Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg

Eleonore Magdalene of Neuburg (Eleonore Magdalene Therese; 6 January 1655 19 January 1720) was a Holy Roman Empress, German Queen, Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia as the third and last wife of Leopold I.[1] She was the paternal grandmother of Empress Maria Theresa.

Eleonore Magdalene of Neuburg
Holy Roman Empress; German Queen;
Queen consort of Hungary and Bohemia;
Archduchess consort of Austria
Tenure14 December 1676 – 5 May 1705
Born(1655-01-06)6 January 1655
Died19 January 1720(1720-01-19) (aged 65)
Hofburg Palace, Vienna
SpouseLeopold I, Holy Roman Emperor
IssueJoseph I, Holy Roman Emperor
Archduchess Maria Elisabeth, Governor of the Austrian Netherlands
Maria Anna, Queen of Portugal
Archduchess Maria Theresa
Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Archduchess Maria Josepha
Archduchess Maria Magdalena
Full name
Eleonore Magdalene Therese
FatherPhilip William, Elector Palatine
MotherElisabeth Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt
ReligionRoman Catholic

Reputed to be one of the most educated and the virtuous women of her time (she translated the Bible from Latin to German), she took part in the political affairs during the reign of her husband and sons. She served as regent for a few months in 1711 and it was during this period that the Treaty of Szatmár was signed, which recognized the rights of her descendants in the Kingdom of Hungary. Before her marriage and during her widowhood she led an ascetic and monastic life.


Early years

Eleonore was born in Düsseldorf on the night of 6 January 1655,[2] as the oldest of 17 children born from Philip William, Count Palatine of Neuburg and Duke of Jülich-Berg (since 1685 Elector Palatine) and his second wife Landgravine Elisabeth Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. On her father's side her grandparents were Wolfgang Wilhelm, Count Palatine of Neuburg and his first wife Magdalene of Bavaria and on her mother's side her grandparents were George II, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt and his wife Sophia Eleonore of Saxony.

Immediately after birth, the princess was baptized Eleonore Magdalene Therese by the abbot of Altenburg Abbey. To celebrate her birth, the court chaplain and poet Jesuit Jakob Balde composed a Latin poem in hexameters called the "Song of genius Eleonore" (la: Eleonorae Geniale carmen), which he translated to German. Subsequently, he became the spiritual mentor of Eleonore until his death. In August 1655, her parents moved with her from Düsseldorf to Neuburg. On 11 September 1661 at the Neuburg Hofkirche, the princess was anointed by Marquard II Schenk von Castell, Prince-bishop of Eichstätt.

Eleonore was raised in a pious environment and also received a good education: she was fluent in Latin, French and Italian, translated to German biblical and religious texts and was well versed in theology. She was also fond to music and arts, hunting and dancing, but her special passion was reading. Since September 1672 Eleonore lived at Benrath Castle, where, under the guidance of a maid of honour, she began her training in etiquette.[3]

From her early childhood, Eleonore displayed a pious nature and a fervent adherence to Roman Catholicism. When she was four years old, she saw a Crucifixion scene and burst into tears in sympathy with Jesus. She participated in religious services every day, and visited the sick. Among the poor, Eleonore asked them to treat her as a commoner, rather than a person of noble birth, because she thought that all people were equally precious to God. On 2 February 1669 she entered the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Sorrows at the Cross. The special protection provided by Eleonore to the Carmelite monasteries in Düsseldorf and Neuburg reflected her wish to be a Carmelite nun, but her parents refused to give their consent. Five monarchs asked for her hand, and all were refused by Eleonore. One of her rejected suitors was the widower James, Duke of York, the future King of England and Scotland, who proposed in 1671.[3][4]


In April 1676 Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor lost his second wife, and almost immediately began to search for a new one, urged by the need of a male heir. From his previous marriages he had six children, but all except the oldest daughter, Archduchess Maria Antonia, died shortly after birth. This time Eleonore was chosen, over Duchess Maria Anna Victoria of Bavaria (later Dauphine of France), Princess Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark (later Queen consort of Sweden) and many other potential candidates.[5]

Thanks to the intense diplomatic efforts of Eleonore's father, he gained to his side Francesco Bonvisi, Papal nuncio in Vienna, and King Charles II of Spain. The opponents of the Count Palatine of Neuburg in the Imperial court spread rumours that Eleonore suffered from poor health and was physically unattractive. However, these rumours did not stop the Emperor, who needed an heir and knew not only about Eleonore's family reputed fertility but also about her fervent Catholicism and pious nature. In addition, the Count Palatine showed Leopold I a portrait of his daughter, made especially for this purpose.[3]

The marriage negotiations began in April 1676. To this end, an emissary send by the Count Palatine arrived to Vienna managed to win the support of Empress Dowager Eleonora Gonzaga (Leopold I's stepmother) and a number of notable courtiers, including Chancellor Johann Paul Freiherr von Hocher. In August 1676 the personal physician of the Emperor arrived in Neuburg and examined Eleonore to establish her fertility. Back in Vienna the following month, he gave the official conclusion that she was healthy; however, the death of Anna de' Medici (mother of his late second wife), forced the Emperor to suspended the negotiations. Leopold I took the final decision about the marriage only in the second half of October. For Eleonore, the news that she would become the new Empress did not make her happy, as she had still wished to become a nun; but in the end, she dutifully submitted to the will of her parents. On 25 November 1676 the official betrothal took place. The bride and groom were third cousins (being both great-great-grandchildren of Emperor Ferdinand I), and thus a papal dispensation was granted by Pope Innocent XI to allow the marriage. Eleonore's dowry was fixed at 100,000 florins.[3]

The first meeting between Leopold I and Eleonore took place two days before the wedding and they made a favourable impression on each other. The wedding took place in Passau on 14 December 1676, and was somewhat private as ambassadors of foreign countries were not invited. Nevertheless, the ceremony was elaborate and the ensuing celebrations lasted several days. As a wedding gift from the groom, the bride received the famous Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond. On 7 January 1677 the Imperial couple arrived in Vienna.[3]

The new Empress soon proved her fertility, and within months she became pregnant with her first child. In total, Eleonore gave birth to ten children, of whom only five survived to adulthood.[3][6][7]

Holy Roman Empress and German Queen

In the first years of her marriage, Eleonore had to face great challenges. During 1679 an outbreak of plague forced the Imperial family to leave Vienna, firstly to Mariazell and then in Prague; however, the plague reached these places. In addition, an uprising of the Bohemian peasants forced the Empress and her children escape to Linz Castle. However, no less a danger than the epidemic was the constant threat of the Ottoman Empire. In July 1683 the Imperial family again left Vienna and moved to Passau because of the threat from the Turks, who in September of the same year suffered a crushing defeat near Vienna.[3]

Eleonore was not crowned immediately after her marriage. On 9 December 1681,[3] and at the request of the Hungarian aristocracy she was crowned Queen of Hungary in Pressburg, and on 19 January 1690 she was crowned Holy Roman Empress at Augsburg Cathedral. At the time of her Imperial coronation Eleonore was pregnant with her tenth and last child.[2][8]

Eleonore was politically active and wielded considerable influence over her husband. In 1686 she restored the Order of the Starry Cross, established by her stepmother-in-law. She was multilingual, so Eleonore translated foreign political documents for her husband, as many were written in French. It was reported that the Empress received and opened important political documents while Leopold I stood waiting beside her "as a secretary". Eleonore established extensive connections through her patronage and granting of favours: she protected the career of chancellor Theodor Strattmann, and it was through her influence that the Jesuits Bauer and Tönnemann were appointed the advisers to the Emperor.[9] Eleonore attended to the interests of her biological family by securing high status marriages for her sisters, promoting the careers of her younger brothers in church as well as the political needs of her eldest brother, the Elector Palatine.[10] Eleonore accompanied Leopold I on his travels (for example, at the Diet of Augsburg in 1689) and supervised the upbringing of her children personally. She arranged the marriages of both her sons, and deeply disliked the private life of her oldest son Joseph, scolding him for his infidelities and placing his procurers in prison.[9]

The Empress has always paid great attention to matters of piety and charity; her generosity towards people in need had almost no boundaries. Eleonore not only ordered the building hospitals and orphanages, supported numerous brotherhoods, churches and monasteries, but also visited the sick in hospitals, trying to help as many people as she could. She took control over the economy of the royal court and managed to reduce its expenses through more effective organization. Eleonore was seen to be performing her duties well according to the strict Spanish court ceremony used in Vienna, and actively participated in shooting matches and hunting parties as well as the religious duties associated with the pietas austriaca. Eleonore strictly adhered to all religious festivals and prescriptions, and from 1688, she devoted much time to the Marian cult, in which she was introduced by Abraham á Sancta Clara and to which she introduced her two daughters-in-law. Eleonore was an active member of the Gesellenschaft det Sklavinnen oder Leibeign Mariens, a lay order devoted to Virgin Mary, which prescribed daily religious observance and religious charity, and in 1688, she received the Sternkreuzorden. She founded Carmelite convents in Grazer and Vienna, and the Capuchin Marco d'Aviano was her confessor and adviser. On 9 May 1684 the Empress received the Golden Rose from Pope Innocent XI, and during a joint pilgrimage the Imperial couple paid a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Altötting. Another miraculous image of the Virgin Mary from Pötsch (hu: Máriapócs), known as the "Weeping Madonna", was delivered by them and placed in St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna.

Since her early years, Eleonore suffered from depression and was described as self-destructive. She was drawn to the penitential side of Catholicism: as an example, she used bracelets with small spikes on the inside to torment the flesh. When court protocol demanded Eleonore visit the opera, she reportedly took a prayer book with her to distract her from the play. She hosted a court affected by her strong religious views: strict, simple and conventlike and, as it was said, in an atmosphere reminiscent of an eternal mourning period, which was somewhat ridiculed as being exaggerated.


Reign of Joseph I

Emperor Leopold I died in 1705 and was succeeded by her eldest son Joseph I. As Empress Dowager, Eleonore was famously known for dressing in mourning for the remainder of her life. During the reign of Joseph I, she endeavoured to keep her political influence in defiance of her daughter-in-law, Wilhelmine Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg, with whom she had a difficult relationship. When the marriage of her second son Charles was arranged, she supervised the Catholic education of his convert bride, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and took her on a pilgrimage to Mariazell in 1706 prior to the marriage in 1707. Eleonore greatly disapproved of her son keeping an official royal mistress, Marianne Pálffy, but was powerless to stop it as she had no influence upon him.


In 1711, Emperor Joseph I died, and was succeeded as ruler of the Habsburg lands by his younger brother Charles, at that point absent in Spain. Eleonore was invested as Interim Regent of the Habsburg lands by the privy conference while Charles traveled from Barcelona to Vienna. As such, she was supported by her daughters. Charles had no confidence in her rule and ordered his confidant chancellor Count John Wenceslau Wratislaw von Mitrowitz to report to him about her rule, which placed him in conflict with Eleonore.[9] During her regency, Eleonore confiscated the gifts Joseph I had given to Marianne Pálffy and ordered her to marry if she didn't wish to be expelled from court for good.[9] Furthermore, she fired Feldmarschall Johann Graf Pálffy von Ungarn, brother of the former royal mistress, who was at that point negotiating the peace with Hungary after the Rákóczi Rebellion.[9] His colleagues, however, persuaded her to restore him in his posts.[9] After negotiations were completed, Eleonore signed the Treaty of Szatmár, which recognized the rule of the House of Habsburg in the Kingdom of Hungary.[3][11] She also appointed Alexander Károlyi general. During Eleonore's regency, there was a fear among the ministers that she would use her position to defend the rights of her brother, the Elector Palatine, to the Upper Palatinate in a time when the interests of Austria would be better benefited by sacrificing his lands to Bavaria, who claimed it.[9] Eleonore presided over the congress to determine the succession and election of a new Emperor, and favoured the election of Charles as Emperor.

Reign of Charles VI

During the reign of Charles VI, Eleonore, as well as her daughter-in-law Wilhelmine Amalia, engaged herself in the succession on behalf of Joseph I's daughters. Through the secret Mutual Pact of Succession (Pactum Mutuae Successionis) of 1703, signed by both Joseph I and Charles VI with the knowledge and consent of their father, was determined that if both brothers died without surviving male issue, the daughters of the elder brother (Joseph) would have absolute precedence over the daughters of the younger brother (Charles) and the eldest daughter of Joseph would ascend all the Habsburg thrones. In the case that both brothers died without surviving issue, their surviving sisters would be the heiresses.[12][13][14]

This secret pact was only known to Leopold I, his sons and Baron Seliern: neither Eleonore or her daughters-in-law knew for certain that the document existed, but they had heard of it, and both Wilhelmina Amalia and Eleonore were very active in establishing the truth and pressuring Charles to establish a formal and public succession order, which would also be necessary for court protocol.[9] In 1712, Wilhelmine Amalia managed to persuade Baron Seilern to give her the document, which she sent to the head of her family George Louis, Elector, who sent Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, to help her to negotiate with Charles VI her daughters' rights. When Charles VI presented the original version of the Pactum Mutuae Successionis on 21 April 1713, Wilhelmine Amalia had triumphed in making him recognize the secret succession order of 1703. It was at a dinner with Eleonore, in the presence of the numerous archduchesses, that Seilern informed them of this.[9] However, the success of Wilhelmine Amalia was short-lived: only a few days before, on 19 April, Charles VI already announced his wish to amend the Pact in order to give his own future daughters precedence over his nieces in a secret session of the council.[12]

Last years and death

In 1719 Charles VI, for diplomatic reasons, was forced to arrest Eleonore's sister and niece, Hedwig Elisabeth, Princess Sobieski and Maria Clementina Sobieska, to stop the marriage between the latter and the Jacobite pretender James Francis Edward Stuart in Rome. Eleonore managed to delay the transmission of the warrant for quite some time during their travel through Austrian lands before they were placed under arrest in Innsbrück. She continued to use her connections to prevent Charles from marrying Maria Clementina to some one else, such as the Duke of Modena, and eventually, Eleonore assisted in her to escape from Austria to Italy.[9]

During her last years, Eleonore lived as a nun. In her will, Eleonore instructed to her servants, who had witnessed her ascetic life, never to tell anyone about this. On 1 January 1720, in preparation for the sacrament of confession, the Dowager Empress suffered a stroke, which led her being paralyzed on the right side of her body. Eleonore received the Anointing of the Sick. She gave her maternal blessings to her children and grandchildren who reunited at her deathbed. During her final days, Eleonore was constantly nursed by her two daughters-in-law Wilhelmine Amalia (with whom she now had a close relationship) and Elisabeth Christine.[3]

Eleonore Magdalene, Dowager Holy Roman Empress died on 19 January 1720 aged 65, and four months later, on 24 May, she was buried at the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. In her memory a temporary wooden church was built at the imperial court, named the "sorrow castle" (la: Castrum dolorum). In the year of her death, were published six epitaphs, among them the Jesuit Francis Wagner (who praised her fertility and piousness, her religious upbringing of her children and her wish to escape the world as a widow), and the poet Johann Christian Günther (who described her as a paragon of virtue and faith). According to her last will, Eleonore's remains were placed in an ordinary wooden coffin, which was placed at the foot of Leopold I's tomb. The Dowager Empress's heart was put in an urn and placed in the Herzgruft at the Augustinian Church in Vienna. The current lead Baroque coffin which contains Eleonore's remains was a work of Balthasar Ferdinand Moll and was made in August 1755 following the orders of her granddaughter, Empress Maria Theresa, because the old wooden coffin had considerably deteriorated.[3]



  1. Wheatcroft 1995, p. 201.
  2. Wurzbach 1860, p. 162.
  3. Wolfgang Kaps: Eleonore Magdalena (Theresia) von Pfalz-Neuburg (1655 – 1720) in: www.pfalzneuburg.de [retrieved 11 November 2016].
  4. Coxe 1817, pp. 369–370.
  5. Braun, Keller, Schnettger 2016, pp. 157–158.
  6. Martin Mutschlechner: Leopold I: Marriage and family in: www.habsburger.net [retrieved 14 November 2016].
  7. Theodor Berger: Die Durchläuchtige Welt, Oder: Kurtzgefaßte Genealogische ..., Vol. 1 [retrieved 14 November 2016].
  8. Rita Parisi: Eleonore Magdalena Theresia (6.1.1655–19.1.1720), deutsche Kaiserin in: www.stadtlexikon-augsburg.de Archived 2016-09-16 at the Wayback Machine [retrieved 14 November 2016].
  9. Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge University Press (2004)
  10. Hildegard Leitgeb: Kaiserin Eleonore Magdalena Theresia (1655-1720) in: wwwg.uni-klu.ac.at [retrieved 14 November 2016].
  11. Braun, Keller, Schnettger 2016 , pp. 167–170.
  12. Holborn 1982, p. 128.
  13. Crankshaw 1969, p. 17.
  14. Mahan 2007, pp. 5–6.


  • Braun, Bettina; Keller, Katrin; Schnettger, Matthias (4 April 2016). Nur die Frau des Kaisers?: Kaiserinnen in der Frühen Neuzeit (in German). Böhlau Verlag Wien. ISBN 978-3-205-20085-7. online
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  • von Wurzbach, C. (1860). Habsburg, Eleonora Magdalena Theresia von der Pfalz. Vienna: Kaiserlich-königliche Hof- und Staatsdruckerei., 492 p. online
  • Wheatcroft, Andrew (1995). The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-85490-5.
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Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg
Born: 6 January 1655 Died: 19 January 1720
German royalty
Preceded by
Claudia Felicitas of Austria
Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, Archduchess consort of Austria
Succeeded by
Wilhelmina Amalia of Brunswick
German Queen
Queen consort of Hungary
Queen consort of Bohemia
Preceded by
Jelena Zrinski
Princess consort of Transylvania
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