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Struck by the arrow – of love and its consequences

The day Camila met Ladislao, she was eighteen. He was a year or so older—and a Jesuit priest. The year was 1843, the place Buenos Aires, and as Ladislao had been appointed the family  priest, they saw a lot of each other.


Ladislao was a friend of Camila’s older brother, also a Jesuit priest, and it may be because of that connection that Ladislao became the O’Gorman’s family chaplain. The O’Gormans were a large family of mixed French, Irish and Spanish descent and part of Argentinian high society. Camila was the second youngest of six, and had a hectic social life, as did any well-born girl at the time. This did not prevent her from finding time to meet with Ladislao. Were those meetings initially innocent little discussions about faith? Who knows. But at some point, Camila began developing strong feelings for the young priest—reciprocated feelings.

Obviously, they knew that their relationship was a serious, serious sin. She was seducing him away from his vows of chastity, he was taking what should only belong to her future husband. But love is at times an affliction, and Camila and Ladislao could not help themselves: they loved. Oh, how they loved—in secret.

Four years on and the secrecy was beginning to wear on them. Plus, I imagine Camila’s father was starting to make noises about finding her a husband. She didn’t want a husband: she wanted Ladislao who could never, ever marry her.

In 1847, our lovers decided to elope on horseback. They rode north, and their original intent seems to have been to travel to Rio de Janeiro (that’s a loooong way from Buenos Aires on horseback), hoping to disappear into the bustle of this booming city. For reasons unknown, they stopped at Goya, a small town on the Paraná river, about 730 kilometres from Buenos Aires. There, they introduced themselves as Máximo and Valentina and opened a school. Major success, that was, and maybe it could all have worked out for them, had not their disappearance caused such a major scandal.

In Buenos Aires, Adolfo, Camila’s father was incandescent. A priest to kidnap his daughter—totally unacceptable. He bayed for blood, and others followed suit, saying it was a disgrace—an utter disgrace—that the government didn’t do something to protect the innocent. The government at this point in time was Juan Manuel de Rosas, who was more or less all-powerful. His enemies saw this as an excellent opportunity to heckle him: what sort of a weakling allowed an unprincipled man of the cloth to steal away a high-born woman, hey?

Juan Manuel de Rosas knew Camila—she was a close friend of his daughter, Manuelita. He sent out messages all over the country to keep an eye open, determined to return the fair Camila to the protective clutches of her family.

In Goya, Camila and Ladislao kept their heads down and went on with their daily life. But on one occasion they went to a party and another priest of Irish heritage recognised them. He, incensed by the fact that the couple were living in sin, denounced them. A mere seven months after their elopement, they were taken prisoners, Ladislao accused of raping the poor, innocent Camila.

Camila protested loudly. There had been no rape. She had happily consented, and if anything, she had seduced him, not the other way around. That did not earn her any brownie points. Society was shocked: how could a well-born woman behave thus? Shame on her! She had to be punished—hard—so as to reinforce the moral fibre of all other young women before it was too late.

Rosas, who was sick and tired of being accused of moral lassitude in the matter of Camila and Ladislao, ordered them to be returned to Buenos Aires separately. They were not to see each other again until the 18th of August of 1848.

During her journey south, Camila managed to write a letter to Manuelita. Tradition has it that Manuelita tried to intercede on Camila’s behalf with her father, but in his opinion, Camila was a fallen woman and deserved what she had coming. Rosas skipped any pretence of a trial and sentenced them both to death by firing squad.

On the morning of August 16, 1848, Camila and Ladislao were led outside, tied in place, and blindfolded. According to legend, she is supposed to have said “Ladislao, are you there?”, upon which he replied. “Right by your side, my love. Always.”  Sniff.

The fickle public was horrified by this. Shoot them? No, no, who did Rosas think he was? Ladislao was an ordained priest and should have been handed over to the Holy Church, and as to Camila, she should have been sent home to her family, there to be punished as her father saw fit. But to kill them—that was murder!

Immediately, rumours began to fly: Camila had been heavily pregnant, people whispered, so Rosas had not only murdered the lovers but also an innocent babe. Whether or not Camila was pregnant, we do not really know. If she was pregnant, she was probably not showing, as there is no mention of her condition in the various documents. But. According to the memoirs of the prison priest, Camila told him she was with child and he performed some sort of baptism (she ingested holy water) to protect the poor unborn soul.


So ended the story of Camila and Ladislao—and indirectly, that of Juan Manuel Rojas. He never lived down the fact that he’d ordered the lovers shot, and some years later, he was ousted from power and fled to Southampton to live out the rest of his life far from the land of his birth. With him went Manuelita, ever the loyal daughter.

Sad, huh? And maybe not the best love story to share today on Valentine’s Day. So to balance up the tragedy of Camila and Ladislao, how about a somewhat happier story? I give you Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth Valois.

Now, Philip of Spain is mostly known for his less-than-happy-or-fruitful marriage to Mary I of England. Mary was his second wife, his first wife and first cousin (on both sides!) having died in childbirth in 1545. The baby, a son, survived, but Don Carlos is one of the first examples of the inherent risk of incestuous marriages and soon showed signs of mental instability. That’s what happens when first cousins marry first cousins, marry first cousins. Poor Don Carlos had four great-grandparents where most of us have eight…

Anyway: Mary died in 1558, and Philip had need of an heir—or rather a spare. He hadn’t entirely given up hope on Don Carlos, and at the time, he was negotiating peace with France that was to be formalised through the marriage of Don Carlos to Elizabeth of Valois.
“Hmm,” thought Philip, and as the doubts regarding his son’s health increased, he swapped out the son for himself, at which point I suspect Henri II of France may have said “hmm”, seeing as Philip was all of thirty-one and Elizabeth merely thirteen.

In June of 1559, Elizabeth wed Philip by proxy. The Duke of Alba represented King Philip, all the way into the marital bedchamber (together with the bride’s parents and a dozen of other witnesses) where some sort of symbolic consummation took place.

The wedding was celebrated with parties of all sorts—and jousts. In one such joust, Henri II of France suffered grievous injury—a lance penetrated his eye. Some days later, he died, and Elizabeth was devastated. Obviously, this threw a major pall over the wedding, and it also caused Elizabeth to delay her travels to Spain and her waiting bridegroom—she was in mourning for her beloved father.

But in January of 1560, Elizabeth finally arrived to Roncesvalles where she met her husband for the first time. I wonder what this young girl thought of the rather austere Philip—but he was a relatively handsome man, and courteous to the extreme with his young wife. Very young, he realised—too young to bed, as she’d not had her courses yet. So the king found release elsewhere and his very young wife was devastated, having seen first hand just how humiliated her own mother was by her father’s open preference for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.

Philip was more discreet, but felt entitled to his little mesalliances, at least until Elizabeth could welcome him to her bed. In August of 1561, Elizabeth finally had her first menstruation—a fact that was more or less shouted out to the world—and no sooner had it ended, but Philip took her to bed. Doesn’t sound all that fun, but to judge from her letters home, Elizabeth discovered quite a lovable man behind the stiff exterior of the king. Court etiquette in Spain was ridiculously stiff, making it impossible for the king and queen to sleep in the same room (he visited, kissed her, and went back to his own bed) or even dine together. They had separate attendants, separate duties, but soon enough Philip was taking whatever pretext he could find to spend more and more time with his Elizabeth.

While Elizabeth was young, she was also intelligent (hey, she was Catherine de Medici’s daughter!) and he found in her someone he could discuss complicated matters with. He had never shared such confidences with his previous wives, and he even entrusted her with diplomatic missions.

Ultimately, though, Philip had wed to sort the increasingly knotty issue of an heir. Don Carlos had not taken it all that well when his father supplanted him as Elizabeth’s groom, and he was volatile and violent, indulging in such odd pastimes as burning hares alive. In brief, Philip needed another son, but the months passed and Elizabeth showed little sign of having inherited her mother’s fecundity.

And then, finally, in 1564 , she became pregnant, only to lose the twin foetuses after some months. Her life was despaired off, but after diligent care she rallied and in 1566 she was brought to bed of a child—a girl. Now, Isabel Clara Eugenia might not have been the son her father so desired, but Philip loved his little girl and was “As happy with the babe as if she had been a boy”.

In 1567, Elizabeth gave him yet another daughter, Catalina Micaela. While the father seemed to take the birth of yet another girl in stride, Elizabeth did not. She fell into a depression, fully aware of the fact that she was failing in her single most important task: to give her husband a son. After all, it was evident Don Carlos would never succeed him, not after the incident in 1567 when he set a house alight because someone had thrown dirty water from it when he was passing, thereby splattering his clothes. In 1568, Philip had no choice but to confine his son after he was caught dabbling in rebellion, and the issue of an heir became even more important when Don Carlos died in July of 1568.

Fortunately, by then Elizabeth was pregnant again, which must have offered Philip some solace in his evident grief over Carlos. He never quite got over the loss of his son—or the fact that he had been obliged to lock him up.

In early October of 1568, Elizabeth went into premature labour. A little girl, hastily baptised Juana, came and went like a little angel. Elizabeth was devastated. A very difficult pregnancy, weeks of constant vomiting, and she knew in her bones that this time she would likely not survive, thereby abandoning her beloved husband and their daughters. The royal physicians hoped she might rally, but instead Elizabeth succumbed to complications and died, all of twenty-three years old.

Shoot! Yet another little love story that ends in tears—but different tears, IMO, as Elizabeth had her husband beside her all through her final days, she had a hand to hold on to, a voice to listen to, someone who may have murmured soft words of devotion as she drew her last shaky breath. A much better ending than that of Camila and Ladislao!

It is said that Philip II only cried openly once in his life: the day his beloved Elizabeth was buried. He changed after her death, became more melancholic and reserved, a man who dressed in black for the rest of his life, grieving his French princess. But two years later, he wed again—he had to, for the sake of his kingdom. This time, he did things the Hapsburg way and married his niece (who was also his second cousin) Ana of Austria. She gave him four boys and a daughter—only one of these children, the future Philip III, survived childhood.

2 thoughts on “Struck by the arrow – of love and its consequences”

  1. You say ‘ Poor Don Carlos had four grandparents where most of us have eight…’
    In fact, most of us have four grandparents and eight great-grandparents!
    Did you mean to say great-grandparents instead of grandparent for Don Carlos?

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