Archduchess Barbara of Austria

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Barbara of Austria (30 April 1539 – 19 September 1572), was an Archduchess of Austria as a member of the House of Habsburg and by marriage Duchess consort of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio during 1565–1572.

Barbara of Austria
Francesco Terzio 005.jpg
Portrait by Francesco Terzi, 1565
Duchess consort of Ferrara
Tenure5 December 1565 – 19 September 1572
Duchess consort of Modena and Reggio
Tenure5 December 1565 – 19 September 1572
Born30 April 1539
Died19 September 1572(1572-09-19) (aged 33)
HouseHabsburg (by birth)
Este (by marriage)
FatherFerdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor
MotherAnna of Bohemia and Hungary


Early yearsEdit

Born in Vienna on 30 April 1539,[1] Barbara was the eleventh child and eighth daughter of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and Anna of Bohemia and Hungary. On her father's side she was the granddaughter of King Philip I of Castile (also Duke of Burgundy) and Queen Joanna of Castile. On her mother's side, she was the granddaughter of King Vladislaus II of Hungary and Anne of Foix-Candale (who in turn was through her own mother Infanta Catherine of Navarre, a granddaughter of Queen Eleanor of Navarre and Gaston IV, Count of Foix).[2][3]

In the winter of 1547, the widowed Emperor Ferdinand I entrusted all his unmarried daughters to the care of nuns in the monastery in Innsbruck, where Barbara lived until her marriage. Only once, in 1552, during the invasion of the Tyrol by the Protestant army under the command of Maurice, Elector of Saxony, Barbara and her sisters Magdalena, Margaret, Helena and Joanna, spend some time outside the monastery at Bruneck Castle.[1]

Barbara was raised a Catholic, receiving a deeply religious upbringing. The characteristic features of her education, based on the writings of the Jesuits Peter Canisius and Diego Laynez, were religiosity and charity. Her confessors were also Jesuits.[1]

Contemporaries had different opinions about Barbara's physical appearance. The papal nuncio at the imperial court in Vienna, Cardinal Zaccaria Delfino, considered her ugly. Florentine diplomat Antonio degli Albizzi in correspondence described Barbara's appearance as mediocre. He also pointed the presence of Prognathism in her —a characteristic anatomical who appeared in the members of the House of Habsburg. The Venetian diplomat Alvise Contarini, on the other hand, considered Barbara the most beautiful of the unmarried Archduchesses.[1]


In 1560, Barbara was considered as a wife to Guglielmo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, who later married Eleanor, the elder sister of the Archduchess. In 1562, several suitors appeared to Emperor Ferdinand I asking for the hand of his youngest daughter Joanna; among those wooing the Archduchess were John Sigismund Zápolya, Francesco de' Medici, Crown Prince of Florence and Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio. The latter began negotiations for marriage in November 1563.[1][4]

A dynastic marriage with the head of the House of Este was beneficial to the House of Habsburg, who sought to reduce the traditional influence of the French Kings over the Dukes of Ferrara. However, in order to avoid a conflict between the Houses of Medici and Este, the Emperor proposed to Barbara as wife of Alfonso II, a decision supported by King Philip II of Spain, an ally of the Duchy of Florence.[1][5]

In July 1565, Barbara first saw Alfonso II, who visited Innsbruck to get to know her. In November of the same year, she and Joanna arrived in Trento, where Pope Pius IV sent his legates to conduct a double marriage ceremony; however, because of the renewed conflict between the grooms, the brides had to go to the respective capitals of their future spouses' possessions to be wedded.[1][4]

On 1 December 1565, Barbara arrived in Ferrara, and on 5 December she was married to Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio. The wedding celebrations, during which the "Temple of Love" was built and a grandiose tournament took place, lasted until 9 December.[1][6] Among the guests at the wedding were the former fiancé of Barbara, the Duke of Mantua with his wife, her older sister.[4] Torquato Tasso (at that time the court poet of the Dukes of Ferrara) was a witness to the solemn entry of the bride's cortege to Ferrara and subsequent wedding; he later described what he saw in his pastoral drama "Aminta", in which he dedicated several canzones to the memory of Barbara. The celebrations were short due to the death of Pope Pius IV.[7][8]

Becoming a Duchess of Ferrara, Barbara won the love of her subjects thanks to the mercy with which she treated all people in need of him. Despite the fact that she did not speak Italian, a complete understanding reigned between her and her husband. Their marriage, which turned out to be childless, was happy. When, a year after the wedding, Alfonso II participated in the war against the Ottoman Empire, Barbara was sincerely worried about her husband. The experience negatively impaired her health; since that time the Duchess was constantly ill.[1]

Despite being a devout Catholic, Barbara was able to forge an excellent relationship with her Protestant mother-in-law Renée of France. The Duchess's confessors in Ferrara, as well as in Innsbruck, were Jesuits, whom Barbara provided special patronage. After the devastating earthquakes in 1570 and 1571 in the Duchy of Ferrara, she supported young orphaned girls. To this end, she founded the Conservatore delle orfane di Santa Barbara in Ferrara. In the period between earthquakes, the Duchess had to live in a tent, which exacerbated her health problems.[1][9]

Premature deathEdit

Barbara died of old age in Ferrara on 19 September 1572. The untimely death of the Duchess caused grief among her subjects. The Jesuits grieved the most. The leadership of the order allowed the Duke to bury his wife in the altar of the Ferrarese Church of the Gesù. Seven years later, Alfonso II married for the third time to Margherita Gonzaga, Barbara's niece.[1][6]

In cultureEdit

Torquato Tasso dedicated several sonnets, canzones, eulogies and dialogues to Barbara of Austria.[1] Another Italian poet, Giovanni Battista Guarini, also dedicated a canzon to her. The collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna contains two portraits of Barbara. In the early one, a work of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, she is depicted during the period of her negotiations of her marriage to Alfonso II in 1563-1564 and presumably made for her future husband.[10] In another portrait of 1565, made after her marriage, she is depicted in full size. This portrait is work of Francesco Terzi.[11]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Rill, Gerhard (1964). "Barbara d'Asburgo, duchessa di Ferrara". Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani – Volume 6 (in Italian). Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  2. ^ Behr, C. von (1870). "Genealogie der in Europa regierenden Fürstenhäuser: nebst der Reihenfolge sämmtlicher Päpste und einem Anhange umfassend die Häuser Capet, Habsburg, Romanow und eine Übersicht der Kaiser und Könige von Italien und Deutschland" (in German). Leipzig: Tauchnitz. p. 207.
  3. ^ Wurzbach, Constantin von (1860). "Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich" (in German). Vienna: Theil. p. 156.
  4. ^ a b c Muratori, L. An. (1846). "Annali d'Italia dal principio dell'era volgare sino all'anno 1750 compilati da Ludovico Antonio Muratori e continuati sino a' giorni nostri" (in Italian). Venice: G. Antonelli. pp. 713–714.
  5. ^ Duchhardt H. (2007). Jahrbuch für Europäische Geschichte (in German). VIII. Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag. p. 45. ISBN 978-3-48-684268-5.
  6. ^ a b Melanchthon Ph., Scheible H. (2003). Melanchthons Briefwechsel (in German). XI. Stuttgart – Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog. p. 420. ISBN 3-7728-2257-6.
  7. ^ Holmes, Wiffen J. (1859). "Life of Torquato Tasso". New York: Delisser and Procter. p. 33.
  8. ^ Tasso, Torquato (1824). "Opere di Torquato Tasso" (in Italian). Milan: Societa tipografica de classici italiani. pp. 526, 546.
  9. ^ "Barbara d'Austria, vittima del sisma" (in Italian). Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  10. ^ Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. "Bust of a Daughter of Ferdinand I" (in German). Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  11. ^ Terzio, Francesco. "Erzherzogin Barbara (1539—1572), Herzogin von Ferrara in ganzer Figur" (in German). Retrieved 10 January 2017.[dead link]
  12. ^ a b c d Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Joanna" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  13. ^ a b c d Priebatsch, Felix (1908), "Wladislaw II.", Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB) (in German), 54, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 688–696
  14. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Philipp I. der Schöne von Oesterreich" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 7. p. 112 – via Wikisource.
  15. ^ Boureau, Alain (1995). The Lord's First Night: The Myth of the Droit de Cuissage. Translated by Cochrane, Lydia G. The University of Chicago Press. p. 96.
  16. ^ Noubel, P., ed. (1877). Revue de l'Agenais [Review of the Agenais]. 4. Société académique d'Agen. p. 497.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Archduchess Barbara of Austria at Wikimedia Commons

Archduchess Barbara of Austria
Born: 30 April 1539 Died: 19 September 1572
Royal titles
Title last held by
Lucrezia de' Medici
Duchess consort of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio
5 December 1565 – 19 September 1572
Title next held by
Margherita Gonzaga