Eleanor de' Medici

Eleanor de' Medici
Duchess consort of Mantua and Montferrat

Portrait of Eleonora de' Medici
Duchess of Mantua and Montferrat
Reign 14 August 1587 – 9 September 1611
Born (1567-02-28)28 February 1567
Florence, Italy
Died 9 September 1611(1611-09-09) (aged 44)
Cavriana, Italy
Spouse Vincenzo I Gonzaga
Issue Francesco IV, Duke of Mantua
Ferdinando I, Duke of Mantua
Margherita, Duchess of Lorraine
Vincenzo II, Duke of Mantua
Eleonora, Holy Roman Empress
Full name
Eleonora di Francesco de' Medici
House Medici
Father Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany
Mother Joanna of Austria

Eleonor de' Medici (28 February 1567[1][2] – 9 September 1611) was a daughter of Francesco I de' Medici and Joanna of Austria, daughter of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, and Anna of Bohemia and Hungary. She was a family member of the famous House of Medici and the sister of Marie de' Medici the Queen of France. By marriage she was Duchess consort of Mantua.

Early life

Eleanor, born Eleonora, was born in Florence, Tuscany, Italy, on 28 February 1567, as the eldest child of Francesco I de' Medici and his first wife Archduchess Joanna. Her baptism took place the same year and was attended by Cardinal Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte an adoptive nephew of Pope Julius III.[3] Cardinal Spinello de' Benci performed the ceremony on behalf of Pope Pius V.[4] The baptism was celebrated also with hunting excursions and parties.[5]

It was at first believed Eleanor would marry Francis, Duke of Anjou,[6] son of Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici. In 1570 it was feared Eleanor had contracted smallpox but this was not the case, she had only a fever from which she recovered.[7][8] Her parents and grandfather Cosimo sent her flasks of holy water as she recovered from her illness.[9]

In 1574 when Eleanor was seven years of age, her grandfather Cosimo died therefore, her father became Grand Duke of Florence. In 1578, when Eleanor was eleven her mother died,[10] and her father later married Bianca Cappello.[11] Medici was one of seven children. One of her sisters Marie de' Medici became queen of France and was the mother of Louis XIII of France, Eleanor and Marie had another sister, Anna who died at the age of 14; Eleanor wrote to her father on behalf of the dying Anna, who wished to see her father, Anna died that same day.[12] The rest of Eleanor and Marie's siblings died during childhood also.[13]


Wedding and Celebrations

Marriage of Eleanor de' Medici and Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga

Medici married Vincenzo I Gonzaga on 29 April 1584,[2][14] for her husband it was his second marriage after he divorced Margherita Farnese. Celebrations for the marriage contract being signed on 4 April 1584, took place in Mantua, including bells ringing and fireworks being set off. Eight days after the celebrations, the couple traveled to Florence to meet Eleanor's father Grand Duke Francesco and her stepmother Bianca Cappello, at this point Vincenzo kept a portrait of Eleanor (presumably painted or drawn) by his bed.[15] On April 10, Francesco sent a letter to Philip II of Spain asking for permission so that Eleanor and Vincenzo could be married.[16] However Francesco also wished for proof of his son-in-law's fertility before concluding marriage negotiations.[17]

On 3 May 1584, Eleanor arrive in Mantua. After arriving by boat, Eleanor disembarked at Miglioretto (the shores of the Mincio river immediately downstream from Mantua) and was accompanied to Palazzo Te by Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma, her husband Vincenzo, as well as many noblemen and women from Piacenza, Parma, and Mantua. After resting at Palazzo Te, Eleanor changed into a silver-brocade dress with many jewels and made her entry into the city to salvos of arquebuses and artillery while riding in a semi-uncovered gilded carriage pulled by four white horses and accompanied by the Mantuan military, mounted arquebusiers, light cavalry, noblemen and women in carriages. After arriving at the Castello di San Giorgio she proceeded to the palatine church of Santa Barbara and the Ducal Palace where she was greeted at the foot of the stairs by Duke and Duchess of Mantua Guglielmo Gonzaga and Eleanor of Austria. After a meal she was accompanied by Cardinals Gianfrancesco Gambara and Giovanni Vincenzo Gonzaga di Guastalla by boat to Palazzo Te, where she was visited by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Duke of Parma.[18]

Married Life

Eleanor initially had several portraits commissioned to be made of her deceased mother Joanna as well as her deceased siblings Anna and Filippo, but was unhappy with the length of time taken to paint the portraits.[19] On 7 May 1586, Eleanor gave birth to her first child, a son named Francesco; during the pregnancy her father sent her a present of some plums.[20] The following year, Eleanor's father-in-law Guglielmo died therefore Vincenzo became Duke of Mantua whilst Eleanor served as his Duchess consort. The same year, she gave birth to a second son, Ferdinando after a difficult pregnancy.[21] In the next several years, Eleanor had further children: firstly a son, Guglielmo Domenico in 1589, who died young, then in 1591 to a daughter named Margherita, who married Henry II, Duke of Lorraine, followed by a son named Vincenzo in 1594 who succeeded his older brothers. She then suffered a miscarriage in 1596, four months into pregnancy [22] and in 1598 she finally gave birth to a second daughter, also named Eleanor, who married Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor.

Portrait of Eleanor de' Medici, Duchess of Mantua

In October 1600, Eleanor attended the wedding of her sister Marie to Henry IV of France. In 1601, Queen Marie gave birth to her first child and son, the future Louis XIII of France; Marie made her sister Eleanor the godmother of the child.[23]

In 1602, Vincenzo traveled to Flanders in search of medical treatment, he left Eleanor in control of the duchy.[24] In this time she sent Ferdinando I de' Medici a list of men condemned to the galleys, in the letter she informed Ferdinando of her post whilst her husband was away.[25] During the winter of 1603–1604, Galileo visited the Mantuan court in an effort to obtain a position there, and was offered a salary, but could not agree on the terms with Vincenzo, who instead presented Galileo with a gold chain and two silver dishes. In 1606, Eleanor accompanied her daughter Margherita to Lorraine for her marriage to Duke Henry.[26]

Death and Funeral

Eleanor fell ill in the first quarter of 1611 with a prolonged illness, but seemed to recover by April.[27] Months later, Eleanor retired for two months to the Palazzo di Porto in Porto Mantovano, "one mile from the city and beautiful for its gardens and fresh water." With the arrival of hotter weather, Eleanor moved north to the hill-top fortified villa at Cavriana. There, on the day after the Feast of the Birth of the Virgin, her health rapidly declined and died on 9 September 1611, aged forty four.[28] At the time of her death, her husband Duke Vincenzo was in Casale Monferrato. Her husband outlived her by only one year, dying in 1612.[29]

After her death, Eleanor's body was placed in a "lead casket" (which in turn was placed inside a wooden casket sealed with pitch and draped with a black velvet cloth), and accompanied by "numerous priests from the outlying towns" to the parish church of Cavriana, where she lay in state for two days. Next her body was transported to Mantua on a "cart draped with black fabric" and pulled by six horses caparisoned in black and accompanied by twelve "priests on horseback" and twelve "foot attendants bearing burning torches" and followed by twelve carriages carrying members of the Gonzaga family and twelve carts, also covered in black. Eleanor's body was then taken to the Corte Vecchia where her body was deposited to await the return of Vincenzo.

When Duke Vincenzo returned to Mantua on 3 October 1611, plans were made for Eleanor's funeral to be held on the Feast of Saint Francesco (it was then delayed by a few days so that preparations in Sant'Andrea could be finished). During this interim period, her body was placed upon a "beautiful catafalque resplendant with many candles" that had been specially constructed in the aforementioned oratory and accompanied by priests from Santa Barbara and tertiary nuns from the city's major churches. The funerary functions were performed by the Bishop of Casale, since the bishop of Mantua, Annibale ("Francesco") Gonzaga di Bozzolo, was ill. The procession on foot that accompanied Eleanor's body from the oratory in the Corte Vecchia to Sant'Andrea was led by the "gonfalone" of the principal church and followed in order by members of the city's various civic and religious institutions, including: the misericordia, the city's various hospitals, schools, and churches (including the abbots of each).[30]


See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eleonora de' Medici.


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  2. 1 2 "Eleonora de' Medici". GeneWeb. 21 January 2008. Retrieved 25 June 2008.
  3. Yan, Wang (3 August 2007). "Murder-riddle Medici princess found". Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
  4. Mari, Francesco; Polettini, Aldo; Lippi, Donatella; Polettini, Elisabetta Bertol (17 June 2006). "The mysterious death of Francesco I de' Medici and Bianca Cappello: an arsenic murder?" (PDF). British Medical Journal. Retrieved 27 June 2008.
  5. Vogt-Lüerssen, Maike. "Johanna of Austria". kleio.org. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
  6. John Cardinal (10 March 2007). "Vincenzo I Gonzaga, Duca di Mantova". thePeerage.com. Retrieved 27 June 2008.
  7. James, Ralph N. (1897). Painters and Their Works. University of Michigan. p. 421. ASIN B000Z6GQ0C.
  8. Vogt-Lüerssen, Maike. "Eleonora de' Medici, Duchess of Mantua". kleio.org. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
  9. "Vincenzo I Gonzaga". The Medici Archive Project. September 2001. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
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