Death of Charles V: Doña Magdalena’s intuition that Don John of Austria is his natural son

September 28, 2017

Don Juan of Austria Painted by Alonso Sanchez Coello, located at the Art Institute of Chicago

Doña Magdalena and Jeromín [Don John of Austria’s childhood name until it was revealed that he was the natural son of Charles V] never rested; since dawn messengers had never ceased coming from Yuste with news, and since the same hour the noble lady came and went from the oratory, where she prayed and wept, to the parlor, where she received the messengers and made preparations for the arrival of the Archbishop, whom she expected from minute to minute. Jeromín, nervous and trembling, could not keep still for an instant; at times he wanted to cry, at others to shut himself up in the oratory with Doña Magdalena and pray, or to dash off to Yuste, and, if it were by force, to reach the Emperor’s room and gaze once more on that pallid face, its snowy beard surrounding it like a fringe of silver. The boy had never seen death, or heard it alluded to except as happening on the field of battle, and it seemed to him like killing by treason that so great an Emperor should die in his bed, and that to annihilate so glorious an existence, thunder and lightning and stars would be necessary, that the elements should war together and the whole earth be convulsed.

Monastery of San Jerónimo de Yuste, Cáceres, España, where Charles V retired after abdicating the Spanish Crown in favour of his son Philip II.

At four o’clock the Archbishop arranged with his suite to return to Yuste, and then an idea occurred to Jeromín. Without saying a word to anyone, he saddled the little Roman mule himself and went to the convent among the Archbishop’s following. His presence surprised no one, as he was thought to be Luis Quijada’s page, and without any difficulty he went to the black hung room next to the chamber where the Emperor lay dying. He found several monks there, the prelate, Juan de Avila, the Conde de Oropesa, D. Francisco de Toledo, his brother, and Diego de Toledo, uncle to both.

Luis Quijada

Luis Quijada hastened to meet the Archbishop and came face to face with Jeromín. The great heart of the steward seemed to come into his mouth and even his eyes to moisten when he saw him. With much love and kindness he came towards the frightened child, and drawing him out of the room, begged him to go back to Cuacos to the side of Doña Magdalena. The boy obeyed without a word, hanging his head and casting a look at the room where his hero was dying. He saw nothing; the black curtains were drawn, and between them could only be seen the foot of the enormous bed and, over the crippled limbs, the black silk coverlid. But he could hear the difficult breathing of the dying man.

Doña Magdalena de Ulloa

When Jeromín returned, overcome, to Cuacos, he found Doña Magdalena in the oratory, saying the prayers for the dying, again and again, with her ladies and servants. He knelt in a corner amongst them, and there remained for hours and hours. At ten o’clock sleep, that invincible friend of children, overcame him, and obliged Doña Magdalena to put him, dressed as he was, in her own bed, promising to wake him at the supreme moment. The lady sat at the head of the bed leaning against it, inside the curtains, telling her beads. Jeromín slept uneasily, with a sad expression on his little white face, heaving deep sighs. Doña Magdalena looked at him, anxious also and astonished. All at once, for the first time a strong suspicion crossed her mind; she stopped praying, looking earnestly at the child, and leant over him as if to kiss his forehead, and then kissed his little hands.

‘The Last Days of Charles V’, by Albrecht de Vriendt. Antwerp, private collection.

At this moment the big bell of Yuste tolled solemnly in the silent night. Doña Magdalena sat up frightened and stretched out her neck to listen, with her hands joined. Another bell tolled and then another. There was no doubt, it was the passing bell. Doña Magdalena hesitated for a moment, and then gently woke the sleeping child. Clinging to her neck he asked, terrified, “Is he dead?” “Pray, my son, pray,” she answered.

And, linked together, they prayed the psalm of the dead, “Out of the deep I call.”

Rev. Fr. Luis Coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, trans. Lady Moreton, (New York: John Lane Company, 1912), 61-2.

Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 594

 

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