Eleanor of Naples, Duchess of Ferrara

Eleanor of Naples (Leonora or Eleonora of Aragon; 22 June 1450 – 11 October 1493)[1] was duchess of Ferrara by marriage to Ercole I d'Este. She was the first duchess of Ferrara, and mother of many famous Renaissance figures. She was a well known political figure, and served as regent of Ferrara during the absence of her spouse.

Eleanor of Naples
Duchess of Ferrara, of Modena and Reggio
Portrait from a manuscript Il modo di regere e di regnare by Antonio Cornazzano.
Born22 June 1450
Died11 October 1493
SpouseSforza Maria Sforza, Duke of Bari
Ercole I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara
FatherFerdinand I of Naples
MotherIsabella of Clermont


Born to King Ferdinand I of Naples and Isabella of Clermont. Born into wealth, she was the first daughter, and second child, born into her family of six brothers and sisters. Not much is known of her childhood or early life growing up as the first princess of Naples, but she was thought to be the first consort of Sforza Maria Sforza, duke of Bari.

Duchess of Ferrara

Eleanor would go on to marry Ercole d’Este (26 October 1431 – 15 June 1505) in July 1473, her supposed second husband. It is claimed that this marriage was met with much celebration. Ercole was said to be, “…an unscrupulous and devious ruler.”[2] He came to be Duke of Ferrara in 1471, taking the title upon the death of his half-brother, Borso, and would rule until his death in 1503.[3]

When she was passed through Rome in June 1473, on her way to marry Ercole d’Este, duke of Ferrara, she was received grandly (she would go on to marry him a month later). Two nephews of Rodrigo Borgia, who was a cardinals at the time, were there to greet her.[4] They wanted to make a good and lasting impression on the Neapolitan Princess. She wrote to her father that she was given a lavish apartment, stating that even her chamber pot was made of gilded silver.[5] In her correspondence with her father, she spoke of the banquet thrown for her, which lasted six hours, and it was an endless succession of food, accompanied by music, dancing and poetry. “The treasures of the Church, is being put to such uses,” she wrote in astonishment in her letter.[5] This has been suspected to be a political power play by the Borgias, in attempt of gaining favor with royalty and gaining more political power.

Despite her husband's ill temper, Eleanor was said to have been an active and dedicated spouse.[6] She ruled in her husband's stead when he was absent. He was absent in 1482–1484, when he fought a war with the Republic of Venice. Due to growing up in the Aragonese court of Naples, she brought with her lots of political knowledge and advice, and was said to show an extreme amount of common sense.[7]


Eleanor died on 1493, at the age of 43. The circumstances are unknown, but during her time period she could have been taken by a number of diseases. Her eldest son Alfonso viewed his mother as one of the women he cared for the most, and he was deeply affected when he lost her at the age of seventeen. Due to the fact that his mother and sister, Beatrice, whom he also loved deeply, died at such a young age, Alfonso viewed marriage as merely a painful duty, viewing his new bride Lucrezia with little interest.[8]


With her entrance as a political figure, governing in her husband's place, she was a great influence to many. She was the inspiration for works such as Antonio Cornazzano's Del modo di regere et di regnare, in which he dedicated to her.[9] This is not the only book that Eleanor had dedicated to her. Da Ladibus Mulierum (In Praise of Women) by Bartolomeo Goggio was also dedicated to her.[10][11] Having all these works dedicated to her, could heavily suggest that she was a patron, someone with a lot of money and high status who will commission an artist or writer for a work. Most times these works were an attempt to gain more political favor.

She was an eloquent writer and showed a great amount of political prowess when she wrote letters. It is through this that we can see the court of Ferrara had a more positive attitude towards women, with many influences coming from highly educated women.[12] It is considered extremely rare for women during this period to be praised highly for their political prowess, making her a bit of an anomaly. Her more gentle nature and need for more intellectual conversations, led her to a more subtle political rule, making it difficult to find much on her ruling, when compared to, for example, the fiercer and slightly brash ruling of Caterina Sforza, who ruled Forlì in her husband's stead as well. There is a connection between the two women, as Eleanor's daughter, Beatrice, married into the Sforza family. Eleanor, along with her daughters, in particular her daughter Isabella, was considered to be a new representation of status amongst women.[13]


Ercole I d'Este and Duchess Eleanor had six children:

  • Isabella (1474–1539), married Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua, and became one of the most famous women of the Renaissance. Her style of dress made her a fashion icon, and she would soon be copied by numerous French women. When her brother, Alfonso, married Lucrezia Borgia, Isabella viewed her as a rival, and quickly snubbed all her attempts at friendship. It was in 1502 that Lucrezia, her brother's wife, would start an intense and passionate affair, said to be more sexual then loving, with Isabella's husband.[14] It is stated, and heavily assumed, that Isabella was the model for Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting, The Mona Lisa.[15]
  • Beatrice (1475–1497), who married Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. She, along with her sister was stated to be one of the most influential women of the Renaissance. They were known particularly for their fashionable state of dress. It is said that during her marriage with Ludovico, that Leonardo da Vinci conducted the orchestra at the wedding.
  • Alfonso (1476–1534), who married as his second wife, Lucrezia Borgia. . He was to be her final husband, and bore him ten children. It was during this marriage that Lucrezia greatly supported her husband and stood up in her role of Duchess of Ferrara, ruling in Alfonso's stead when he was off fighting Julius II.[16] It was during the pregnancy of her tenth child, a daughter born prematurely, that Lucrezia fell ill and would soon pass away. Alfonso was said to grieve her death so heavily, that he fainted at her funeral. He wrote that he found it hard not to weep, when he thought of himself being separated from such a dear wife.[17] This marriage was said to be reluctantly agreed upon by Alfonso's father, in hopes that it would improve his relation with the Papal States.
  • Ferrante (1477–1540)
  • Ippolito (1479–1520), cardinal, army commander and patron of the arts. Educated quickly for a life in the Church, he was said to have been head of abbacy by the age of six. He would benefit greatly from his brother's marriage to Lucrezia Borgia.
  • Sigismondo (1480–1524), lived in his two elder brothers’ shadow.


  1. Commire, Anne (1999). Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Waterford: Yorkin.
  2. ""DIOMEDE CARAFA (1406?-1487), De Boni Principis Officiis [De Regentis Et Boni Principis Officiis], Translation from the Italian by BATTISTA GUARINI".
  3. Bizzarri, Claudia. Il principe umanista.
  4. Hibbert, Christopher (2009). The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431 - 1519. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 28. ISBN 9780547247816.
  5. Herbert. The Borgias and Their Enemies. p. 27.
  6. ""DIOMEDE CARAFA (1406?-1487), De Boni Principis Officiis [De Regentis Et Boni Principis Officiis], Translation from the Italian by BATTISTA GUARINI".
  7. ""DIOMEDE CARAFA (1406?-1487), De Boni Principis Officiis [De Regentis Et Boni Principis Officiis], Translation from the Italian by BATTISTA GUARINI".
  8. Herbert. The Borgias and Their Enemies. p. 214.
  9. ""DIOMEDE CARAFA (1406?-1487), De Boni Principis Officiis [De Regentis Et Boni Principis Officiis], Translation from the Italian by BATTISTA GUARINI".
  10. The Bed and the Throne. p. 8.
  11. Konrad Eisenbichler (5 July 2017). The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Taylor & Francis. pp. 126–. ISBN 978-1-351-54517-4.
  12. ""DIOMEDE CARAFA (1406?-1487), De Boni Principis Officiis [De Regentis Et Boni Principis Officiis], Translation from the Italian by BATTISTA GUARINI".
  13. Franklin, Margaret Ann (2006). Boccaccio's Heroines: Power and Virtue in Renaissance Society. p. 21.
  14. Marek, George (1976). The Bed and the Throne: The Life of Isabella d'Este. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 166–169.
  15. Lewis, Francis-Ames (2012). Isabella and Leonardo. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 223–240.
  16. Herbert. The Borgias and Their Enemies. p. 300.
  17. Herbert. The Borgias and Their Enemies. p. 210.


  • Hibbert, Christopher. The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519. Orlando: Harcourt, 2008.
  • "DIOMEDE CARAFA (1406?-1487), De Boni Principis Officiis [De Regentis Et Boni Principis Officiis], Translation from the Italian by BATTISTA GUARINI." Carafa Renaissance Manuscripts Guarini. http://www.textmanuscripts.com/medieval/carafa-boni-guarini-60675.
  • Marek, George R. The Bed and the Throne: The Life of Isabella D'Este. New York: Harper & Row, 1976
  • Lewis, Francis-Ames: Isabella and Leonardo. Yale University Press (New Haven) 2012
  • Franklin, Margaret Ann. Boccaccio's Heroines: Power and Virtue in Renaissance Society. Burlington: Ashgate, 2006.
  • Bizzarri, Claudia. "Il principe umanista". Medioevo
  • Commire, Anne, and Deborah Klezmer. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Waterford, Conn.: Yorkin Publ., 1999.
Eleanor of Naples, Duchess of Ferrara
Born: 22 June 1450 Died: 11 October 1493
Royal titles
Title last held by
Maria of Aragon
as Marquise of Ferrara; Lady of Modena and Reggio
Duchess consort of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio
3 July 1473 – 11 October 1493
Title next held by
Lucrezia Borgia
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