Germany/Austria - Famous Renaissance Women

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Eleanor of Portugal, Empress

Eleanor of Portugal,
Holy Roman Empress
18.9.1434 to 3.9.1467
Eleanor of Portugal, Holy Roman Empress


Eleanor of Portugal was born at Torres Vedras on 18th September 1434, the eldest surviving daughter of Edward, King of Portugal and his wife Eleanor of Aragon. Eleanor's substantial dowry meant that she was courted by a number of princes, but she apparently preferred the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III because she wanted to be Empress. The marriage negotiations were conducted by Eleanor's cousin Ferrante, King of Naples. She travelled to Italy, experiencing a rough sea voyage, and met Frederick for the first time at Sienna . On 16th March 1452, they married in Rome by Cardinal Piccolomini, the future Pope Pius II; the pair were formally crowned by Pope Nicholas V three days later. This was the last time that an Emperor and Empress were given a Roman coronation.

On their return to Frederick's German and Austrian lands, Eleanor seems to have experienced something of a culture-shock. She was used to a wealthy and civilised Court in Portugal, and the conditions in her new country were more rudimentary. Her husband Frederick was nineteen years her senior, and a rather remote and morose person. He was also frugal and careful with money (possibly due to his multitude of responsibilities and commitments), and he regarded Eleanor as extravagant. He also sent most of her attendants back to Portugal,adding to her feelings of homesickness. She loved dancing, hunting and gambling, none of which appealed much to her husband. He did, however, find her dowry invaluable in consolidating Habsburg power.

Eleanor and Frederick had five children, of whom two - the future Emperor Maximilian I and Kuningarde, later Duchess of Bavaria - survived to adulthood. She had a considerable influence on their education and upbringing, although Frederick criticised her for feeding them too many sweets. Eleanor died at Weiner Neustadt in Austria on 3rd September 1467 at the age of 32, and was buried in the Neukloster Monastery there, where her tomb survives.


Bianca Maria Sforza (Ambrogio de Predis, 1493)



Bianca Maria Sforza,
Holy Roman Empress
1472 - 1510
Bianca Maria Sforza, Holy Roman Empress


Bianca Maria Sforza was born at Pavia on 5th April 1472, the daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, and his wife Bona of Savoy. When she was four years old, her father was murdered in the Church of San Stefano in Milan - although sacrilegious, it was not uncommon for prominent men in Renaissance Italy to be assassinated in church, where they would be less closely guarded. By that time, Bianca had been sent to Savoy to marry her cousin Philibert I, but the marriage could never be consummated because he died when she was only ten. On her return to Milan in 1484, she was given a very limited education which consisted mainly of sewing and embroidery, which left her poorly equipped for her future life. She was totally unused to making decisions, running a household (let alone a country) or doing anything other than ordering new gowns and jewels By that time, her uncle Ludovico 'il Moro' had made himself Regent for Bianca's younger brother Gian Galeazzo Sforza and was reluctant to relinquish power when the youth came of age. In order to shore up his position and having repented of his previous alliance with France, Ludovico arranged for Bianca to marry the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Maximilian, the feudal overlord of Milan agreed to grant formal investiture as Duke to Ludovico in return for Bianca and a hefty dowry.

Bianca journeyed to the Tyrol to meet her new bridegroom, and the magnificence of her clothing and entourage caused much comment on the way. She and Maximilian were married at Hall on 16th March 1494 - he was thirty four and she was twenty two. Unfortunately, the marriage turned out to be a disaster. Although erratic and mercurial, Maximilian was educated, cultured and intellectually curious. He was shocked at what he saw as Bianca's ignorance and shallowness, her lack of interest in politics and her frivolousness. He thought her silly and extravagant, and compared her adversely to his first wife, the intelligent and cultured Mary of Burgundy Despite receiving the large sum of 400,000 ducats in return for marrying her, he kept her short of money - conjugal stinginess seems to have been a trait of the Habsburg men, as his father had done the same to his mother and his son Philip behaved similarly to his wife, Joanna of Castile. Maximilian was, in fact, at least as profligate with money as Bianca, and was perpetually on the verge of going bankrupt. On one occasion, he left her behind to face the music at a hotel in Innsbruck because he was unable to pay the bill.

Politically, the marriage gave Maximilian no long-term advantage, as Ludovico Sforza was ousted from Milan by the French and died in a French prison. Bianca wanted children, but seems to have been infertile and her husband was continually unfaithful to her (he had ten illegitimate children, as well as two from his first marriage). By 1504, the couple had effectively separated: Bianca lived with her Italian-born attendants at various castles in the Tyrol, whilst Maximilian spent his time 'traipsing around' (as he called it) his enormous Empire and making periodic unsuccessful attempts to conquer parts of Italy. Bianca died at Innsbruck on 31st December 1510 at the age of thirty-eight and is buried in the church at the nearby town of Stams.



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