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|Lady of Imola|
Countess of Forlì
Giovanni de' Medici il Popolano
Giovanni Livio Riario
Giovanni dalle Bande Nere
|Father||Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan|
|Died||28 May 1509 (aged 46)|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (August 2012)|
|Lady of Imola|
Countess of Forlì
Giovanni de' Medici il Popolano
Giovanni Livio Riario
Giovanni dalle Bande Nere
|Father||Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan|
|Died||28 May 1509 (aged 46)|
Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forlì (early 1463 – 28 May 1509) was an Italian noblewoman, the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan and Lucrezia Landriani, the wife of the courtier Gian Piero Landriani, a close friend of the Duke. Raised in the refined Milanese court, Caterina later held the titles of Lady of Imola and Countess of Forlì, by her marriage to Girolamo Riario. She was also the Regent for her first-born son, Ottaviano. The descendant of a dynasty of noted condottieri, Caterina, from an early age, distinguished herself by her bold and impetuous actions taken to safeguard her possessions from possible usurpers, and to defend her dominions from attack, when they were involved in political intrigues that were a distinguishing feature of 15th century Italy.
In her private life Caterina was devoted to various activities, among which were experiments in alchemy and a love of hunting and dancing. She had a large number of children, of whom only the youngest, Captain Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, inherited the forceful, militant character of his mother.
Following Caterina's resistance to Cesare Borgia, she had to face his fury and he took her prisoner. Upon regaining her liberty following her imprisonment in Rome, she led a quiet life in Florence. In the final years of her life, she confided to a monk: "If I were to write the story of my life, I would shock the world."
Caterina Sforza was born in Milan in early 1463, the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza by his mistress, Lucrezia Landriani. It is believed that she spent the first years of her life with her mother's relatives.
Upon the succession of Galeazzo Maria Sforza as Duke of Milan in 1466, following the death of his father Francesco, Galeazzo arranged for his four children by Lucrezia Landriani to come to court: Carlo (born in 1461), who later became Count of Magenta; Caterina; Alessandro (born in 1465), who later became Lord of Francavilla; and Chiara (born in 1467). (By her first marriage, Chiara became Countess dal Verme di Sanguinetto and Lady of Vigevano; by her second marriage, she became Lady of Novi.) The children were entrusted to their paternal grandmother, Bianca Maria Visconti; eventually Bona of Savoy, who became Galeazzo Maria's second wife on 9 May 1468, adopted them all.
At the Sforza court, frequented by writers and artists, Caterina and her siblings received a humanistic education. At that time, in the Italian courts, daughters of noble families received the same education as their brothers. In addition to Latin and the reading of the classics, as prescribed by her teachers, Caterina learned, especially from her paternal grandmother, to take pride in her warlike ancestors, to show boldness in the use of arms and astuteness in the skill of government. From her adoptive mother, she received her share of the maternal warmth and affection that Bona of Savoy poured over all of the children of her husband; this continued - after Caterina had left the Milanese court - in the form of correspondence between the two women.
The Duke's family resided in Milan and in Pavia, and often stayed at Galliate or at Cusago, where Galeazzo Maria devoted himself to hunting. At one or the other of the two places Caterina also probably acquired her lifelong passion for hunting.
In 1473 Caterina became betrothed to Girolamo Riario, the putative son of Paolo Riario and Bianca della Rovere, sister of Pope Sixtus IV (in office: 1471-1484). (Persistent rumours, however, portrayed Girolamo as a natural son of the Pope.) Caterina replaced her cousin, the eleven-year-old Costanza Fogliani, as Girolamo's bride because, according to some historians, Costanza's mother refused to allow the consummation of the marriage until Costanza reached the legal age - then fourteen. Despite the bride being just ten years of age, the marriage of Caterina and Girolamo was celebrated on 17 January 1473, but consummated four years later (1477) when Caterina reached the age of fourteen.
Pope Sixtus IV gave Girolamo the Lordship of Imola, already a Sforza city, but at the time a fief of the Riario family. After a triumphal entrance into Imola in 1477, Caterina went to Rome with her husband, where he lived for many years in the service of his uncle, the Pope. The following year, in March 1478, Caterina gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Bianca after Girolamo's mother, Bianca della Rovere, and after Caterina's paternal grandmother, Bianca Maria Visconti. Caterina subsequently gave birth to five more children in the next nine years.
Upon her arrival in Rome in May 1477, Caterina found a city full of cultural fervour, with a desire for renovation.
At the end of the 15th century, Rome was no longer a medieval city, but not yet the important centre of artistic endeavours it would become a few decades later as one of the most important cities of the Renaissance.
The atmosphere was a mix of intrigue and power, which was pursued without scruples, with material interests far exceeding the spiritual. Caterina was banned by her husband from meddling in politics, but she quickly integrated — owing to her extroverted and sociable character — into aristocratic Roman society.
As evidenced by correspondence from that period, Caterina immediately became admired as one of the most beautiful and elegant among noble Roman women. She was welcomed everywhere, treated with great respect and lavishly praised by all of society including the Pope. She soon transformed from a simple adolescent into a refined and powerful intermediary between the Roman court and other Italian courts, especially Milan.
Girolamo was given a leading position in the expansion policy of Pope Sixtus IV after the premature death of the Pope's favoured nephew, Cardinal Pietro Riario. His power grew daily, and he soon displayed increasing ruthlessness towards his enemies. In 1480, the Pope, with the objective of attaining a strong domain in the land of Romagna, assigned Girolamo the lordship of Forlì, which had remained vacant after it was sequestered from the Ordelaffi family. The new Lord tried to earn the favour of the populace by erecting magnificent public buildings and churches, and by abolishing taxes.
The lives of Caterina and Girolamo changed abruptly with the death of Sixtus IV on 12 August 1484.
When Pope Sixtus died, rebellions and disorder immediately spread through Rome, including looting of his supporters' residences. Girolamo's residence, the Orsini palace in Campo de' Fiori, was stripped of its content and almost destroyed.
In this time of anarchy, Caterina, who was in her seventh month of pregnancy, crossed the Tiber on horseback to occupy the rocca (fortress) of Castel Sant'Angelo on behalf of her husband. From this position and with the obedience of the soldiers, Caterina could monitor the Vatican and dictate the conditions for the new conclave.
Meanwhile, the disorder in the city increased. A militia accompanied the arrival of the Cardinals. The latter did not want to attend the funeral of Sixtus IV and refused to enter into conclave, for fear of coming under the fire of Caterina's artillery. The situation was difficult because only the election of a new Pope would put an end to the violence in the Eternal City.
Girolamo and his army occupied a strategic position at that point, yet could not implement an effective solution. The Sacred College asked Girolamo to leave Rome, offering in return the confirmation of his Lordship over Imola and Forlì, the military post of Captain-General of the Church, and 8,000 ducats in compensation for the damages to his property. Girolamo accepted. When Caterina was informed of the decisions taken by her husband, she increased the quota of her soldiers and made preparations for resistance in order to force the Cardinals to parley with her. The Cardinals again approached Girolamo, who took up a counterposition against his wife. On 25 October 1484, Caterina surrendered the fortress to the Sacred College and left Rome with her family. The Sacred College were then able to meet in conclave to elect the new Pope.
In Forlì, law and order had been maintained by Caterina's uncle Ludovico il Moro Sforza, Duke of Milan. On their arrival, the Riarios learned of the election of Giovanni Battista Cybo, an old opponent, as Pope Innocent VIII. He confirmed Girolamo in his lordships of Imola and Forlì and his appointment as Captain-General. That appointment, however, was only nominal; Girolamo had no real control over the Papal army and Innocent refused to pay Girolamo for leaving Rome.
Despite the loss of income, Girolamo did not reinstate taxes on the people of Forlì.
This situation lasted until the end of 1485, when the city government completely ran out of money. Girolamo, pressed by a member of the Council of Elders, Nicolò Pansecco, was forced to levy taxes. The taxes were deemed excessive by the population and, leading to Girolamo's unpopularity among all the citizens of Forlì.
The tax increase, which affected mainly the artisan class and landowners, added to the discontent that had previously been limited to the families who had suffered under Girolamo's persecution of those whom he suspected of treachery. His enemies began to conspire against him with a view to making Franceschetto Cybo, the illegitimate son of Pope Innocent, lord of Imola and Forlì in his stead.
After more than a half dozen failed attempts, Girolamo was killed on 14 April 1488 by a conspiracy led by the Orsis, a noble family of Forlì. The lord's palace was sacked, while Caterina and her children were made prisoners.
The fortress of Ravaldino refused to surrender to the Orsis. Caterina offered to attempt to persuade the castellan, Tommaso Feo, to submit. The Orsis believed Caterina because she left her children as hostages, but once inside she let loose a barrage of vulgar threats and promises of vengeance against her former captors. According to a legend, when they threatened to kill her children, she exposed her genitals from the fortress walls and said: "Ho con me lo stampo per farne degli altri!." ("I have the mold to make more!") With the assistance of Ludovico il Moro, she defeated her enemies and regained possession of her dominions; she wreaked vengeance on those who had opposed her and re-established her power over Forlì.
On 30 April 1488, Caterina became regent for her eldest son Ottaviano. Caterina's first act as Regent of Forlì was to avenge the death of her husband. She ordered that all those involved in the Orsi conspiracy were to be imprisoned, along with the Pope's governor, Monsignor Savelli, all the pontifical generals, and the castellan of the fortress of Forlimpopoli, and also all women of the Orsis and other families who had assisted in the conspiracy. Soldiers sought out all who had taken part in the conspiracy. Houses owned by those imprisoned were razed while their valuables were distributed to the poor. On 30 July 1488, news came that Pope Innocent VIII had given Ottaviano Riario the official investiture of his state "until his line ended." In the meantime, Forlì was visited by Cardinal Raffaele Riario, officially to protect the orphan children of his late cousin Girolamo Riario but actually to oversee the government of Caterina.
The young Countess personally dealt with all issues concerning the government of her city-state, both public and private. To consolidate her power, she exchanged gifts with the lords of neighbouring states and involved herself in marriage negotiations for her children. She decreased taxes by reducing some and eliminating others, and sharply controlled her realm's spending. Caterina dealt directly with the training of her militia in the use of weapons and horses. It was her intention that her cities and towns be orderly and peaceful, and she expected her subjects to appreciate these efforts.
The states of Forlì and Imola were smaller than the great Italian states but, due to their geographical position, had a considerable strategic importance. On 25 July 1492, Pope Innocent VIII also died, and was replaced by Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who took the name of Pope Alexander VI. His election seemed to strengthen Caterina's rule, as while she and her husband had lived in Rome, the Cardinal had often been a guest at their home, and he was godfather of Ottaviano.
Ludovico il Moro added his support in 1494, and in September 1494 Charles formally claimed Naples and invaded Italy, leading to four years of war.
Caterina tried to remain neutral. She knew Forlì was exposed to invasion, located in a strategic position on the way to Rome. On one side, her uncle Ludovico had allied with Charles VIII. On the other side, Pope Alexander now opposed France's ambitions in Italy, and her brother-in-law, Cardinal Riario, argued in favor of the incumbent King Ferdinand II. Caterina chose to join Naples and the Pope and prepared the defence of Imola and Forlì against the French.
The French quickly defeated her Neapolitan allies, and the Countess changed sides and submitted to Charles, giving his army via libera ("free passage") to Naples. Charles conquered Naples in thirteen days. This frightened the Italian principalities, and they formed the League of Venice against Charles. The League challenged Charles at Fornovo and he retreated to France.
This time, Caterina managed to remain neutral. By not participating in the expulsion of the French, she maintained the support of both her uncle Ludovico in Milan and also that of the Pope.
Two months after the death of Girolamo, a rumor was spread that Caterina was close to marrying Antonio Maria Ordelaffi, who had started to court her. This marriage would end the claims of the Ordelaffi family on the city of Forlì. Antonio Maria, feeling confident, wrote to the Duke of Ferrara that the Countess promised to marry him. When Caterina saw how things stood, she imprisoned those who had spread the false news. These promises were addressed by the Senate in Venice, which summoned Antonio Maria to Friuli, where he remained confined for ten years.
In point of fact, Caterina had fallen in love with Giacomo Feo, the brother of Tommasso Feo, the castellan who had remained faithful to her after the assassination of her husband. Caterina married him in 1488, but secretly, to avoid losing custody of her children and the regency of her dominions.
Giacomo was appointed castellan of the fortress of Ravaldino in place of his brother, and was awarded with an order of chivalry from Ludovico il Moro. In April 1489, Caterina gave birth to Giacomo's son, Bernardino, later called Carlo in honour of King Charles VIII, who had made Giacomo a baron of France.
Soon, people began to worry that she would remove her son Ottaviano from the government and give his posts to her paramour. She had replaced the castellans of the fortresses of her dominions with her closest relatives: the fortress of Imola was given to Gian Piero Landriani, her stepfather, and the fortress of Forlimpopoli to Piero Landriani, her half-brother, while Tommaso Feo was married to Bianca Landriani, Caterina's half-sister.
At Tossignano, a conspiracy was formed to seize the fortress in the name of Ottaviano, and murder both Giacomo and Caterina. The Countess discovered the plot and imprisoned or executed those who were involved. Immediately after this conspiracy was foiled, another plot was organized by Antonio Maria Ordelaffi, who had never become resigned to the loss of Forlí, but this also failed.
Giacomo's power increased, and with his cruelty and insolence he incurred the hatred of all, including Caterina's children. On one occasion, in full view of the public, he slapped Ottaviano (the rightful Lord of Forlì), but nobody had the courage to defend the boy. After this incident, adherents of Ottaviano decided to liberate the city from the domination of Giacomo Feo.
Gian Antonio Ghetti and some of Caterina's own children formed a conspiracy. On the evening of 27 August 1495, Caterina, Giacomo Feo, and their entourage were returning from a hunt. Caterina, her daughter Bianca Riario and some of her ladies-in-waiting rode in a carriage, followed on horseback by Giacomo, Ottaviano and his brother Cesare, and many staffieri and soldiers. Agents of the conspiracy attacked and mortally wounded Giacomo. The same day, Ghetti went to Caterina, thinking that she had secretly given the order to kill Giacomo. Caterina was unaware of the plot, and her revenge was terrible. When her first husband was murdered, she avenged his death according to the justice of the time; now she reacted with vindictive fury. Caterina was not satisfied with mere executions: their deaths had to be among the most cruel and painful. She not only prosecuted the wives and mistresses of the conspirators, but she also sought out the children, even those in early infancy, and all were summarily tortured and executed.
Caterina's fury blinded her to the politics that had inspired the plot. It had involved almost all the supporters of Ottaviano Riario, who were convinced that Caterina had given her tacit consent to the killing of the man who was considered the "usurper" of the state's rightful ruler. They had wanted to uphold the power of the Riario family. Caterina, as a result of the massacre which followed the assassination of Giacomo Feo, lost forever the good will of her people.
In 1496, the ambassador of the Republic of Florence, Giovanni de' Medici il Popolano, paid a visit to Caterina. The second son of Pierfrancesco il Vecchio, he belonged to a collateral branch of the Medici family. Along with his older brother Lorenzo, he had been sent into exile because of his open hostility toward their cousin Piero, who succeeded his father Lorenzo il Magnifico in the government of Florence. In 1494, when Charles VIII invaded Italy, Piero was forced to sign a treaty which allowed the French army to move freely into the Kingdom of Naples. The people of Florence were liberated, deposed Piero and proclaimed a Republic. Giovanni and his brother were able to return to their homeland. They renounced the Medici surname and took the name of Popolano. The Florentine government appointed Giovanni as ambassador to Forlì.
Shortly after coming to Forlì, Giovanni and his entourage were housed in the apartments adjacent to Caterina's in the fortress of Ravaldino. The rumours of a possible marriage between Giovanni and Caterina, as well as a conflict which loomed on the horizon between Venice and Florence, alarmed all the lords of the League and the Duke of Milan.
Caterina couldn't hide her wedding plans and her own feelings from her uncle Ludovico; she truly fell in love with the handsome, charming, and intelligent Giovanni. The situation differed from the previous one as this time Caterina had the approval of her children and she also obtained the consent of her uncle. The marriage of two people from such powerful families, however, was likely to arouse opposition, so they were wed in secret in September 1497.
In April 1498, Caterina bore Giovanni a son, the last of her children. The child was baptised as Ludovico after his mother's uncle, the Duke of Milan, but later he became known by the name Giovanni dalle Bande Nere.
Meanwhile, affairs between Florence and Venice were getting worse and Caterina, who occupied the main route between the two cities, prepared her defenses. She sent a contingent of knights to the aid of Florence, led by Giovanni and her eldest son, Ottaviano Riario, accompanied by men she had trained herself.
Giovanni became seriously ill and was compelled to leave the battlefield and return to Forlì. There, despite treatment, his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to Santa Maria in Bagno, where he hoped for a miraculous recovery. On 14 September 1498, Giovanni died in the presence of Caterina, who had been summoned urgently to attend him. Giovanni's death left Caterina alone to face the Borgias.
After having returned to Forlì in order to make preparations for the defense of her states, Caterina was occupied by military concerns, especially logistics. Training the militia was executed by the Countess in person. To find additional money and troops, she wrote to her uncle Ludovico, the Republic of Florence and the neighbouring states who were her allies. Only the Dukes of Milan and Mantua sent a small contingent of soldiers to aid her.
After an initial attack by the Venetians, which inflicted severe destruction, Caterina's army managed to outmanoeuvre them. Afterwards, the war continued with minor skirmishes until the Venetians were able to circumvent Forlì to reach Florence by another route. Because of this staunch defence, Caterina Sforza gained the nickname of "Il Tigre" (The Tiger).
In the meantime, Louis XII had succeeded to the French throne. Louis claimed the rights both to the Duchy of Milan as a grandson of Valentina Visconti, and to the Kingdom of Naples as heir to the House of Anjou. Before starting his campaign in Italy, Louis XII secured an alliance with Savoy, the Republic of Venice and Pope Alexander VI. In the summer of 1499, he came to Italy with a formidable army; without having to fight a single battle, he occupied Piedmont, as well as Genoa and Cremona. On 6 October, he settled in Milan, which had been abandoned the previous month by Duke Ludovico, who fled to the Tyrol under the protection of his nephew-by-marriage Emperor Maximilian I.
Alexander VI allied himself with Louis XII in return for the King's support in establishing Alexander's son Cesare Borgia, the Duke of Valentinois, as ruler in Romagna. Alexander issued a Papal Bull on 9 March 1499 to invalidate the investiture of the feudal lords, including Caterina. When the French army left Milan with Cesare to begin the conquest of Romagna, Ludovico il Moro regained the Duchy with the help of the Austrians.
Caterina sought relief from Florence against the approaching French army, but Florence was threatened by the Pope. She immediately began to recruit and train many soldiers and began to store weapons, ammunition and food. She reinforced the defences, especially that of Ravaldino where she resided and which was already considered impenetrable. She also sent her children to Florence.
On 24 November, Cesare Borgia arrived in Imola. The city gates were opened by some of the inhabitants, and he was able to take possession, after having conquered the fortress where the castellan Dionigi Naldi of Brisighella had resisted for several days. After seeing what had happened there, Caterina asked the people of Forlì if they also wanted to capitulate to Borgia, or if they wanted to be defended and endure the resulting siege. Because the people hesitated in answering, Caterina absolved the citizens of Forlì of their oath of fealty, and sealed herself in the citadel.
On 19 December, the Duke of Valentinois also took possession of Forlì and began the siege of the fortress. Caterina repeatedly refused all offers of peace, from Cesare and from Cardinal Riario. In response, Cesare offered 10,000 ducats for her, dead or alive. Caterina tried to capture Cesare when he came near the fortress to parley.
For several days the artillery of both factions engaged in a mutual bombardment: Caterina's cannon inflicted heavy losses on the French army, but the French artillery damaged the defences of the main fortress. What was destroyed during the day was rebuilt during the night.
As time passed without decisive results, Cesare changed his tactics. His troops bombarded the walls of the fortress continuously, day and night. After six days, they opened two breaches in the walls. On 12 January 1500, his forces stormed the fortress. The bloody battle was quick and decisive. Immediately she surrendered herself to Antoine Bissey (the bailli of Dijon) as a prisoner of the French, as she knew there was a law that prevented French forces from holding women as prisoners of war.
Cesare obtained custody of Caterina from the French general, Yves d'Allègre, promising that he would treat her not as a prisoner but as a guest. Caterina and her entourage were therefore forced to go with the army that was preparing to conquer Pesaro. The conquest had to be postponed because on 5 February Ludovico il Moro returned to Milan, forcing French troops to turn back. Cesare departed alone with the Papal army for Rome, where he took Caterina. In Rome, she was held in the Belvedere Palace. Towards the end of March, Caterina tried to escape; she was discovered and imprisoned in Castel Sant'Angelo.
To justify Caterina's imprisonment, Pope Alexander VI accused her of trying to kill him in November 1499 with letters impregnated with poison, as a response to the Papal bull which had deprived the Countess of her fiefdoms.
Even today it is not known if the accusation was founded or not. Machiavelli believed that Caterina had tried to poison the Pope, while historians, such as Jacob Burckhardt and Ferdinand Gregorovius are not certain. An inconclusive and unfinished trial took place, and Caterina remained imprisoned until 30 June 1501. At that time she was released by Yves d'Allègre, who had come to Rome with the army of Louis XII for the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples.
Alexander VI alleged that Caterina signed documents renouncing all of her fiefs, because in the meantime his son Cesare, with the acquisition of Pesaro, Rimini and Faenza, was appointed Duke of Romagna.
After a brief stay in the residence of Cardinal Riario, Caterina embarked from Livorno to Florence, where her children were waiting for her.
In Florence, Caterina lived in the villas which had belonged to her third husband Giovanni de' Medici, often staying at the Villa Medici di Castello. Soon, she complained of being mistreated and living in a straitened financial situation.
For many years she conducted a legal battle against her brother-in-law Lorenzo de' Medici for the custody of her son Giovanni, who was entrusted to him during her detention. In 1504, her son was finally returned to her, because the judge recognized that her confinement as a prisoner of war was not comparable to the detention of a criminal.
With the death of Pope Alexander VI on 18 August 1503, Cesare Borgia lost all his power. This reopened the possibility of restoring to power all the old feudal lords of the Romagna who had been deposed. Caterina lost no time in sending letters to adherents, and pleaded her case to Pope Julius II in her own name and that of her son Ottaviano Riario. The new Pope was favourable to restoring the lordships of Imola and Forlì to the Riarios, but the populace of both cities declared that a majority of the people opposed the return of the Countess, so that the domain passed instead to Antonio Maria Ordelaffi on 22 October 1503.
After having lost her last chance to return to her former power, Caterina spent the last years of her life dedicated to her children, in particular to her youngest son Giovanni (her favourite and the most like her in personality and character), her grandchildren, her experiments in alchemy, and her correspondence with former friends of hers.
In April 1509 Caterina was stricken by a severe case of pneumonia. She appeared to have recovered, but had a relapse of the disease, after which she made her will and arranged her burial. At the age of forty-six years, "The Tiger of Forlì", who had "frightened all of Romagna" died on 28 May 1509.
In her book The Warrior Queens: Boadicea's Chariot, British historian Antonia Fraser presents Caterina Sforza as a contrasting figure to her contemporary Isabella I of Castile. Fraser points out that whilst the murders ordered by Caterina were no worse than the massacres ordered by Isabella, historians have been much harsher in their judgment of the former. Fraser accounts for this fact by pointing out that Isabella's actions were sanctioned by the Church, as they were carried out in the name of Catholicism, whilst Caterina's were motivated by the personal, secular desire to preserve her property and rights.
From her first marriage with Girolamo Riario, Caterina had six children:
From her second marriage with Giacomo Feo, Caterina had one son:
From her third marriage to Giovanni de' Medici, Caterina had one son:
In June 1537, twenty-eight years after Caterina's death, her grandson Cosimo de' Medici, the only son of her own son Giovanni, became the Duke of Florence and in 1569, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Through him, Caterina was the direct ancestress of the later Grand Dukes of Tuscany, the Dukes of Modena and Reggio, and the Kings of Spain and France. Other notable descendants included Marie de Medici, King Charles II of England, Diana, Princess of Wales (through illegitimate Descendants of Charles II of England), Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Prince Harry and Prince George of Cambridge