Eleonora Gonzaga the Elder – The pious Empress

eleonora gonzage
(public domain)

Eleonora Gonzaga, known as the Elder to distinguish her from her great-niece and namesake, was born on 23 September 1598 as the daughter of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua and Monferrato, and his wife Eleonora de’ Medici. She was the youngest of six siblings.

Eleonora would grow up in one of the most splendid courts in Italy, and it was known for its leading role in the arts, music and science. From the age of ten, Eleonora lived at the monastery of Sant’Orsola, where her education was entrusted to her aunt Margherita Gonzaga, Dowager Duchess of Ferrara and Modena. She received lessons in languages, history, music and painting. Her religious upbringing influenced her later life heavily, and she was known to be extremely pious. She continued to live at the monastery until her marriage in 1622.

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, had been widowed in 1616 – his first wife had been Maria Anna of Bavaria – and Eleonora was an attractive bride with a rich dowry. She also met all the requirements for the leading lady of the court – she was beautiful, well-educated, pious and had the right age. Ferdinand was not only a relative but also one of Eleonora’s godparents, and so a papal dispensation was requested and granted. A proxy wedding was held on 21 November 1621 in the palace chapel. The official wedding took place in Innsbruck on 2 February 1622 in the chapel of the imperial palace. The celebrations were relatively modest. Despite the 20 year age difference, they reportedly got on well, and if he had any mistresses during the marriage, it has not been reported on. Eleanora and Ferdinand did not have any children together, but she did become the stepmother of his children by his first wife.

She received several coronations; on 26 July 1622, she was crowned Queen of Hungary; on 7 November 1627, she was crowned German Queen and Holy Roman Empress, and lastly, she was crowned Queen of Bohemia on 21 November 1627. She began learning German immediately after arriving in Vienna. Keeping in touch with her piety, she founded a monastery of Discalced Carmelites in Vienna and Graz. She also ordered the construction of the chapel of the Madonna of Loreto in the Augustinian Church and was the founder of the famous Herzgruft (crypt of hearts) in the same church. She also never lost her love of music, and she supported many artists, including those from her home county. She became known for attending opera and ballet performances.

Her marriage to Ferdinand would last just 15 years – he died on 15 February 1637 and was succeeded by her eldest stepson, who became Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor. Eleanor was still only 38 years old, and she settled in the monastery in Vienna which she had founded. She continued to correspond with her relatives, both in Austria and Italy. She was even the proxy in the marriage contract negotiations between her stepson and her great-niece and namesake.

Eleonora survived her husband for 18 years – dying on 27 June 1655. She had named her great-niece as her heiress. She was initially buried in the monastery where she had died, but in 1782, her remains were transferred to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Her heart was removed from her body and interred with her husband.

About Moniek Bloks 2225 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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