Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Friday, June 22, 2018

Eleanor of Naples, Regent of Ferrara

Eleanor of Naples, duchess of Ferrara (born 22 June 1450)


Eleanor (or Leonora) of Naples was the daughter of Ferrante I, king of Naples from 1458 to 1594, and Isabella of Taranto, the niece and heir of  Giovanni Antonio del Balzo Orsini, prince of Taranto. (Since Isabella's father was Tristan de Clermont, she is sometimes known as Isabella of Clermont--although Isabella was the legitimate heir to the principality of Taranto after her uncle's death, Ferrante had confiscated it. His marriage to Isabella secured his control of Taranto.)

Miniature portrait of Eleanor of Naples,
on her manuscript copy of 
Antonio Cornazzano’s Del modo di regere et di regnare 
(On the Way of Ruling and Reigning).
In this image, she holds a sceptre in her 
right hand--the hand of God, directing her,
emerges from a cloud, above.
Not much has been written about Eleanor's early life--well, pretty much nothing has been written. Given her patronage of writers and the quality of the letters she wrote, we might conclude that she must have received an excellent education, but that is guesswork.

Later evidence does suggest something of Eleanor's education: she collected her own library, including not only poetry but philosophy and the classics.  Two works were dedicated to her, Antonio Cornazzano’s Del modo di regere et di regnare (On the Way of Ruling and Reigning), and Bartolomeo Goggio's Da Laudibus Mulierum (In Praise of Women). 

In 1465, when she would have been about fifteen, Eleanor was betrothed to Sforza Maria Sforza, the brother of Ludovico Sforza--Eleanor's father made Sforza the duke of Bari. It is not clear whether the two were ever married--but since Sforza died in 1479 and Eleanor was married to Ercole d'Este, duke of Ferrara, in July of 1473, I'm guessing not.

Once in Ferrara, she gave birth to two daughters, both of whom would be widely recognized as cultured, educated Renaissance women, Isabella (born in 1474) and Beatrice (born in 1475). She would also give birth to four sons between 1476 and 1480, including Alfonso, who would succeed his father as duke of Ferrara and marry Lucrezia Borgia

Eleanor's life comes more into focus in May of 1477, when Eleanor, her two daughters, and her son, Alfonso, traveled to Naples for an extended stay with her father, who was preparing for a marriage to his second wife, Joanna of Aragon. In her discussion of this visit, historian Leonie Frieda offers a few details about Eleanor, describing her as "a plain woman who lacked beauty but projected a somewhat majestic persona." Frieda also claims that Ferrante wanted this visit from his daughter on the occasion of his second marriage because she was "strong-minded" and "intelligent." 
Francesco Laurano's bust of
Eleanor of Aragon (presumed)

It's also interesting--and perhaps says a great deal about Eleanor's strength--that she gave birth to her second son, in September 1477--while still in Naples. So she had made the journey from Ferrara while she was several months pregnant.The new baby was named Ferrante, after Eleanor's father.

Her extended stay was disrupted, however--appointed captain-general of the armies of Florence, Ercole d'Este needed Eleanor to serve as regent of Ferrara. Eleanor headed north, though she left her newborn son and Beatrice behind in Naples, apparently at her father's request.

Again Frieda supplies a few descriptons here--she claims that because Ercole "put faith in his wife," it is "testament to her robust political temperament and immense personal bravery."

Eleanor is also known to have functioned as regent of Ferrara during the years of 1480-82 while her husband was again away fighting. 

A letter from Lucrezia Borgia to her mother-in-law, asking for a present of a greyhound, makes it clear that Eleanor had her own kennels and was an accomplished breeder of the species. 

Eleanor of Naples, duchess and at times regent of Ferrara, died on 11 October 1493, just forty-three years old.