Eleanor of Toledo

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Eleanor of Toledo (Italian: Eleonora di Toledo, 11 January 1522 – 17 December 1562), born Doña Leonor Álvarez de Toledo y Osorio, was a Spanish noblewoman and Duchess of Florence[a] She was the first wife and political adviser of Cosimo I de' Medici.

Eleanor of Toledo
Eleanora of Toledo.jpg
Portrait by Agnolo Bronzino
Duchess consort of Florence
Tenure29 March 1539 – 17 December 1562
Born11 January 1522
Alba de Tormes, Spain
Died17 December 1562 (aged 40)
Pisa, Duchy of Florence
SpouseCosimo I de' Medici
see details...
Full name
Leonor Álvarez de Toledo y Osorio
HouseAlba de Tormes
FatherPedro de Toledo y Zúñiga
MotherMaría Osorio y Pimentel
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Eleanor ruled as regent of Florence during her husband's frequent absences and contributed profoundly to the cultural advance of the duchy. She is credited with being the first modern first lady or consort. [2]

Early lifeEdit


Eleanor was born in Alba de Tormes, Salamanca, Spain, on 11 January 1522. She was the second daughter of the Viceroy of Naples, Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, Marquis of Villafranca, and Maria Osorio, 2nd Marquise of Villafranca. Her father was Emperor Charles V's lieutenant-governor and brother of the 3rd Duke of Alba. Through her paternal side, Eleanor was the third cousin of the Emperor. Their great-grandmothers were daughters of Fadrique Enríquez de Mendoza, a grandson of King Alfonso XI of Castile.[3]

In May 1534, two years her father's appointment as Viceroy of Naples, her mother, Eleanor, and her siblings joined him in Italy. The children were brought up in the strict and closed surrondings of the Spanish viceregal court. Eleanor seems to not have attracted much attention, except for the furtives glances of the visiting page Cosimo de' Medici in 1535 when he accompanied his cousin, Duke Alessandro of Florence, on a visit to Naples.


Three years later, Cosimo, now Duke of Florence, was searching for a wife who could help strengthen his political position as the Medici were still new to their ducal status.[4] He initially asked to marry Margaret of Austria, illegitimate daughter of Charles V and widow of Alessandro, but she displayed enormous reluctance at the idea in order to serve her father's own plans for her.[5] Not wanting to antagonize Cosimo, the Emperor offered him one of the daughters of the rich Viceroy of Naples. The bride would provide the Medici with a powerful link to Spain, at that time ultimately in control of Florence, offering the opportunity to show sufficient loyalty and trust to Spain to the point that its troops were withdrawn from the province.[6] Remembering Eleanor, Cosimo firmly refused the Viceroy's first offer of his eldest and plainer daughter, Isabella. Her father agreed and provided Cosimo settled a large amount of money on Eleanor as dowry.[7]

The couple was married by proxy on 29 March 1539. No sooner was the agreetment reached than the two began to correspond. In May, Florencian agent, Jacobo de' Medici, in Naples, informed the ducal secretary, Pierfrancesco Riccio, that "The Lady Duchess says she is happy and filled to the brim with satisfaction, and I want to assure of this." He then added that when Eleanor had received a letter from her fiancé "she took pride in having understood it on her own, without anyone's help." She was already working on her reading knowledge of Italian, something she probably hadn't been interested in developing while living in Naples.[8]

On 11 June, 17 years-old Eleanor set sail from Naples, accompanied by her brother Garcia with seven galleys following.[9] They arrived at Livorno on the morning of June 22. That same morning, she left for Pisa and halfway through, met Cosimo. After a short stay in Pisa, the couple left for Florence, stopping for a few days at the Poggio a Caiano.[10]

Marriage and issueEdit

June 29, 1539 marked Eleanor and Cosimo's grandiose entrance from the Porta al Prato to the Church of San Lorenzo for her wedding in a grand, lavish celebration. Agnolo Bronzino provided festive decor, the first instance for a cultural and artistic renewal in Florence after the disastrous Siege in 1529-1530. This showed the new Duke's policy of "creating an organic relationship bewteen artists and the principality."

Eleanor and Cosimo had a long and peaceful married life. Surprisingly for the era, her husband was faithful to her throughout their married life. The ducal couple served as an example of a traditional couple, which served to strengthen Cosimo's various reforms and separate their association with the former Duke,[11] who was assassinated in 1537 by another member of the Medici family without leaving legitimate heirs and consolidating his dynasty's strength in Tuscany after years of politically damaging speculation about his sexual irregularities and excesses. He was reputed to have been the son of a black serving woman and Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, later Pope Clement VII, the illegitimate son of Giuliano de' Medici, who was assassinated in the Pazzi Conspiracy against the Medici.

Before their marriage, the Medici line had been in danger of extinction. Eleanor and Cosimo had eleven children; five sons and three daughters reached maturity.

  • Maria (April 3, 1540 – November 19, 1557): Engaged to Alfonso II d'Este, but died before the marriage.
  • Franceso (March 25, 1541 – October 19, 1587): Cosimo's successor as Grand Duke of Tuscany.
  • Isabella (31 August 1542 – 16 July 1576): Married, Paolo Giordano I Orsini, Duke of Bracciano.
  • Giovanni (28 September 1543 – November 1562): Became Bishop of Pisa and a cardinal.
  • Lucrezia (7 June 1545 – 21 April 1561): Married Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara and Modena, in 1560.
  • Pietro (10 August 1546 – 10 June 1547): Known as "Pedricco". Died in infancy.
  • Garzia (5 July 1547 – 12 December 1562): Died of malaria at the age of 15.
  • Antonio (July 1, 1548 – July 1548): Died in infancy.
  • Ferdinando (30 July 1549 – 17 February 1609): Francesco's successor as Grand Duke of Tuscany.
  • Anna (19 March 1553 – 6 August 1553): Died in infancy.
  • Pietro (3 June 1554 – 25 April 1604): Murdered his wife and cousin, Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo, because of infidelity.

Cosimo and Eleonora heard reports of their children's progress and offered directions for their education, living arrangements, and clothing. The birth of heirs and daughters who could be married into other ruling families inaugurated an era of stability and strength in Tuscany. Their royal ancestors provided the Medici with the blue blood they had lacked and began the process of placing them on a footing with other European sovereigns.

Duchess of FlorenceEdit

Eleanor of Toledo with her son Giovanni by Agnolo Bronzino, 1545. It is considered the first state portrait to depict a ruler's wife with his heir. The picture was intended to demonstrate the wealth, domesticity and continuity of the Medici.[12]

Eleanor's high profile in Florence as consort was initially a public relations exercise promoted by her husband, who needed to reassure the public of the stability and respectability of not only his family, but the new reign. Her motto was cum pudore laeta fecunditas (meaning "happy fruitfulness with chastity"), making reference to the plentiful harvests of her lands, her fidelity, and numerous children.[13]

Eleanor eventually gained considerable influence in Florence through her involvement in politics, so much so that Cosimo often consulted with her. So great was his trust in her political skills that in his frequent absences the Duke made his wife regent, a station which established her position as more than just a pretty bearer of children. She ruled during Cosimo's military campaigns in Genoa in 1541 and 1543,  his illness from 1544 to 1545, and again at times when the war for the conquest of Siena (1551–1554) required either his absence or greater focus on military matters.


Eleanor was very keen and interested in business, especially regarding agriculture. She owned great tracts of grain crops and livestock, such as beekeeping and silkworms raising. An additional business she took part was mining. Her harvests were plentiful and the products were shipped as far as Spain. She managed and sold her goods wisely, which helped to considerably expand and increase the profitability of the vast Medici estates. Through her charitable interests, the lot of the peasantry obtained many benefits as well.[14]

Internal conflictEdit

Many Florentines initially thought of Eleanor as a Spanish barbarian and enemy to her husband's homeland.[15] Despite the xenophobia she received, the Duchess unhesitatingly supported Cosimo's policies to restore the duchy's independence from foreign lands. It became known that people unable to gain an audience with the Duke realized that through his wife their causes could at least be pleaded.


A pious woman, Eleanor made solid donations to convents and charities. In 1547, Juan Polanco, sent by Ignatius de Loyola to preach in Pistoia, approached the Duchess and asked for her patronage to founding a Jesuit college. She refused his petition, but later undertook negotiations with Diego Laínez that eventually led to the first Jesuit school in Florence. Laínez eventually gained her affection, to the point that she became a constant intercessor to Cosimo on the order's behalf and founded many new churches in the city. However, she didn't completely embraced the entire Society nor their devotion. [16]

Patronage of ArtsEdit

Detail of a Bronzino fresco in the Cappella di Eleonora
A lunette painted in 1599 by Giusto Utens, depicts the palazzo before its extensions, with the amphitheatre and the Boboli Gardens behind.

Eleanor was patron to many of the most artists of the age, incluiding Agnolo Bronzino, Giorgio Vasari, and Niccolò Tribolo. A considerable part of her income was used in many notable buildings still standing today.

Eleanor's private chapel in the Palazzo Vecchio was decorated by Bronzino. From 1559 to 1564, she commissioned Vasari to make a new fresco in her apartments about famous women whose, in his words, actions have equalled or surpassed men, such as Queen Esther, Penelope, and Florentine heroine Gualdrada. It is thought that the redecorations were a concerted effort on the middle age Eleanor's part to reshape her public persona away from fecundity and towards other regal virtues - wisdom, valour and prudence.[17]

In the earlier part of her marriage, the Medici lived in Florence's Via Larga at what is now the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi and later at the Palazzo Vecchio. Raised in the luxurious courts of Naples, Eleanor purchased the Pitti Palace across the Arno river in 1549 as a summer retreat for the Medici. In 1550, she commissioned Tribolo to create the Boboli Gardens, which possess openness and expansive view unconventional for its time. The gardens were very lavish, considering no access was allowed to anyone outside the immediate Medici.

Part of Eleanor's final will and testament was the creation and funding of the prestigious and exclusive convent Santissima Concezione, the daughter house of one of her favorite convents, Le Murate.[18] It was built around the Sale del Papa of the prominent Dominican monastery Santa Maria Novella, which once functioned as quarters for visiting popes.

Personality and appearanceEdit

1543 portrait of Eleanor by Bronzino

Contemporary accounts of Eleanor give a different picture than her cold, stern portraits might lead people to assume. Much like her husband, the Duchess was realistic, practical and determited, quietly but surely making important actions.[19] She was considered very charming and loved to gamble.[20] Though she was sick much of her adult life, Eleanor was a devoted traveler, moving endlessly from her palazzi and villas.

Although she did not support the Spaniards gaining control of Florence, Eleanor showed pride of her birthplace and preferred to write in Spanish than Italian, which sometimes causes communication problems in letters with her husband. Jesuits sent Spanish priests to negotiate with the Duchess, as "she doesn't wish to speak with any of our men who isn't Spanish."[15]

Eleanor was remembered for her features of an inherent majestic quality, as evident in her portraits. She was brunette, had hazel eyes, and an oval shaped face. The Duchess was very fashion-conscious[21], continually employing ten gold and silver weavers for her clothes.[20] On the other hand, this may not have been done out of simple vanity. 21-century forensic examinations revealed she had a significant calcium deficiency, a consequence of many and frequent pregnancies. This may have caused her much ill health, dental pain, and a poor overall appearance.[22]

Death and rumorsEdit

Forty-year-old Eleanor and her sons Giovanni and Garzia got sick from malaria while travelling to Pisa in 1562. Her sons died before her and within weaks of each other. Weakened by her pulmonary tuberculosis, she died after on 17 December, in the presence of her disconsolate husband and a Jesuit confessor. Eleanor's funeral was held in 28 December.[23] She was buried in the Medici crypts in the Basilica of San Lorenzo.

For centuries after her death, the myth pervaded that her 16-year-old son Garcia had murdered his 19-year-old brother Giovanni following a dispute in 1562. Cosimo was said to then murdered Garcia with his own sword and the distraught Eleanor died a week later from grief. The truth, proven by modern-day exhumations and forensic science, was that Eleanor and her sons, as the Medici family had always claimed, died together from malaria in 1562.[1]


Since her death, historians have tended to overlook Eleanor's importance to Florentine history and today she is often thought of as just another Medici consort. This is probably due to the numerous portraits painted of her extravagance dresses and the bad press she received from her Florentine subjects because she was a Spanish noblewoman.

The rebuilding of the Pitti Palace was only partially completed at the time of Eleanor's death, but it eventually became the principal residence of the grand rulers of Tuscany.[1] The palazzo is now the largest museum complex in Florence as later generations amassed paintings, jewelry and luxurious possessions. Her iconal dress is today in the care of Pitti's Galleria del Costume.

Eleanor's founding of Santissima Concezione contributed to her legacy and the artistic commissions for the convent further reinforce the fact that she was the patron. They include “a bust of [Eleanor] and the coat of arms of the Duke and Duchess painted on the communion window between the sisters and the altar".[24]




  1. ^ Her husband wasn't elevated to the status of Grand Duke of Tuscany until after her death.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Giusti, p. 11.
  2. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2001). The Cultural Politics of Duke Cosimo de' Medici. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. pp. xix. ISBN 9780754602675.
  3. ^ Cesati, p. 75.
  4. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 9780754637745.
  5. ^ Brown & Benadusi 2015, p. 70.
  6. ^ Brown & Benadusi 2015, p. 71.
  7. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. pp. 2–3. ISBN 9780754637745.
  8. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. pp. 2–3. ISBN 9780754637745.
  9. ^ Brown & Benadusi 2015, pp. 64, 81.
  10. ^ Brown & Benadusi 2015, p. 73.
  11. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Sienna. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. p. 9.
  12. ^ Landini, pp. 70–74.
  13. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. pp. 1–2, 7, 10. ISBN 9780754637745.
  14. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. pp. 1–2, 7, 10. ISBN 9780754637745.
  15. ^ a b Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. p. 185. ISBN 9780754637745.
  16. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. pp. 14–15. ISBN 9780754637745.
  17. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. pp. 12–13. ISBN 9780754637745.
  18. ^ K. J. P. Lowe, Nuns’ Chronicles and Convent Culture in Renaissance and Counter-Reformation Italy, (Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 219-20.
  19. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. p. 1. ISBN 9780754637745.
  20. ^ a b * https://web.archive.org/web/20050922030351/http://www.umich.edu/~newsinfo/MT/02/Spr02/mt14s02.html Women who ruled]
  21. ^ COX-REARICK, JANET. "Power-Dressing at the Courts of Cosimo De' Medici and François I: The 'Moda Alla Spagnola' of Spanish Consorts Eléonore D'Autriche and Eleonora Di Toledo". Artibus et Historiae, vol. 30, no. 60, 2009, pp. 39–69.
  22. ^ Tales From The Crypt, CBS News.
  23. ^ Eisenbichler, Konrad (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Sienna. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. p. 9.
  24. ^ Katherine Turner, “Il Monastero Nuovo: Cloistered Women of the Medici Court,” Contested Spaces of Nobility in Early Modern Europe, (Ashgate Publishing, 2011), p. 134.


  • Cesati, Franco (1999). Medici. Firenze: La Mandragora. ISBN 88-85957-36-6.
  • Giusti, Laura Baldini (2001). Pitti Palace. Livorno: Sillabe s.r.l. ISBN 88-8347-047-8.
  • Konrad Eisenbichler (2004). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 9780754637745.
  • Landini, Roberta Orsi and Niccola Bruna, "Moda a Firenze 1540-1580: Lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza", Mauro Pagliai, Italy (2005).
  • Brown, Judith C.; Benadusi, Giovanna, eds. (2015). Medici Women: the making of a dynasty in grand ducal Tuscany. Translated by Chojnacka, Monica. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies. p. 70. ISBN 9780772721792 – via Scholars Portal.
  • Eleonora di Toledo - Renaissance and Reformation - Oxford Bibliographies

Further readingEdit

  • Karl, Wilhelm and Isenburg, Prinz zu, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europaischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Marburg, Germany: Verlag von J. A. Stargardt, vol. 3. pt. 3, 1985, tables 532b–533.
  • Liss, Peggy K. Isabel the Queen, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 165.
  • Roth, Norman. Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, pp. 150–151, 333.

External linksEdit

Eleanor of Toledo
Born: ? 1522 Died: 17 December 1562
Italian royalty
Preceded by
Margaret of Parma
Duchess of Florence
29 March 1539 – 17 December 1562
Succeeded by
Joanna of Austria
as Grand Duchess of Tuscany