Friday, October 3, 2014

Elizabeth of Valois and the Black Legend

Philip II of Spain married four times: his third wife, Elizabeth of Valois, one of Henri II of France's daughters, was to marry his son Don Carlos. Instead, since Philip's second wife, Mary I of England, had died, Philip married Elizabeth of Valois, who died on October 3, 1568. Elizabeth died in childbirth after delivering a baby girl, who also died. Two of her children survived, the Infanta Isabella who would rule the Spanish Netherlands and Catherine Michelle who would marry the Duke of Savoy.

Philip II then married one more time, to Anna of Austria, who was to have married Don Carlos, who had died just a few months before Elizabeth of Valois after being imprisoned by his father.

The imprisonment and death of Don Carlos is part of the Black Legend of Spain, depicted romantically in Verdi's opera, Don Carlo(s)--Italian or French--based on Schiller's play. The Spanish Inquisition influences Philip II, ordering the murder of Don Carlos' friend Rodrigo and countenancing the murder of Don Carlos himself if Philip II deems necessary. This plot summary from the Metropolitan Opera (of the five act French version) describes the power of the Inquisition:

In his study at night, the king reflects on his life with a wife who doesn’t love him. He consults with the old and blind Grand Inquisitor, who consents to the death sentence for Carlo: as God sacrificed his son to save mankind so Philip must stifle his love for his son for the sake of the faith. The Inquisitor also demands that Posa be handed over to him. As he leaves, Philip wonders if the throne must always yield to the altar. Elisabeth enters, having discovered that her jewel case has been stolen. Eboli, who knows that Elisabeth keeps a portrait of Carlo in it, had taken the box and given it to the king. Philip now shows the box to Elisabeth, takes out the portrait, and accuses her of adultery. Elisabeth collapses and the king calls for help. Eboli and Posa rush in, he to express amazement that a king who rules half the world cannot govern his own emotions, she to feel remorse at what her jealousy has brought about. Alone with Elisabeth, Eboli confesses that she not only falsely accused her but that she has been the king’s mistress. Elisabeth orders her from the court. Eboli laments her fatal beauty and swears to spend her final day in Spain trying to save Carlo.

Posa visits Carlo in prison to tell him that he has used the secret papers to take upon himself the blame for the Flemish rebellion. He is now a marked man, so Carlo must take up the cause of liberty for Flanders. Posa is shot by agents of the Inquisition. As he dies he tells Carlo that Elisabeth will meet him at the monastery of St. Just and declares he is happy to have sacrificed his life for a man who will become Spain’s savior.

In reality, Philip II and Elizabeth of Valois were a loving husband and wife, Don Carlos was mentally unbalanced and dangerous because of the usual Spanish inbreeding and a blow to the head, and the Inquisition was never that powerful an influence on the king. But without Schiller's fiction and Verdi's opera, we would not have the great aria of Filippo II, "Ella giammai m'amo!"(Italian version, of course.)

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