Joanna of Austria – The neglected Grand Duchess

Joanna of austria tuscany
(public domain)

Joanna of Austria was born on 24 January 1547 in Prague as the daughter of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and Anna of Bohemia and Hungary. Tragically, her mother died three days of childbirth complications, and thus, Joanna never knew her mother. Joanna had 14 siblings, of which three had already passed by the time of her birth.

Joanna grew up at the Habsburg court and divided her time between Vienna and Innsbruck. She was apparently rather slow to develop and was known for her small stature. She was still quite young when she became part of marriage negotiations. Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, inquired after her for his eldest son, Francesco, who was six years older than her. In the midst of the negotiations, her father died, which delayed them somewhat. In early 1565, negotiations were concluded, and Francesco came to Innsbruck to meet his future wife.

He came bearing gifts for Joanna and her brother, Maximilian, who had succeeded their father as Holy Roman Emperor. On 16 December 1565, Joanna made her grand entry into Florence and the wedding was celebrated just two days later. It was an unhappy marriage from the start and Francesco continued his love affair with Bianca Capello.

Despite this, Joanna quickly fell pregnant and gave birth to a daughter named Eleanor on 28 February 1567. This was quickly followed by another daughter, named Romola, who was born on 20 November 1568 and who lived for just a few days. On 31 December 1569, she gave birth to a third daughter, named Anna. When her father-in-law remarried Camilla Martelli in 1570, her husband was opposed and he wrote to Joanna that she shouldn’t be friends with her. Here, Joanna apparently displayed a great diplomatic skill as she managed to improve the relationship between father and son, but also between the de’ Medici family and her own family.

Any improvement in her own relationship with Francesco was short-lived when she gave birth to two more daughters, Isabella and Lucrezia, who both died young. Her father-in-law personally intervened and told Joanna to be more accepting of Francesco’s lover Bianca. She, in turn, became even more religious than she already was and she went on a pilgrimage to Loreto in 1573.

Joanna and her son
Joanna and her son (public domain)

On 21 April 1574, her father-in-law died, making her husband the new Grand Duke of Tuscany, and she his Grand Duchess. Francesco no longer cared about being discreet with Bianca and the birth of yet another daughter, named Maria, did nothing to improve their relationship. In 1576. Bianca gave birth to a son named Antonio. That same year, Joanna reportedly contacted her brother and asked to be allowed to return to Vienna on account of her husband’s neglect. Maximilian did protest his sister’s treatment but there could be no question of her return home to Vienna.

Then, at last, Joanna gave birth to a son named Filippo. However, the boy appeared to be weak and sickly but the birth of an heir meant that her position at court was strengthened. It wasn’t to last for very long, as Joanna tragically died following childbirth on 11 April 1578. 1 An autopsy showed that Joanna had died after her uterus ruptured and the fetus had passed into the abdominal cavity.

Joanna was buried in the New Sacristy in the Basicila of San Lorenzo in Florence and her body was exhumed in 1857 when all those there were moved to the Medici Chapel. In 1947, her body was studied by a group of anthropologists. Once again, in 2003, Joanna’s body was studied as part of a larger study into a total of 12 members of the de’ Medici family.

Joanna’s skeleton was described as having an anthropological age of 25-35 years, 1.57 m in height, with a middle-low skull and orbits, and a narrow face and nose. She had a “serious scoliosis of the lumbar spine and a bilateral congenital subluxation of the hip.”2 Her pelvis bore evidence of several difficult deliveries and she had a deformity in the serious S-scoliosis of the lumbar spine. Together with the deformity of the pelvis, this would have explained her difficult deliveries and the rupture of the uterus.

Joanna’s husband wasted no time after her death and he married Bianca two months later. While their son died young, her daughter Marie became Queen of France as the wife of King Henri IV of France.

  2. Retrognathic maxilla in “Habsburg jaw” – Skeletofacial analysis of Joanna of Austria (1547–1578) p.388

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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