Eleanor of Viseu – A Queen in conflict (Part one)

eleanor of viseu
(public domain)

Eleanor of Viseu was born in Beja on 2 May 1458 as the daughter of Infante Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu and Beatrice of Portugal. Her father was the third son of Edward, King of Portugal, while her mother was a granddaughter of King John I of Portugal through his fourth son. She had eight siblings, although not all of them would survive to adulthood.

Eleanor was just eight years old when her marriage was arranged. The groom was her 11-year-old cousin, John, the heir to the Portuguese throne. Meanwhile, her sister Isabella was to marry the Duke of Braganza, thus linking the family to the crown and the aristocracy even more. Unfortunately, their father Ferdinand, died before seeing the marriages take place. He died on 18 September 1470 at the age of 36. His widow Beatrice continued the negotiations, and in January 1471, the necessary papal dispensation was obtained. The betrothal took place in 1472 without much celebration as the family was still mourning for Ferdinand. Following the betrothal, Eleanor went to live at the Portuguese court, where the wedding took place in September 1473.

On 18 May 1475, the 17-year-old Eleanor became a mother when she gave birth to a son named Afonso. The country celebrated the birth of an heir to the throne, but the father was away on campaign and would not see his son for a while. The difficulties of the campaign dragged on, and on 8 March 1476, Eleanor was sworn in as regent while her son was officially designated as the heir. Perhaps to be closer to the campaign, she moved the court to the border with Castile. Afonso travelled with her, and she breastfed him herself, going against the custom. In Castile, there was a war between Queen Isabella I and her niece Joan, who also claimed the throne and was married to John’s father, King Afonso V of Portugal.

A peace treaty was eventually brokered, in which Eleanor’s son Afonso would marry Isabella’s daughter, also named Isabella. At the end of 1480, the five-year-old Afonso was handed over to his grandmother Beatrice, while the ten-year-old Isabella arrived at the beginning of 1481. Eleanor and John remained in Beja to be able to receive news from Afonso more easily. She had not become pregnant again following the birth of Afonso six years earlier, and the birth of an illegitimate son to John hurt her deeply. However, when the boy was nine years old, she welcomed him to court and took charge of his upbringing.

On 28 August 1481, King Afonso V died, and John and Eleanor became the new King and Queen of Portugal. While John tried to consolidate royal power, he earned himself the ire of the nobility. His mother-in-law, Beatrice, wrote a letter protesting the new measures. Meanwhile, Eleanor learned she was finally pregnant again. In the spring of 1483, Eleanor suffered a miscarriage, or a stillbirth, which left her own life in danger as well. While her sister and brother-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Braganza, came to visit her, the Duke once again pledged his loyalty to the King.

As the necessity to keep her son and Isabella away to keep the peace treaty faded away, Eleanor was finally able to be reunited with Afonso, while Isabella was able to return home. However, shortly after, the Duke of Braganza was accused of treason, and he was arrested. He was sentenced to death and executed by beheading on 20 June 1483. His wife, Eleanor’s sister, quickly sent their three sons to safety in Castile while she kept their daughter Margaret with her. Following the conflict, Eleanor and John went on a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Sao Domingos da Queimada. Eleanor also prayed for more children.

Meanwhile, distrust was brewing in Portugal. Eleanor’s brother, the Duke of Viseu, was accused of leading a conspiracy against the King and was apparently stabbed to death by the King himself. When Eleanor learned of her brother’s death, she became hysterical and pulled her hair out. John told her that if she continued behaving that way, she would be accused of conspiring with her brother. She calmed down, on the outside at least. In an attempt to alleviate the tensions, John granted the inheritance to Eleanor’s youngest brother, Manuel. He also appointed him heir to the throne, following their own son, Afonso.

Attention again turned to Afonso’s marriage, and it was time to recall Isabella from Castile. Isabella, who was also second in the line of succession to the Castilian throne, was an excellent match, and the two knew each other well after having lived together for a few years. For Castile, it also meant that Queen Isabella could keep an eye on her rival, Joan, who was still in Portugal.

The wedding was celebrated by proxy in Castile but the celebrations in Portugal would be overshadowed by the death of King John’s sister Joanna. Nevertheless, preparations continued, even though they were moved to Évora because of the plague. Isabella arrived in Badajoz on 19 November and was met by Eleanor’s brother Manuel. She met with her future mother-in-law on 23 November in Évora. The festivities lasted until Christmas and included banquets and jousts.

Read part two here.

About Moniek Bloks 2749 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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