Eleonora di Toledo

Eleonora di Toledo

This article is about the wife of Cosimo I de' Medici. For the wife of Pietro de' Medici, see Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo.
Eleanor of Toledo
Portrait by Agnolo Bronzino
Duchess consort of Florence
Tenure 29 March 1539 – 17 December 1562
Spouse Cosimo I de' Medici
Francesco I, Grand Duke of Tuscany
Isabella, Duchess of Bracciano
Cardinal Giovanni
Lucrezia, Duchess of Modena
Pietro de' Medici (1546–1547) (it)
Garzia de' Medici
Ferdinando I, Grand Duke of Tuscany
Full name
Leonor Álvarez de Toledo y Osorio
House Alba
House of Medici
Father Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, 2nd Marquis of Villafranca
Mother María Osorio
Born 1522
Alba de Tormes, Salamanca, Spain
Died 17 December 1562 (aged 40)
Pisa, Duchy of Florence

Eleanor of Toledo (Italian: Eleonora di Toledo (1522 – 17 December 1562), born Doña Leonor Álvarez de Toledo y Osorio, was a Spanish noblewoman who was Duchess of Florence from 1539.[1] She is credited with being the first modern first lady, or consort. She served as regent of Florence during the absence of her spouse.


Eleanor was born in Alba de Tormes, Salamanca as the second daughter of the Viceroy of Naples, Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, Marquis of Villafranca (Charles V's lieutenant-governor) and Maria Osorio, 2nd Marquise of Villafranca.[2] Her father was the second son of Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, 2nd Duke of Alba and therefore, the third Duke of Alba was his eldest brother.

Eleonora di Toledo became the wife of Cosimo I de' Medici, the ruler of Tuscany, whom she married in 1539. The new couple had a large gathering at the Villa medicea di Poggio a Caiano (it) to celebrate the nuptials. Her father demanded that Cosimo settle a large amount of money on her as her dowry, but as the Medici were new to their ducal status, the marriage was attractive for a variety of political and dynastic reasons. Eleonora's royal Castilian ancestors and relations with the Habsburgs provided the Medici with the blue blood they had hitherto lacked and began the process of placing them on a footing with other European sovereigns.[3]

Through her father, Eleonora also provided the Medici with a powerful link to Spain, at that time ultimately in control of Florence, so that the marriage offered Cosimo I the opportunity to show sufficient loyalty to and trust in Spain that Spanish troops could be withdrawn from the province.


Eleanor and Cosimo had eleven children, including five sons who reached maturity (Francesco, Giovanni, Garzia, Ferdinando, and Pietro); before this time the Medici line had been in danger of becoming extinct. Thus by providing an heir, and ample spares, as well as through her daughters' marriages into other ruling and noble families of Italy, she was able to inaugurate an era of strength and stability in Tuscany. Two of her sons, Francesco and Ferdinando, reigned as grand Dukes of Tuscany.

Eleonora's children were:

Maria 3 April 1540 – 19 November 1557
Francesco 25 March 1541 – 19 October 1587 Grand Duke of Tuscany
Isabella 31 August 1542 – 16 July 1576 Was murdered by her husband Paolo Giordano I Orsini because of her infidelity.
Giovanni 28 September 1543 – 19 November 1562 Bishop of Pisa and cardinal
Lucrezia 7 June 1545 – 21 April 1561 Wife (1560) of Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara and Modena
Pietro de' Medici (1546–1547) (it) 10 August 1546 – 10 June 1547
Garzia 5 July 1547 – 12 December 1562
Antonio 1548 – 1548
Ferdinando 30 July 1549 – 17 February 1609 Grand Duke of Tuscany
Anna 1553 – 1553
Don Pietro de' Medici 3 June 1554 – 25 April 1604 Murdered his wife because of her infidelity


Eleanor's high profile in Florence as consort was initially a public relations exercise promoted by her husband whose predecessor as first sovereign Duke Alessandro de' Medici had died without legitimate heirs after years of politically damaging speculation about his sexual irregularities and excesses; Alessandro himself was reputed to have been the son of a black serving woman, his father was the seventeen-year-old Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, later Pope Clement VII, and Clement VII was in turn the illegitimate son of Giuliano de' Medici, who was assassinated in the Pazzi Conspiracy against the Medici. Alessandro became the first sovereign ruler of Tuscany belonging to the house of Medici, but was assassinated in 1543 by another member of the Medici family, Lorenzino de' Medici, before consolidating his dynasty's strength in Tuscany. The last of the old Medici line, Alessandro bequeathed to the Medici name a legacy and reputation of sex, scandal, and murder.

Alessandro's distantly related successor, Cosimo I, needed to reassure the public of the stability and respectability of not only his family, but the new reign. Thus Eleanor, his attractive, charitable and fertile wife, was brought to the forefront, and the artist Agnolo Bronzino was commissioned to paint one of the first ever state portraits depicting a consort with her child and heir. While the portrait in no way depicts the cosy middle class stability that the British royal family liked to portray in the 19th century, the message is the same: "We are a nice stable normal family — trust us."

During her marriage, despite her initial unpopularity as a Spaniard, she gained great influence in Florence, she encouraged the arts and was patron to many of the most notable artists of the age. A pious woman, she encouraged the Jesuit order to settle in Florence; she also founded many new churches in the city. She was interested in agriculture and business, helping to expand and increase not only the profitability of the vast Medici estates, but also through her charitable interests the lot of the peasantry. She also supported unhesitatingly her husband and his policies, So great was his trust in her that in his frequent absences he made her regent, a station which also established her position as more than just a pretty bearer of Medici children.

As a consequence, it became known that Eleanor was the key to her husband, and those unable to gain an audience with Cosimo realised that through his wife their causes could at least be pleaded. No evidence exists, however, to prove that she greatly influenced him; but the importance of her usefulness to him cannot be ignored.


Contemporary accounts of Eleanor belie the stern formal appearance of her many portraits. In her private capacity she loved to gamble,[5] and she was a devoted traveller, moving endlessly from one of her palazzi to another.

She employed continually 10 gold and silver weavers to work on her apparel.[5] She may have needed the fine clothes to disguise her failing appearance, as 21st-century forensic examinations of her body have revealed a huge calcium deficiency which must have caused her enormous amounts of ill health, and dental pain.[6]


Eleanor of Toledo died at Pisa in 1562. Since her death, historians have tended to overlook her importance to Florentine history, and today she is often thought of as just another Medici consort and lover of luxury. This is probably due to the numerous portraits painted of her, which always show extravagance of dress. Her funeral dress still survives and is today in the care of the Galleria del Costume in Palazzo Pitti, which she purchased in 1549 as a summer retreat, and which after her death became the principal home of the rulers of Tuscany. In the earlier part of her marriage the Medici lived in Florence's Via Larga at what is now the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi and later at the Palazzo Vecchio.[7] The rebuilding of the Pitti Palace was only partially completed at the time of her death.

For centuries after her death the myth pervaded that her 16-year-old son Garcia had murdered his 19-year-old brother, Giovanni, following a dispute in 1562. Their father Cosimo I, it was said, then murdered Garcia with his own sword, and Eleanor, distraught, died a week later from grief. The truth, proven by modern day exhumations and forensic science, was that Eleanor and her sons, as the Medici family had always claimed, died together from malaria in 1562.[7]



  1. Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany
    1. Maria (1540–1557) died unmarried.
    2. Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1541–1587) married Johanna of Austria.
      1. Eleonora, Duchess of Mantua (1566–1611) died childless.
      2. Romola (1568) died in infancy.
      3. Anna (1569–1584) died unmarried.
      4. Isabella (1571–1572) died in infancy.
      5. Lucrezia (1572–1574) died in infancy.
      6. Maria, Queen of France (1573–1642) married Henri IV of France.
      7. Filippo (1577–1582) died in infancy.
    3. Isabella, Duchess of Bracciano (1542–1576)
    4. Cardinal Giovanni (1544–1562) died unmarried.
    5. Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara (1545–1561) married Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara.
    6. Pietro de' Medici (1546–1547) (it) died in infancy.
    7. Garzia (1547–1562) died unmarried.
    8. Antonio (1548-1548) died in infancy.
    9. Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1549–1609) married Christina of Lorraine.
      1. Cosimo II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1590–1621) married Maria Maddalena of Austria.
        1. Maria Cristina de' Medici (1609–1632) died unmarried.
        2. Ferdinando II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1610–1670) married Vittoria della Rovere.
          1. Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1642–1723) married Marguerite Louise d'Orléans.
            1. Ferdinando de' Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany (1663–1713) married Violante Beatrice of Bavaria.
            2. Anna Maria Luisa, Electress Palatine (1667–1743) married Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine.
            3. Gian Gastone de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1671–1737) married Anna Maria Franziska of Saxe-Lauenburg.
          2. Francesco Maria de' Medici (1660–1711) married Eleonora Luisa Gonzaga.
        3. Gian Carlo (1611–1663) died unmarried.
        4. Margherita, Duchess of Parma (1612–1679) married Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma.
        5. Mattias (1613–1667) died unmarried.
        6. Francesco (1614–1634) died unmarried.
        7. Anna, Archduchess of Austria (1616–1676) married Ferdinand Charles, Archduke of Austria (1628–1662)
        8. Leopoldo (1617–1675) died unmarried.
      2. Eleonora (1591–1617) died unmarried.
      3. Caterina, Duchess of Mantua (1593–1629) married Ferdinando Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua.
      4. Francesco (1594–1614) died unmarried.
      5. Carlo (1595–1666) died unmarried.
      6. Filippino (1598–1602) died unmarried.
      7. Lorenzo (1599–1648) died unmarried.
      8. Maria Maddalena (1600–1633) died unmarried.
      9. Claudia (1604–1648) married (1) Federico della Rovere and had issue (2) Leopold V, Archduke of Austria and had issue.
    10. Anna (1553).
    11. Pietro (1554–1604) married Eleonora de Toledo.


Titles and styles

  • 1522 - 29 March 1539 Doña Leonor Álvarez de Toledo
  • 29 March 1539 – 17 December 1562 Her Excellency The Duchess of Florence



  • Women who ruled
  • Tales From The Crypt
  • Letters to from and about Eleonora di Toledo
  • Eleonora di Toledo's funeral dress
  • Wilhelm Karl, Prinz zu Isenburg, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europaischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Marburg, Germany: Verlag von J. A. Stargardt, vol. 3. pt. 3, 1985, tables 532b-533.
  • Landini, Roberta Orsi and Niccola Bruna, "Moda a Firenze 1540-1580: Lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza", Mauro Pagliai, Italy 2005.
  • Liss, Peggy K. Isabel the Queen, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 165.
  • Roth, Norman. Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, pp. 150–151, 333.

External links

Eleanor of Toledo
Born: ? 1522 Died: 17 December 1562
Italian royalty
Preceded by
Margaret of Parma
Duchess of Florence
Succeeded by
Joanna of Austria
as Grand Duchess of Tuscany