Charlotte of Bourbon (1546-1582)

Charlotte had character. Even at a young age, she rebelled against her life as a nun. By writing letters to the right contacts, she managed to escape from the convent. She fled, converted to Protestantism and met William the Silent, the leader of the Dutch Revolt. They married and while she had six daughters, she stood by William in the struggle for religious freedom.

Immediately after she was born, Charlotte was sent to the convent of Jouarre. She was not happy there, among the nuns, and made this quite clear. When her family wanted her to officially enter the convent, at the age of twelve, Charlotte wrote a letter of protest. It was to no avail and she was forced to take her vows. Within six years, she succeeded her aunt as abbess of the convent – again, much to her chagrin.

With her increasing aversion to monastic life and the power of her family, Charlotte cleverly took advantage of her new position. She was secretly instructed in Calvinism by a lapsed priest and in 1572, she arranged her own escape. She fled to Heidelberg, far from her father’s influence, and converted to Calvinism. At the court there, she met William the Silent, whom she married in Brielle in 1575. The couple’s letters show that theirs was a loving marriage; the couple had six daughters.
Her eventful youth and deliberate choice to break with her family and religion testify to an independent and self-willed woman. Charlotte and William found each other in their religious convictions, a reason why she always supported her husband in his struggle for freedom of religion. Charlotte died in 1582, probably due to exhaustion after long days of caring for her husband, who had been seriously injured during a failed murder attempt.

From a letter by Charlotte to William, written in Delft on 2 June 1576:
´With regard, also, to your kind request for me to join you; besides the fact that I am still quite weak, I have, after this news from Zierikzee, not wanted to seek advice out of fear it would bring with it more anxiety. I will wait another seven or eight days and can then, God willing, go take some air in The Hague, to see how things are with me then. With respect to your daughter, she is well. I have asked around whether it would be dangerous for her to cross the sea; many people tell me it would not.´

Read more about Charlotte’s life

© Image: Attributed to Adriaen Thomasz. Key, Portret van Charlotte de Bourbon [portrait of Charlotte of Bourbon], ca 1575 – 1580, oil on panel, Museum Prinsenhof Delft, On loan from a private collection GV-PvdM P432