulment of this marriage even made Charlotte question the validity of her own marriage. Despite this, the two were married on 12 June 1575 in Brielle. Charlotte was 28-years-old, while William was 43. She became stepmother to his other children and during the seven years of their marriage they would have six daughters. The girls received names like Catherina Belgica, Charlotte Flandrina, and Emilia Antwerpiana. They all lived to adulthood. Six years into the marriage Charlotte finally reconciled with her father.

Tragedy struck on 18 March 1582 when at attempt was made on William’s life. He was seriously injured on his neck or face and Charlotte devoted herself to nursing her husband back to health. Legend has it she personally plugged the wound with her finger for several days to stop the bleeding. William would survive the attack but the round the clock care had drained Charlotte to exhaustion. She died on 5 May 1582 of pneumonia. She was widely mourned by the public and would go into history as the selfless wife. She was buried in the Church of Our Lady in Antwerp, but her tombstone was removed in 1585. It was earlier this year that she was finally given a new tombstone.

Photo credit: Charlotte of Bourbon in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons; Medal of Charlotte of Bourbon via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).