"How dull and lifeless it is here!" - Schiller's Princess Eboli, the one-eyed Ana de Mendoza

29 June 1540, Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, Princess of Eboli, Duchess of Pastrana, was born in Cifuentes, Guadalajara.

“But then how lone, / How dull and lifeless it is here! We might / As well be in La Trappe.” (Princess Eboli in: Friedrich Schiller, “Don Carlos”)

A contemporary portrait of Doña Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda
by an unknown artist

Unfortunately, Duchess Catalina de Silva’s reaction towards her teenage daughter Ana, coming home short of a right eye did not survive in history books, but it was very probably something along the lines of “I told you so” and “You can poke an eye out with one of those things”. Young Ana did indeed. Allegedly, she lost it during a fencing lesson, 250 years before such drills sans masque went out of style, or maybe even in a duel. However, wearing an eye-patch afterwards did nothing to diminish her celebrated beauty and gave her a somewhat rakish appearance – that belied her rather conservative approach on matrimony and becoming a mother of 10 children during the 20 years of marriage with Ruy Gómez de Silva, 1st Prince of Éboli, whom she married at the age of 13. Twenty years later, Ana was a widow and tried to enter a convent and that endeavour failed miserably. After a few weeks, she retired to the nunnery’s garden house because she and the Mother Superior simply could not agree and the Princess left the place for good after three years with a reputation of being haughty, scheming, having a passion for grandeur and downright unbearable – at least for St Teresa of Ávila and her reform convent in Pastrana.

Facsimile of the 1st edition of Friedrich Schiller's play "Don Carlos", Leipzig 1787

Princess of Eboli is, at least to culture vultures, best remembered as the schemer and mezzo-soprano from Verdi’s “Don Carlos” and Schiller’s eponymous play the opera is based on. Exchanging masks with Elisabeth de Valois, wife of King Philip II during a fancy dress ball and playing havoc with the correspondence of the titular hero out of unrequited love, Ana de Mendoza becomes a tragic heroine, cursing her fatal beauty and trying to save Don Carlos from his father’s wrath, while Schiller insists on the Princess as the plotter who orchestrates the Infante’s downfall. Back in the 16th century and the hotbed of intrigue of King Philip II’s court, she might indeed have been the monarch’s mistress, her husband was his friend and one of his counsellors, there are rumours that Ana’s second son Rodrigo was fathered by Philip, but her contact with the ill-fated and rebellious Infante Don Carlos was probably quite remote. John of Austria, hero of the Battle of Lepanto, Carlos’ uncle and the man who had betrayed some of the Infante’s rather muddleheaded plans to King Philip, was indeed at the centre of an intrigue, Princess Ana had spun with her lover, Antonio Pérez, the King’s secretary.

Alonso Sánchez Coello (1531 - 1588): "Portrait of Don John of Austria" (1567)

to marry Mary, Queen of the Scots, against the will of his royal half-brother and as Governor General of the Low Countries, Don John of Austria had become dangerously independent. Pérez and Princess Ana indeed had intercepted correspondence by him and his secretary Juan de Escobedo and altered the messages. And while Don John had conveniently died of a fever while campaigning in Namur in 1578, Escobedo was murdered in Madrid, probably by assassins on the payroll of Pérez and the princess. Philip was furious, Pérez was finally sentenced to death in 1590, while Princess Ana confronted the king, obviously with various issues and was placed under house arrest in her palace at Pastrana where she died in 1592 at the age of 51, probably from a long illness. Since then she has made her appearance not only in milestones of western cultural heritage but in various novels and television plays, as an unconventional lady who stood her ground and played an active part in the patriarchal structures of 16th century Spain – and wore her rakish eye-patch until her death.

And more about the Princess of Eboli on:


and on:


including the rather unromantic detail of the patch hiding just a lazy eye.