Once upon a time there was a Princess born to the Hapsburg lineage. The year was 1651, and while still very young she became by arranged marriage the Infanta Margaret Theresa of Spain. She had a short life of 44 years during which she was to attain countless titles and honors. She was the subject of the most famous painters of her day, surrounded by her ladies in waiting who satisfied her every wish before they were even uttered. They were eager to please her, and quite helpless about the bittersweet nostalgic aura surrounding her. They did not know, how gnawing and deep her need was to achieve something memorable. She yearned for a legacy of originality of her own making. Her flood of titles only served as reminders of her insufficiency, as they were the mere results of a fortunate hand of cards that fate dealt; that of being well born. It was not for trying that she considered herself unaccomplished. She tried singing but alas her voice was suggestive of a braying donkey, admittedly she was tone deaf with musical instruments, she was frightened of horses and had no talent for performance or diplomacy. She would refuse to attend state functions; being the only one at court who could not dance. She felt good about her poetry, thought it passable, but no one else did.
There came a great day, that of her coronation when she was to become Holy Roman Empress. As she was being dressed, no one could understand why she dissolved in tears. What she saw in the mirror was a homely, undeserving person. Her clothes were magnificent, as always, and as she was trying to gain control, and wipe away her tears, suddenly she remembered something that happened when she was five years old.
It occurred on the day that she was to be painted as the central figure of the now famous: Las Meninas, by Diego Velazquez. Surrounded by her ladies, bodyguards, dwarfs and dogs, Señor Velazquez arrived with his own retinue of assistants. When he saw her, he spontaneously exclaimed about the perfection of her gown, hairstyle and ornaments that she was to wear for the portrait.
He did not know that the child herself chose every element of her costume, but she knew. The remark from the great artist affected her deeply at the time, but with the years, until this very moment she had nearly forgotten it. Remembering it now, when she most needed a compliment, had the same remarkable effect on her… It made all the difference. A sensation of such confidence swept over her that she could only marvel at the transformation in her mirror image. All the gentle grief of hindsight vanished as she dried her eyes and shook herself erect. She suddenly was ready to walk down the great Cathedral’s Nave in her ermine lined coronation robe. She saw appreciative eyes, people marveling at her poise, and it stirred her pride and set her on a purpose. She was not a beauty, but became determined from this moment on to distinguish herself as the most
fashionable monarch in history. Her newfound confidence soon turned into self-importance, and she began to consider herself as the ultimate authority. She started to catalogue the fashion history of Spain from time recorded, and gained understanding of the process of how costumes were made. Her obsession grew, and when in the presence of finery she started to develop a sensual dimension, akin to arousal. She would get lost in amorous contemplation, and get short of breath at the thought of planning her next gown. She became so immersed in the world of fashion that even learned to be handy with the needle. One day she was struck with an insight. She realized that her frivolous hobby that centered on herself alone, could be turned to good use in her position as Empress. Her personal charities were the orphanages of her country, and she started to design and make by her own hands little christening gowns. These became so sought after by the nobles, that they paid fortunes for them, and this began to support all the foundling homes in Spain. Her complacent life became the past, and was charged with new meaning. As she combined her passion with good works…all her past angst disappeared in helping others… as this is usually the case.
When on her deathbed she thought of her life with satisfaction, as one well lived.
When she was in front of the Creator, being considered for merit to enter Paradise, she received absolution.
She was not only allowed entry, but I will tell you the most wondrous part of her story.
She was granted permission to wear her resplendent celestial gowns into eternity.
When you see the illustrations of the saints and archangels you are among the few to know that the glorious vestments they wear are the designs executed in the heavenly atelier of Margaret Theresa Infanta of Spain, Holy Roman Empress, Queen Consort of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria.
Story Retold by the historian
Valerie von Sobel
(Of fertile fancy)