Monday, 13 November 2017

Caterina Sforza II

Girolamo Riario (2nd L) Sixtus VI (R)
A Betrothal

Christmas 1472 was an elaborate affair at the Milanese court. Everyone was treated to a new wardrobe and hundreds of yards of red and black velvet were used to create clothing decorated with gold or silver brocade. On Christmas Eve the court assembled with their guests who included Ludovico Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, Pino Ordelaffi[i], Lord of Forli, Giovanni Bentivoglio, ruler of Bologna and Girolamo Riario. Girolamo was the son of Paolo Riario[ii] and Bianca della Rovere, sister of the pope.

Girolamo’s uncle had made him Captain General of the Church the year before. Girolamo was poorly educated and had spent much of his life selling fruit on street corners before his uncle was elected pope. Girolamo was habitually over-dressed in gold or silver brocade studded with jewels.

Galeazzo Maria planned a marriage between one of his cousins, eleven year old Constanza Fogliani[iii], and Girolamo to strengthen his ties to the pope and increase his powerbase. Girolamo’s demand that he have sexual relations immediately after the engagement was refused by Constanza’s mother[iv], something which surprised Galeazzo Maria. He wrote to his ambassador in Rome;

‘To tell the truth, Lady Gabriella seems strange and wild to us. We have been considerate of her because she is a woman and, this being the nature of women, we don’t want to argue with them.’[v]

Attempts to persuade Girolamo failed and he threatened to depart without agreeing to the marriage. Desperate to retain the pope’s favour[vi] Galeazzo Maria then proposed that Girolamo marry his ten year old daughter Caterina. On 17th January 1473 Girolamo accepted the offer and the wedding contract was agreed in a ceremony with only Galeazzo Maria, Bona and the court doctor in attendance.


In February Girolamo gave Caterina gifts including ‘two dresses of brocade and velvet, three pearl necklaces, a pair of jewelled thimbles and a momentously tasteless jewel ‘in the shape of a peasant’ with a pearl for a head.’ That Girolamo slept with the ten year old Caterina was made quite clear by another letter from her proud father to his ambassador;

Tomb of Cardinal Pietro Riario 
‘Count Girolamo leaves this morning from here to return to His Holiness the Pope…..he slept with his wife another time and he is very happy and content.’[vii]

The new husband left his wife with her relatives in Milan. The pope felt forced to issue a papal bull to sort out the irregularities in the marriage, absolving his nephew of illegal intercourse and declaring the last minute switch in brides valid.

Given the haste of the arrangements minor matters such as Caterina’s dowry were dealt with after the wedding. Galeazzo Maria gave Caterina a dowry of 10,000 ducats[viii] which Sixtus insisted be augmented by the addition of Imola. Galeazzo Maria consented on the understanding that Imola should be passed on to Girolamo’s heir. Sixtus paid Galeazzo Maria 40,000 ducats[ix] to make his nephew Lord of Imola[x]. The deal was sealed by Cardinal Pietro Riario, Girolamo’s younger brother.

On 3rd January 1474 Girolamo’s brother Pietro died at the age of twenty-eight leaving his uncle ‘heart-broken’. Rumour had it that he had been poisoned by the Venetians, but it is possible that his years of overindulgence caught up with him. His rapidly accrued vast wealth was left to his brother.

Death of a Father

Murder of Galeazzo Maria Sforza
Duke Galeazzo Maria became increasingly unpopular with his subjects as a result of his extravagance which not unnaturally coincided with increased taxes[xi], and his behaviour which became increasingly cruel and bizarre. In December 1476 he and his family returned to Milan to celebrate Christmas; Bona begged Galeazzo Mari not to attend the service at Sant Stefano’s on Christmas Day, claiming to have dreamt of his murdered body.

Arriving at the church Galeazzo Maria found three courtiers among the congregation waiting for him to arrive; Carlo Visconti[xii], Gerolamo Olgiati[xiii] and Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani[xiv]. The three, along with their henchman surrounded Galeazzo Maria and Lampugnani slammed a dagger into Galeazzo’s torso and then his throat.

‘A scene of indescribable violence then ensued.’[xv]

Members of the duke’s entourage were killed and women had their jewellery ripped from their persons. Lampugnani attempted to hide among the congregation pretending to be a woman; he was ripped to pieces and fed to the pigs. Eleven of the conspirators were rounded up by the ducal guard and their remains strung up on the ramparts of the city. Several days later Visconti and Olgiati were apprehended. Visconti claimed;

Bona of Savoy
‘Were I to be reborn ten times, and ten times to perish in these torments, I would give my blood and all my strength for this sacred end.’[xvi]

Galeazzo Maria’s will left his wife Bona as the regent for their seven year old son Gian Galeazzo The real work of governing the dukedom fell to Cicco Simonetta[xvii] who saw the regent and the new duke through the perilous aftermath of the assassination.

Galeazzo Maria’s brother Ludovico[xviii] believed that it should be he, not Bona who should act as regent to his nephew. He was able to make his move after Bona set up a favourite, Antonio Tassino a low born gambler. Having divided Bona from Simonetta by persuading her that he was acting against her best interests, Ludovico claimed that Bona was having an affair with Tassino. Bona went into exile and Ludovico took over the reins of government.

Family Affairs

Campo de' Fiori
In April 1477, now fourteen, Caterina was formally married in Milan to Girolamo in a proxy private ceremony. She had spent the years apart from her husband in continuing her education and she learnt to play palla which was all the rage amongst the Milanese aristocracy[xix]. The couple did not communicate in the time apart and during that period Girolamo had produced an illegitimate son Scipione,

In May Caterina travelled to Rome. On 26th May Caterina was presented to the pope who decided to preside over a second wedding service which he promptly did. The ceremony was followed by a banquet for two hundred of the couple’s closest friends at the Orsini palace in Campo de’ Fiori. The pope was quite clearly overjoyed by the alliance and gave Caterina;

‘So many caresses that it appears to us that her Ladyship is so well beloved by His Holiness that he makes no difference between her and my Lord the Count [Girolamo].’[xx]

In March 1478 Caterina bore her first child, Bianca[xxi] in Rome. Ottaviano[xxii] was born just over a year later on 31st August 1479. Early in the year Girolamo bought a palazzo for his family, situated behind the Piazza Navona. With his taste for conspicuous consumption Girolamo hired the papal court painter Melozzo da Forli to create the murals which were de rigeur.


Italian Dynasties – Edward Burman, Equation 1989

The Deadly Sisterhood – Leonie Frieda, Harper Collins 2013

Tigress of Forli – Elizabeth Lev, Head of Zeus Ltd, 2012

The Families Who Made Rome – Anthony Majanlahti, Pimlico 2006

Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011

Niccolo’s Smile – Maurizio Viroli, IB Tauris & Co Ltd 2001


[i] A condottiere
[ii] A shoemaker
[iii] The daughter of Galeazzo Maria’s uncle Corrado Fogliani , Marchese de Vighizzola, and Gabriella Gonzaga, the illegitimate daughter of Ludovico Gonzaga.
[iv] Normal practise was to wait until the legal age of consummation - fourteen
[v] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[vi] The Holy Roman Emperor had refused to confirm Galeazzo Maria as Duke of Milan
[vii] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[viii] In 2016 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £7,741,000.00, labour earnings of that income or wealth is £63,920,000.00, economic status value of that income or wealth is £198,500,000.00, economic power value of that income or wealth is £5,104,000,000.00   
[ix] In 2016 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £30,960,000.00, labour earnings of that income or wealth is £255,700,000.00, economic status value of that income or wealth is £794,100,000.00, economic power value of that income or wealth is £20,420,000,000.00   
[x] Galeazzo Maria had been negotiating with Lorenzo de’ Medici who had offered 100,000 ducats for the town
[xi] One year Galeazzo Maria spent 40,000 ducats solely on jewels
[xii] A member of the powerful Visconti family from whom the dukedom had been seized by Francesco Sforza. Carlo was a secretary in the Milanese Council of Justice
[xiii] A supporter of Cola Montano who had been publicly whipped for lampooning Galeazzo Maria; it was Montano who proposed assassinating the duke
[xiv] Whose family had been involved in a dispute over land in which Galeazzo Maria had refused to support them
[xv] The Deadly Sisterhood - Frieda
[xvi] Ibid
[xvii] A former secretary to Francesco Sforza
[xviii] He became duke after Gian Galeazzo’s death despite the presence of a male heir, Francesco
[xix] Galeazzo Maria set up an indoor palla court in the castle
[xx] The Deadly Sisterhood - Frieda
[xxi] Engaged to Astorre Manfreddi of Faenza
[xxii][xxii] Lord of Imola and Forl√¨ (1488–99), later Bishop of Volterra and Viterbo

Monday, 6 November 2017

Caterina Sforza

Francesco Sforza
Capturing a Dukedom

Caterina was born in 1463, the daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, eldest son of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, and his mistress Lucrezia Landriani. Lucrezia had been married off to Count Gian Piero Landriani, a compliant Milanese courtier and friend of Galeazzo Maria’s. Caterina was acknowledged by her father and was brought up in the ducal household.

Francesco Sforza was the first Sforza duke of Milan; previously he had been a condottierre. His father had been taken into the service of Filippo Maria Visconti, the then duke. Francesco married Visconti’s illegitimate daughter Bianca Maria and when her father died Francesco planned to take over the dukedom. His plan was foiled by the Milanese nobility who immediately declared the city a republic.

The fledgling republic faced notable enemies[i], foremost of which was Venice. Francesco was hired to lead Milan’s armies; he swiftly retook the territories seized by Venice and then turned round and in 1448 did a deal with Milan’s enemy. Francesco turned his troops round to seize Milan for himself following a siege of two months duration.

One of Francesco’s priorities was the rebuilding of Milan’s defences and he rebuilt the Portia Giovia[ii]. He later had the Maggiore hospital built. Francesco encouraged the setting up of printing presses and innovation in industry. Then as now, Milan was also a centre of the fashion industry, where the fashion for dagging[iii] was invented.


Galeazzo Maria Sforza
When Caterina was three her grandfather died and Galeazzo Maria became Duke of Milan and the family took up residence in the Portia Giovia. Galeazzo Maria was a man of some learning and discernment; he was also a competent ruler, although arrogant and, according to rumour, given to psychopathic inhumanity towards others[iv]. For the first few years of his reign as duke his mother ruled alongside him. He complained that she frequently treated him;

‘As if he were a boy of little intelligence.’[v]

Once Galeazzo Maria had married Bona of Savoy[vi] in 1468, he sent his mother to live in Cremona.

Caterina was educated along with her four legitimate half-brothers and sisters; Gian Galeazzo (born 14th June 1469), Hermes Maria Sforza (born 10th May 1470)[vii], Bianca Maria (born 5th April 1472)[viii] and Anna Maria (born 21st July 1476)[ix]

Francesco Filefo
The children’s tutor was Francesco Filelfo, a noted humanist and the poet of the Milanese court[x]. The children were taught Latin and perused the works of Seneca, Cicero and Virgil, The ducal library contained over one thousand books. The religious side of their education was not neglected and the children studied the lives of the saints. Caterina apparently read Boccaccio’s De Mulieribus Claris[xi].

All the Sforza children were also taught to fight along with some military strategy, learning to use weapons as well as riding and how to hunt. Caterina frequently accompanied her stepmother and her grandmother to the family hunting grounds at Pavia. An intrepid horsewoman as well as a beauty Bona treated Caterina as one of her own brood. She may have taught Caterina much of her own political savvy.

A Trip to Florence

In March 1471 the eight year old Caterina was one of the family who made a triumphal progress to Mantua, Ferrara and Florence to celebrate Galeazzo Maria’s appointment as Duke. The family all had splendid new outfits to bedazzle the rich and mighty of the territories they would travel to en route to Florence.

Fourteen carriages, drawn by horses with cloth of gold drapes, carried the family and courtiers and they had an escort of a hundred knights, five hundred foot soldiers and fifty grooms, all wearing the Sforza red and white. To entertain him on the journey Galeazzo Maria travelled with his huntsmen, hounds hawks, falcons, dwarves, jesters and musicians.

The first stop was Mantua where the family were the guests of Ludovico Gonzaga[xii], Marquis of Mantua. Gonzaga was an art lover and his court painter was Andrea Mantegna who was working on the frescoes of the Camera Picta which was nearly complete. Galeazzo Maria much admired the work.

Palazzo Medici
Upon their arrival in Florence the family were greeted by Lorenzo de’ Medici who had them stay with him in his palazzo on the Via Larga[xiii]. Lorenzo arranged for one of his favourite artists, Piero del Pollaiolo, to paint Galeazzo Maria. Among other spectacles the family was taken to see ‘the Ascension of Christ’ at the church of Santa Maria del Carmine. Local children played the parts of angels who flew through the air on wires.

The simply dressed Florentines were scandalised by the excesses of Milanese fashion, feeling that it gave the wrong impression to the city’s younger inhabitants; Machiavelli commented that the Milanese acerbated the Florentine desire for;

‘Courtly finery and customs contrary to any well-ordered society, he [Galeazzo Maria] left it even more so.’[xiv]

The visit with Lorenzo imbued Galeazzo Maria with respect for his host.

A Brush With Death

Not long after his return from Florence Galeazzo Maria fell ill with smallpox. Bona, who would become Regent in the event of her husband’s death, wrote to her brother-in-law Louis XI, the king of France. She asked Louis for his support for her two year old son Gian Galeazzo’s claim to the dukedom. She also wrote to Mantua asking for support from the Gonzaga family.

Fortunately Bona’s precautions were unnecessary as Galeazzo Maria recovered, much to the surprise of his doctors. This brush with death invigorated him and, possibly inspired by Lorenzo de’ Medici, set Milan on a new course. Art, architecture and music were encouraged and flourished and Milan emerged as a rival to Florence.

The family chapel became famous and musicians and composers came from as far as the Low Countries and Naples[xv] to perform there. Caterina benefitted from her father’s decision; she learnt to appreciate art and to compose and recite Latin poetry.

Galeazzo Maria was also looking to expand his domains and in 1471 took the town of Imola from the Manfredi family. His plans were not hindered by the death of Pope Paul II on 26th July 1471[xvi]. In his place Pope Sixtus IV[xvii] was elected with the connivance of Galeazzo Maria, a fact of which Sixtus was well aware.


Italian Dynasties – Edward Burman, Equation 1989

The Deadly Sisterhood – Leonie Frieda, Harper Collins 2013

The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici – Christopher Hibbert, Folio Society 2001

Tigress of Forli – Elizabeth Lev, Head of Zeus Ltd, 2012

The Families Who Made Rome – Anthony Majanlahti, Pimlico 2006

Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011

A Renaissance Tapestry – Kate Simon, Harrap Ltd 1988

Niccolo’s Smile – Maurizio Viroli, IB Tauris & Co Ltd 2001


[i] Milan was a city of about 200,000, one of the largest in Europe at the time; it was a thriving commercial hub specialising in the production of silk and armour where agents from across Europe would merge on the Via dei Spadari where the foremost armourers, the Missaglia family, had their palazzo.
[ii] Now known as the Castello Sforzesco
[iii] Specially cut cloth used as decoration; “created by cutting the edge of a garment in a regular fashion to prevent it from fraying. This became a fashion statement as more complex shapes like leaves, tongues and scallops were introduced as well as a simple triangular cut. It originated in the middle of the 14th century, perhaps in response to imported fabrics which were harder to hem, and lasted about 150 years, including on wool and linen garments once it became a fashion statement not merely a practical response.” Information provided by the author of
[iv] His enemies alleged that he raped the wives and daughters of his nobles and that he received much pleasure devising tortures for those who had aggravated him. Additionally he was to supervise the torturing of such individuals, even lending a hand from time to tome
[v] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[vi] Bona had been due to become Edward IV’s affianced bride,  until the news of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville became public
[vii] Marquis of Tortona
[x] Author of Sforzinda, an epic poem detailing Francesco Sforza’s deeds which no doubt accounted for his popularity
[xi] A study of 104 women including Joanna of Jerusalem who had hired Caterina’s great grandfather Muzio Attendolo as a bodyguard and lover.
[xii] The Gonzagas were former condottiere too
[xiii] The two families were allied; Cosimo de’ Medici had opened a bank in Milan after Francesco became duke
[xiv] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[xv] Galeazzo Maria enticed several of the king’s performers away from Naples to sing in his choir not long after negotiating an alliance with the king
[xvi] From a stroke allegedly engendered by his love of comely young men and melons
[xvii] Former general of the Franciscans and a distinguished theologian who was to become known for his nepotism (one of his first actions as pope was to make two of his nephews cardinals) and spending money like water; his coronation tiara cost about one third of the annual income of the papacy. See