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Habsburg Women & the Archives

This section is dedicated to archival documents and other primary sources related to Habsburg Women.


As we continue to curate our website, we would like to share with our readers, students and scholars original letters, mandates, and other related documents written by, or composed  by secretaries on behalf of, the empresses, princesses, queens and regents we are spotlighting.


Conducting research on and about Habsburg Women is not that simple or very straightforward. The histories and lives of these women have for decades, even centuries, been conflated with those of Habsburg emperors, princes and rulers. These women have remained overshadowed by the men in their families, as well as, having been ignored by past historians (primarily male) who have chosen to relegate significant Habsburg ladies to inconsequential footnotes.


Digging into the past lives of Habsburg women does require knowledge of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century paleography, coupled with reading fluency in several languages: French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, as the Habsburg empire was international and multicultural. Archival research therefore requires patience and lots of time. Documents, correspondence and personal letters are often buried among other papers, begging to be found, but the energy required can be so rewarding.


We intend to post here images of original documents from archives across Europe, from Lisbon to Vienna (and every court city in between), which range from shopping lists, guidelines on how to feed pet lapdogs, recipes of all kinds, love letters, court gossip to state documents drawn up by court officials to be approved and signed by our ladies.


All content on this page is subject to Copyright © 2021 


A Queen of Spain, A Queen of Portugal, and the Princess of Asturias

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Figs 1 and 2: Autograph letter written by Infanta Maria of Portugal, Princess of Austurias, to Catherine of Austria, Queen of Portugal, Lisbon, Direção-Geral do Livro, dos Arquivos e das Bibliotecas, Torre do Tombo, Cartas Missivas, Núcleo Antigo 871, no. 9 (recto and verso), Tordesillas, 20 October 1543 or 1544.

© Arquivo Nacional, Torre do Tombo


This unpublished letter, transcribed and illustrated here for the first time, is an autograph letter written by the sixteen year old princess, Infanta Maria of Portugal (1528-1545), the only surviving daughter of Catherine of Austria, Queen of Portugal. Maria married Philip II of Spain in 1543, becoming Princess of Asturias, Duchess of Milan, and the future Queen of Spain (Figs. 1, 2 & 3). This letter was written by Maria not long after her marriage, while visiting her maternal grandmother, Juana I of Castile (1479-1555), then the ruling Queen of Spain (Fig. 4).


Juana, unfairly nicknamed “Juana la Loca” by later historians, resided in semi-isolation at her palace in Northern Spain. In 1504 Juana became Queen of Castile, after her mother, Isabella of Castile (Isabella the Catholic), passed away in 1504. Her father, Ferdinand of Aragon, wrested power for himself after Juana’s husband, Philip the Fair (Philip I of Castile) unexpectedly died in 1507. Rumors circulated that Philip had been poisoned. Ferdinand promptly declared his daughter insane and unfit to rule, making sure Juana was incarcerated at a palace in Tordesillas, near Valladolid, ruling in her place as regent until 1516. After her father’s death, Juana, toegther with her son Emperor Charles V, ruled Spain as co-monarch. She remained at Tordesillas for forty-five years, from 1507 until her death in 1555, where over the years different members of her extended family would come and visit her, sometimes staying for longer periods of time.


Catherine of Austria, Queen of Portugal, was Juana’s youngest daughter, born in Torquemada, near Palencia, on 14 January 1507, just one year after Philip the Fair died (Fig. 5). Until her betrothal to João III, King of Portugal, in 1524, Catherine lived completely isolated from her other five siblings: Emperor Charles V, Mary of Hungary, Leonor and Isabella of Austria, all of whom resided in the Netherlands with their aunt, Margaret of Austria, at her court in Malines/Mechelen. Catherine was also separated from her other brother, Ferdinand (later Emperor Ferdinand I), who lived with his grandfather Ferdinand in Aragon. The same grandfather who forced Catherine to live with her mother in semi-imprisonment at Tordesillas.


Although isolated and removed from any courts in Spain or Flanders, Juana took great care in supervising her daughter’s education. As a Habsburg princess, Catherine was destined to be a queen and her mother saw to it that she was well educated. Juana spoke French and was an accomplished Latinist, having received a humanistic education at her mother’s splendid court. Juana also enjoyed dancing, played the vihuela, monochord and clavichord, and did not neglect to pass these musical talents on to her daughter. Catherine even learned to draw: two sketch books (libros de debuxar) were recorded in her mother’s wardrobe (guardaroba) in 1509.


Juana assumed an important role in Catherine’s formative years, and was influential upon her upbringing. As Queen of Spain, albeit in theory and not in practice, and as spouse of Philip the Fair, a Burgundian-Habsburg Archduke, Juana certainly did not neglect the welfare of her last daughter, despite Catherine having had little exposure to courtly life. Juana’s role as educator is significant, and raises the question as to the degree of her mental incapacities, or so-called madness. Juana may, in reality, have suffered from manic depression or bipolar disorder.


Despite her physical challenges, Juana never neglected carrying out her duties as mother during the eighteen years Catherine spent in close confinement with her. There is no question Catherine was provided with a solid education at Tordesillas, which fully prepared her for her future role as Queen of Portugal. Infanta Maria, Princess of Asturias, would receive at the Lisbon court, under her mother’s close supervision, the same outstanding education. Catherine of Austria established a royal school, an aula regia, there which was supervised by outstanding female and male tutors, where Maria learned Greek and Latin. She was also taught doctrine, history, classical literature, and learned to dance, play instruments, even embroider and sew.


This intimate letter written by Maria to her mother Catherine demonstrates the young princess’ calligraphy and her fluency in Spanish. It is a courtesy letter in which as a royal daughter, she gives some gossip of herself and her grandmother Juana. This missive is important to modern historians because it links three generations of Habsburg women, who ruled and lived in Iberia. Maria was the apple of Catherine’s eye, and the Portuguese queen’s hope for the future of the Spanish throne. Maria died in July of 1545 from a haemorrhage, four days after giving birth to her ill-fated son, Infante Prince Carlos of Spain. Maria’s grandmother, Juana, continued to rule as Queen of Spain until 1555.



Transcription and translation: 

An autograph letter written by Infanta Maria of Portugal, Princess of Asturias, to her mother, Catherine of Austria, giving brief news of herself and her maternal grandmother, Juana I of Castile. Maria write that a courier from the Lisbon court had recently arrived at Tordesillas bringing messages from Catherine, and this letter is a short note in which Maria writes that she write a longer letter soon, filled with more news, but that she was always slow as regards her correspondence.






Beso las manos a Vuestra Alteza por lo menos que quiere saber de my y pues estoy con my Reyna my señora bien crera que Vuestra Alteza que las podren dar buenos y de su Alteza tanbien questa muy buena y porque despacho este cor[r]eo en llegando aqui no chre [cree] a Vuestra Alteza mas guardare lo para escrivir a Vuestra Alteza con otro que ira luego todo lo que Vuestra Alteza me pergunta y los recados que me dara para Vuestra Alteza que no sera Razon que tarden tanto como yo aunque por my no quedara dar mucho prieso y pues Vuestra Alteza save que ade ser asy y el alvoroço que yo llevo para sevirla no sera menester decir mas. Nuestro Señor guarde a Vuestra Alteza como yo deseo de tordesillas a xx de outubre.


Beso las manos a Vuestra Alteza

Yo la prinçesa




My Lady



I kiss Your Highness's hands for the slightest [news] that she wishes to know about me, and because I am with my Queen [Juana], my lady, your Highness can believe that I can send good news and also from her Highness [Juana] who is quite well. Your Highness may not believe [this], but I dispatched the courier who arrived here, becasue I did not wish to retain him [in order] to write to your Highness. With another [courier] who will leave shortly, I will tell your Highness all that you ask of me, and [will send] the messages that will be given to me for your Highness. It should not be reasonable that they take as long as I do, although for me there will not be much haste, but then your Highness knows that it should be so, and [with] the joy that I have to serve you, it will not be necessary to say more. [May] our Lord keep your Highness as I wish, from Tordesillas, 20 October.



Related literature:

Miguel Ángel Zalama, “Entorno a la formación del gusto artístico de la reina Juana I,” Atalaya. Revue d’études médiévales romanes, 20, Université de Lyon (2020). Online: <>.


Miguel Ángel Zalama, “Juana I y la arquitectura. El palacio real y el monasterio de Santa Clara de Tordesillas,” Matronazgo y arquitectura: de la antigüedad a la Edad Moderna, edited by C. Martínez López and F. Serrano Estrella (Granada: Editorial Universidad de Granada, 2016), pp. 219-248.


Miguel Ángel Zalama, “Juana I de Castilla: el inventario de los bienes artísticos de la reina / Joanna I de Castile: the inventory of the queen’s artistic property,” Los inventarios de Carlos V y la familia imperial / The inventories of Charles V and the Imperial Family, edited by Fernando Checa (Madrid: Fernando Villaverde, 2010), pp. 837-912.


Miguel Ángel Zalama, Juana I. Arte, poder y cultura en torno a una reina que no gobernó (Madrid: Centro de Estudios de Europa Hispánica, 2010).


Miguel Ángel Zalama, ed. Juana I en Tordesillas: su mundo, su entorno (Valladolid: Ayuntamiento de Tordesillas 2010).


For Catherine of Austria and her early years at Tordesillas:

Annemarie Jordan Gschwend,, “Juana de Castilla y Catalina de Austria: La formación de la colección de la reina en Tordesillas y Lisboa,” in Juana I de Castilla, 1504-1555. De su reclusión en Tordesillas al olvido de la Historia.  I Symposio Internacional sobre la Reina Juana de Castilla. Tordesillas (Valladolid), 23 y 24 de Noviembre 2005, edited by Miguel Ángel Zalama (Valladolid: Ayuntamiento de Tordesillas, 2006), pp. 143-171.


Annemarie Jordan, Catarina de Áustria. A Rainha Colecionadora (Lisbon: Tema e Debates, 2017)


For portraits of Infanta Maria of Portugal, Princess of Asturias amd Juana I of Castile see:

Louise Roblot-Delondre, Portraits d’Infantes. XVIe siècle. (Étude iconographique) (Brussels: G. van Oest, 1913), pp. 1-12 and pp. 105-106.


Annemarie Jordan, Retrato de Corte em Portugal. O Legado de António Moro (1552-1572) (Lisbon: Quetzal Editores, 1994), pp. 160-163, cats. 16-33.


Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, ‘Antoine Trouvéon, un portraitiste de Leonor d’Autriche, récemment découvert’, Revue de l’Art, 159 (2008), pp. 11-19.


Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, “A Forgotten Infanta. Catherine of Austria, Queen of Portugal (1507–1578),” The Art of Power. Three Women from the House of Habsburg, edited by Sabine Haag, Dagmar Eichberger and Annemarie Jordan Gschwend (Innsbruck-Vienna: Kunsthistorishes Museum, 2018), pp. 51-62.


Copyright 2022 © Annemarie Jordan Gschwend


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Fig. 3

Anonymous Spanish Painter, after Antoine Trouvéon, Portrait of Infanta Maria of Portugal, Princess of Asturias, 1543 and mid-16th century, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, oil on canvas, 193 x 102 cm, inv. no. P004019.  

© Museo Nacional del Prado.

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Fig. 4

Master of the Magdalen Legend, Portrait of Juana I of Castile, after 1496, Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras, oil on panel, 36 x 24.5 cm, inv. no. GG (Gemäldegalerie) 4450.

© KHM Museumsverband

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Fig. 5

Nicolò Nelli, Portrait of Catherine of Austria (1507–1578), Venice, 1568, Hand-coloured copper engraving, 33.5 × 28 cm. Inscription: ‘CATHERINA REGINA PORTVGALIӔ VXOR IO’.

Private collection.

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