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.

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