Born in 1458, Leonor was the sixth child and eldest daughter of Infante Fernando, Duke of Viseu and the King’s younger brother, and Beatriz of Portugal. Her father died in 1470, having spent a large part of Leonor’s childhood in his brother’s campaigns, in North Africa. Her mother was a granddaughter of Afonso, Duke of Braganza and the most powerful nobleman of Afonso V’s court. The widowed Beatriz took control of the estate, establishing herself as an astute and sucessful bussiness woman, and one of the key political figures of the later 15th century Spain. Her marriage had been arranged by her father before his death and the young Leonor was a favourite of her uncle, Afonso V, who remarked, delighted, upon “the beautiful traces of her face and more so in the perfections of her spirit”.
The marriage took place soon after her father’s death, however she returned to her family after the cerimony and the groom, the future João II, accompanied his father to Morocco. The two began living as husband and wife the following year, and Leonor gave birth to her only surviving child, Prince Afonso, three years later. At the time of the birth, both Afonso V and João were absent, undertaking the invasion of Castile on behalf of Juana of Castile. The seventeen year old Leonor was appointed regent of Portugal and moved the court closer to the castilian border. The Princess, taking advantage of her husband’s absence, breastfed her son herself, an act almost unheard of amongst the nobility. The Treaty of Alcáçovas, negotiated by Duchess Beatriz, which arranged the peace between Portugal and Castile was sealed by the betrothal of Prince Afonso and the Catholic Kings’ eldest daughter, Isabel, who would be reared by her mother, Duchess Beatriz, away from the court. Her husband had, during this period, taken Ana de Mendonça as mistress, with whom he had a son, D. Jorge, whose education Leonor would undertake.
The death of Afonso V in 1481 and the sucession of his son João would prove catastrophic for he Queen’s family. The clash between the high nobility and the King resulted in the execution of her brother-in-law, the Duke of Braganza and murder at the King’s own hands of her brother Diogo, Duke of Viseu. At her great signs of grief, João ordered her to remain silent lest she was accused of cumplicity in her brother’s treasonous attempt to crown himself King of Portugal. In 1490, the wedding of Afonso and Isabel of Castile took place. However, the prince would die soon afterward from a suspicious fall from his horse. Afonso’s death meant a problem of succession, for which two candidates presented themselves, Manuel, Duke of Viseu and the Queen’s younger brother, and D. Jorge, the King’s illegitimate son. João II’s attempt at legitimizing his son before the Roman Curia were blocked by Leonor’s agents, mainly Cardinal Alpedrinha.
The King died in 1495, possibly by poisoning. Leonor refused to go to João’s deathbed, despite his requests, and forbade her brother of going as well. Leonor maintained a position of great power for the rest of her life in her brother’s court, having distinguished herself for her piety and as a patron of the arts, particularly flemish. Leonor died in 1525, at the age of 67, and is one of the few Queens of Portugal not entombed next to her husband. The Misericordias, a charity system for the poor and whose network and efficiency she developed, eventually had branches all over the Portuguese Empire and operated successfully well into the eighteenth century.