Archive for the ‘princesses’ Category

Saint Elizabeth (1207-1231) was a princess, the daughter of the king of Hungary. She lived in a castle on the top of a hill in the middle of Germany: she was married to the count of Thuringia. But after he died fighting in the Holy Land she was turned out of the castle and became a poor but holy woman in a plain, grey dress. She had never been so happy.

When she died the birds came and sang on the top of the church. People cut off pieces of her hair and graveclothes as holy relics. Many reported miracles done in her name after her death, especially at or near her tomb in Marburg.

Even when she was five she was religious. She would rather pray than play. She liked to pray laying face down on the ground with her arms stretched out. Even before she could read she would act as if she were reading the book of Psalms. Winning games made her uncomfortable and what she won she would give away.

She wanted to live as a poor virgin all her life, but her father, the king, wanted her to marry the count of Thuringia. She did so out of respect for him. She had sex and had children, but only as a duty not as a pleasure.

She would not eat the fine food that princesses ate in those days. She would push the food about on her plate or eat what the servants ate. When they were on the road that meant old black bread in hot water. When her husband was away she prayed all night.

She liked to pray the Our Father and Hail Mary. She liked the Te Deum.

With her own money she built a hospital to care for the sick. She sold her jewels to help feed the poor. She gave away clothing. She went to the funerals of the poor. Once she tore the linen veil from her face and used it to cover a poor, dead man before he was put into the ground. She was like Mother Theresa in our time, caring for the sick, the poor, the old and the dying.

After her husband died and she sank into poverty, her father, the king and her uncle, the bishop, offered to save her from her fate. But she said no: poverty is a virtue, the road to holiness. No one had ever seen anything like it: the daughter of the king living as a poor woman.

She prayed much and had visions of heaven. She once saw Jesus and, before she died, she saw her angel and the devil.

Many miracles were reported after her death when people visited her tomb or made a promise to God in her name. The dead were brought back to life (especially children pulled from rivers), the blind given sight and arms and legs made whole.

Feast day: November 17th.

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Portrait of An African Princess, by Floris Jespers

Aqualtune (1600s) was an African princess who became a slave in Brazil, the grandmother of Zumbi, who later died trying to free the slaves. She is the princess in the song “Zumbi” by Jorge Ben Jor.

She was from the Congo and some say she was Yoruba, as were many of the slaves who were brought to north-eastern Brazil.

In the Congo she led an army of 10,000 men to defend her father’s kingdom against the Chagas. But the Chagas won and she found herself on a slave ship crossing the sea to Brazil.

As the song puts it, she was standing in an ox cart with her subjects, being sold as a slave. That was in Recife, Brazil. She was sold to a planter from Porto Calvo in southern Pernambuco.

She was strong, but she was bought not to work the land but to give birth to future strong slaves. Like a prized race horse, she was not allowed to choose her mate.

In 1630, a few months before she was to give birth, she and others escaped. She had heard about a place in the mountains to the west called Palmares where people of all colours lived together in freedom.

Palmares was no dream: as she found out, it was true! It was a kingdom – some say a republic – set back from the coast near the “nose” of Brazil. It ran for 200 kilometres across what are now the states of Pernambuco and Alagoas. It had nine rivers and nine towns in the virgin forest. At its height in the 1670s it had 50,000 people: runaway black slaves, native Indians and whites on the run from the law. The largest town had 2000 houses.

Palmares supported itself, growing its own food. It sold enough cassava and sugar to buy salt, guns and gunpowder. It could work iron but it could not make guns. In the end that proved to be its downfall. Even so, it lasted nearly a hundred years, standing up to both the Portuguese and the Dutch.

Aqualtune became a leader in Palmares. Two of her sons, Gana Zona and Ganga Zumba, also did. She lived in Palmares till she died in old age, living long enough to see forces from Sao Paulo burn down her town.

In 1655, in the middle of the war with the Dutch, her oldest daughter, Sabina, gave birth to Zumbi. He would grow up to become the last ruler of Palmares and a hero to millions.

Zumbi fought against the Portuguese for 15 years. The king offered to make peace with him twice, but both times he refused. In the end he was betrayed. On November 20th 1695 the Portuguese cut off his head, a day that is still remembered in Brazil.

The picture I chose is not Aqualtune herself, but it is a picture of a princess from the Congo. She is strong and proud just like I imagine Aqualtune to be.

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