Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg

Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg
Holy Roman Empress; German Queen;
Queen consort of Hungary and Bohemia;
Archduchess consort of Austria
Tenure 14 December 1676 – 5 May 1705
Born (1655-01-06)6 January 1655
Died 19 January 1720(1720-01-19) (aged 65)
Hofburg Palace, Vienna
Burial Herzgruft (heart)
Imperial Crypt (body)
Spouse Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor
Issue Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor
Archduchess Maria Elisabeth, Governor of the Austrian Netherlands
Maria Anna, Queen of Portugal
Archduchess Maria Theresa
Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Archduchess Maria Josepha
Archduchess Maria Magdalena
Full name
Eleonore Magdalene Therese
House Wittelsbach
Father Philip William, Elector Palatine
Mother Elisabeth Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt

Eleonore Magdalene of Neuburg (Eleonore Magdalene Therese; 6 January 1655 19 January 1720), was by birth Countess Palatine of Neuburg and member of the House of Wittelsbach and by marriage Holy Roman Empress, German Queen, Archduchess consort of Austria, Queen consort of Hungary and Bohemia as the third and last wife of Leopold I.[1] She was the paternal grandmother of Empress Maria Theresa.

One of the most educated and the virtuous women of her time (she even translated the Bible from Latin to German), she took part in the political affairs during the reign of her husband and sons. She served as Interim Regent for a few months in 1711 and was during her rule that was signed the Treaty of Szatmár, which recognized the rights of rule of her descendants in the Kingdom of Hungary. Before her marriage and during her widowhood she led an ascetic and monastic life, being actively involved in charity work .


Early years

Eleonore was born in Düsseldorf on the night of 6 January 1655,[2] as the oldest of 17 children born from Philip William, Count Palatine of Neuburg and Duke of Jülich-Berg (since 1685 Elector Palatine) and his second wife Landgravine Elisabeth Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. On her father's side her grandparents were Wolfgang Wilhelm, Count Palatine of Neuburg and his first wife Magdalene of Bavaria and on her mother's side her grandparents were George II, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt and his wife Sophia Eleonore of Saxony.

Immediately after birth, the princess was baptized by the abbot of Altenburg Abbey with the names Eleonore Magdalene Therese. To celebrate her birth, the court chaplain and poet, Jesuit Jakob Balde composed an hexameter Latin poem called the "Song of genius Eleonore" (la: Eleonorae Geniale carmen), which he translated to German. Subsequently, he became in the spiritual mentor of Eleonore until his death. In August 1655 she, together with her parents, moved from Düsseldorf to Neuburg. On 11 September 1661 at the Neuburg Hofkirche, the princess received the anointing from Marquard II Schenk von Castell, Prince-bishop of Eichstätt.

Eleonore was raised in a pious environment and also received a good education: she was fluent in Latin, French and Italian, translated to German biblical and religious texts, and was well versed in theology. She was also fond to music and arts, hunting and dancing, but her special passion was reading. Since September 1672 she live at Benrath Castle, where, under the guidance of a maid of honor, she began her training in etiquette.[3]

Since her early childhood Eleonore displayed a strongly pious nature and a fervent adherence to Roman Catholicism. She was four years old when he saw the Crucifixion, she burst into tears in sympathy with Jesus. In addition, every day she participated into religious services, and visit sick people. Being among the poor, Eleonore asked them to treat her not as a person of noble birth, but as a commoner, because she thought that all people are equally precious to God. On 2 February 1669 she entered the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Sorrows at the Cross, of which she remained all her life. The special protection provided by her to the Carmelite monasteries in Düsseldorf and Neuburg showed her wish to be a Carmelite nun, but her parents refused to gave their consent. Five monarchs asked for her hand, and all were refused by Eleonore. One of her rejected suitors was the widower James, Duke of York, the future King of England and Scotland, who woo her in 1671.[3][4]

Marriage and children

In April 1676 Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor lost his second wife, and almost inmediately began to search for a new one, urged by the needed of a male heir, because from his previous marriages he had six children, but all except the oldest daughter, Archduchess Maria Antonia, died shortly after birth. This time Eleonore was chosen, bypassing Duchess Maria Anna Victoria of Bavaria (later Dauphine of France), Princess Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark (later Queen consort of Sweden) and many other potential candidates.[5]

Thanks to the intense diplomatic efforts of Eleonore's father, he gained to his side Francesco Bonvisi, Papal nuncio in Vienna, and King Charles II of Spain. However, the opponents of the Count Palatine of Neuburg in the Imperial court, spread rumors that Eleonore allegedly had a poor health and ugly appearance. However, these rumors didn't stopped the Emperor, who needed an heir and knew not only about Eleonore's family reputed fertility but also about her fervent Catholicism and pious nature. In addition, the Count Palatine showed to Leopold I a portrait of his daughter, made especially for this purpose.[3]

The marriage negotiations began in April 1676. To this end, an emissary send by the Count Palatine arrived to Vienna, who managed to win the support of Empress Dowager Eleonora Gonzaga (Leopold I's stepmother) and a number of notable courties, including Chancellor Johann Paul Freiherr von Hocher. In August 1676 the personal physician of the Emperor arrived in Neuburg to submitted Eleonore to a medical examination to establish her expected fertility. Back in Vienna the following month, he gave the official conclusion that she is healthy; however, the death of Anna de' Medici (mother of his late second wife), the Emperor suspended the negotiations. Leopold I took the final decision about the marriage only in the second half of October. For Eleonore, the news that she will became in the new Empress weren't happy, as she wished to become a nun and not to marry anyone. But at the end, she dutifully submit to the will of her parents. On 25 November 1676 took place the official betrothal; because bride and groom are third cousins (being both great-great-grandchildren of Emperor Ferdinand I), a papal dispensation was granted by Pope Innocent XI. Eleonore's dowry was fixed in 100,000 florins.[3]

Painting depicting the 1676 marriage of Eleonor and Leopold.

The first meeting between Leopold I and Eleonore took place two days before the wedding and made a favorable impression on both. The official wedding took place in Passau on 14 December 1676. The ceremony was held in the chapel of the palace of the Prince-Bishop of Passau and wore a special character. At the wedding not ambassadors or diplomats of foreign countries were invited. Nevertheless, the ceremony was pompous and the ensuing celebration lasted several days. As a wedding gift from the groom the bride received the famous Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond. On 7 January 1677 the Imperial couple arrived in Vienna.[3]

The new Empress soon proved her fertility, and within months she became pregnant with her first child. In total, Eleonore gave birth ten children, of whom only five survive to adulthood:[3][6][7]

Holy Roman Empress and German Queen

In the first years of her marriage, Eleonore had to face great challenges. During 1679 an outbreak of plague forced the Imperial family to leave Vienna, firstly to Mariazell and then in Prague; however, the plague reached these places. In addition, an uprising of the Bohemian peasants forced the Empress and her children escape to Linz Castle. However, no less a danger than the epidemic and the uprising represented the Ottoman Empire. In July 1683 the Imperial family again left Vienna and moved to Passau because of the threat from the Turks, who in September of the same year suffered a crushing defeat near Vienna.[3]

Eleonore wasn't crowned inmediately after her marriage. On 9 December 1681,[3] and at the request of the Hungarian aristocracy she was crowned Queen of Hungary in Pressburg, and on 19 January 1690 she was crowned Holy Roman Empress at Augsburg Cathedral. At the time of her Imperial coronation Eleonore was pregnant with her tenth and last child.[2][8]

She was politically active, achieved influence over her husband and thus managed to participate in the state affairs of state. In 1686 she restored the Order of the Starry Cross, established by her stepmother-in-law As he couldn't read all languages, while she was multilingual, she translated foreign political documents for him, as was the case when they were written in French. It's reported that the Empress received and opened important political documents while Leopold I stood waiting beside her "as a secretary". She created a wide patronage net of connections by handing out favors: she protected the career of chancellor Theodor Strattmann, and it was through her influence that the Jesuits Bauer and Tönnemann was appointed the advisers to the emperor.[9] She benefited the interests of her birth family by securing high status marriages for her sisters, benefiting the careers of her younger brothers in church and the political needs of her eldest brother, the Elector Palatine.[10] She accompanied Leopold I on his travels (for example, at the Diet of Augsburg in 1689) and supervised the upbringing of her children personally. She arranged the marriage of both her sons, and deeply disliked the private life of her oldest son Joseph, scolding him for his infidelities and placing his procurers in prison.[9]

The Empress has always paid great attention to matters of piety and charity; her generosity towards people in trouble, had almost no boundaries. It not only has built hospitals and orphanages, supported numerous brotherhoods, churches and monasteries, but also visit the sick in hospitals, tying to get into the heart of their problems, trying to help everyone, than she could. She took control over the economy of the royal court and managed to reduce its expenses through a more effective organization. She was regarded to perform her representational duties well according to the ceremonious Spanish court routine, and actively participated in shooting matches and hunting parties as well as the religious duties associated with the pietas austriaca. She strictly adhered to all religious festivals and prescriptions, and from 1688, she devoted much time to the Marian cult, in which she was introduced by Abraham á Sancta Clara and to which she introduced her two daughters-in-law. She was an active member of the Gesellenschaft det Sklavinnen oder Leibeign Mariens, a lay order devoted to Virgin Mary, which prescribed daily religious observance and religious charity, and in 1688, she received the Sternkreuzorden. She founded Carmelite convents in Grazer and Vienna, and the Capuchin Marco d'Aviano was her confessor and adviser. On 9 May 1684 the Empress received the Golden Rose from Pope Innocent XI, and during a joint pilgrimage the Imperial couple paid a visti to the Shrine of Our Lady of Altötting. Another miraculous image of the Virgin Mary from Pötsch (hu: Máriapócs), known as the "Weeping Madonna", was delivered by them and placed in St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna.

Since her early years, Eleonore suffered from depression and was described as self-destructive. She was drawn to the penitential side of Catholicism: as an example, she used bracelets with small spikes on the inside to torment the flesh. When court protocol demanded she visit the opera, she reportedly took a prayer book with her to distract her from the play. She hosted a court affected by her strong religious views: strict, simple and conventlike and, as it was said, in an atmosphere reminiscent of an eternal mourning period, which was somewhat ridiculed as exaggerated.


Reign of Joseph I

Emperor Leopold I died in 1705 and was succeeded by her elder son Joseph I. As Empress Dowager, Eleonore was famously known for dressing in mourning for the rest of her life. During the reign of Joseph I, she endeavored to keep her political influence against her daughter-in-law, Wilhelmine Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg, with whom she had a difficult relationship. When the marriage of her second son Charles was arranged, she supervised the Catholic education of his convert bride, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and took her on a pilgrimage to Mariazell in 1706 prior to the marriage in 1707. Eleonore greatly disapproved of her son keeping an official royal mistress, Marianne Pálffy, but was powerless to stop it as she had no influence upon him.


In 1711, Emperor Joseph I died, and was succeeded as ruler of the Habsburg lands by his younger brother Charles, at that point absent in Spain. Eleonore was invested Regent of the Habsburg lands by the privy conference while Charles traveled from Barcelona to Vienna. As such, she was supported by her daughters. Charles had no confidence in her rule and ordered his confidant chancellor Count John Wenceslau Wratislaw von Mitrowitz to report to him about her rule, which placed him in conflict with Eleonore.[9] During her regency, Eleonore confiscated the gifts Joseph I had given to Marianne Pálffy and ordered her to marry if she didn't wish to be expelled from court for good.[9] Further more, she fired Feldmarschall Johann Graf Pálffy von Ungarn, brother of the former royal mistress, who was at that point negotiating the peace with Hungary after the Rákóczi Rebellion.[9] His colleagues, however, persuaded her to restore him in his posts.[9] After negotiations were completed, she signed the Treaty of Szatmár, which recognized the rule of the House of Habsburg in the Kingdom of Hungary.[3][11] She also appointed Alexander Károlyi general. During her regency, there was a fear among the ministers that she would use her position to defend the rights of her brother, the palatine elector, to the Upper Palatinate in a time when the interests of Austria would be better benefited by sacrificing his lands to Bavaria, who claimed its rights to it.[9] Eleonore presided over the congress to determine the succession and election of an new Emperor, and favored the election of Charles as Emperor.

Reign of Charles VI

During the reign of Charles VI, Eleonore, as well as her daughter-in-law Wilhelmine Amalia, engaged herself in the succession on behalf of Joseph I's daughters. Through the secret Mutual Pact of Succession (Pactum Mutuae Successionis) of 1703, signed by both Joseph I and Charles VI with the knowledge and consent of their father, was determined that if both brothers died without surviving male issue, the daughters of the elder brother (Joseph) would have absolute precedence over the daughters of the younger brother (Charles) and the eldest daughter of Joseph would ascend all the Habsburg thrones. In the case that both brothers died without surviving issue, their surviving sisters would be the heiresses.[12][13][14]

This secret pact was only known by Leopold I, his sons and Baron Seliern: neither Eleonore or her daughters-in-law new for certain that the document existed, but they had heard of it, and both Wilhelmina Amalia and Eleonore were very active in establishing the truth and pressuring Charles to establish a formal and public succession order, which would also be necessary for court protocol.[9] In 1712, Wilhelmine Amalia managed to have Baron Seilern to give her the document, which she sent to the head of her family George Louis, Elector, who sent Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, to help her to negotiate with Charles VI her daughters' rights. When Charles VI presented the original version of the Pactum Mutuae Successionis on 21 April 1713, Wilhelmine Amalia had triumphed in making him recognized the secret succession order of 1703. It was at a dinner with Eleonore, in the presence of the numerous archduchesses, that Seilern informed them of this.[9] However, the success of Wilhelmine Amalia was short-lived: only a few days before, on 19 April, Charles VI already announced his wish to amend the Pact in order to give his own future daughters precedence over his nieces in a secret session of the council.[12]

Last years and death

In 1719 Charles VI, for diplomatic reasons, was forced to arrest Eleonore's sister and niece, Hedwig Elisabeth, Princess Sobieski and Maria Clementina Sobieska, to stop the marriage between the latter and the Jacobite pretender James Francis Edward Stuart in Rome. Eleonore managed to delay the transmission of the warrant quite some time during their travel through Austrian lands before they were placed under arrest in Innsbrück. She continued to use her patronage connections to prevent Charles from marrying Maria Clementina to some one else, such as the Duke of Modena, and eventually, Eleonor assisted her to escape Austria to Italy.[9]

During her last years, Eleonore lived as a nun. In her will, she pointed to her servants, who witnessed her ascetic life, never to tell anyone about this. On 1 January 1720, in preparation for the sacrament of confession, the Dowager Empress suffered a stroke, which led her paralyzed on the right side of her body. She received the Anointing of the Sick. She gave her maternal blessings to her children and grandchildren who reunited at her deathbed. During her final days, she was constantly nursed by her two daughters-in-law Wilhelmine Amalia (with whom now had a close relation) and Elisabeth Christine.[3]

Eleonore's coffin at the Imperial Crypt, Vienna.

Eleonore Magdalene, Dowager Holy Roman Empress died on 19 January 1720 aged 65, and four months later, on 24 May, she was buried at the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. In her memory was built a temporary wooden church at the imperial court, named the "sorrow castle" (la: Castrum dolorum). In the year of her death, were published six epitaphs, among them the Jesuit Francis Wagner (who praised her fertility and piousness, her religious upbringing of her children and her wish to escape the world as a widow), and the poet Johann Christian Günther (who described her as a paragon of virtue and faith). According her last will, Eleonore's remains were placed in an ordinary wooden coffin, which was placed at the foot of Leopold I's tomb. The Dowager Empress's heart was put in an urn and placed in the Herzgruft at the Augustinian Church in Vienna. The current lead Baroque coffin who contain Eleonore's remains was a work of Balthasar Ferdinand Moll and was made in August 1755 following the orders of her granddaughter, Empress Maria Theresa, because the old wooden coffin was considerably deteriorated.[3]



  1. Wheatcroft 1995, p. 201.
  2. 1 2 Wurzbach 1860, p. 162.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Wolfgang Kaps: Eleonore Magdalena (Theresia) von Pfalz-Neuburg (1655 – 1720) in: www.pfalzneuburg.de [retrieved 11 November 2016].
  4. Coxe 1817, pp. 369–370.
  5. Braun, Keller, Schnettger 2016, pp. 157–158.
  6. Martin Mutschlechner: Leopold I: Marriage and family in: www.habsburger.net [retrieved 14 November 2016].
  7. Theodor Berger: Die Durchläuchtige Welt, Oder: Kurtzgefaßte Genealogische ..., Vol. 1 [retrieved 14 November 2016].
  8. Rita Parisi: Eleonore Magdalena Theresia (6.1.1655–19.1.1720), deutsche Kaiserin in: www.stadtlexikon-augsburg.de [retrieved 14 November 2016].
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge University Press (2004)
  10. Hildegard Leitgeb: Kaiserin Eleonore Magdalena Theresia (1655-1720) in: wwwg.uni-klu.ac.at [retrieved 14 November 2016].
  11. Braun, Keller, Schnettger 2016 , pp. 167–170.
  12. 1 2 Holborn 1982, p. 128.
  13. Crankshaw 1969, p. 17.
  14. Mahan 2007, pp. 5–6.


Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg
Born: 6 January 1655 Died: 19 January 1720
German royalty
Preceded by
Claudia Felicitas of Austria
Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, Archduchess consort of Austria
Succeeded by
Wilhelmina Amalia of Brunswick
German Queen
Queen consort of Hungary
Queen consort of Bohemia
Preceded by
Jelena Zrinski
Princess consort of Transylvania
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