Monday, 27 November 2017

Caterina Sforza IV

Palazzo Colonna
War with the Colonna

Girolamo was concerned by his uncle’s ill-health. Instead of building up a strong powerbase by creating alliances, Girolamo was too busy with his feud with the Colonna, one of Rome’s foremost families, intensified when he accused them of treason during the battle of Camp Morto. He was no doubt encouraged in this by his friend Virginio Orsini whose family were deadly foes of the Colonna.

Virgilio and Girolamo occupied Colonna lands around Rome and on May 30th 1484 Girolamo and two hundred men attacked the Colonna palazzo in Rome, the two hour fighting leaving several dead. Lorenzo Colonna, wounded during the fight, surrendered to Virgilio. Girolamo tried to attack the disarmed prisoner as he was taken to the Castel Sant’ Angelo. Colonna property throughout Rome was ransacked and the Colonna treasures seized for the papacy and the greater good of Girolamo Riario.

Girolamo had his eye on the Colonna fortresses of Paliano and Marino. Members of the Colonna family begged Girolamo to release Lorenzo Colonna, in return they would hand over Marino and Ardea. This was insufficient for Girolamo whose greed overcame him raging that;

‘I will take all of their fortresses by storm.’[i]

He had the messenger put to death. During a family council, Cardinal Guiliano della Rovere, pleaded on behalf of his neighbours. His uncle Pope Sixtus was by now too ill to keep Girolamo in check. Girolamo turned on his cousin, threatening to burn his house down in retaliation for his support for the Colonna.

On June 29th 1484, on the feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Girolamo had Lorenzo Colonna dragged out into the courtyard of the Castel Sant’Angelo. The prisoner repudiated his confession made under torture before he was executed. Girolamo then sent men to pull up the family vineyard behind their palazzo. At the same time Cardinal Guiliano’s balcony was smashed, in retaliation for his daring to support Girolamo’s enemies. Throughout the excitement Caterina had remained by Sixtus’ bedside, where the pope lay in extremis.

Death of a Pontiff

Ponte Molle blocked by papal army
Pope Sixtus IV died on 12th August 1484[ii] and with him died Girolamo’s powerbase. Sixtus’ death set off two weeks of rioting in Rome inspired by his enemies the Colonna. News of Sixtus’ death arrived in Paliano, where he and his sidekick Virginio were laying siege to the town with the papal armies while soldiers were stationed on the outskirts of Rome[iii].

Girolamo had been joined at the siege by Caterina, seven months pregnant, who brought their three children with her in an attempt to avoid the fevers and plagues that were a feature of summer in Rome. Always the coward, Girolamo preferred to let others take the risks but he had to move fast to consolidate his position now that his main benefactor was dead.

Castel Sant'Angelo
Girolamo’s understanding was never more than average and he now needed Caterina’s capabilities to deal with the crisis. He, Caterina, Virginio and Paulo Orsini rode for Rome. They arrived on 24th August; as ordered Girolamo stopped outside the city while Caterina and Paulo rode for the Castel Sant’Angelo, while Virginio joined the anti-Colonna faction[iv].

Once at the fortress Caterina informed the Castellan that she had come to hold the fortress for her husband the Papal Captain-General; she was allowed to enter. Caterina ordered that access from the Vatican be barred; the diarist Bartolomeo Cerratini recorded that;

‘She [Caterina] wore….a man’s belt whence hung a bag of gold ducats and a curved sword…among soldiers, both horse and foot, she was much feared, for that armed lady was fierce and cruel.’[v]

The cardinals rushed to ask Raffaele Riario to persuade his aunt by marriage to depart without any more fuss, even as Caterina was ejecting from the fortress those she felt were inimical to her husband’s interests. Riario’s messenger was sent back to his master with a flea in his ear. Outside in the city the Colonna faction were creating mayhem and it was not until one of the cardinals intervened that the Colonna and the Orsini agreed to lay down arms.

Coming to Terms

Cardinal Ascanio Sforza
Caterina was aware that she and Girolamo were friendless and short of funds and she applied to her uncle Ludovico for support which was duly granted. Lorenzo Lanti, a Sienese orator noted;

‘I know from a good source that the State of Milan is protecting the States of the Count [Girolamo] and has furnished him with soldiers for his safety.’[vi]

Girolamo for his part was laying out his demands to the cardinals whereby his wife would return control of the Castel Sant’Angelo to the church.

Girolamo agreed the sum of 8,000 ducats[vii], needed to pay his debts, and the continuation of all stipends paid under Sixtus, that he remain Captain-General of the papal armies and his reconfirmation as Lord of Forli and Imola. The cardinals agreed in return for Girolamo’s immediate departure from Rome and his wife’s surrender of the Castel Sant’Angelo.

Innocent VIII
Caterina failed to leave the fortress on 24th but smuggled in 150 men loyal to her husband. The cardinals fumed and threatened to withdraw from their agreement with Girolamo. They sent in eight of their number, including Caterina’s uncle Ascanio, who negotiated Caterina’s departure on 26th; her twelve days ruling the papal stronghold were over.

Sixtus’ successor was Innocent VIII, a nonentity chosen to avoid another della Rovere papacy or a second Borgia papacy[viii]. Like Sixtus before him, Innocent turned nepotism into an art form; he married his son Franceschetto off to Maddalena, Lorenzo de’ Medici’s daughter, in return for a cardinalate for Lorenzo’s thirteen year old son Giovanni[ix].

Innocent was faced with a mountain of debts left by Sixtus’ spendthrift behaviour, he was similarly incapable of restraining his own spending. Girolamo and Caterina hoped that the presence of Cardinal Julius della Rovere, as the power behind the throne, would ensure that the Riarios remained in favour.

Murder and Mayhem

Giovanni Livio Riario[x] was born in Forli on 30th October 1484. Just over a year later Caterina gave birth on 4th December 1485 to Galeazzo Maria[xi] who was born at Forli. Her last child with Girolamo was Francesco[xii] born at Imola on 17th August 1487. Less than a year later and four years after the death of his uncle, Girolamo was murdered in April 1488

Rocca di Rivaldino
Following his uncle’s death Girolamo and Caterina had returned to Forli. During his rule in the Romagna, Girolamo had managed to make himself the most hated noble in the Apennines. When he first arrived in Forli Girolamo had cancelled all taxes, an easy gesture given the amount of money flowing into his purse from the Vatican. Following his uncle’s death, Girolamo had to retrench and reinstitute the taxes, which made him wildly unpopular with his people.

On 14th April 1488 Girolamo remained in the main hall after dinner, leaving his wife and her mother and two half-sisters, Stella and Bianca, to retire to Caterina’s apartments. One of the chief citizens of Forli, Francesco Orsi, and his brother Ludovico, called on Girolamo. Although Francesco was nominally a friend of Girolamo’s the two had fallen out over the vexed question of taxes.

Orsi bowed to Girolamo and then plunged a dagger into his lord’s chest. Girolamo was not killed outright by the blow and was finished off by a couple of soldiers of Girolamo’s bodyguard, who had not been paid for months.

‘The two soldiers, with grim professionalism, stabbed him in ‘his vital parts’, then battered and stabbed his lifeless face.’[xiii]

Caterina was immediately informed that she and the children were in danger. She and her women called out of the window, crying in vain for help. Caterina was arrested and taken to the Palazzo Orsi while the fortress was ransacked.


Italian Dynasties – Edward Burman, Equation 1989

The Deadly Sisterhood – Leonie Frieda, Harper Collins 2013

The Rise and Fall of the 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

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


[i] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[ii] The Riario palazzo was sacked on 13th August; fortunately Caterina had removed most of the valuables and hidden them away from Rome before she joined Girolamo at Paliano
[iii] Ostensibly to prevent trouble in Rome by blocking one of the main exits, the Ponte Molle, the cardinals may have been hoping to fend off a joint della Rovere/Riario attempt to install a pope of their own liking using Girolamo as a tour de force
[iv] The Orsini and the Colonna were deadly enemies
[v] The Deadly Sisterhood - Frieda
[vi] Ibid
[vii] In 2016 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £5,144,000.00, labour earnings of that income or wealth is £50,280,000.00, economic status value of that income or wealth is £138,400,000.00, economic power value of that income or wealth is £3,448,000,000.00   
[ix] Later Pope Leo X
[x] Died in 1496 age eight
[xi] Married in 1504 to Maria Giovanna della Rovere (b. Senigallia, 1486 – d. Bologna 1538), Dowager Lady of Camerino, and eldest sister of Francesco Maria I della Rovere, Duke of Urbino
[xii] Known as Sforzino, who was made Bishop of Lucca, directly subject to the Holy See
[xiii] The Deadly Sisterhood - Frieda

Monday, 20 November 2017

Caterina Sforza III

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro

Girolamo Riario was a man who made enemies more easily than breathing and he had little understanding of the meaning of loyalty. Now aged thirty-five Girolamo had become flabby with the good life. While Caterina was pregnant in Rome, in the spring of 1478 Girolamo got tied up in a conspiracy to unseat the de’ Medici family from their stronghold in Florence.

Sixtus was concerned that Girolamo would find ruling Imola difficult as long as the de’ Medici had power in Florence[ii]. The intention was for Girolamo to extend his rule from Imola across the Romagna. The pope made it quite clear that his support was conditional; no-one was to die. He told Gina Batista da Montesecco[iii] and Girolamo;

‘Though Lorenzo is a villain, and behaves ill towards us, yet we do not on any account desire his death, but only a change in government.’[iv]

The conspiracy also involved the Pazzi family who were an old established Florentine family who looked down on the nouveau arrivé Medici, under the leadership of the head of the family, Jacopo de’ Pazzi and Bishop Salviati[v]. Guidobaldo da Montefeltro. The Duke of Urbino, a family connection of the pope’s, agreed to have 600 men standing by to surround Florence. 

The Aftermath

Guiliano de' Medici
By Easter Sunday the conspirators plans were in readiness and on 26th April when Lorenzo and Guiliano de’ Medici attended the service at the Duomo; Cardinal Raffaele Riario[vi], visiting his uncle Jacopo de’ Pazzi, was a witness to what followed. Guiliano was murdered by a member of the Pazzi family and one of the family’s clients, but Lorenzo managed to escape although wounded[vii].

Seeing Lorenzo’s escape the leading conspirators fled; a track of blood led to the Pazzi palazzo. Salviati meanwhile went to the Palazzo Vecchio[viii] to allegedly to give Cesare Petrucci, the Gonfaloniere, a message from the pope. His entourage consisted of mercenaries who were to take the Signoria by storm, they found themselves unable to get out of the room where they were waiting for the call from Salviati[ix].

Medici supporters helped the Gonfaloniere’s guards finish off the mercenaries. Petrucci himself attacked Salviati with a cooking spit, the only weapon to hand. Salviati, several Pazzi and other conspirators were hung from the windows of the Palazzo Vecchio; few escaped the wrath of the Florentines who rioted despite pleas from Lorenzo for calm.

Death of a conspirator
Although held for a few weeks Raffaele Riario was allowed to leave Florence when it was clear that he had not been involved after Montesecco confessed his part in the conspiracy;

‘This command was given us by the Signor Count [Girolamo] in Rome….we were always told to look out for the honour of our lord [Pope Sixtus] and of the Count. Thus on Sunday morning, 26 April 1478, in Santa Liperata [the cathedral of Florence] that was done which has been made public to the whole world.’[x]

Although deeply involved in the planning Girolamo had not dared to venture near Florence and was one of the few who escaped Medici justice, protected by the long arm of his uncle. He made two more assassination attempts against Lorenzo, both of which failed.

Forli and Imola

Sixtus was determined to create a Riario-della Rovere dynasty and. like many popes, exploited the resources of the papacy to benefit his family. As part of this overreaching plan, Sixtus made his nephew Lord of Forli[xi] in 1480, The fief had been confiscated from the Ordelaffi family[xii]. In the papal bull granting Forli to Girolamo Sixtus lauded his nephew’s;

‘Learned experience, circumspect wisdom, and his shining faith….[charged him to] nurture concord, treat his subjects kindly, and administer justice to all persons without exception.’[xiii]

Needless to say Girolamo had few of the attributes attributed to him by his uncle. Girolamo was invested as lord of Forli on 31st May as Caterina was giving birth to Cesare[xiv] in Rome.

Forli was strategically positioned as the gateway to the Romagna, a part of Italy that Sixtus was determined would become part of the papal lands. The fortress at Forli was endowed with the latest technical and mechanical innovations under the oversight of Girolamo.

It took a year before Caterina and Girolamo moved to Forli as Sixtus had been involved in fending off a threatened invasion by the Ottomans. Girolamo had sent a trusted lieutenant Gian Francesco Maruzzi, to his new lands to act as governor. The couple’s arrival in July 1481 was greeted with dismay by some elements of the population still loyal to the Ordelaffi;

‘The Ordelaffis had entered the city with a mighty wind; now the new lord was entering with fire[xv].’[xvi]

The coming of their new lord was the occasion of much celebration by the citizens who were awed by the couple’s display of wealth; they were invited to inspect the new plate and china[xvii] Caterina and her ladies wore new dresses every day of the visit. The family then travelled on to Imola where Girolamo organised the paving of the streets, building towers on the city walls and pulling down ramshackle dwellings.

War with the d’Esté

Girolamo may have transformed Imola but he was also physically violent towards Caterina who was afraid of him. When the Milanese ambassador suggested that Caterina visit her Sforza relatives she replied;

‘My Lord the Count, her Consort, had refused it, not without some anger….this would make a breach between herself and My Lord.’’[xviii]

She apparently confided to a friend that she envied those who died at their husband’s hands, something she apparently preferred to living with Girolamo.

Ercole d'Este
In September Caterina and Girolamo left for a visit to Venice, where Girolamo hope to interest the Venetians in a war against Ferrara and the city’s Duke Ercol d’Esté[xix]. The Venetians were not impressed with the proposal to fight Ferrara, deeming the pope too weak to successfully undertake the project.

The family’s return to the Romagna brought news of two failed plots against them in Imola and a conspiracy to murder Girolamo in Forli[xx]. The conspirators’ bodies decorated the city walls to greet the couple’s return. They did not stay long before returning to Rome.

In the spring of 1482 Venice declared war on Ferrara over the control of the salt marshes on the Adriatic coast; Alfonso, the Duke of Calabria and Milan and Florence sided with the d’Esté while Genoa sided with its fellow maritime republic.

Roberto Malatesta
Girolamo was ordered to defend Rome against attack and he set up camp on the Via Appia inside the city walls. He claimed he was ensuring that the citizens did not revolt. Rumours spread through the city that Girolamo and his men were dicing on the high altar of St John Lateran, sitting on cases containing sacred relics collected from throughout Europe and the middle-east.

In August the Venetians sent their condottiere Roberto Malatesta to help protect the holy city. Duke Alfonso, along with supporters of the Colonna family, was outside the city and on 20th August the two sides met in battle at Campo Morto[xxi]; the papal army won the day; much to Caterina’s chagrin, Girolamo had stayed behind to guard the camp while the troops were led by Malatesta who died of dysentery nine days after his victory[xxii]. All sides agreed to an armistice in November.


Italian Dynasties – Edward Burman, Equation 1989

The Deadly Sisterhood – Leonie Frieda, Harper Collins 2013

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

The Borgias – Mary Hollingsworth, Quercus Editions Ltd 2014

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

The Families Who Made Rome – Anthony Majanlahti, Pimlico 2006

April Blood – Lauro Martines, Jonathan Cape 2003

The Borgias – GJ Meyer, Bantam Books 2013

Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011

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


[ii] A city coveted by Lorenzo de’ Medici
[iii] A condottiere who had fought with Girolamo at the 1474 siege of Città di Castello on behalf of the pope
[iv] The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici - Hibbert
[v] Another scion of the Riario family who saw the conspiracy as a route to becoming Archbishop of Florence
[vi] Sixtus’ seventeen year old great nephew
[vii] He was attacked by two priests, unused to using weapons they only managed to cut Lorenzo’s neck. A further attack by the Pazzi family client was intercepted by one of Lorenzo’s inner circle who threw himself in front of Lorenzo and was gutted for his pains
[viii] The home of the Florence Signoria
[ix] Petrucci had had the doors of the palazzo fitted with hinges that they did not open from the inside
[x] The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici - Hibbert
[xi] A town of about 10,000 including those living in the countryside round about; Forli, on the east of the Apennines was protected by great redoubts
[xii] The head of the family had recently died and his infant heir had been poisoned; the Ordelaffi had seized Forli from the Sforza
[xiii] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[xv] This was a reference to the fire that broke out in the house intended to be Caterina and Girolamo’s new home
[xvi] Ibid
[xvii] Allegedly costing 100,000 ducats. In 2016 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £71,750,000.00, labour earnings of that income or wealth is £658,500,000.00, economic status value of that income or wealth is £1,720,000,000.00, economic power value of that income or wealth is £43,100,000,000.00  
[xviii] The Deadly Sisterhood - Frieda
[xix] Caterina’s sister Anna was married to Ercole’s son Alfonso
[xx] One of these plots was masterminded by the Ordelaffi, another was supported by Lorenzo de’ Medici and Alfonso d’Esté
[xxi] An area of stagnant water where malaria was rife
[xxii] Girolamo immediately rushed to Rimini, the Malatesta’s city, in an attempt to seize it from Malatesta’s young son. This shameful action was blocked by Florence.