Eleanor of Toledo
gigatos | March 16, 2022
Eleanor of Toledo (Alba de Tormes, 1522 – Pisa, December 17, 1562) was a Spanish noblewoman, daughter of Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga, and Donna María Osorio y Pimentel,.
Eleonora was the first wife of Cosimo I de” Medici and the second and last duchess consort of Florence. Although she is often called “Grand Duchess Eleanor”, she was never Grand Duchess of Tuscany, as she died before the creation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. During periods of absence or illness of her husband, Eleanor assumed the function of regent of the Duchy of Florence.
He was born in Alba de Tormes in 1522 to Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga, and Donna María Osorio y Pimentel,.
Brown-haired and hazel-eyed, her face was a perfect oval, her features sweet and full of an innate majesty, as also transpires from her portraits.
Eleonora went in marriage to Cosimo I de” Medici in the spring of 1539, at the age of seventeen. Cosimo was looking for a bride who could help him strengthen his political position. He had initially asked for the hand of the widow of Duke Alessandro de” Medici, who had been assassinated by his cousin Lorenzaccio. But Margaret of Austria, natural daughter of Charles V, had shown enormous reticence, which suited her father perfectly (who had other marriage plans for her). The Emperor, however, did not want to antagonize Cosimo (who risked being surrounded by France) and instead of the widowed Archduchess proposed one of the daughters of the very rich Viceroy of Naples, one of the most influential men in the peninsula and who enjoyed his full confidence.
Eleonora, already married by proxy on March 29, 1539, sailed from Naples on June 11, accompanied by her brother Garcia with seven galleys in tow, and arrived in Livorno on the morning of June 22. The same day she left for Pisa and halfway there she met for the first time her husband Cosimo. After a brief stay in Pisa, the ducal couple left for Florence, staying a few days at the Villa of Poggio a Caiano. Sunday June 29 there was the solemn entrance of the duchess Eleonora in Florence from the Porta al Prato and the official wedding in the church of San Lorenzo, with a celebration in great pomp followed by sumptuous celebrations.
Duchess of Florence
Cosimo, who had recently seized power and had neither political connections nor economic funds, benefited a lot from the position he had reached with his marriage: he suddenly found himself in possession of an immense patrimony and of the kinship of the governor of southern Italy (don Pedro was so trusted as viceroy that he obtained the renewal of the office until his death, which occurred in 1553).
The couple took up residence in the Palazzo Medici in Via Larga (today Palazzo Medici Riccardi), but soon moved to Palazzo Vecchio, which was restructured and enlarged for the occasion.
The couple was really in love and this is testified by the numerous letters between the two, besides the chroniclers. As long as Eleonora lived, there was no news of Cosimo”s “escapades”, which would have hardly gone unnoticed in a city where he was always the center of attention. Eleonora, in turn, was so attached to her husband that in some cases she bordered on morbidity: at the news of a trip of the Duke, where she could not accompany him, some courtiers saw her crying and tearing her hair. And when he was absent she lived waiting for his letters: she would have wanted at least two a day.
Eleonora also had the right character to be at the side of a stormy and introverted man like Cosimo de” Medici. She was the only person who had any influence over her husband, from whom he accepted advice and who knew how to mitigate his continuous mood swings.
Ten years after their marriage, when Eleonora had already given birth to seven of her eleven children, the construction of Palazzo Pitti, the new residence of the lords of Florence, was finished and, with Eleonora”s money, the adjacent land that would have formed the Boboli gardens was bought. Eleonora had in fact seen too many young children die to want to stay in the “unhealthy” Florence, so she hoped that in the less crowded area of Oltrarno, with a large airy garden, yet still within the city, would be solved the health problems that plagued her family.
The motto Cosimo had chosen for Eleonora was cum pudore laeta foecunditas, accompanied by a lapwing sheltering its young under its wings, which was well suited to her figure, maternal but also proud.
The Florentines did not particularly like her, because of her character, seen as haughty, not used to the haughtiness of the Spanish court. She almost never went around the city on foot, but always on horseback or on a litter that she herself had decorated: green satin inside, velvet of the same color outside. There she stayed as if “in a tabernacle”, without ever opening the curtains to be seen, always remote, inaccessible.
It was with his actions that he manifested his benevolence towards the people: he gave abundant alms, helped needy girls to build a dowry, supported the small clergy, drawing from his private income. He loved pets very much and we have received news of one of his small dogs, a cat, a parrot.
His religiousness sometimes resulted in bacchettoneria, but he willingly indulged in some amusing activities such as gambling, betting, and a passion for horse racing.
She had a boundless passion for jewelry, which she loved to wear in copious quantities, and her opulent clothes followed the fashions of the time, but were distinguished by exquisite refinement.
Sickness and death
In October 1562 Eleonora followed Cosimo in a journey towards the Maremma, to see how the reclamation works he had started were progressing; from there they would have partly embarked for Spain to go and visit the firstborn Francesco Maria who had been there for about a year. Eleonora had been suffering from pulmonary hemorrhages for some time and the doctors had recommended that she spend the winter in the mild climate of the coast. Three of her sons had left with her: Giovanni, Garzia and Ferdinando, even though the region was infested with malaria. During a stop in the castle of Rosignano, however, Giovanni and Garzia died shortly afterwards, struck by strong fevers, and Eleonora fell ill and died within a month, in Pisa: she was forty years old. In order not to make her suffer, after the agonizing despair she felt for the death of Giovanni, on her deathbed she was kept silent about the death of Garzia, which occurred six days before she died. Ferdinand, who would become first a cardinal and then a grand duke, was the only one who was saved.
Over the years took field an unfounded story about this event, probably invented by the Florentine exiles enemies of Cosimo. According to this story, Garzia would have stabbed Giovanni during a hunting party and Cosimo, having learned of the event, would have killed Garzia. Eleonora, to the knowledge of the double murder, would have died of heartbreak, grieved by the recent death of her daughter Lucrezia. Many documents, including some private letters of Cosimo to his son Francesco, prove instead the death of Eleonora and her children because of malaria. Also the paleopathological study of the skeletal remains of Eleonora, Garzia and Giovanni, carried out during the Medici Project in 2004-2006, demonstrated death from pernicious malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum.
For a long time it was believed that Eleonora had been buried with the same dress present in the famous portrait by Bronzino that depicts her with her son Giovanni, but when the tomb was actually opened, it was discovered that she was wearing a much simpler dress. After a long and complex restoration, the original dress has been reassembled and exhibited in the Galleria del Costume in Florence, without, however, allowing a three-dimensional exposure because of the fragile conditions in which it is.
In 1857, during a first reconnaissance of the Medici remains, his body was found in this way:
The descendants of Eleonora and Cosimo I, although numerous, were certainly not touched by fortune, because of tuberculosis in Florence, which often required stays in coastal areas, where malaria was present. In fact died of malarial fever her children Maria (other three (Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, died very young of tuberculosis (although the enemies of her husband, Alfonso II d”Este, insinuated that she had been poisoned by the latter, in order to marry the Archduchess Barbara of Austria, politically more prestigious marriage); Francesco I died mysteriously together with his second wife Bianca Cappello (for many centuries it has been assumed that they were poisoned by Ferdinand I, but the latest scientific analysis deny this story); Isabella was strangled by her husband on charges of adultery; Ferdinand I was the only legitimate child to approach old age and was for many years the third Grand Duke of Tuscany, dying at 59 years old.
In addition, Cosimo I had several mistresses, from which four illegitimate children were born.
One of his nieces, Leonora Álvarez de Toledo y Colonna, daughter of his brother García Álvarez de Toledo y Osorio, went in 1571 in marriage to his son Peter; however, Leonora would be murdered by her husband on charges of adultery (1576).