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 condottierreFilippo Maria ViscontiBianca Maria
|Galeazzo Maria Sforza|
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.
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]
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
[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 http://sarahs-history-place.blogspot.com/
[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
[x] Author of Sforzinda, an epic poem detailing Francesco Sforza’s deeds which no doubt accounted for his popularity
[xii] The Gonzagas were former condottiere too
[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 http://wolfgang20.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/at-court-of-borgia-ii.html