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Este, Eleonora d' (1537–1581)

Este, Eleonora d' (1537–1581)

Ferrarese princess who was beloved by Tasso. Name variations: Leonora d'Este; Eleonora of Este. Born on June 19, 1537; died on February 10, 1581; daughter of Renée of France (1510–1575) and Hercules II also known as Ercole II (1508–1559), 4th duke of

Ferrara and Modena; sister of Alfonso II (1533–1597), 5th duke of Ferraro and Modena; never married; no children.

An Italian princess, Eleonora d'Este was born in 1537, the daughter of Renée of France and Ercole II, 4th duke of Ferrara and Modena. She was also the sister of Alfonso II, 5th duke of Ferraro and Modena, and came under his sway in 1559 on the death of her father. Eleonora d'Este is best known as the beloved of Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544–1595).

In 1565, Tasso was 21 when he first met the beautiful 28-year-old Eleonora at the court of Alfonso, and he was quickly infatuated. An indiscreet remark made by one of the courtiers regarding the poet's veneration of the princess caused Tasso to challenge the offender. The courtier, along with his three brothers, attacked Tasso, but others put an end to the duel. Alphonso, incensed by this outburst, sent Tasso away from the court, where he remained subject to the duke's call.

According to legend, Tasso wrote verses to his beloved Eleonora that touched her heart. A few years later, at the wedding of one of the Gonzaga family, celebrated at the court of Este, Tasso kissed the princess Eleonora on the cheek. Furious, Alphonso turned coolly to his courtiers and remarked, "What a great pity that the finest genius of the age has become suddenly mad!" The duke had Tasso shut up in the hospital of St. Anna in Ferrara. (In actuality, Tasso had been beset by delusional fears of persecution starting in 1575 and began a series of mad wanderings around 1577.)

Tasso's long years of imprisonment (1579–86), his sufferings, his laments, are well known. Obliged to witness the cruel punishment of her lover and knowing the inflexible character of her brother, Eleonora fell into a slow fever and died in 1581, about a year after Tasso's imprisonment. Thus, when the doors of Tasso's prison were at length opened, Eleonora was dead. Youth, love, fortune, all had vanished; only fame remained. For his epic poetry, the laurel wreath was placed on Tasso's head in Rome during a splendid festival. Wrote Goethe in his Torquato Tasso:

"Of you alone I thought while I composed;
You to delight, was still my highest wish,
You to enrapture, was my final aim."

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