Eleanor of Austria (1498-1558), second wife of Francis I

Eleanor of Austriawidow of the King of Portugal, second wife of Francis I, was really an instrument of negotiation for his brother Charles V and of revenge for the King of France. During the seventeen years of her life as a French wife and queen, this sister of the enemy will feel the animosity of the king and his sons. Rejected as a foreigner, she will return to her country upon the death of her husband and will be "erased" from the memory of the French, not even being admitted to the basilica of Saint Denis!

Eleanor's youth

Eléonore, first child of Philippe le Beau and Jeanne la Folle, was born on November 15, 1498 in Louvain, obtaining her surname from her grandfather Maximilian of Austria, her godmother being Margaret of York, widow of Charles the Bold. Eighteen months later, his brother Charles of Ghent, the future Charles V, was born and on the death of their parents, they were entrusted to their aunt Marguerite of Austria.

Smiling, cheerful young girl, horse rider and expert in hunting, she learned music, painting and letters. Her simple tastes, modesty and feelings make her "a fool without ambitions". At eighteen, she fell in love with a poor younger brother, Prince Palatine Frederick, son of Philippe of Bavaria; Charles V does not want it and is looking for a "correct" suitor, at least a king ... of France, England or Poland, thereby excluding the Duke of Lorraine, the King of Denmark and that of Navarre.

Queen of Portugal

He finally opts for the King of Portugal, Manuel I, born in 1469, ugly, old, hunchbacked, and widowed for the second time. Eleonore was offered to her in 1517 and in September, she left Flanders accompanied by her brother, for a long journey strewn with pitfalls: ship fire, storm, crossing from Asturias to Madrid, which is an arid and desolate country. On July 13, 1518, considered "a masterpiece, so much is wise, joyful, honest and kind in all things", she marries by proxy Emmanuel the Fortunate, becomes queen of Portugal for three years, and will have a dead boy. young and a little Maria that the Portuguese will want to marry at their convenience.

When the king died in 1521, she left Portugal to join Charles V in Spain. Promised to Charles de Bourbon, on condition that he succeeds in recovering Provence or part of Italy, Charles V hesitates all the same. Bourbon is a traitor since he went into the service of Spain. It is not clear what the young woman's thoughts are, but it is certain that she was not in favor.

Queen of France

In 1525, François Ier was imprisoned in Spain and signed a pact in order to be released: among other things he would marry Eleanor (ravishing her in Bourbon!). Charles V agrees (better to hold on than to run), but Eléonore would remain in Spain with the royal children, until all the terms of the agreement were fulfilled, including the donation of French provinces. Eleanor and Francis I met during his illness, and was even happy to hear that the Treaty of Madrid "gave" her to the King of France.

A promise of marriage is therefore signed on January 19, 1526, the future spouses have the right to correspond and meet for the feasts given in their honor, but everyone remains on guard. Eléonore is sincere, has a real affection for the King of France but is torn between the two men: she takes care of the future Philippe II (child of his brother) and tries to soften the conditions of captivity of the children of François Ier

After the Ladies' Treaty signed in 1529, Eleanor became the new queen, but found herself in a bizarre situation: sister of the enemy, not really honest token of friendship, a sort of instrument for her brother. She finally joined her husband in 1530, accompanying the small hostages, but it was Cardinal de Tournon who welcomed her on July 1 ... the king, waiting in Bordeaux, did not come to her before until July 4.

There are many testimonies in favor of Eleanor "she was the happiest lady we have ever seen". Pretty, she is blonde with dark eyes, still fresh despite her thirty two years, dressed in dark velvet, she adopts a white dress and a triple necklace of pearls, rubies and diamonds around her neck. Despite everything, she has the too strong lower lip of the Habsburgs and Brantôme adds "under the body of a giantess, pulling down, she looked like a dwarf, she had so short her thighs and legs"! Finally on July 6, the king can kiss his children, greet the queen and go to bed, because the next day is marriage and the exchange of consents.

A neglected stranger

They take the road to go back to Saint Denis for the coronation of the queen on March 5. Arriving fifteen days late, she receives as a gift from the city, a pair of candlesticks surmounted by a phoenix with its motto "unica semper avis", a bird which is reborn from its ashes, symbol of its double royalty and its faithful love. . She triumphs… but will quickly be pushed aside, as her aunt Margaret of Austria had warned her “it is necessary that she behave by the will of the King, that she do according to her desire… she will have more by gentleness than by pressing too hard ”. Sweetness and docility!

She therefore expects respect from the king ... but she is quickly disappointed, even hurt: Francis I displays his main mistress, which he had not done to Claude. He doesn't show her any affection, isn't ready to give her a child (he already has one and doesn't want a half-brother for his sons). This marriage is part of the treaty that had to be obtained, the king has a big grudge for Charles V, and cannot forgive: Eleanor is the sister of his enemy!

Moreover, she is shy, reserved and the king prefers leading women. Motherhood would have made a place for him with the king, but he doesn't want it, she won't. She goes to her "stepchildren" but receives a very cold reception: Henri has still not forgiven him either. Only François shows her a little kindness: Eléonore is a foreigner!

Louise of Savoy is already dead, there remains her sister-in-law Marguerite, with whom she had made a bit of friendship in Spain during the detention of Francis I. But Marguerite just married Henri d´Albret in 1527 and returned to Navarre. Intellectually superior to Eleanor, they do not have the same culture or the same ambitions: there is a gap between the two ladies.

A parade instrument

At court, clans are formed around the royal mistress, but not around the queen! She therefore confines herself to her parade role, following the king on the move, without difficulty being in good health, taking her place in the ceremonies, not always as Queen of France, but: as the sister of Charles V !

However, she will not succeed in reconciling these two sovereigns! It was not for lack of trying in 1532 when she appealed to her sister Marie, widow of the King of Hungary, or in 1535 during the Cambrai talks. And when the war resumed in 1536, Eleanor took it as a personal failure, especially since on this occasion the Dauphin François caught cold and died: Charles V was accused of murder. She resumed her role of intermediary in 1538-1539 for the negotiations between the two sovereigns and Pope Paul III in order to put an end to the wars in Italy… waste of time! These two men will never be able to reconcile, it is mission impossible!

His services were still needed in 1544 after the signing of the Treaty of Cléry-en-Lannois to lead a large delegation (the young Duke of Orleans, the Duchess of Etampes) to the festivities in the Netherlands.

His departure after the death of Francis I

Then it was the twist: François I died in March 1547. Warned two days later, Eleanor wept sincerely, even if some ambassadors take his tears for "convenience". Good and pious, she had been his wife for seventeen years! No one loving her, rejected, Eléonore could no longer stay in France. She returns the crown jewels (as is customary), Henry II offers her financial compensation (as is also customary), but no ceremonies, no farewells, no escort to leave the country in the direction of Brussels where she arrived in December 1548.

She ends her life as a dowager, among her family (her sister, her nephew Philippe, Maximilien II). In 1556, when Charles V abdicated and ceded the throne to his son, Eleanor and her sister accompanied him and settled near his retreat at the monastery of Yuste, in Spain. It was when she returned from meeting her daughter Maria, on the border with Portugal, that she suffered a violent asthma attack, so that she died in mid-February 1558, shortly before her brother. , which will make him raise a funeral monument to the Escorial.

Eléonore has never felt at home in France, as Anne of Austria will experience a few years later ... except that Anne will have children! Eléonore was not so lucky! Worse: it will not be installed in Saint Denis with François Ier! Eléonore is truly a rejected queen, almost "erased" from the memory of the French!

The Queens of France in the time of the Valois, volume 1: Le beau XVIe siècle, by Simone Bertière. Paperback, 1996.

Video: Eleanor of Austria refused by her daughter Carlos, rey emperador (December 2021).