Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo – Murder Most Royal

(public domain)

Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo was born in March 1553 as the daughter of García Álvarez de Toledo, 4th Marquis of Villafranca, Duke of Fernandina and  Donna Vittoria Colonna in Florence. She was brought up by Eleanor of Toledo, her aunt.

In April 1571, she married Pietro de’ Medici, the youngest son of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. She was provided with a dowry of 40,000 gold ducats. Reportedly, Pietro had to be forced to consummate the marriage. In any case, Eleanora gave birth to a son named Cosimo on 10 February 1573. He died just three years later in August 1576. Pietro was known to be the least stable of the Medicis and was temperamental from a young age. As she was neglected by her husband, Eleonora began to take lovers, which was tolerated as long as she was discreet. Things changed when her father-in-law died, and he was succeeded by his eldest son, Francesco. Francesco kept a mistress of his own, but he was much less tolerant of other people’s affairs. Eleven years younger than Isabella, Leonora was somewhat less prudent in her amorous adventures. However, she never realised just how much danger she was really in.

On 11 July 1576, Pietro wrote to his brother Francesco,

“Last night at six hours an accident occurred to my wife and she died. Therefore Your Highness be at peace and write me what I should do, and if I should come back or not.”

The next day, Francesco wrote to his brother Ferdinando,

“Last night, around five o’clock, a really terrible accident happened to Donna Leonora. She was found in bed, suffocated, and Don Pietro and the others were not in time to revive her.” 1

Pietro might have described it as an accident, but in fact, he had murdered her in cold blood. Just six days later, her friend Isabella de’ Medici died in a similar manner. Her death was announced as an accident.

The ambassador the Duchy of Ferrara wrote to Alfonso d’Este,

I advise Your Excellency of the announcement of the death of Lady Isabella; of which I heard as soon as I arrived in Bologna, [and] has displeased as many as had the Lady Leonora’s; both ladies were strangled, one at Cafaggiolo and the other at Cerreto. Lady Leonora was strangled on Tuesday night; having danced until two o’clock, and having gone to bed, she was surprised by Lord Pietro [with] a dog leash at her throat, and after much struggle to save herself, finally expired. And the same Lord Pietro bears the sign, having two fingers of his hand injured by [them being] bitten by the lady. And if he had not called for help two wretches from Romagna, who claim to have been summoned there precisely for this purpose, he would perhaps have fared worse. The poor lady, as far as we can understand, made a very strong defence, as was seen by the bed, which was found all convulsed, and by the voices which were heard by the entire household. As soon as she died, she was placed in a coffin prepared there for this event, and taken to Florence in a litter at six o’clock in the morning, led by those from the villa, and accompanied with eight white tapers [carried] by six brothers and four priests; she was interred as if she were a commoner. 2

Eleanora’s death was reported as a heart attack, but many knew otherwise. Francesco later wrote to King Philip II of Spain, admitting the truth.

“Although in the letter I had told you of Donna Eleonora’s accident, I have nevertheless to say to His Catholic Majesty that Lord Pietro our brother had taken her life himself because of the treason she had committed through behaviour unbecoming to a lady … We wish that His Majesty should know the truth … and at the first opportunity he will be sent the proceedings through which she should have known with what just reasons Lord Pietro acted”. 3

Nevertheless, Pietro was never brought to justice. Instead, he was exiled to the Spanish court, where he drowned himself in debts. He died in 1604.

  1.  Langdon, Gabrielle. Medici Women: Portraits of Power, Love, and Betrayal. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007
  2.  Langdon, Gabrielle. Medici Women: Portraits of Power, Love, and Betrayal. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007
  3.  Langdon, Gabrielle. Medici Women: Portraits of Power, Love, and Betrayal. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007

About Moniek Bloks 2741 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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