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Detail of portrait depicting Ana de Mendoza

A Rebel in an Eyepatch and Gown - Ana de Mendoza, the Princess of Eboli

When one comes across her portraits, the first thing that is assumed is that the woman depicted within had to be a pirate. However, Ana de Mendoza was actually noblewoman and a rebel in a gown. It could be argued that her behavior was better suited to the 21st century than to the period in which she lived.

Ana de Mendoza was born on June 29, 1540 in Cifuentes, Guadalajara in Spain. She was a daughter of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and his wife Catherine de Silva. Ana grew up with much pride in her roots. She came from the House of Mendoza which was a very powerful family in 16th century Spain.

But her childhood wasn't perfect. Ana witnessed her father's countless romances and the tears of her betrayed mother. Her parents’ problems influenced Ana's personality quite a lot. She was already described as intelligent, passionate, and rebellious in her youth. Ana was a religious person too, but she practiced this in her own way as well.

The Reason for the Eyepatch

Ana de Mendoza probably lost her eye around the age of 14. This was the first time when she appeared in a portrait with an eyepatch. It is uncertain what exactly happened to her, but most researchers suppose that she could have lost her eye in a fencing accident.

A portrait of Ana de la Mendoza.

A portrait of Ana de la Mendoza. (ngasanova)

However, some others suggest that she could have lost her eye even earlier, around the age of twelve. It is also possible that Ana was born with an eye disease which made her blind in one eye. In 2012, a team led by Dr. Enrique Santos-Bueso, of the Neurological Unit in the Ophthalmology Department of the University Hospital Clinico San Carlos decided to examine the painted evidence to find out what could have caused Ana’s eye problem.

According to their results, Ana’s right brow ridge is smaller and lower than her left one. This suggests that she likely experienced trauma which caused problems with her eyeball and facial bones. Moreover, according to the doctors, it seems that Ana did not suffer from any chronic inflammation or infection, so trauma is more probable.

This analysis may be correct, however, it is important to remember that artists could have made some mistakes while portraying her as well. It is also possible that Ana had both eyes, but one of them was affected with ambylopia, which was a common disease in those times. Unfortunately, it seems that without exhuming Ana de Mendoza’s remains it will be impossible to conclude what caused her eye problem.

A representation of Ana de Mendoza.

A representation of Ana de Mendoza. ( Public Domain )

Wife, Mother, and Mistress

Ana de Mendoza married Rui Gomez da Silva at age 13. The wedding took place on the recommendation of the crown prince and future king, Philip II of Spain. With time, Ana’s husband became a prominent person on the court as a chief councilor, which brought her a high position too. Resources say that Rui Gomez was a good servant of the king and a very trustworthy person. Ana became well-established in the court as well and was the friend of Queen Elizabeth de Valois. Ana and Rui had nine children: six sons and three daughters.

Ana was a mother who took good care of her children. However, her seemingly perfect family was disturbed by one fact. Although she was missing an eye, Ana was still recognized as a very beautiful woman. King Philip II noticed her and she became his mistress. Some researchers claim that a few of her children could have been his children as well.

Statue of King Philip II of Spain.

Statue of King Philip II of Spain. ( Carlos Reusser/CC BY 2.0 )

Regardless of what people said, Rui Gomez worked hard to protect the children from gossip and put great effort into securing their financial future. He even purchased the town of Eboli in Naples and several villas. Philip granted Rui with the title Duke of Pastrana and Grendee of Spain in 1572. At the same time, Ana became the Princess of Eboli and the Duchess of Pastrana. Rui died the same year, for unclear reasons. However, it has been suggested that he was ill. His death ended the good times in Ana's life. The following years changed her paradise into the hell.

The Convent and Ana’s Influence

Ana was in a grief over Rui’s death and she went to live in the convent of Pastrana monastery. After a few years, she left the convent and began a relationship with another powerful supporter and friend of King Phillip II – Antonio Perez. Antonio was a married man at the time, and his relationship with Ana was hidden from the King. It seems that after the death of her good husband, Ana wanted to live differently. She was corresponding with many influential people, including the famous St Theresa of Avilla. Her radical, but also fascinating speeches about life, religion, and politics brought her many friends and also enemies. Ana wanted to live freely, fully, and happily. She was still an important person on the court and she split her life between her children and new secret lover. However, this choice led to her downfall.

Antonio Pérez – Ana’s secret lover.

Antonio Pérez – Ana’s secret lover. (Public Domain )

Antonio is well known in history as the man who manipulated the King and his half-brother Don Juan of Austria. He was involved in a rebellion in Flanders which was the greatest scandal of their times. Some historians believe that Ana supported him in this actions while others see her as a victim.

Nonetheless, when Philip discovered the romance between them, he had no mercy. Perez held off trial for a few years, but Ana was imprisoned in 1581. While under house arrest, Ana de Mendoza died on February 2, 1592 as a lonely and sick person. Perez apparently had little care for the woman who suffered from his actions. He died in 1615 after a long and adventurous life.

Palace of Pastrana, where Ana de Mendoza was confined.

Palace of Pastrana, where Ana de Mendoza was confined. ( CC BY SA 2.5 )

A Cultural Heroine

Ana de Mendoza inspired Verdi to create a character similar to her in Don Carlos. She was portrayed in Hollywood by Olivia de Haviland. She also became a heroine of many other novels, TV series, etc. Her intriguing life still fascinates many people, especially because Ana de Mendoza was much more than a beautiful woman. She wasn't afraid to live her life, no matter what the costs.

Portrait of Ana de Mendoza.

Portrait of Ana de Mendoza. ( ngasanova)

Top Image: Detail of portrait depicting Ana de Mendoza. Source: catalina-de-aragon

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Ares, Nacho, Éboli: secretos de la vida de Ana de Mendoza, 2005.

Herrera Casado, Antonio La princesa de Éboli: una guía para descubrirla: un manual para seguir sus pasos por Castilla, 2000.

The Princess and the Eye Patch, available at:
https://columbiaclassicalfencing.com/2013/03/09/the-princess-and-the-eye-patch/

La Princessa de Eboli, available at:
http://princesadeeboli.com/

Princesa de Éboli, available at:
http://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/e/eboli.htm

Comments

"King Philip II noticed her and she became his mistress. Some researchers claim that a few of her children could have been his children as well."

Just how many children did she have? This article makes it sounds like she had quite a brood. Did any of them go onto be influential in the world?

She had 9 Children...It is stated in the paragraph just above the one with your quote.... " Ana and Rui had nine children: six sons and three daughters..."

I liked your story so much that I spent a day looking up information on the Lady. I would have never heard of her if it was not for you. Thank you.

--Still learning--

I never heard of her. Really interesting. Thanks!

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