Marianna of Austria & Johann Nithard

How I found Marianna of Austria, and her Jesuit tutor, Johann Nithard who became my villain...


It was quite by chance that I came across Marianna of Austria.  She was born in Vienna at the court of her paternal grandfather the Habsburg Emperor, Ferdinand II.  Her father, who would become Emperor in 1637, was as yet only the King of Hungary and Bohemia, and was away for most of his wife's pregnancy campaigning in the Thirty Years' War.  As a child, she was engaged to her Spanish Habsburg first cousin Baltasar Carlos, Prince of Asturias, but when he died aged 16 in 1646, King Philip IV of Spain was left without a male heir and Maria-Anna without a fiancé.  In 1649, the king married his 14-year-old niece himself.  Although known for being cheerful as a young girl, after her wedding to her uncle she became 'cold and bad-tempered'.

During her childhood, her tutor was the Austrian Jesuit, Johann Eberhard Nithard, and when she married Philip IV, he remained at her side as her confessor.  When Philip died, Marianna became the Queen Regent for her son Carlos (later Charles II of Spain) who was too young and disabled to rule for himself.  Nithard's power increased enormously when he was appointed Inquisitor General, the highest official authority in the Spanish Inquisition.

Eventually, Nithard's influence waned in favour of the Queen's new favourite, Fernando de Valenzuela, and following the overthrow of Marianna by John of Austria, he eventually became a cardinal in Rome, where he ended his life.

Juan Everardo Nithard

Those are a brief summary of the facts.  What was more interesting to me was the unhappy marriage of convenience between the two Hapsburgs, Marianna and her uncle Philip, leading to the sad state of the inbred Charles II, the last of the Habsburg line.  That this should be happening at the same time that piracy was increasing in the West Indies, and that the economy of Spain was in decline due largely to the country's absolute dependence on the riches being brought from the Americas brought even more pressure on the Queen Regent.  Her absolute belief in the Pope's edict declaring the lands in the Americas to be Spain's sole possession prevented her from accepting the reality of the political situation in the Caribbean, and coming to terms with the other great powers who were intent on staking their own claims in the region.  

It occurred to me that as an Austrian, Nithard would be less blinkered in his views than Marianna, and I therefore took it upon him to act as the voice of reason and political reality.  With the increasing uncertainty of the supply of gold and silver from the New World, I felt it would have been clear to him that military action against the rest of the European powers was doomed - if only on economic grounds.  That this should lead him to use less conventional means to destabilise the situation by bringing Henry Morgan's reputation into question seemed an obvious move, given the access to the network of spies and informers that his new position as Head of the Inquisition afforded him.

Henry Morgan acted to preserve his reputation against the English publishers of Exquemelin's book.  But we know that the English edition was not the first one, and that Exquemelin himself did not understand the languages of the editions which preceded the English one.  It therefore seemed reasonable to suppose that a process of chinese whispers could have occurred which manipulated the original to suit the political demands of each of the different national audiences for each of the translations of the book.  It was a short step to seeing Nithard as the puppet master overseeing this manipulation, if not carrying it out himself - he would of course have spoken German and Spanish fluently.

So Nithard had the means, the motive and the opportunity.  And that - in the world of my imagination, at least - gave me my villain.

© Katisha Limited 2013