Eleanor of Portugal – The first Habsburg Empress

eleanor portugal
(public domain)

Eleanor of Portugal was born on 18 September 1434 in Torres Vedras as the sixth child and third (but eldest surviving) daughter of King Edward of Portugal and Eleanor of Aragon. Het baptism was performed in the Cathedral of Lisbon by Archbishop Pedro de Noronha. Her parents entrusted her into the care of Guiomar de Castro, Countess of Atouguia. Three more siblings would follow, of whom two survived to adulthood. Her elder brother became Afonso V, King of Portugal.

Eleanor was almost four years old when she lost her father, and the custody of her elder brother was taken from her mother and transferred to her uncle Peter, Duke of Coimbra. This deeply affected her mother, who took her daughters to the castle of Almeirim. Her mother continued her attempts to regain the regency and left the then six-year-old Eleanor at Almeirim, who was ill. They would never see each other again. Peter hurried towards Almeirim to take custody of the young Eleanor. Her mother was eventually exiled, and she died on 19 February 1445. Guiomar de Castro continued to care for the young Eleanor, and she grew up with her two sisters Catherine and Joan, in the Royal Palace in Lisbon. Unfortunately, very little is known about her childhood.

Eleanor was barely 13 years old when Frederick, King of the Romans, who was nearly 20 years her senior, came looking for a wife. His ambassadors returned to Vienna with a portrait of Eleanor, which he liked. However, unrest in Portugal delayed wedding negotiations, and in May 1449, her uncle Peter was killed during the Battle of Alfarrobeira. Peace had barely been restored when Frederick renewed his interest in Eleanor in early 1450. This time, his letter was directly delivered to her brother Afonso V, now 18 years old. However, he now had competition in the form of Louis, Dauphin of France (the future King Louis XI of France), who had lost his first wife Margaret Stewart in 1445.

eleanor portugal
(public domain)

Eleanor, however, was adamant that she would not marry the Dauphin and much preferred Frederick. Afonso approved the marriage to Frederick. The treaty was concluded on 10 December 1450, and Eleanor began German lessons. She boarded the ship that would take her to Rome on 25 October 1451, but her departure was delayed until 12 November due to the weather. Her brothers Afonso and Ferdinand followed her ship a few miles into the open sea. On 25 November, she arrived at Puerto de Ceuta, where she went to church and rested for a few days. After her departure, she was nearly lost at sea during a violent storm. She finally arrived in Italy but was not at the correct port. Eleanor was thoroughly exhausted, and the ships were haunted by more storms, and a messenger was sent to Frederick who told her to go overland to Pisa, where the waiting welcoming committee would meet her. The Bishop of Sienna then escorted Eleanor to Sienna, where she finally met her future husband.

Frederick was delighted by his new bride, and he hugged and kissed her. A marble column still marks the place of their first meeting. After four days, Frederick and Eleanor travelled to Rome, where they finally arrived on 8 March. On 16 March 1452, Eleanor and Frederick were married at St. Peter’s Basilica. Eleanor wore a red velvet gown with a white belt and a wrap of dark brocade. The wedding ceremony was performed by Pope Nicholas V and he put the wedding rings on their fingers himself. The following Sunday, 19 March, the newlyweds were crowned Holy Roman Emperor and Empress. Per tradition, Eleanor wore her hair down and had a golden circlet on her head. She was crowned with the crown that had previously been worn by Barbara of Cilli, her predecessor as Holy Roman Empress. Frederick would be the first Emperor from the House of Habsburg.

After all this splendour, the new Emperor and Empress travelled to Naples, where Eleanor’s uncle King Alfonso V of Aragon, Sicily and Naples reigned. He received his niece warmly on 2 April and although the festivities were all brilliant, something troubled Eleanor. Her marriage had not been consummated yet, and with some advice from her uncle, the marriage was consummated on 16 April according to old German custom. After being on the road for so long, Eleanor soon learned that a battlefield was never far away.

Eleanor was also disappointed that she did not fall pregnant right away. Her doctors advised her to drink wine, but she hated wine and never drank it. In 1455, Eleanor became pregnant, and Eleanor settled at Neustadt for the birth. On 16 November 1455, Eleanor gave birth to a son named Christopher but tragically, the infant would live less than a year. It wasn’t until three years later that Eleanor became pregnant again. On 22 March 1459, she gave birth to another son – he would be named Maximilian and would one day succeed his father as Emperor. The following year, Eleanor gave birth to a daughter in Vienna, but the young girl – named Helena – also lived less than a year. On 16 March 1465, Eleanor gave birth to a daughter named Kunigunde, who would survive to adulthood. Her last child was a short-lived son named John, who was born on 9 August 1466 and who would also not live until his first birthday.

Eleanor was never the same after John’s birth, and she took the waters to regain her strength. This seemed to work at first, but young John’s death deeply affected her. She died on 3 September 1467 after a short illness. She was still only 32 years old. She wished to be buried next to her deceased children in the Cistercian monastery in Neustadt, and her wish was carried out. 1

Her husband did not remarry and he survived her for 26 years.

  1. Read more: D. Leonor von Portugal, Gemahlin Kaiser Friedrichs des Dritten: 1434 – 1467 by Ernst von Birk

About Moniek Bloks 2732 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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