Eleanor of Austria (1498-1558), Queen of Portugal and Queen of France

Eleanor of Austria by Joos van Cleve, c. 1530

Eleanor of Austria by Joos van Cleve, c. 1530 (source)

There are several women referred to as Eleanor of Austria or Eleanor of Castile, but the woman pictured here, born on November 15, 1498, became both Queen consort of Portugal as the wife of Manuel I (1518-1521), and Queen of France as wife of Francis I (1530-1547). She was the oldest child of Philip of Austria and Joanna of Castile and born an Archduchess of Austria and Infanta of Castile. All of her siblings became either Holy Roman Emperors (Charles V and Ferdinand I) or Queens (Isabella of Denmark, Mary of Hungary, and Catherine of Portugal.)

If ever there was a political pawn, it was Eleanor. When she was young, political marriages were proposed with Henry VIII of England, Louis XII or Francis I of France, Sigismund I of Poland, and Antoine, Duke of Lorraine. Eventually, after a proposed marriage with her cousing the future John III of Portugal fell through, she married his father the king, Manuel I of Portugal on July 16, 1518. (Her sister, Catherine, later married John.)

She was Manuel’s third wife, the previous two being her maternal aunts Isabella and Maria. Eleanor had two children with Manuel. The first, Charles, died as an infant; the second, Maria, lived to adulthood and never married, but is known to have been one of the richest princesses of her time in Europe. Manuel, who was 49 at the time of their marriage, died on December 13, 1521 and Eleanor returned to the court of her brother Charles in Spain.

Once again in the marriage market, Eleanor was engaged to Charles III, Duke of Bourbon in an effort to cement an alliance between Spain and Bourbon, against France. The marriage never took place, but in 1526, a more direct alliance was formed when she was engaged to King Francis I of France while he was in captivity in Spain. The marriage was stipulated in the treaty of 1529 called La Paz de las Damas (The Ladies’ Peace) and they were married at the border of France and Spain on July 4, 1530. Eleanor was accompanied to the border by two of Francis’s sons who had been held hostage.

Francis had little to do with Eleanor. He preferred the company of his mistress, Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly, and in fact stood at his window with her in view of the public during Eleanor’s official entrance to Paris. It’s no surprise the couple had no children. Francis had five surviving children from his first marriage to Claude, the daughter of Louis XII of France and Duchess Anne of Brittany.

Eleanor was officially crowned Queen of France on May 31, 1531. She performed official functions as Queen as well as acts of charity, and she also took her step-daughters, Madeleine, the future Queen of Scots, and Margaret, Duchess of Berry, into her household. She had no political power, but was the connection between Francis and Charles, the Holy Roman Emperor, specifically at negotiations in 1538.

After the death of Francis in 1547, Eleanor went to Brussels and later lived with her sister in Jarandilla de la Vera, in Spain. In 1558, Eleanor was reunited with her daughter, Maria, for the first time in almost 28 years. Maria had not gone to France with her mother, and at some point moved to Lisbon with her aunt Catherine, after Catherine married John III of Portugal. The two women spent 3 weeks together in the town of Badajoz. Maria declined to move to Jarandilla de la Vera to live with her mother and Eleanor died on her return journey.

Find out what else happened on November 15 in Women’s History.

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