Thursday, January 3, 2013
Consort Profile: Duchess Eleanor of Toledo
However, arranged or not, the marriage was certainly a success as far as what was most required of royal couples; ensuring the survival of the Medici family by producing heirs. There was certainly no problem in securing the succession and Duchess Eleanor gave her husband eleven children between 1540 and 1554, two of whom would succeed their father as Grand Dukes of Tuscany in the future. Given the less than ideal birth status of the previous leaders of the House of Medici, Duke Cosimo was intent to present a new public image of respectability, stability and traditional values. His own large family would be the centerpiece of this new look and Duchess Eleanor was the most important part of it. As far as her public image went, there could not have been a better choice. Not only was Eleanor quite the fertile myrtle, she also had a lovely but reserved appearance which gave the impression of strength and stability to those who saw her. She was also quite religious and a patron of the Society of Jesus, still relatively new at that time. At first the people were inclined to dislike her because of her Spanish origins, and given what so many Italians had been through, that is hardly surprising, but her patronage of the Church, the arts and charitable causes soon won everyone over.
Only relatively recently have researchers discovered what a tremendously tough woman Duchess Eleanor was. Studies done on her remains have shown that she suffered from a severe calcium deficiency that must have caused her immense pain. From the results we can surmise that her teeth must have given her a great deal of trouble and that her bones would have caused her incredible agony (she may have even shrank quite a bit over her life). Given all that she was going through, in addition to giving birth to eleven children and still always remaining the ideal consort, public figure, national hostess and even running the government when necessary, Duchess Eleanor emerges as an extremely remarkable woman. Sadly, her life was cut all too short when, at the age of only 40, she died on December 17, 1562 in Pisa during a malaria epidemic that also took the lives of two of her sons.