Eleanor of Arborea – Sardinia’s Queen and Heroine

Eleonora Arborea
(public domain)

In the Middle Ages, the Italian island of Sardinia was divided into four regions known as “judicates” or “giudicati”.  Each of these regions was ruled by a ruler known as a “judge”.  The judges were princes rather than administers of justice.  The four provinces of Sardinia were Torres (or Logudoro), Cagliari, Gallura, and Arborea.  During the 13th century, all of the judicates, save Arborea were dissolved.  The territories then fell under Pisan control, but some of Cagliari and Torres went to Arborea.  At the end of the 13th century, Arborea took up a quarter of Sardinia.  The ruling family of Arborea had a good relation with Pisa but sided with the Crown of Aragon, who invaded Sardinia between 1323 and 1326.  In 1326, the King of Aragon conquered Sardinia from Pisan control.  While about half of the island was now under Aragonese control, Arborea still took up a large portion of the island. 

Eleanor before her reign

Eleanor of Arborea was probably born at Molins de Rei, in Catalonia, between 1340 and 1347.  Her parents were Marianus IV of Arborea and Timbora de Roccamberti.  Eleanor’s mother held possessions in Catalonia.  At the time of Eleanor’s birth, her uncle Peter III ruled Arborea.  When he died childless in 1347, Eleanor’s father became the new Giudice of Arborea.  Marianus would see himself as an independent ruler of Arborea, but the King of Aragon saw him as a vassal, which created tensions between the two.       

Very little is known of Eleanor’s early years.  It was likely that she was well-educated.  Eleanor married Brancaleone Doria, from an influential family from the Republic of Genoa.  Marianus died in 1376 and was succeeded by his only son, Hugh III.  The first document mentioning Eleanor dates from 1382.  She is described as being married to Brancaleone Doria with one son, Frederick.  She would later have a second son, Marianus.  Brancaleone also had two older, illegitimate sons, from an earlier relationship.  In the document, Eleanor and Brancaleone ask the ruler of Genoa to settle in the city with their children.  Since Eleanor’s brother was the ruler of Arborea at the time, this probably meant that brother and sister were not on good terms.  That same year, Eleanor’s son, Fredrick, was betrothed to a daughter of the ruler of Genoa, but the marriage never happened. 

The “Queen” of Sardinia   

Eleanor’s brother, Hugh, was very unpopular with his Sardinian subjects.  In March 1383, Hugh and his daughter were killed in an uprising.  This left Eleanor as the only surviving member of her family.  Immediately, she left for Sardinia and seized power.  Brancaleone left for Barcelona to ask permission from King Peter IV of Aragon to establish their son as Prince of Arborea.  He acted as a vassal to the King, while Eleanor acted as an independent ruler.  She sent three ambassadors to Peter to let him know that she took power, and she was not asking for permission.  Peter granted Brancaleone the title “Count of Monteleone”.  He then wrote to Eleanor, addressing her as the “Countess of Monteleone” implying that she was his vassal.  Eleanor then wrote back to the King and signed as “Giudichessa of Arborea”, showing that she was an independent ruler. 

Eleanor’s young son Frederick was considered the Judge of Arborea under his mother’s tutelage.  Meanwhile, Brancaleone was kept hostage in Barcelona.  Frederick was also eventually captured and kept hostage by the King of Aragon.  Arborea was at war with Aragon for the next four years.  During that time, most of the island of Sardinia had fallen under Eleanor’s rule.  Eleanor had the full support of the Sardinians during this time.  Unfortunately, Frederick died in captivity in 1387, and Eleanor’s younger son, Marianus became the new Judge.  Brancaleone was freed at the beginning of 1390. 

Between 1392 and 1395, Eleanor worked on her most celebrated accomplishment.  She put together the “Carta de Logu” (Charter of Law), a body of laws that was in effect from April 1395 until 1827.  The Carta de Logu was ahead of its times; for most crimes, the penalty was a fine. The charter also included laws about protecting the rights of women. 

Like many nobles of the time, Eleanor enjoyed falconry.  She was the first in history to legislate protection for a certain species of bird – the falcon.  In the 19th century, a type of falcon was named the “Eleanora’s falcon” in honour of her. 

Eleanor united the entire island of Sardinia under her rule with the exception of the cities of Cagliari and Alghero, which remained under Aragonese rule.  She managed to successfully govern her island for about twenty years.  At the beginning of the 15th century, a plague devastated the island.  Eleanor died at an uncertain date – probably in 1403 or 1404, perhaps from the plague.  She was succeeded by her son, Marianus V.  The independent Sardinia started to decline after Eleanor’s death. 

Marianus died childless in 1407 and was succeeded by William II of Narbonne, grandson of Eleanor’s sister, Beatrice.  William was not successful in governing the island, and he sold it to King Alfonso V of Aragon in 1420, bringing about the end of the Judicate of Arborea.  Sardinia would remain under the control of Aragon, and then Spain, until 1720, when it came under the control of the Dukes of Savoy.  The Dukes would be titled as Kings of Sardinia, but they mainly resided on mainland Italy.  Therefore, Eleanor was one of Sardinia’s last local rulers.  To this day, Eleanor remains a symbol of Sardinian nationalism and independence and is the island’s most famous heroine.                        


Queens of Italy: Women in Power in Medieval Italy – Eleanor of Arborea

Corrias, Angela; “Eleanora d’Arborea, women, daughter, mother, ruler in medieval Sardinia” 

“Eleanor of Arborea” at canadaslim.wordpress.com 

About CaraBeth 60 Articles
I love reading and writing about the royals of medieval Europe- especially the women. My interest was first started by the Plantagenet dynasty, but I decided to dive deeper, and discovered that there were many more fascinating royal dynasties in medieval Europe. Other dynasties I like reading and writing about are; the Capets, and their Angevin branch in Naples and Hungary, the Luxembourgs, the early Hapsburgs, the Arpads, the Piasts, the Premyslids and many more!

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