Isabella Clara was born in Innsbruck on 12 August 1629 and was the third child and second daughter of Leopold V, Archduke of Austria, and Claudia de’ Medici.
From her mother’s first marriage, Isabella Clara had an older half-sister, Vittoria della Rovere who married Ferdinando II de’ Medici on 26 September 1633. Isabella Clara was also the granddaughter of Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Christina of Lorraine.
On 7 November 1649, Isabella Clara married Charles II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, the son of Charles of Gonzaga-Nevers and Maria Gonzaga who had arranged the union as part of the Gonzaga family’s pro-Austrian policy. Isabella Clara’s paternal aunt, Eleanora Gonzaga (1598–1655), had married Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1600, and another Eleonora Gonzaga (1630–1686), Charles’s sister, would become the third wife of Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1651.
the marriage between Isabella Clara and Charles was not a happy one, however she gave birth to her only child, Ferdinando Carlo, the future and last Duke of Mantua and Montferrat of the House of Gonzaga, on 31 August 1652. Charles had no real feelings for his wife and continued his relationship with Countess Margherita della Rovere with whom he openly lived at Casale until she was expelled to Rome. Charles was said to have suffered from hypersexuality and he continued to have affairs with both men and women throughout his marriage. In retaliation, Isabella Clara began an affair with Count Charles Bulgarini, the duke’s secretary who had been baptised a Jew, however when the affair became public knowledge, Isabella Clara was shunned at court. In June 1661, an attempt was made on Bulgarini’s life but his father was killed instead.
When Charles died suddenly on 14 August 1665, there were rumours he had been poisoned by Isabella Clara’s orders, however he reportedly died after consuming an aphrodisiac or in the midst of rigorous intercourse. After her husband’s death, Isabella Clara became regent for her young son, appointing Bulgarini as her First Minister since she valued his advice and had been acting on it since before Charles’s death. Isabella Clara also began taking cautious steps toward securing the independence of Mantua and Montferrat from the Holy Roman Empire while expanding both duchies. Bulgarini also improved the economic situation of the state with several tax, judicial and law enforcement systems which proved the quality of life for the population.
In August 1669, Isabella Clara’s regency ended when she formally handed over control to Ferdinando Carlo, however her son proved to be a poor ruler and she had to keep a tight hold on affairs of state. In August 1670, Isabella Clara negotiated a marriage for her son with Anna Isabella, the daughter of Ferrante III Gonzaga, Duke of Guastalla, which meant the young couple would be named joint heirs of the Duchy of Guastalla and the Dosolo, Luzzara and Reggiolo regions.
After the wedding took place in July 1671, Isabella Clara retired from court to live at Goito Castle where she married Bulgarini, however the illegality of the marriage resulted in both being arrested by order of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. Isabella Clara was imprisoned in an Ursuline monastery, while Bulgarini was held in a Dominican monastery, and they were both forced to take monastic vows.
Isabella Clara died on 24 February 1685 in the Ursuline monastery in Mantua and she was buried in the Church of Sant’Orsola.
Name: Isabella Clara
Father: Leopold V, Archduke of Austria
Mother: Claudia de’ Medici
Born: 12 Aug 1629
Died: 24 Feb 1685
Spouse: Charles II, Duke of Mantua and Montferrat
Duchess of Mantua and Montferrat
The Dowager Duchess of Mantua and Montferrat
Name: Ferdinando Carlo
Born: 31 Aug 1652
Died: 05 Jul 1708
Spouse 1: Anna Isabella Gonzaga
Spouse 2: Suzanne Henriette of Lorraine