Monday, 25 December 2017

Caterina Sforza VIII


assumed to be a portrait of Giovanni il Popolani de' Medici
Assault from Venice

In the spring of 1498, while his mother was in the latter stages of her pregnancy, Ottaviano organised a carnival with dances, banquets and parties. His half-brother Ludovico was born on 6th April 1498 in Ravaldino. He was named after his great uncle of Milan in an attempt to foster better relations between the two city states but the Milanese ambassador did not attend Ludovico’s christening.

In May 1498 Savonarola was executed following criticism of the pope. The summer saw Ottaviano depart with his mercenaries for a stint in Pisa. He was accompanied by his stepfather Giovanni. Venice turned its wrath on Caterina and the Riario lands were subject to continued incursions by Venetian troops. Aware that she was likely to be besieged by the Venetians Caterina informed her uncle;

‘When Venice attacks, I will have enough spirit to defend myself….If I must lose because I am a woman, I want to lose like a man.’[i]

Palazzo di Capitani at Bagno di Romagna showing de' Medici coat of arms
Giovanni was plagued with gout and he suffered a severe attack following his return from Pisa. After a week with Caterina in Forli, Giovanni left for the thermal baths at Bagno di Romagna on 28th August. Caterina’s daughter Bianca, who was also unwell, travelled with him. On 11th September Caterina was summonsed to Bagno and Giovanni died in her arms on the 12th September 1498.

Giovanni’s body was claimed by his brother and taken back to Florence for his funeral. Caterina returned to Forli draped in black once again, a widow for the third time. The Venetians attacked the city at the end of the month, using tactics that Caterina had already foreseen and made arrangements to foil.

Preparing for the Worst

Lucrezia Borgia
In 1499 Caterina recklessly turned down an offer of marriage for Ottaviano; the pope proposed that Ottaviano marry his only daughter Lucrezia. Caterina turned the offer down; Lucrezia had already been married to Caterina’s cousin Giovanni and the marriage had been annulled after three years on the grounds of his alleged impotency. This refusal made Caterina a whole host of new enemies in the fiercely tribal Borgia family.

The pope was intent on bringing the Romagna under papal control and Alexander’s blunt instrument was his son Cesare. Cesare held the post of Captain-General of the Papal Army once held by Girolamo Riario. But Cesare was far more dangerous than Girolamo had ever been[ii].

In May Alexander issued a papal bull in which he called Caterina ‘a daughter of iniquity’. Citing three years’ worth of unpaid tribute and tyranny on Caterina’s part Alexander deposed Ottaviano’s lordship of Forli in favour of Cesare. Caterina sent an envoy to Rome, empowered to offer immediate payment of 3,600 ducats[iii] owing. Alexander held the whip-hand and refused to meet with Caterina’s emissary.

Lorenzo il Popolani de' Medici
In midsummer little Ludovico fell ill and Caterina spent much of her time at his bedside. When Ludovico recovered she wrote to Giovanni’s brother Lorenzo;

He has recovered enough that if nothing else happens, we hope that he may be cured of this illness. Thank God for everything.’[iv]

In August the plague hit Forli and 179 people died before the outbreak burnt itself out.

When Ludovico had recovered sufficiently Caterina started teaching him to ride. She was also concerned about her son’s inheritance. Giovanni had been a wealthy man and Caterina now proclaimed her marriage before a notary. This attempt was in vain as Lorenzo merely absorbed his brother’s fortune into his own, leaving Caterina with no other alternative but to take her brother-in-law to court, a process that was to last many years

Taking Forli

Louis XII
On 9th November 1499 Cesare Borgia left Milan at the head of the combined papal and French troops. When appealed to by Caterina for support, Louis XII[v] informed her that he could not interfere in papal matters. Florence, afraid of retaliation from Rome, was unable to assist and Caterina found herself standing alone against the joint Franco-papal army. Caterina’s agent at Louis’ court wrote to her;

‘Everyone is waiting for your undoing and ruin, most of all Rome, from whence comes all this evil.’[vi]

To further isolate Caterina, Alexander even took the step of writing to the Signoria in Florence accusing Caterina of trying to poison him.

The land around Forli was razed, all trees and buildings within a quarter of a mile to Forli’s walls being taken down. Each major house in the city was stocked with four month’s supply of food. Caterina had ordered modern artillery and the walls of Ravaldino had been improved and strengthened to cope with the pounding of the French artillery.

With the arrival of Cesare Borgia in December the elders of Forli suggested that Caterina take a leaf from her uncle’s book and depart in the night. Caterina had already sent her children to the safety of Florence. On 14th December, unwilling to risk the destruction of the town for Caterina’s sake, two of Caterina’s supporters abandoned her and offered the town’s submission to Cesare Borgia in Imola[vii]. On the 19th Cesare rode into Forli and stationed himself and his men outside the walls of Ravaldino.

A Borgia Kidnapping

Cesare Borgia
On 26th December Caterina strode out onto the ramparts of Ravaldino to defend her eldest son’s fief. She wore a specially made cuirass. In the square below the fortress Cesare Borgia awaited her; he bowed and informed her that if she surrendered his father would bestow another stronghold on her. Cesare offered compensation, land, money[viii] and a house in Rome. In response Caterina informed him;

‘All of Italy knows the worth of the Borgia word. The bad faith of the father has removed any credit from the son.’[ix]

Caterina informed Cesare that the Holy Roman Emperor’s troops were due to arrive any time now. A further attempt at parley saw Cesare almost trapped in Ravaldino. Cesare’s artillery was fired at the fortress and on 12th January a sizeable hole in the walls allowed Cesare’s troops to pour into Ravaldino.

Caterina attempted to commit suicide by blowing up her gunpowder magazine, the attempt failed due to a defective fuse. Caterina was taken prisoner by the French and Cesare had to pay the leader of the French forces 4,000 ducats[x] to hand Caterina over.

Cesena
On 14th January the news arrived in Rome that;

‘The fortress of Forli; together with Countess Caterina Sforza….had been treacherously and violently captured by Don Cesare Borgia, and that everyone else there had been put to the sword.’[xi]

Cesare now turned his attention to the Sforza city of Pesaro[xii] while the French were diverted north to Milan by the arrival of Ludovico Sforza with 8,000 Swiss and 500 Burgundian troops, in an attempt to seize back control of his duchy.

‘There is news that the lady of Forli has been sent to Cesena, and it seems that Duke Valentino [Cesare] has gone there, and, as I hear, was keeping the said lady, who is the most woman….day and night in his room, with whom, in the opinion of all, he is taking his pleasure.’[xiii]

Bibliography

At the Court of the Borgia – Johann Burchard, the Folio Society 1990

Lucrezia Borgia – Rachel Erlanger, Michael Joseph 1979

The Deadly Sisterhood – Leonie Frieda, Harper Collins 2013

Florence and the Medici – JR Hale, Phoenix Press 2004

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 Borgias – GJ Meyer, Bantam Books 2013

Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011

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

www.wikipedia.en


[i] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[iii] In 2016 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £2,599,000.00, labour earnings of that income or wealth is £21,250,000.00, economic status value of that income or wealth is £60,850,000.00, economic power value of that income or wealth is £1,425,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com  
[iv] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[v] Louis XII had invaded Italy and taken Milan, deposing Ludovico Sforza who fled for sanctuary with the Holy Roman Emperor – see http://wolfgang20.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/renaissance-france-anne-of-brittany-v.html
[vi] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[vii] The town and Caterina’s castellan surrendered to the Franco-papal army and Caterina’s castellan joined forces with them to attack Forli
[viii] An annuity of 4,000 ducats a year - in 2016 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £7,219,000.00, labour earnings of that income or wealth is £59,030,000.00, economic status value of that income or wealth is £169,000,000.00, economic power value of that income or wealth is £3,958,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com  
[ix] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[x] See note viii above
[xi] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[xii] Giovanni Sforza fled the city and did not return until after both the pope and Cesare were dead
[xiii] The Deadly Sisterhood - Frieda

Monday, 18 December 2017

Caterina Sforza VII

Caterina Sforza
The Fury Drives On

During Caterina’s mad rampage through her son’s domains, Ottaviano and Cesare, afraid of their mother’s anger, had remained in the safety of the house of Raoul Denti, one of Forli’s nobility. Seven years before he’d refused to hand over Girolamo’s children to the mob after Girolamo had been killed. Hiding in Denti’s house, Ottaviano had not attended his stepfather’s funeral making him suspect in his mother’s eyes.

Now Caterina’s anger was focussed on her son who she knew had resented Giacomo’s usurpation of Ottaviano’s authority. Ottaviano was summonsed to appear before his mother in his own fortress of Ravaldino, he was escorted there by Caterina’s soldiers. An angry crowd followed their lord to Ravaldino where they were met by cannon fire. Ottaviano was left to face his mother’s ire alone.

Ottaviano was placed under house arrest and his half-brother Scipione Riario, who had objected to the violence of his stepmother’s reactions, was locked in a dungeon for eighteen months. The reprisals continued, with the mistress of one of the conspirators and her children being murdered. The second priest involved in the conspiracy was burnt over hot coals before being beheaded.

Horror and disgust of Caterina’s actions was to be found the length and breadth of the Italian peninsula. Her name was vilified; thirty eight people had been killed and numerous others tortured, imprisoned or exiled. Even the pope, Ludovico Sforza and the Signoria of Florence all recoiled at what Alexander claimed was the;

‘Unheard of bloodthirstiness committed to satisfy her passions.’[i]

Caterina remained in Forli mourning her beloved throughout the following winter, only rousing herself in November 1495 to engage in an alliance against Count Guido of Gaggiolo who had taken a number of towns from the Archbishop of Ravenna. Guido was killed during the fighting and Caterina’s prize for her soldiers involvement in the campaign was the town of Castrocaro. Venice objected strongly to this transfer and Caterina’s Uncle Ludovico advised her to return the town to the archbishop, which she duly did.

Rebuilding a Life

That winter was exceptionally hard and the province was facing a famine; not only the cold but the troops had ruined the previous summer’s crops as they marched across the fields. To avoid wide-scale starvation among her people Caterina was forced to buy in large quantities of grain. Four to five hundred pounds of flour per day were distributed to the poor of Forli from February to June[ii].

Caterina had the palazzo where she had lived with Giacomo torn down; Caterina moved into the fortess of Ravaldino, the better to protect herself. She turned part of the fortress into a luxurious home, building a palazzo abreast of the keep. The remains of the old house were used for new building projects. The fortress itself was upgraded and repaired.

Giovanni Bentivoglio
At the same time that the destruction and reconstruction was being undertaken Giovanni Livio fell ill and died after a short illness. He was only twelve. During that year Caterina's half-sister Bianca died in child birth. Caterina joined her sister’s husband Tommaso Feo to mourn this loss in their family.

Caterina decided to arrange a marriage for Ottaviano and her eye fell upon Isotta Bentivoglio, daughter of Giovanni Bentivoglio of Bologna. Isotta declared that she was going to become a nun. Caterina considered the refusal a betrayal; she already knew that a number of those implicated in Giacomo’s death had taken refuge with the Bentivoglio. She sent assassins to Bologna in a failed mission to kill one of her bitterest enemies, much to her uncle’s irritation. Caterina confessed to him;

‘I have been gravely wronged, and I still want to get my hands on him, to further thwart those who would conspire against me….I confess, I did not do a good thing, as you said.’[iii]

Instead of looking around for an alternative bride for her son, Caterina decided Ottaviano needed to gain military experience and she asked her uncle to arrange for this. Instead Ludovico suggested that Ottaviano marry one of the Marquis of Mantua’s daughters. Caterina refused to consider the idea. By 1497 Ottaviano already had one illegitimate daughter by the daughter of a carpenter even as his mother continued to refuse an offer from the de’ Medici and a renewal of the Mantua offer.

Looking Out For the Kids

Niccolo Machiavelli
Eventually Caterina had her way and Ottaviano was employed twice by the Florentines as a condottiero to defend Florentine interests. He was offered 15,000 florins[iv] in 1497 and 10,000 florins[v] in 1499; both times his mother was the negotiator between the two parties; the second time she was negotiating with Nicholas Machiavelli.

Caterina now sought out benefices for Cesare; she had fallen out with Cardinal Raffaello Riario, believing that he had encouraged Giacomo’s assassins. In the summer of 1496 as Raffaello lay seriously ill Caterina persuaded her uncle to transfer all the benefices that Raffaello held in Milan to Cesare once his second cousin died.

The Venetians were sending raids into Ottaviano’s lands with increasing regularity. Like many of his neighbours Ludovico Sforza was unwilling to offend Venice or help Caterina defend Forli and Imola and so Caterina raised an army of 8,000 troops to defend her son’s heritage. Caterina looked to Florence, the only other regional power willing to oppose la Serenissima, for an ally.

Fra Savonarola
Following the fall of the Medici Florence was all but ruled by Fra Savonarola; those of the Medici who had not left Florence had changed their name to il Popolani to curry favour with the new rulers. One such was Giovanni de’ Medici, a cousin of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who visited Forli in the summer of 1496 to negotiate terms with Caterina for the use of her army in a fight against Pisa which had declared independence from Florence.

Giovanni was wealthy, thirty and attractive; an able conversationalist he talked to Caterina about art and literature. Like Caterina Giovanni was interested in botanical experiments and he also got on well with all her children, including Ottaviano.

Before long Giovanni was lodged in Giacomo’s former apartments, in Rivaldino, with his own household. When Caterina fell ill in the autumn Giovanni paid Caterina daily visits in her private apartments. Ludovico Sforza was informed that Caterina had been seen caressing Giovanni and that she might marry to ‘satisfy her appetites.’ She made haste to inform her uncle that;

‘I am no longer at that age when others should think that these youthful appetites reign in me; foremost in my mind is my duty to govern these states.’[vi]

Whether she assuaged her uncle’s fears is not known but he cannot have been pleased to receive a letter in January 1497 from his ambassador informing Ludovico that Giovanni and Caterina were married. Caterina denied the marriage until she found herself pregnant in the summer. Pro-French Florence and Ludovico Sforza, a member of the Holy League[vii] were on opposing sides and Caterina was loath to make an enemy out of a family member.

Bibliography

At the Court of the Borgia – Johann Burchard, the Folio Society 1990

Italian Dynasties – Edward Burman, Equation 1989

The Deadly Sisterhood – Leonie Frieda, Harper Collins 2013

Florence and the Medici – JR Hale, Phoenix Press 2004

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 Borgias – GJ Meyer, Bantam Books 2013

Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011

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

www.wikipedia.en


[i] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[ii] The following year province was short of salt as the salt beds at Cervia had not dried out, due to the excessive rains. Caterina bought four hundred sacks of salt from the Adriatic under military guard.
[iii] Tigress of Forli
[iv] In 2016 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £10,380,000.00, labour earnings of that income or wealth is £101,800,000.00, economic status value of that income or wealth is £242,500,000.00, economic power value of that income or wealth is £5,705,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com  
[v] In 2016 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £7,219,000.00, labour earnings of that income or wealth is £59,030,000.00, economic status value of that income or wealth is £169,000,000.00, economic power value of that income or wealth is £3,958,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com  
[vi] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[vii] Also known as the League of Venice, whereby Milan, the papacy, Venice, the Aragonese and the Holy Roman Emperor joined forces to force the French out of Italy

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Caterina Sforza VI


Isabella of Naples
Tumultuous Times

The Sforza were facing trouble; Charles VIII of France was determined to interfere in the internal affairs of Italy, believing as he did in the general unfitness of Pope Alexander to carry out his papal duties. He was given the excuse when Alfonso of Naples marched on Milan on behalf of his daughter Isabella, married to Gian Galeazzo. Beatrice d’Est√©, as wife of the regent was taking precedence over Isabella, the duchess of Milan.

Her father had strong ties to the king and queen of Spain and was able to count on their support. Alfonso decided to make an issue of his daughter’s embarrassment. Caterina’s uncle Ludovico called on Charles VIII for aid; by the time Charles reached Piacenza, it was to the news that Gian Galeazzo was dead[i]. Ludovico arrested his niece by marriage and seized her son Francesco; within the year Ludovico was duke of Milan.

Beatrice d'Este
Caterina was aware that Forli was a bridge the road across the Apennines that the armies would cross. As a papal fief the Lord of Forli was expected to follow papal directives and Alexander supported Alfonso of Naples. At the same time she was pressured by her Sforza relatives to support them. Alexander despatched Cardinal Raffaele Riario to press Caterina; Rafaelle was surprised to have Giacomo join in his meeting with the regent.

By mid-September 1494 Giacomo had become general in chief and vice-Lord of Ottaviano’s domains. Caterina did not push back against her husband’s decisions. Giacomo chose to join the anti-Sforza side and shut the city gates against Caterina’s relatives. Caterina’s spies kept the papal and Neapolitans updated on the movements of the French and Sforza troops. Local people living outside the city walls were ordered into Forli for protection against the armies roaming through the local area.

Bouleversé

Giacomo insisted that loyalty to the pope meant that Forli received a stipend from the Vatican. Well aware of the advantages of bribery and corruption, Alexander issued a condotta[ii] for 16,000 ducats[iii] for the privilege of allowing papal and Neapolitan troops passage through the Apennines. Caterina and Giacomo were also awarded the fief of San Mauro.

On October 20th 1494 two thousand French and Milanese troops demanded entrance to the fortress of Mordano and Caterina’s Castellan refused. The fortress was overrun in the late afternoon after the walls were breached. Caterina begged her ally the Duke of Calabria for support but he failed to respond.

Charles VIII
The French show of strength meant a change of heart on Caterina’s part; henceforth she would support them and her family. She complained to Piero de’ Medici[iv], writing to inform her of her reasons for backing out of the papal alliance;

‘There was no reason to treat me this way. I have kept [our treaty] and done more than I was obliged to.’[v]

France’s armies continued to roll over their enemies and Alexander reproached Ercol d’Est√©;

‘The triumph of France involves nothing less than the destruction of the independence of every state in Italy.’[vi]

The last troops left Forli on 23rd November as the French marched off down the Via Aemilia in the direction of Rome[vii]. By the time Charles turned his attention back to France he had been crowned King of Naples. His departure merely meant that things turned back to normal….relatively. Now France had given itself a reason to interfere in doings on the Italian peninsula as and when it felt appropriate[viii].

Death of Giacomo

Ottaviano Riario
In 1495 Ottaviano turned sixteen, old enough to take control of his lands. Ottaviano did not care for his stepfather and the pair quarrelled violently; Giacomo responded by slapping Ottaviano’s face hard in front of his mother who refused to intervene. By now the Italian princes had come to the decision that Caterina’s relationship with Giacomo Feo was a liability, although it was believed that Caterina would be unlikely to give him up voluntarily. The Florentine ambassador Puccio Pucci claimed

‘The Countess will bury her children, her allies, and all her belongings, she will sell her soul to the devil, she will give her state to the Turk, before she gives up Giacomo Feo.’[ix]

In the end it was Caterina’s own retainers who decided that the situation could not continue. Giovanni Ghetti[x] led the plot; his wife Rosa was one of Caterina’s ladies-in-waiting. They and other members of their family and two priests were the main conspirators.

On 27th August 1495 the family went out hunting and in the late afternoon returned to Forli. Giacomo, Ottaviano and Cesare were on horseback while Caterina and the others rode in a cart. As they passed through the city gate Ghetti and his fellow plotters stepped out in front of them. Ghetti took the reins of Giacomo’s horse while his servant stabbed Giacomo from behind.

Giacomo fell from his horse and his assassins fell on him. Caterina’s immediate response was to leap out of the cart and onto a horse; she fled to Ravaldino. Ottaviano and Cesare had already taken refuge in the house of a local nobleman while Giacomo’s guards had disappeared at the first hint of trouble.

Revenge of the Fury

Rvaldino
From the safety of Ravaldino Caterina was swift to organise her response. When Ghetti and his accomplices strutted into Forli’s main piazza Caterina sent out a squad of soldiers to arrest the killers. Ghetti managed to escape and the chief of police offered one hundred ducats[xi] for the person who brought him in, dead or alive. One of the militia hunted Ghetti down in the local cemetery and cleaved his head in two and chopped off his fingers, scattering the body parts among the graves.

Tommaso Feo was summonsed from Imola to revenge his brother’s murder. Caterina ordered him to raze Ghetti’s house to the ground. Ghetti’s wife and children were thrown into a well in Ravaldino and left to die. The last Ghetti child was found in the care of a family friend and the five year old’s throat was cut.

Caterina had every family known to be hostile to Giacomo rounded up and thrown in the dungeons, hanged in the piazza or exiled. Houses were torn down, warehouses destroyed and entire families thrown into the dungeons of Ravaldino. One entire neighbourhood of Forli was razed to the ground so determined was Caterina on her revenge on those who had taken her husband from her. No-one who had ever adversely commented on Giacomo Feo was safe.

One of the priests involved was tortured with fire until he gave up the names of his accomplices. He was then stripped naked and tied by his feet to the back of a horse and dragged through the town. His face was then cut open by one of Giacomo’s supporters before being beaten and stabbed to death by Caterina’s soldiers.

The Milanese ambassador reported to Ludovico Sforza about his niece’s goings on;

‘She has used maximum cruelty against a priest, that seems most detestable, she had women killed, the wives of the two Ghetti brothers, the young sons aged three and nine months and even the nurse. All Romagna is crying to the heavens.’[xii]

Caterina’s cruel response to Giacomo’s killing was not only a sign of how very much she loved her husband, but also possibly an indication of her father’s influence; his cruelties had become legend in his own lifetime and now Caterina’s were to follow her for the rest of her life.

Bibliography

At the Court of the Borgia – Johann Burchard, the Folio Society 1990

Italian Dynasties – Edward Burman, Equation 1989

Lucrezia Borgia – Rachel Erlanger, Michael Joseph 1979

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 Borgias – GJ Meyer, Bantam Books 2013

Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011

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

www.wikipedia.en


[i] He was alleged to have been poisoned, possibly by his uncle. Ludovico found the rumours of his nephew’s death so embarrassing he felt obliged to write to his fellow princes protesting his innocence.
[ii] An annual pension
[iii] In 2016 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £11,840,000.00, labour earnings of that income or wealth is £97,970,000.00, economic status value of that income or wealth is £278,400,000.00, economic power value of that income or wealth is £6,603,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com  
[iv] Shortly before Piero and his family were thrown out of Florence by the supporters of Savonarola
[v] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[vi] The Borgias - Meyer
[viii] See the Italian Wars for further French adventures in the peninsula
[ix] Tigress of Forli - Lev
[x] Who had helped oust Tomasso Feo from the fortress of Ravaldino
[xi] In 2016 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £74,000.00, labour earnings of that income or wealth is £612,300.00, economic status value of that income or wealth is £1,740,000.00, economic power value of that income or wealth is £41,270,000.00 www.measuringworth.com  
[xii] Tigress of Forli - Lev