Eleanor of Austria (who was known by the Spanish and Portuguese version of her name – “Leonor”) was born an Archduchess of Austria and an Infanta of Castile as the eldest child of Philip I of Castile, Duke of Burgundy and Infanta Joanna of Castile. Eleanor was born on November 15, 1498 in Leuven, Burgundy. Through both of her parents, she was descended from influential members of European royalty. Her mother was the daughter of Isabella I, Queen of Castile and her co-monarch, Ferdinand II, King of Aragon. Through her father, Eleanor was the granddaughter of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor and Mary, Duchess of Burgundy, a descendant of the French royal family. Philip, who was known as “the Handsome” for his attractive features, was an energetic and jovial youth of eighteen who had ruled the Low Countries since his mother’s death when he was a young child. The auburn-haired Joanna was as beautiful as her husband was handsome and upon their wedding day on October 20, 1496, the sixteen year-old Spanish Princess fell madly in love with her husband. Her passion for him was so intense that upon his early death in 1506, she would carry his body around with her for some time. Every night she would open his coffin to embrace and kiss his rotting corpse.
Eleanor’s birth was quite surprising to the Burgundian court, as her parents had only been married for two years when she arrived into the world. A year after Eleanor’s birth, Joanna’s brother and the heir to Isabella and Ferdinand’s kingdoms, John, died. This left Joanna’s older sister, Isabella, and her infant son, Prince Miguel de Paz of Portugal, the new heirs. But when Isabella died in 1498 and her son followed suit just two years later, Joanna became the eldest surviving child of Isabella I and Ferdinand II, making her their new heiress. In 1502, Joanna was named the Princess of the Asturias, which is the title customarily given to the heir of Castile. By the time Joanna was crowned Queen of Castile in November of 1504, she had given birth to five children (including Eleanor). Overall, in their ten years of marriage, Joanna and Philip would have six children, four daughters and two sons. All of their children would make advantageous marriages to other European royal houses and become monarchs either by their own right or through marriage.
Eleanor’s younger siblings:
- Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor & King of Spain (1500-1558) married: Infanta Isabella of Portugal – had issue
- Isabella, Queen of Denmark, Norway, & Sweden (1501-1526) married: King Christian II of Denmark, Norway, & Sweden – had issue
- Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor (1503-1564) married: Princess Anne of Bohemia and Hungary – had issue
- Mary, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia (1505-1558) married: Louis II, King of Hungary and Bohemia – no issue
- Catherine, Queen of Portugal (1507-1578) married: John III, King of Portugal – had issue
|Eleanor's Parents: Philip I of Castile, Duke of Burgundy and Joanna, Queen of Castile and Aragon|
On September 25, 1506, just after being proclaimed King of Castile, Eleanor’s father unexpectedly died of typhoid fever at the age of twenty-eight. His death crushed the emotional and mentally unstable Joanna, who was nicknamed “the Mad” for her persistence in carrying her husband’s corpse around with her for some time. It is likely that Joanna’s ambitious father, who didn’t want to give up the throne of Castile just yet, exaggerated her mental illness to such an extreme that he forced her to surrender her royal power to himself as her regent in 1507. He then confined her, a queen only in name, to a nunnery in Tordesillas. After her father’s death and her mother’s confinement, Eleanor was sent to live in the Low Countries with her paternal aunt, Margaret of Austria, who had previously been married to the late John, Prince of Asturias, Joanna’s brother. Her paternal grandfather, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (whose second wife was Anne, Duchess of Brittany, and his third wife was Bianca Maria Sforza) attempted to betroth her to the future King of England, Henry VIII. But when Henry’s father, Henry VII, died in 1509 and Henry VIII succeeded to the throne, he chose to marry Eleanor’s maternal aunt, Catherine of Aragon, the widow of Henry’s older brother. Throughout Eleanor’s whole life, she would become the ultimate pawn in the tricky game of royal matrimonial union. Her grandfather also attempted to marry her off to the French King Louis XII and later his successor, Francis I, as well as the Polish King Sigismund I and John III of Portugal (who later married her younger sister, Catherine) but none of these matches came to fruition. In 1510, Eleanor was also put forth as a possible wife for Antoine, Duke of Lorraine, but just like the previous matches, the arrangement fell through. In 1516, Eleanor’s mother, still confined in the convent, became the Queen of Aragon upon Ferdinand II’s death. But as Joanna’s mental and physical state declined rapidly each year, she continued to hold the title of Queen of Castile and Aragon while her son, Charles, actually ruled the two kingdoms as regent. This arrangement went on until April of 1555 when Joanna died at the age of seventy-five and was officially succeeded by Charles.
In 1517, a scandal surrounding Eleanor erupted at the Austrian court when it was rumored that she was having a love affair with Frederick II, Elector Palatine. The possibility of a secret romance between Eleanor and Frederick was discovered when her brother, the Emperor Charles, happened upon her reading a love letter from Frederick. In order to protect his sister’s modesty and eligibility on the marriage market, he made Eleanor and Frederick swear to an attorney that they hadn’t secretly married, after which he barred Frederick from court. In the same year, a marriage was finally arranged for Eleanor with King Manuel I of Portugal. Manuel was the son of Infante Fernando, Duke of Viseu, who was the second surviving son of King Edward of Portugal and the younger brother of King Alfonso V. Manuel’s mother, Infanta Beatrice of Portugal, was the granddaughter of King John I. When Manuel was twenty-six years old, he succeeded his first cousin, King John II, as the King of Portugal (John II also happened to be Manuel’s brother-in-law, as he had married Manuel’s sister, Eleanor of Viseu).
|Manuel I, King of Portugal|
Manuel had married two times before his third marriage with Eleanor. His first wife was Infanta Isabella of Aragon, who happened to be Eleanor’s maternal aunt. After the couple wed in 1497, they had one son, Miguel da Paz, who died less than two months before his second birthday in 1500. Isabella died just five days after the birth of her son in 1498 at the age of twenty-seven. Manuel remarried three years after his wife’s death to Infanta Maria of Aragon, another one of Eleanor’s maternal aunts. The couple had ten children together but two died at birth, leaving just six surviving sons and two surviving daughters. Their children included: King John III of Portugal (who Eleanor’s grandfather had tried to betroth her to years ago), Isabella of Portugal (who married Eleanor’s younger brother, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor) and King Henry I of Portugal. After Maria’s death in 1517 at the age of thirty-four, Manuel wanted to maintain his alliance with Aragon and Castile, so he decided to marry the niece of both his previous wives, Eleanor of Austria. Eleanor’s brother, Charles, had wanted his sister to marry Manuel to prevent any chance of the Portuguese aiding rebels in Castile, if a rebellion happened to occur in the near future. Eleanor travelled with her brother to Spain to marry her royal Portuguese fiancée, which she did on July 16, 1518. With Eleanor’s marriage, she became the Queen of Portugal at the age of nineteen (at the time of the marriage, Manuel was much older than his young bride, as he was forty-nine years old). Through her father, Eleanor was the first cousin twice removed of Manuel while through her mother, she was his second cousin twice removed.
|Eleanor's brother: Charles V, |
Holy Roman Emperor
Less than two years after the wedding, Eleanor gave birth to her first child on February 18, 1520 – a son named the Infante Charles. However, little Charles didn’t survive long and died on April 15, 1521 when he was a little over a year old. Eleanor had her second and final child with Manuel shortly after Charles’s birth. The couple’s daughter, the Infanta Maria, was born on June 8, 1521 and unlike her late brother, she survived to adulthood. Six months after Maria’s birth and three years after Eleanor had become Queen of Portugal, King Manuel I died of the plague on December 13, 1521 when he was fifty-two years old. After Manuel’s funeral, the now Queen Dowager left her short-lived adopted home with her infant daughter to head back to the court of her brother, Charles, in Vienna. But even after the late Manuel’s three marriages into Eleanor’s family, it seems as though the royals of Portugal were still eager to marry more of Eleanor’s relatives. In 1525, Eleanor’s younger sister, Catherine, married King John III of Portugal, who happened to be the eldest surviving son of Manuel I and the former stepson of Eleanor herself. Though his sister was now a widow, she was still young and beautiful, which allowed Charles to use her for his own advantage in the marriage market once again. In July of 1523, he betrothed her to Charles III, Duke of Bourbon to create an alliance between Charles and Bourbon against France but the marriage plans fell through. Eventually, Charles made yet another successful marriage pact for his sister in 1526, this time to King Francis I of France.
|Francis I, King of France|
Francis had been the King of France since 1515. As the only son of Charles d'Orléans, the Count of Angoulême and Louise of Savoy, he was the great-great grandson of King Charles V of France. Although he was a rather distant descendant of the kings of France, he inherited the throne when King Louis XII died without male heirs. Francis had been married once before to Louis XII’s eldest daughter, Claude, the Duchess of Brittany, and they had five surviving children before Claude’s death in 1524. Although Francis was regarded as a handsome man for the time, he was also a notorious womanizer who kept mistresses during the entirety of his marriage. His lovers typically held far more influence and power than the late Claude ever had. During the Four Years’ War, a part of the Italian Wars where France and Venice were fighting against the Holy Roman Empire, England, and the Papal States, Francis experienced his worst defeat at the Battle of Pavia on February 24, 1525. Charles’s army not only took many important French nobleman captive but they also captured Francis himself. Charles held the French king as a prisoner in Madrid and only gave him back his freedom on March 17, 1526 after he signed the humiliating Treaty of Madrid, in which Francis was forced to make huge concessions, including: the surrender of any French claims to Naples and Milan, the recognition of the independence of the Duchy of Burgundy, and the submission of all French rights to Flanders and the Artois. One of the terms of the abhorred treaty was that Francis must marry Charles’s sister, the widowed Eleanor. Francis unwillingly and reluctantly agreed to the match, since he had no choice but to obey the treaty’s commands. However, he held off the marriage for so long that a new treaty called “The Ladies’ Peace” had to be created in 1529, stipulating that the wedding must occur immediately.
|Eleanor of Austria, Queen of France|
Francis could dally no longer and by 1530, Eleanor left Spain with her future stepsons, Francis, Duke of Brittany and the eventual Henry II, who had been held captive in Spain in their father’s place for the last four years. Eleanor and the French princes met the King at the border of France and Spain, where Eleanor and Francis (her fourth cousin twice removed through her father) were married on July 4, 1530. Now the Queen of France, Eleanor was thirty-one years old to Francis’s thirty-five years. Soon after the wedding, the royal couple officially entered Bordeaux and then Paris. Though Francis had fulfilled his obligation and married Eleanor, he had no intention of being a faithful or devoted husband to her. He hated everything she stood for as she was a constant reminder of his humiliation at the Battle of Pavia and the distasteful Treaty of Madrid. Francis ignored his wife for their entire marriage and constantly displayed himself in the company of his mistress at the time, Anne de Pisseleu d'Heilly, to the public. Despite the fact that Eleanor was never loved by her husband (as evidenced by the fact that they never had any children), she was given a coronation at Saint-Denis on May 31, 1531 where she wore a dress of purple velvet to display her regal status. She also carried out the royal duties of the Queen of France at official events like her stepson Henry’s wedding to Catherine de’ Medici in 1533. She was popular with the people (who knew her by the French version of her name – “Aliénor”) because she customarily involved herself in acts of charity and she even took an interst in her stepchildren, as she raised her stepdaughters, Madeline and Margaret, in her own household to contribute to their upbringing.
Though Eleanor had no political power, she did have an important position as a messenger between France and her brother’s empire. She partook in various peace negotiations between the two rival kingdoms like the one between her husband and her brother in 1538 at Aigues-Mortes and another between Charles and their sister, Mary, in 1544. Eleanor became a widow once again after almost seventeen years of marriage when Francis died on March 31, 1547 at the age of fifty-two, probably from the effects of syphilis. Now a Queen Dowager for the second time in her life, Eleanor left France for Brussels in 1548 to head to her brother’s court. She remained there until October of 1555 when her brother abdicated, after which they left the royal court with their sister, Mary, in August of 1556. The two sisters settled in Jarandilla de la Vera while their brother stayed in a nearby monastery, where Eleanor and Mary often went to see him. It was near this small, modest Spanish town, that Eleanor reunited with her only child after a long twenty-eight years.
|Eleanor's daughter: Infanta Maria of Portugal,|
Duchess of Viseu
(Antonis Mor, 1550-55)
Infanta Maria of Portugal, Duchess of Viseu, had been raised and groomed into a proper royal princess at her uncle’s court in Vienna ever since she and her mother left Portugal after Manuel I’s death. When Eleanor left for France in 1530, she had to leave behind her nine year old daughter, as was the custom for widows who remarried. A few years after her mother’s departure, Maria left Vienna for her the Portuguese court of her half-brother, John III, in Lisbon, where she would remain alongside his family (including his wife and her maternal aunt, Catherine) for the rest of her life. Maria never married, although marriage negotiations to various suitors such as Henry VIII and her nephew and cousin, the future Philip II of Spain, were carried out. As a princess of Portugal, the niece of the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Duchess of Viseu in her own right, Maria became one of the wealthiest princesses of Europe. She spent her time and money promoting the arts and writing as well as becoming a patron to several building projects in the Lisbon countryside. In 1558, Maria travelled to the town of Badajoz on the Luso-Hispanic border to see her mother again. The last time Eleanor had seen her daughter she had been a small, gangly child of nine. Now, she was a mature, grown woman of thirty-seven who was unrecognizable to the aging Eleanor. Eleanor wanted her daughter to leave Portugal and come live with her but Maria, who had already established a life in Lisbon, turned down the request and only stayed with her mother for three weeks before going back home. On the way home from Badajoz, Eleanor died shortly after she parted ways with her daughter on February 25, 1558 at the age of fifty-nine, perhaps out of the grief caused by her daughter’s denial of her request. Eleanor of Austria, Infanta of Castile and Aragon, Archduchess of Austria, and the Queen of both Portugal and France, was buried first in the city of Lleida and later in El Escorial, the historical home of the King of Spain. Her daughter, Maria, survived her by nineteen years until she died on October 10, 1577 at the age of fifty-six.