Death in childbed
VI Born to die and to be reborn
If we examine the royal marriages of the Early Modern age, we can clearly see that an important number of consorts died of causes directly related to pregnancy and childbirth. For example, of the seven queens and princesses of Asturias that the Spanish Monarchy had between 1500 and 1700 that had children, four of them (Elizabeth of Portugal, Maria Manuela of Portugal, Elizabeth of Valois and Margarita of Austria-Styria) died of causes closely related to pregnancies, miscarriages and childbirths. These circumstances repeated themselves amongst the different royal dynasties over the centuries. To mention a more recent example, the two sisters of king Alfonso XIII of Spain, Maria de las Mercedes and Maria Theresia of Bourbon, died of complications related to the birth of their last children in 1904 and 1912 respectively. In the portraits we show here, we see the image of two royal women of the Habsburg dynasty that died in childbirth, depicted when they were heavily pregnant. The first one was empress Maria Leopoldine of Austria, second wife of emperor Ferdinand III. Her marriage took place just two years after the death of the emperor’s first wife, Maria Anna of Austria, who also died in childbirth. In this marvellous portrait, we see her heavily pregnant, just a few weeks before her demise, as she died giving birth to her only son, archduke Charles Joseph, in 1649. She was only seventeen years old.
On the other hand, we also show the portrait of queen Margarita of Austria-Styria, wife of Philip III of Spain. She gave birth to eight children, of which five survived into adulthood. But she died after the delivery of her youngest son, Alfonso, who was nicknamed «The Expensive», for the high price his mother had to pay to bring him into the world in 1611. [Rocío Martínez]