Eleanor of Toledo

John Florens | Mar 6, 2024

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Eleanor of Toledo (Alba de Tormes, 1522 - Pisa, December 17, 1562) was a Spanish noblewoman, daughter of Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga, and Donna María Osorio y Pimentel,.

Eleonora was the first wife of Cosimo I de' Medici and the second and last duchess consort of Florence. Although she is often called "Grand Duchess Eleanor," she was never Grand Duchess of Tuscany, as she died before the creation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. During periods of her husband's absence or illness, Eleonora assumed the function of regent of the Duchy of Florence.


He was born in Alba de Tormes in 1522 to Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga, and donna María Osorio y Pimentel,.

Brown-haired and hazel-eyed, her face was a perfect oval, her features gentle and full of an innate majesty, as, moreover, also shines through in her portraits.


Eleonora went to marry Cosimo I de' Medici in the spring of 1539, at the age of seventeen. Cosimo was looking for a bride who could help him strengthen his political position. He had initially asked for the hand of the widow of Duke Alessandro de' Medici, who had been assassinated by his cousin Lorenzaccio. But Margaret of Austria, Charles V's natural daughter, had shown enormous reticence, which suited her father perfectly (who had other marriage plans for her). The emperor, however, still did not want to antagonize Cosimo (who was in danger of allowing himself to be surrounded by France) and instead of the widowed archduchess proposed to him one of the daughters of the very rich viceroy of Naples, one of the most influential men on the peninsula and who enjoyed his full confidence.

Eleanor, already married by proxy on March 29, 1539, sailed from Naples on June 11, accompanied by her brother Garcia with seven galleys in tow, and arrived in Livorno on the morning of June 22. The same day she left for Pisa and halfway there met her husband Cosimo for the first time. After a brief stay in Pisa, the ducal couple left for Florence, stopping for a few days at the Villa of Poggio a Caiano. On Sunday, June 29, there was the solemn entry of Duchess Eleanor into Florence from the Porta al Prato and the official wedding in the church of San Lorenzo, with a grand celebration followed by sumptuous festivities.

Duchess of Florence

Cosimo, who had recently seized power and had neither political connections nor economic funds benefited greatly from the position achieved by his marriage: he suddenly found himself in possession of an immense fortune and the kinship of the governor of southern Italy (Don Pedro was so trusted as viceroy that he was granted renewal of the office until his own death in 1553).

The couple took up residence in the Medici Palace on Via Larga (now Palazzo Medici Riccardi), but soon moved to Palazzo Vecchio, which was renovated and enlarged for the occasion.

The couple was truly very much in love and this is testified to us besides the chroniclers by the numerous letters between the two. As long as Eleonora lived there was no news of Cosimo's "escapades," which would hardly have gone unnoticed in a city where he was always the center of attention. Eleonora in turn was so attached to her husband that in some cases it bordered on morbidity: on hearing of a trip by the duke where she could not accompany him, some courtiers saw her weeping and tearing her hair out. And when he was absent she lived in expectation of his letters: she would want at least two a day.

Eleonora also possessed the right character to stand by a stormy and introverted man like Cosimo de' Medici. She was the only person who had any influence over her husband, from whom he accepted advice and who knew how to mitigate his constant mood swings.

Ten years after their marriage, by which time Eleanor had already given birth to seven of her eleven children, the construction of the Pitti Palace, the new residence of the lords of Florence, was completed, and with Eleanor's money, the adjacent land that would form the Boboli Gardens was bought. Eleonora had in fact seen too many young children die to want to stay in "unhealthy" Florence, so she hoped that in the less crowded area of Oltrarno, with a large airy garden, yet still within the city, the health problems that plagued her family would be solved.

The motto Cosimo had chosen for Eleonora was cum pudore laeta foecunditas, accompanied by a lapwing sheltering her young under her wings, which was well suited to her figure, maternal yes but also proud.

The Florentines did not particularly like her, because of her character seen as haughty, unaccustomed to the haughtiness of the Spanish court. She almost never went around the city on foot, but always on horseback or on a litter that she herself had decorated: green satin inside, velvet of the same color outside. There she stood as if "in a tabernacle," never moving the curtains to be looked at, always remote, inaccessible therefore.

It was by his actions that he manifested benevolence toward the people: he gave abundant alms, helped needy maidens build dowries, supported the small clergy, drawing from his private income. He loved pets very much, and we have received news of one of his small dogs, a cat, and a parrot.

His religiosity sometimes bordered on bickering, but he willingly indulged in some amiable activities such as gambling, betting, and a passion for horse racing.

She had a boundless passion for jewelry, which she loved to wear in copious quantities, and her opulent clothes followed the fashions of the time, but were distinguished by exquisite refinement.

Sickness and death

In October 1562 Eleonora followed Cosimo on a trip to the Maremma to see how the reclamation work he had begun was progressing; from there they would partly embark for Spain to visit her eldest son Francesco Maria, who had already been there for about a year. Eleanor had been suffering from pulmonary hemorrhages for some time, and doctors had recommended that she spend the winter in the mild climate of the coast. Three of her sons-John, Garzia and Ferdinand-had left with her despite the fact that the region was infested with malaria. During a stopover in the castle of Fitto di Cecina, however, Giovanni and Garzia died within a short time stricken by strong fevers, and Eleonora also fell ill and died within the space of a month, in Pisa: she was forty years old. So that she would not suffer, after the poignant despair she felt over Giovanni's death, she was kept silent on her deathbed about Garzia's death, which occurred six days before she died. Ferdinand, who was to become first cardinal and then grand duke, was the only one saved.

Over the years an unfounded story about this event took hold, probably invented by Florentine exiles who were enemies of Cosimo. According to this tale Garzia stabbed Giovanni during a hunting party, and Cosimo, learning of the incident, killed Garzia. Eleonora, upon learning of the double murder, reportedly died of a broken heart, grieving also over the recent death of her daughter Lucrezia. Instead, many documents, including some private letters from Cosimo to his son Francesco, prove the death of Eleonora and her children from malaria. The paleopathological study of the skeletal remains of Eleonora, Garzia and Giovanni, carried out during the Medici Project in 2004-2006, also proved death by pernicious malaria from Plasmodium falciparum.


For a long time it was believed that Eleonora was buried in the same dress featured in Bronzino's famous portrait of her with her son Giovanni, but when the tomb was actually opened it was discovered that she was wearing a much simpler dress. After a lengthy and complex restoration, the original dress was reassembled and displayed in the Galleria del Costume in Florence, but without allowing for a three-dimensional display due to its extremely fragile condition.

In 1857, during an initial survey of the Medici corpses, so his body was found:

Eleanor and Cosimo I's descendants, though numerous, were certainly not touched by fortune because of tuberculosis in Florence, which often required stays in coastal areas where malaria was present instead. In fact, Maria's children died of malarial fevers (three others (Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, died very young of tuberculosis (although the enemies of her husband, Alfonso II d'Este, insinuated that she had been poisoned by the latter in order to marry Archduchess Barbara of Austria, a more politically prestigious marriage); Francesco I died mysteriously along with his second wife Bianca Cappello (for many centuries it was speculated that they had been poisoned by Ferdinand I, but the latest scientific analyses disprove this story); Isabella was strangled by her husband on charges of adultery; Ferdinand I was the only one of the legitimate children to approach old age and was for many years the third Grand Duke of Tuscany, dying at age 59.

In addition, Cosimo I had several mistresses, from whom four illegitimate children were born.

A niece of his, Leonora Álvarez de Toledo y Colonna, daughter of his brother García Álvarez de Toledo y Osorio, went in 1571 in marriage to his son Peter; however, Leonora will be murdered by her husband on charges of adultery (1576).


  1. Eleanor of Toledo
  2. Eleonora di Toledo
  3. ^ Her husband wasn't elevated to the status of Grand Duke of Tuscany until after her death.[1]
  4. ^ a b Eleonora de Toledo sposa amata di Cosimo I de’ Medici di Francesca Rachel Valle alla IBS, in portalegiovani.comune.fi.it. URL consultato il 29 dicembre 2018.
  5. ^ Le fasi di restauro dell'abito di Eleonora di Toledo, su archiviomedici.costume-textiles.com. URL consultato il 24 luglio 2012 (archiviato dall'url originale il 29 novembre 2014).
  6. ^ L'abito restaurato, su archiviomedici.costume-textiles.com. URL consultato il 24 luglio 2012 (archiviato dall'url originale l'11 marzo 2014).
  7. ^ Her husband was not elevated to the status of Grand Duke of Tuscany until after her death. Giusti, p 11.
  8. di Toledo, Duchess, consort of Cosimo I, Grand-Duke of Tuscany Eleonora // Faceted Application of Subject Terminology
  9. Leonor de. Toledo // Diccionario biográfico español (исп.) — Real Academia de la Historia, 2011.

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