FRANCESCO - Il Virtuoso”
BIANCA CAPPELLO - La Figlia di
PELLEGRINA - La Bella Bianchina”
True Lovers - and False
“We’ll have none of her among our dead!”
These were the brutal words of Cardinal
Ferdinando de’ Medici, at the villa of Poggio
a Caiano on the morning of 21st October 1587.
They formed the curt reply his Eminence vouchsafed
to Bishop Abbioso of Ravenna, “her” confessor.
The bishop, looking to favours from
Ferdinando, who succeeded Francesco as third Grand
Duke of Tuscany, sent overnight, the following message
to his new Sovereign:
“This moment at 8 p.m.
Her Most Serene Highness the Grand Duchess passed
to another life. The present messenger awaits
your Highness’ orders as to the disposal of
Yes, it was “the body”
of as loving a woman as ever lived in Florence.
She had been the most faithful of wives, the most attractive
of consorts, and one of the most generous of benefactresses.
It was “the body” of as unselfish a sister-in-law
as any man, high or low, ever had, who strove her
utmost to propitiate, screen, and honour the self-seeking
brother of her husband. It was “the body”
of Bianca Cappello!
Ferdinando had, for years, plotted
her death, and now he had accomplished his dastardly
design a design which also made him the
murderer of his brother, Francesco de’ Medici.
To be sure, the double tragedy was
adjudged no tragedy by such as waited for favours
from the coming ruler, and the mysteriously sudden
deaths of Francesco de’ Medici and his wife
Bianca were assigned to natural causes by well-paid
dependants upon Ferdinando’s bounty and favour.
The bloodguiltiness of fratricidal Ferdinando was
well whitewashed by his courtiers, and historians
have painted him in colours that ill befit his character.
So is history written ofttimes and again.
Pope Sixtus VI. had all the gruesome
circumstances placed before him, and whilst he was
too weak or too cunning it matters not which to
charge the princely murderer with his deeds, he tacitly
accepted the finding of his commission of inquiry: “Ferdinando
de’ Medici, Cardinal-Priest of San Giorgio,
Grand Duke of Tuscany, poisoned his brother and his
sister at Poggio a Caiano.”
Now must the story be told, gathered
out of records, more or less reliable more
or less biassed. It is a story which brings a
blush to the cheek and a lump in the throat, and calls
forth feelings of detestation for the murderer.
At the same time it is a thrilling story of a love
stronger than death.
Late one dark night, in November 1563,
a gondola shot out from the deep shadow of the church
of Sant’ Appolinare, upon the Rio della
Canonica, in Venice, dipped under the Ponte del
Storto, and sped its way, swiftly propelled by
two stalwart boatmen.
There was little use to cry out “Lei”
or “Stali,” for no other craft
was afloat at that hour, and the gondola was unimpeded
in its course. Crossing the Grand Canal the helmsman
made for the Guidecca, and on past the Punta
di Santa Maria, and on still, away across the
wide and silent lagune, right on to Fusina, on
In the herse were two persons a
boy and a girl fast clasped in each other’s
arms: she sobbing upon his breast, he comforting
her with hot kisses upon her lips. They were
Pietro de’ Buonaventuri and Bianca de’
Cappelli. The elopement was complete, and all
Pietro’s manhood rose as he held his sweetheart
in a strong embrace: he would guard her with his
life, come what might. He knew they were safe
from present pursuit, for to none had he revealed
his plans; but he also knew that a price would be
set upon their heads, and daggers dodge their course.
Stepping lightly ashore with his sweetheart, the young
man paid his boatmen and bade them not hurry back
to Venice. Then the young couple took the road
to Bologna, on their way to Florence. They had
very little money between them, but Bianca had stuffed
into her pocket her jewellery and Pietro had just
received his quarter’s salary.
At the Cappello mansion, on the morrow,
was a scene of wild confusion. Messer Bartolommeo
Cappello was like a madman; he demanded his daughter
at the hand of her faithful maid, Maria del Longhi,
and laid the matter at once before the Supreme Council.
On enquiry, Pietro Buonaventuri, who had been for
long Bianca’s most favoured admirer, was neither
at the Salviati bank, where he was occupied as a clerk,
nor at his lodgings.
The daughter of a Venetian patrician
gone off with a banker’s clerk! The idea
maddened the old man he would trace them,
and punish them, and all who had assisted their flight.
Messer Giovanni Battista Buonaventuri, Pietro’s
uncle, the manager of the bank; Bianca’s maid
and her parents; the two gondolieri and their
wives; and ever so many others were cast into prison.
No news came of the erring couple,
and now they were well ahead of pursuit. Two
thousand ducats was the blood-money offered for
Pietro, dead or alive. Assassins bought for gold
followed on the road to Florence, but never caught
up their quarry. Messer Bartolommeo’s vengeance
knew no bounds, and his new wife, Madonna Lucrezia
de’ Grimani-Contarini fanned the flames.
She hated Bianca.
The winter sun had long ago set beyond
the stone-pines of Monte Oliveto, and the deep
blue Tuscan sky had turned to sober slate, purpled
with the fading glow of northern crimson. It
was a night near Christmas, and Ser Zenobio Buonaventuri
sat at his table, in his modest little one-storied
house on the Piazza San Marco, putting the finishing
touches to his precis of the day’s notarial
work, in the Corte della Mercanzia.
His worthy spouse, Madonna Costanza’s weary
fingers had just completed the stitching of the last
of twelve pairs of kid gloves, for her employers,
of the Guild of the Fur and Skin Merchants the
Salvetti, who were her relatives.
They had been talking, as was their
wont, about their dashing, handsome son Pietro, the
pride of their hearts, who was away in Venice, a clerk
under his uncle, Giovanni Battista. They were
a lonesome couple, and they deplored their four years’
parting from their only boy. To be sure, he had
often, indeed regularly, written to them happy, contented
letters. Moreover, Messer Giovanni Battista had
sent them very satisfactory reports of his application
to business, but he named one subject, which filled
the hearts of the doting parents with apprehension it
was, of course, a story of romance. Pietro had
a sweetheart that in itself caused little
uneasiness; what healthy-minded young fellow had not!
But Pietro had an unusually amorous nature, and his
love escapades had not been few in Florence. In
Venice, “the Court of Venus,” he revelled
in the fair beauty and the freedom of maidens, so
much more lovely and so much less reserved, than the
Florentine girls he knew. But when Messer Giovanni
Battista named as his innamorata the young
daughter of one of the proudest patricians of the Serene
Republic, the worthy couple were in trepidation lest
the lad’s passion should lead to regrettable
No love was lost between the sister
Republics, and the feeling of hostility in public
matters was carried into private life. Pietro
never named the romance, but Ser Zenobio, by way of
meeting as was his wont his
troubles half way, penned anxious cautions to his son.
The Buonaventuri, though by no means an obscure family,
were not Grandi like the Cappelli, Lords of
Venice. Moreover, Bianca’s father was a
wealthy man and a member of the Supreme Council, whilst
Ser Zenobio was merely a modest notary of no great
fame or fortune.
It was bedtime, but hark! at the door
were shuffling steps and voices whispering; and presently
there came a gentle tap repeated once or
twice. Ser Zenobio rose to see what was passing
outside his house. Peering into the gloom he
saw two figures one a girl’s and
a voice he knew full well said:
“Father, we have come to crave shelter and protection.”
“Who are you? My boy Pietro!
And what are you doing here in Florence, and at this
time of night?”
Madonna Costanza was peeping over
his shoulder, and both of them were greatly agitated,
and awaited with anxiety Pietro’s reply.
“We have come from Venice and
are very tired. See, father and mother, this
Sternly answered Ser Zenobio.
“What do you mean, Pietro? What shame is
this you have done your parents? Who is Bianca,
and what are you doing with her in Florence?
You never said you were coming home. Explain
yourself, or come not into your father’s house.”
Heavy rain was falling, and Bianca
was weeping as Pietro led her into the light of the
candle his mother held.
“Let them come in anyhow, Zenobio,
and we can hear what they have got to say, without
the neighbours hearing us,” put in the tender-hearted
With that, Ser Zenobio gave his hand
to Bianca and drew her and Pietro within the door,
and then, in sterner tones, he commanded his son to
tell what he had done.
Briefly Pietro recounted the story
of his love and how Bianca returned it. He spoke
of Messer Bartolommeo’s harshness and of the
unkindness of Bianca’s stepmother, Madonna
Lucrezia de’ Grimani-Contarini the
Patriarch’s sister. He described their plight
and the perils which threatened them. But, when
he went on to hint at Bianca’s condition, the
loving heart of Madonna Costanza melted towards the
beauteous, weeping girl, and she drew her to her bosom
to embrace and comfort her.
Long and anxious vigil the four kept
that winter’s night. The outcome of their
deliberations was the marriage of Pietro and Bianca,
on 12th December, privately, at Ser Zenobio’s,
with the priestly blessing at San Marco’s across
It was deemed expedient that the young
people should conceal themselves as much as possible,
in view of the extreme measures taken by the Serene
Republic. If caught, Pietro was to be slain and
Bianca enclosed in a convent. The abduction of
a noble Venetian was a capital offence, and the girl’s
dowry was confiscated by the State.
Soon the news of the elopement ran
through Florence and set everybody talking. The
reward of two thousand gold ducats was a tempting
bait for desperadoes and others in need of coin.
Everybody wished to see the beauteous Venetian and
have a chat with bold Pietro, for, of course, no Florentine
blamed them! Who could?
Don Francesco, Duke Cosimo’s
eldest son, was in Bavaria making believe-courtship
with the Archduchess Joanne, the Emperor’s daughter,
when the gossip about Pietro and Bianca reached him.
He, of course, knew nothing of the Buonaventuri, nor
of the Cappelli, but romance is romance in every age
and degree of human life! He determined on his
return to Florence to find out the amorous young couple
and judge for himself of the charms of the fair girl-bride.
Away back, in the grounds of the monastery
of San Marco, was the garden-casino of Cosimo, “Padre
della Patria,” a delightful retreat.
Francesco received it as a gift from his father, and
there he was accustomed to entertain his friends and
Passing, on his way thither as
he often did, with a frolicsome party of young bloods the
humble dwelling of the Buonaventuri, he chanced, one
day, to look up at a half-open window the
jalousies were thrown back, and there, sitting
at her needlework, was the very girl he sought!
There could be no manner of doubt
who she was, no Florentine maiden was so fair, and
no eyes in Florence were so bright. Casually asking
a member of his suite whose house they were passing,
Don Francesco tossed up his glove at the girl and
Another person witnessed this love
passage, the Marchesa Anna Mondragone, wife of Francesco’s
old governor and his chamberlain she was
on the balcony of the house at the corner of the Piazza
to make her usual curtsey to the Prince. When
the Marchese came home that night, he told his wife
that the Prince had seen Bianca Buonaventuri, and had
enlisted his services to obtain an interview with the
Nothing does a woman of the world
love more than to be a go-between where sentimental
couples are concerned be it for their weal
or be it for their woe and so the Marchesa
sympathetically addressed herself to the diplomatic
task of bringing the two young people together.
She struck up a passing acquaintance with Madonna
Costanza, and upon the plea that she wished for the
opinion of her daughter-in-law upon the question of
a Venetian costume she was about to wear at a reception
at the palace, asked her to bring Bianca to the Mondragone
Accordingly, a few days after the
affair of the kid glove, the three women were closeted
in the Marchesa’s boudoir, where the Marchese
joined them. Calling off Bianca to look at some
jewellery, she whisked her into another room, and
presently, leaving her absorbed in the beauty of the
Bianca looked up, somewhat annoyed
to find herself alone, and, as she did so, she detected
a slight movement behind the arras over the door.
The next moment it was raised, and there stepped into
the apartment none other than Don Francesco de’
Bianca stood there, speechless and
embarrassed, but the Prince, approaching, took her
hand in his, kissed it, and placed her beside him
on a couch. When she had recovered from her surprise,
Bianca fell upon her knees and, weeping, besought
Francesco to befriend her and Pietro. Raising
her to the couch once more, he folded her in an impassioned
embrace, and promised his protection and what she would
Very greatly moved was the young man
by Bianca’s rare beauty of face and form, and
by the tenderness of her voice, and, perhaps more than
all, by the undoubting confidence she reposed in him.
Bianca was such a very different sort of girl to cold,
unattractive and ill-educated Giovanna.
Immediate steps were taken to obtain
the recension of the punitive decrees of the Venetian
Council, but they proved abortive, and nothing could
be done in Venice for Bianca and Pietro. In Florence
Don Francesco could do as he willed. His father,
Cosimo, had already made over to him much of his sovereign
In July 1564, Bianca Buonaventuri
became the mother of a little girl, to whom the name
Pellegrina her own dear mother’s name was
given. The days of convalescence quickly passed,
and Francesco paid his innamorata increasing
court. Upon Pietro and Bianca he bestowed a charming
palace, on the Lung ’Arno, and provided them
with ample means to maintain themselves and it.
He appointed Pietro Keeper of his Wardrobe and Clerk
of his Privy Closet, on condition that his fascinating
girl-wife should be regarded pretty much as “La
cosa di Francesco.”
The more the Prince saw of Bianca
the stronger grew his passion. She was perfectly
irresistible. After the fashion of the day, he
poured forth his devotion in graceful madrigals the first of which, began as
“A rich and shining Gem hath Dame Nature
Taken out of Heaven’s treasury, and
Wrapping it in a lustrous human veil
Hath bestowed it on me, saying, ’To thee
I give this beauteous Flora for thine own.’”
Meanwhile preparations were going
forward for the reception and marriage of the Austrian
Archduchess, who reached Florence on 16th November
1565. Reports of her husband’s infatuation
for Bianca Buonaventuri had of course travelled to
Vienna, and Giovanna had not long to wait for their
verification. She could not brook the fouling
of the marriage-bed nor permit the liaison
to go on undenounced.
Francesco met her ill-humour with
a frown. He pointed to the morals of her father’s
court, and to the Florentine cult of Platonism, and
he bade her mind her own business and not make troubles.
Her appeals to Duke Cosimo and to her brother the
Emperor Maximilian were in vain. Francesco plainly
hinted that she might go back to Vienna if she liked,
for nothing that she could say or do would alter his
admiration and his devotion for Bianca Buonaventuri.
The strictness of married life had long ago disappeared
from the conventions of Florentine society. Mutual
relationships proved that men might live as they pleased,
so long as they did not renounce the offspring, even
when they were assured that it was not their own.
The term “Partiti” “Sharers”
or “Partners” perhaps less
literally but more emphatically, “kindred souls,”
was bestowed upon this relationship. Still at
no time was Francesco a sensuous man or a libertine
like his father. His devotionally-affected mother,
Eleanora de Toledo, had trained him in moral ways,
and had called forth in him regard for religion and
sympathy for charitable objects. Possessed of
great self-command and reticence, he never betrayed
himself in any way; passionate he was beyond the ordinary,
but never revengeful. He loved one woman, and
only one, and to her he proved himself faithful until
death took them away together; but she was not Giovanna,
his political wife, she was Bianca, the wife of his
heart and mind.
Next to his love of Bianca was his
love of money: no prince of his house was ever
half so wealthy or so sparing. Avarice came to
him through the rapacity of Giovanna’s German
followers and through her own extravagance.
The year after his marriage, Bianca
Buonaventuri was introduced at Court as Bianca Cappello.
The young Duchess of course was furious, and pointedly
refused all intercourse with her rival. Bianca,
on the other hand, laid herself out to propitiate
the dour Austrian princess and to stifle slander.
Still a mere girl, she was in full command of all the
moves in woman’s strategy. There was no
school like that of Venice for the display of tact
and fascination. To be sure, she was living in
a crystal palace, but she was perfectly ready to repair
all damages. Bianca was severely upon her guard,
and her conduct was perfectly correct in every way.
Very rarely did young Cardinal Ferdinando
visit Florence, but in 1569, Cosimo, his father, sent
for him, that he might embrace him before he died,
being, as he thought, on the point of death. At
the magnificently immoral Court of the Vatican he
had heard the gossip about the lovely Venetian girl
who had so completely captured his brother Francesco.
Quite naturally, the by no means ascetic young ecclesiastic
desired greatly to see for himself the Venetian charmer,
and he journeyed to Florence, bent upon judging for
Francesco greeted Ferdinando quite
affectionately there was no reason why
he should not and unhesitatingly introduced
him to Bianca. At the impressionable age of twenty,
the young Prince fell at once under the spell of those
bewitching eyes. Who could resist her? In
the fulness of her womanhood Bianca Buonaventuri was
without rival among the fair women of Florence, and
the boy-Cardinal made, like all the rest, impassioned
love to her.
Back again in Rome and busy with his
plans for the great Medici Palace in the Eternal City
he lost none of his admiration for his brother’s
“Flora,” till evil tongues began to wag
around him. Was not he, Ferdinando, Don Francesco’s
heir-presumptive? Duchess Giovanna had given
her husband none but daughters; she, too, was in delicate
health and might die without a son being born.
What then? Why, of course, Francesco would marry
Bianca Buonaventuri, and by her secure the succession.
Whether he was destined for the Papacy or not, the
Grand Duchy was his by inheritance, and it behoved
him, they said, to guard his rights and further his
Ferdinando listened to this tittle-tattle
and it caused ambitious distrust of Francesco and
Bianca. As heir-presumptive to a temporal sovereignty,
he began to surround himself with all the attributes
and circumstances of his position. His palace
was regal in its magnificence, his entertainments
were upon a princely scale, and he assumed an overbearing
demeanour in his relations with Francesco.
Instigated by inveterate intriguers
in his entourage, he quite hypocritically affected
to be shocked at his brother’s liaison
with Bianca, although he made no demur at his father’s
relations with Eleanora degli Albizzi, Cammilla
de’ Martelli, and other innamorate.
Giovanna was only too delighted to have the invaluable
assistance of the young Cardinal in her campaign against
“the hated Venetian.” At length he
took the bold step of expostulating with Francesco
upon his intercourse with the captivating rival of
Giovanna. The Prince was furious, and warned
his brother never to name the subject again, and on
no account to meddle with his private affairs.
Ferdinando replied that he was quite
content to abstain at a price. The truth was,
that his lavish extravagance had exhausted his revenue
and restricted his powers of borrowing, and he was
in lack of funds for the maintenance of his state
In a weak moment Francesco gave heed
to Ferdinando’s stipulations, and provided him
with funds and increased his family allowance.
In gratitude, the Cardinal threw into his brother’s
teeth the fact of his position as heir-presumptive,
and insisted upon the purchase of a piece of land
at the confluence of the Pesa with the Arno. There
he built his Villa Ambrogiana, which became the seat
of an anti-Francesco cabal and the headquarters of
an elaborate system of paid spies and toadies.
In September 1571, Francesco issued
a decree which ennobled the family of Bianca’s
husband, and Ser Zenobio, unambitious, pottering notary
that he was, and Pietro, and all their male kith and
kin, were enrolled “inter nobiles, inter
agnationes et familias ceusetas et connumeratus.”
Pietro was now a gentleman of Florence, and he at once
assumed the airs of such, as he conceived they should
be, but his bad manners and his arrogance brought
upon him the contempt of the whole Court.
Francesco at first shielded his protege,
but his overbearing conduct and his importunities
at length alienated his regard, and he made no attempt
to conceal his displeasure. Bianca pleaded with
her husband in vain, success had turned his head,
and now came “the parting of the ways.”
Pietro had consented that Bianca should
be “La cosa di Francesco”; he too
would enjoy life, and he sought his compensation in
the embraces of the most attractive and most scheming
flirt in Florence, Madonna Cassandra, the wealthy
widow of Messer Simone de’ Borghiani born
a Riccio. Although well over thirty years of
age, she was run after by all the young gallants of
the Court and city. Two already had been done
to death for love of her mere boys Pietro
del Calca and Giovanni de’ Cavalcanti.
Pietro Buonaventuri vowed he would
marry her, but the Ricci would have none of him; and
he fell, one summer’s night, under the very windows
of his wife’s bedchamber, pierced with twenty-five
savage dagger thrusts. That same night it
was 27th August 1572 Madonna Cassandra was
stabbed, in her own apartment, also twenty-five times,
and two stark, mutilated corpses were mercifully borne
away, in the dawn, by the brethren of the Misericordia,
and given burial.
Bianca, widowed, demanded at the hand
of her princely lover justice for the spilling of
her husband’s blood; but, for answer, Francesco
drew her gently to his heart and said: “The
best thing I can do now, my own Bianca, is to make
you, before long, Grand Duchess of Tuscany!”
The Cardinal was keenly interested
in this tragedy, not indeed that he took any part
therein, but it had a distinct bearing upon his line
of conduct, and he noted with apprehension the redoubling
of Francesco’s devotion to “the hated
Bianca, of course, was perfectly aware
that she was the real cause of Ferdinando’s
animosity, in spite of his protestations of admiration
and the like. She set about to unmask his real
intentions and to circumvent his hypocrisy. Her
methods were at once original and full of tact, for
she disarmed his aggression by playing to his personal
vanity and by furthering his lust for money.
Not once, nor twice, but many times,
did Bianca plead with Francesco for his brother, and
always with success, and many a substantial sum of
money was lodged in the Roman Medici bank at his disposal.
Ferdinando began to realise that the only way to his
brother’s purse was by Bianca’s favour,
and he began to evince a distinctly amiable spirit
in his relations with her.
As marking the improvement in the
situation, the Cardinal accepted an invitation to
a family gathering at Poggio a Caiano in the autumn
of 1575. The Grand Duchess Giovanna quite properly
was the hostess, but Bianca Buonaventuri, who was
installed in a Casino in the park, which Francesco
had given her, and called “Villetta Bini,”
was of the party, the life and soul of all the entertainments.
During the festivities Bianca managed
to be tete-a-tete with her brother-in-law in
a secluded summer-house. The fascination of three
years before was again transcendent. “The
Venetian is irresistible,” he said afterwards,
“I cannot hate her, try how I will!” The
truth was, he was madly in love, and he owned it,
but his love was, after all, like the hot fumes of
a lurid fire.
The year 1576 was a black one in the
annals of the Medici. Two beautiful and accomplished
princesses of the ruling house were done to death by
jealous, unfaithful husbands.
Bianca Buonaventuri was stunned by
the terrible end of her dear sister-friends, Isabella
de’ Medici and Eleanora de Garzia de Toledo.
Would her turn come next? The three had been called
“The Three Graces of Florence,” and certainly
each had vied with the other in elegance and fascination,
but to Bianca the golden apple had been accorded unanimously.
Beauty and charm seemed to be magnets of destruction,
and Bianca was upon her guard!
So far as she herself was concerned,
she knew that at any time she might still fall a victim
to a Venetian desperado, or to a Florentine assassin,
and under every friendly guise she feared a foe.
With respect to the Grand Duchess
Giovanna and her detestation of Bianca, a story may
be told which has all the appearance at least of probability.
Giovanna expressed, not once, but often, her wish for
Bianca’s death. This, indeed, in those days,
and in Florence, the “City of Assassins,”
was as good as a judicial sentence. The Grand
Duchess, moreover, it was reputed, followed up her
words by action. “One day,” the story
goes, “in the month of March 1576, her carriage
chanced to meet that of Bianca’s upon the Ponte
SS. Trinità. She besought her
coachman to try and upset her rival, hoping that she
might fall into the river below and be drowned!
Conte Eliodoro del Castello, her Chamberlain,
saw the manoeuvre and prevented a deplorable fatality.”
Be this as it may, the Grand Duke
not only sympathised with Bianca’s fears, but
appointed certain of his own bodyguard to take up similar
duties near the person of Madonna Buonaventuri, and
her progresses henceforward were watched with as much
circumstance as his own. At the same time his
devotion to the woman he loved increased from day to
day. The perils she was called upon to meet were
incurred through her unquestioning love of him.
This he knew well enough.
Writing on 29th March 1576, Carlo
Zorzi, the Ambassador of the Serene Republic, and
a warm adherent of his fascinating fellow-countrywoman,
says: “I visited the Grand Duke’s
Villa Pratolino, and also Madonna Bianca Buonaventuri’s
charming retreat, the Orte Oricellari, and her pretty
Villa della Tana, which he had lately
given her, looking upon the Arno, and I observed Don
Francesco’s intimacy with the Madonna. I
noted also her extraordinary influence for good upon
him.... They appear to be made for one another,
and to be absorbed in the same occupations and interests....
She had but to name an object for charity or patronage,
and at once she had his hearty approval.”
Francesco never concealed his concern
at having no son. With his own physicians and
the physicians of the Grand Duchess he held many consultations:
not a few quacks and empirics also were sought to for
nostrums and charms which should obtain by science
what nature had so far withheld. He and Bianca
held anxious counsel, for he knew that she would lay
down her life for him, and would grant him every facility
which it was in her loving power to supply.
Reflecting deeply, Bianca saw only
one situation: Giovanna was barren of male issue,
why should not she herself become once more a mother the
mother of a son, a son of Francesco!
This idea haunted her, but all the
same she had no conception; and then a design presented
itself to her weary brain as natural as
it was indefensible. For some time she had been
getting stout her age, her constitution,
and her rich living were all conducive to that condition.
If she was not to be the mother of his child by natural
means, she could be so by a subterfuge, which her
embonpoint would uphold!
In the spring of 1576 Bianca Buonaventuri
gave out that she was enceinte and began forthwith
her preparations for accouchement. She
left her palace in the Via Maggio, under the shadow
of the Pitti Palace, and took up her abode in the
Casino of the Orte Oricellari, which she had lately
purchased from the family of Rucellai, and surrounded
herself with confidential friends and attendants.
The denouement came on 29th
August, when the Grand Duke was informed by Bianca’s
surgeon-accoucheur, that she had been delivered of
a child a boy! Francesco was almost
frantic with delight, and he hastened to his beloved
Bianca’s bedside. Picking up his
child, he fondled him tenderly and almost smothered
him with kisses, and at once gave orders for a ceremonial
baptism. Antonio, he called him after
the kindly patron saint of that auspicious day when
he personally handed the child to the Archbishop at
The Grand Duchess was inexpressibly
shocked, she refused to see her husband, shut herself
up in her own apartments, and demanded an escort to
Vienna! The news was not long in reaching Rome,
and it made Cardinal Ferdinando furious. In a
moment all the blandishments of “the Venetian”
were dissipated; the better terms lately established
in Florence were renounced, and the angry Prince,
in unmeasured language, asserted that the child was
He knew well enough that what had
come to pass, unless unchallenged, would imperil his
presumptive title. First it was sought to throw
doubt upon Bianca’s actual maternity, and next
to secure the person of the little boy.
Bianca and Antonio, under a strong
guard, were sent off to Pratolino, hers and Francesco’s
best-loved retreat they had together planned
its beauties. There, during her make-believe
convalescence, she came to consider the very serious
nature of her love’s stratagem, and she determined
to make a full confession to her lover. The Grand
Duke was thunderstruck, but at once he recognised
the emphatic importance of secrecy; for, as Vincenzio
Borghini quaintly said: “Florence was the
greatest market in the world for tissues and materials
of all kinds, and full of evil eyes, and ears,
and tongues!” Meanwhile Ferdinando had not let
the water run under the Arno bridges for nothing.
He discovered the surgeon-accoucheur who had attended
Madonna Bianca one Giovanni Gazzi.
He maintained the fact of the confinement, but incidentally
named the wet nurse, Giovanna Santi. This woman
admitted that she had been instrumental in the introduction
into Madonna Bianca’s chamber of the newly-born
son of a reputable woman, who lived with her husband
behind the Stinche.
No trace could be found of these humble
parents of Francesco’s supposititious child,
and all Ferdinando’s enquiries were fruitless.
Many were the tales rife, in and out of the palaces
and markets, but neither the Grand Duke nor Bianca
took any steps to refute them, and after being, as
usual, a nine days’ wonder, the subject dropped,
The Grand Duchess Giovanna gave birth,
on 19th May, the following year, to a son a
sickly child to be sure, but the undoubted heir of
his father. Ferdinando’s hopes were shattered,
but he had not done with Bianca Buonaventuri.
Within nine months, on 9th February, Giovanna died,
somewhat suddenly, and the Cardinal failed not to intimate
that Bianca was the cause thereof, and to name poison
as her means! The truth is, that the Grand Duchess
one day getting out of her sedan-chair, slipped upon
the polished marble floor, and, being again near her
confinement, a miscarriage resulted, from which she
Within two months of the burial of
sour-tempered, unlovable Giovanna, the Grand Duke
married Bianca, Pietro Buonaventuri’s widow,
privately in the chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio.
One immediate result of this marriage
was the quasi-legitimisation of the child Antonio a
vigorous youngster and certain to outlive frail little
Reconciliation with Venice, public
marriage, and Coronation were in due order celebrated,
and Bianca Cappello, “the true and undoubted
daughter of Venice,” was enthroned in the Duomo,
as the true and lawful Grand Duchess of Tuscany!
Cardinal Ferdinando watched all these cérémonials
from afar the only one of his family who
declined to honour the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess
with his presence during the festivities.
Represented by an inferior official
of his household, he remained in Rome, closely shut
up in his palace, a spectacle to the world at large
of ungovernable prejudice and foiled ambition.
His cogitations, however, were very grateful,
for he was working out in his intriguing brain a ready
method for ridding himself, not alone of the two children,
bars to his pretensions, but of the Grand Duke and
Grand Duchess also! Ferdinando was determined
to succeed Francesco as Sovereign of Tuscany, come
Never was a man more changed than
the Grand Duke Francesco when he placed the new Grand
Duchess beside him on his throne. Twelve years
of gloom and disappointment gave way before the advent
of the “Sun of Venice.”
The best, happiest, and most popular
years of his reign exactly synchronise with the period
of Bianca’s ascendency. No strife of parties,
no pestilence, no foreign war, black-marked those years.
Arts and crafts revived with the increase of population
and of confidence, and men began to agree that there
was something after all to be said and
to be said heartily for Macchiavelli’s
“Prince,” and his idea of a “Il
Governo d’un solo.”
In this glorious eventide of the Renaissance
were reproduced some of the magnificence of its heyday,
under Lucrezia and Lorenzo de’ Medici.
In the early days of Francescos infatuation for Bianca he
had given forth an impassioned madrigal, which once more he sang to her as his
“Around my frail and battered barque
There is always serenely swimming,
And wakefully watching me,
Lest I perish, a beautiful and powerful Dolphin.
Warn’d and shielded from every buffet
Of the deadly wave, I feel secure.
Fierce winds no longer cause me fear.
I seek succour no more from oars and sails
Safely accompanied by my loving Guardian!”
Francesco’s devotion for Bianca
continued as the years sped on their way, and he noted
with supreme satisfaction that every word and action
of hers were marked with unquestioning affection.
The loves of Francesco and Bianca at Pratolino recalled
those of Giuliano and Simonetta at Fiesole, whilst
the wits, and beaux, and beauteous women who consorted
there, revived the glories of the Platonic Academy.
Montaigne, who visited the Grand Duke
and Grand Duchess, both at the Pitti Palace and at
Pratolino, in 1580, says: “I was surprised
to see her take the place of honour above her husband....
She is very handsome ... and seems to have entirely
subjugated the Prince.”
The Cardinal was not unobservant of
the trend of Florentine affairs. Plots and counterplots
were quite to his liking. The Pucci conspiracy
and the vengeance upon the Capponi affected him closely.
Francesco was not ignorant of the patronage and encouragement
vouchsafed to his secret enemies by his eminent brother
in Rome and he watched each move.
The peace and prosperity which marked
the progress of the “City of the Lion and the
Lily,” after Bianca Buonaventuri mounted the
Grand Ducal throne, were not regarded complacently
by the uneasy Cardinal. The very fact that she
was the admirable cause thereof, embittered his Éminence’s
soul, and his spleen was mightily enlarged by the creatures
who pandered to his vicious ill-nature. The fascination
of the Goddess engendered detestation as love was
turned once more to hate in the crucible of his passions.
“She is nothing but a strumpet,
and without a drop of royal blood,” so he reasoned,
and so he spoke; and he backed up his aphorism by conniving
at the foul report in 1582, which accused “Bianca
Buonaventuri” as he always styled
her of causing poison to be administered
to poor little Filippo Giovanna’s
puny, sickly child! He even had the audacity to
accuse Francesco of complicity, because he had ordered
no elaborate court mourning, conveniently ignoring
the fact that a gracious compliment was paid to Spanish
custom and court etiquette, by the simplicity of the
Plotters of other men’s wrongs
were ever inconsistent! One would have thought
that Ferdinando would have hailed the removal of the
only legitimate heir, before himself, to the Grand
Duchy, but the delirium of jealousy and the fury of
animosity in the Cardinal’s evil heart, found
a sort of culmination two years later. Bianca’s
daughter, Pellegrina, the only offspring of Pietro
Buonaventuri, gave birth to a child. She had
married, shortly after the public nuptials of the Grand
Duke and Grand Duchess, Count Ulisse Bentivoglio
di Magiola of Bologna a by no means
happy marriage as it turned out. This child, a
boy, their first-born indeed poor, pretty
Pellegrina’s love-child the Cardinal
affirmed “Bianca Buonaventuri” had tried
to pass off as her own another subterfuge
confirmative of the first, and that his brother
was conversant with the intrigue!
The Grand Duke met the gossip with
impassive silence the wisest thing he could
have done and the Grand Duchess laid herself
out to make Cardinal Ferdinando utterly ashamed of
himself and his foul aspersions. The integrity
of her conduct, and Francesco’s sapient conduct
of the Government were the admiration of all Italy.
So struck was the Pope with the peace
and happiness of the Medicean rule, and the personal
characteristics of “the good wife and beneficent
consort,” as he styled her, that he bestowed
upon the Grand Duchess the rare distinction of the
“Golden Rose”! At first his Holiness
desired the Cardinal de’ Medici to head the
special mission as Legate, and talked seriously to
his Eminence upon his relations with the Sovereigns
of Tuscany. He pointed out quite clearly the
line of conduct Ferdinando should pursue the
direct converse of the position he had taken up.
The Cardinal began to reflect that
the death of little Prince Filippo, and the fact that
Francesco had not proclaimed Antonio his heir-apparent,
left him at all events the undoubted heir-presumptive.
Consequently, when the Florentine Mission, under Archbishop
Giuseppe Donzelle of Sorrento, returned to Rome,
and the Legate conveyed to him a cordial invitation
from the Tuscan Sovereigns to visit Florence, he accepted
it with the best grace he could command keeping,
at the same time, his true feelings and intentions
Pageant and dirge trip up each other
often enough in the course of human life! The
lives especially of sovereigns, through the strong
light ever beating upon their thrones, are always
exposed to vicissitudes of fortune. The Papal
Mission had scarcely passed out of recollection, and
everything in Florence was happy and prosperous sunshine
is always brightest before eclipse when
the spectre of tragedy again cast its dark shadow
over the path of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess.
A right merry party was that which
set off from the Palazzo Pitti to the Villa Poggio
a Caiano one bright morning in October 1587. The
“hunter’s moon was up,” for the
harvest had been gathered in, and the new luscious
grapes were in the vat. Pheasant awaited the coming
of the sportsmen in the home-coppices, wild boar in
the thickets of Monte Ginestra, and other game
was ready for the hawk-on-wrist and the dog-in-leash
along the smiling valley of the Ombrone.
Hunting and sporting parties were
now quite in the Grand Duchess’ way. Unused
to such exploits upon the canals and lagunes of
Venice, she had, from the moment of her elevation,
sympathetically entered into the joys of horsemanship
and the pastimes of the countryside. Few could
beat her in point-to-point she feared no
obstacle, nor dreaded accident, the charge of wild
game terrified her not.
“Magnificent,” she wrote,
on 15th November 1586, “was the sport....
I actually saw four very large boars fall dead at
my feet.” The Grand Duke, of course, as
became “a perfect gentleman,” was at one
with Bianca in love for, and skill in, all exercises
in the open air. His seat was firm, his aim was
good, and he revelled in the chase.
Still of Poggio a Caiano he had unpleasing
memories, for there he met Giovanna of Austria, and
had the first taste of her ill-humour as he rode by
her side at her scornful entry into Florence, twelve
years before. But Bianca had wrought a vast change
in his disposition and environment. She had interwoven
fancy and reality, and Francesco was now serenely
happy. Often did he sing tender madrigals as they
together sauntered in the woods and indulged in pastoral
“Sing! sing! ye birds I am wide awake
Tho’ silent ’mid your tender harmony;
And yet I would fain join your sweet concert,
Whilst upon the face of fair Bianca,
’Mirror of Love’ I fix my yearning
The Cardinal was one of this particular
hunting party indeed, the hunt had been
arranged entirely in his honour, and he expressed himself
as charmed with everything and especially
with the Grand Duchess. This was his first State
visit to his brother’s Court and his affability
knew no bounds. Bianca, on her part, laid herself
out to entertain her brother-in-law, and made herself
especially attractive and gracious. The presence
of the Archbishop of Florence added greatly to her
satisfaction and Francesco’s. Very wisely,
young Antonio was sent to Pratolino with his governor
and tutors, and in the merry company no personality
could, in any way, recall unhappy incidents of the
past. The days were passed in the exhilaration
of sport, and the evening repasts were followed by
animated conversation, ballets, music and recitations.
All the brightest ornaments of the Court were present
at the Grand Duchess’ behest.
Bianca, herself, in the highest spirits,
dressed, sang, and danced, bewitchingly. The
frolics of the Orte Oricellari were transferred to
the delightful hunting-box, and everybody and everything
was as gay as gay could be, and no one troubled about
Alas, when the merriment was at its
height, a sudden stop was put to all the festivities,
for, during the night of 8th October, the Grand Duke
was taken ill with severe spasms and violent sickness.
The Grand Duchess was summoned to his side, and full
of alarm and devotion, she at once despatched a mounted
messenger into Florence to command the attendance
of the Court physicians Messeri Giulio Agnolo
da Barga and Ferdinando Cino da Roma.
They assured her that their princely
patient was merely suffering from an error in diet the
dish of mushrooms, of which he had partaken freely
overnight, had not been well prepared but
they considered that all ill effects would disappear
as suddenly as they had arisen. The report of
Francesco’s illness reached the Vatican, and
the Pope addressed a kindly letter to the Grand Duchess,
conveying a good-natured homily to the Grand Duke
upon the evils of gluttony!
Bianca cast aside her sparkling coryphean
tinsel, and, putting on a quiet gown and natty little
cap, appointed herself nurse-in-chief to her dear
husband, and no one was better fitted for the post.
Torquato Tasso, her Poet-Laureate, noted her tender,
compassionate character and her sweet sympathy with
human infirmities. In 1578 he had put forth the
first of his Cinquanta Madrigali, with a pathetic
dedication to the Grand Duchess.
“Had your Highness,” he
wrote, “not experienced yourself both good and
evil fortune, you could not so perfectly understand,
as you do, the misfortunes of others.”
He goes on, in his Rime, to extol his patroness:
“Lady Bianca, a kindly refuge
Holds and cheers one in sad and weary pain.”
Matters assumed, however, a very different
aspect on the morning of the tenth, for the Grand
Duchess was seized with symptoms exactly similar to
those of the Grand Duke, whose condition by no means
warranted the confidence of the physicians. Alarm
spread through the villa and the guests departed in
the greatest anxiety. The Cardinal alone remained,
and his lack of solicitude and general indifference
gave the members of the suite occasion for remark
He assumed the air of the master of
the place, and gave orders as he deemed well.
Into the household he introduced some servants of his
own, and ordered out his Florentine bodyguard.
Urgent messages passed to and fro between him and
his brother Piero de’ Medici, and communications
were opened with Domina Cammilla, the Cardinal’s
stepmother in the convent of Saint Monica. These
did not allay the universal distrust.
Bianca’s own physician failed
to diagnose her indisposition, whilst the Court physicians
scouted the idea already being translated
into words that the sudden attacks of the
Grand Ducal couple were due to poison.
What else could it be? The symptoms pointed that
way and no other!
On the third day tertiary fever intervened,
with incessant thirst and fits of delirium, and Francesco’s
condition caused the gravest anxiety. Bianca
was inconsolable. Unable to wait upon him, and
suffering exactly as was he, she penned, propped up
with pillows, a piteous appeal to the Pope, in which
she craved his Holiness’s prayers and benedictions,
and also his fatherly protection for Francesco and
herself. She said: “I do not feel
at all sure of the Cardinal.” The pontiff
replied sympathetically, and assured her that no wrong
should be done her or the Grand Duke by anybody.
Francesco showed no signs of improvement,
but gradually got weaker. When too late for any
remedial measures to have effect, the physicians, in
private conference, agreed that the cause of his seizure
was poison, but looking from the clenched
hand of the dying prince to the open palm of his successor they,
in sordid self-interest, held their tongues. Who
had administered the fatal drug, and when, and where,
had better not be published! If by a fraternal
hand, then it was no concern of theirs!
The Grand Duke expired in agony on
the tenth day after his seizure. Bianca could
not leave her couch to soothe his last moments.
She was nearly as far gone as he, and her attendants
waited upon her with the gloomiest forebodings.
To her impassioned cries for her husband, they returned
deceptive answers. None of her kith and kin were
near to comfort her. Her only brother, Vettor,
had been dismissed the Tuscan Court in the year of
her coronation for unseemly and presumptuous behaviour,
and his wife went back with him to Venice. There
was no time and no one to correspond with her favourite
cousin Andrea. Her tenderly-loved daughter, Pellegrina
was at Bologna, nursing her own little Bianca, lately
born, and could not travel so far as Florence.
Little Antonio would have been an
affectionate companion in his loving foster-mother’s
illness, but the child was at Pratolino with Maria
and Eleanora, unhappy Giovanna’s daughters.
The former, just fifteen years old, had been Bianca’s
special care. She was a precocious child, and
her stepmother imparted to her some of her own delightful
inspirations the two were inseparable.
What a comfort she would have been in gentle ministrations
to the suffering Grand Duchess!
Perhaps, had pain-racked, dying Bianca
imagined the splendid destiny of the attractive young
Princess Maria, she might have gathered no little
solace. Could she but have seen her own example
and her precepts reincarnated in a Queen of France for
Maria became the consort of Henry II., and ruled him,
his court and realm she would have turned
her face to the wall with greater equanimity.
Just before his death the Grand Duke
sent for Ferdinando, told him he had been poisoned
by no one but himself, and charged him with the double
murder, for he had constant news, of course, of Bianca’s
illness. He asked him in that solemn hour to
honour both of them in burial, to protect the little
boy Antonio and his two young daughters, Maria and
Eleanora, and to treat kindly all who had been faithful
and true to Bianca and himself. Then he gave
him the password for the Tuscan fortresses, and asked
for his confessor, and so he passed away. As soon
as Francesco was dead, Ferdinando demanded to be admitted
to the bedside of Bianca. Concealing from her
the fatal news, he intimated that Francesco had consigned
to him the conduct of affairs, and in the most heartless,
inhuman fashion possible, bade her prepare for death!
“See,” he added, “I
have brought your friend, Abbioso; you may as well
make your confession to him as Francesco has done to
Bianca, though only partially conscious,
knew exactly what the Cardinal meant, and railed at
him for his cruelty. In delirium she made passionate
appeals to Francesco, and wildly denounced her treacherous
brother-in-law. Her cries resounded through the
villa, but they stirred no feeling of regret or compunction
in Ferdinando’s breast. He gloated, fiend-like,
over his victim’s sufferings. It was not
by chance he procured the potent poison he had used.
The empiric-medico at Salerno had been well paid to
furnish a potion that should, by its slow but deadly
action, prolong the tortures of the sufferers!
A less vindictive murderer would have secured his
victim’s quick release, but, during ten terrible
days of sickness, delirium and agony, he witnessed
the inevitable progress of his vengeance! If
Cosimo, his father, had called his young son Garzia
“Cain,” what would not he have called the
man, the bloodthirsty Ferdinando?
Bianca’s illness followed precisely
the course of the Grand Duke’s. The tearful
faces of her attendants, and the noise of preparations
for his burial, conveyed to her in calmer moments
the terrible truth, and she had no longer any wish
to live parted from Francesco. Bianca
was already dead. She called the bishop and made
a full confession of her whole life’s story,
hiding nothing, palliating nothing. Out of a full
heart she spoke that heart which had been
the source of all her love and her happiness, her
misery and her sin.
Antonio she commended to Bishop Abbioso’s
care, and begged him send the news of her death and
Francesco’s to Cavaliere Bartolommeo Cappello
at Venice. After absolution and last communion,
Bianca Cappello, “Daughter of Venice,”
Grand Duchess of Tuscany, breathed her last in peace the
delirium having abated on the evening of
30th October, just two days after her husband.
A post-mortem examination,
or at least the form of one, upon the Grand Duke revealed,
it was said, advanced disease of the liver, the consequences
of his unwisdom in the use of cordials and élixirs!
With the connivance of the Court physicians, Ferdinando
put out a proclamation that the Grand Duke and Grand
Duchess he was compelled to use the title
then in speaking of Bianca had died from
“attacks of malarial fever, induced by the unhealthy
atmosphere of Poggio a Caiano.”
Francesco’s obsequies were attended
by all the stately ceremonies usual in the Medici
family. Conveyed into Florence by the Misericordia
on the evening of his death, his body was exposed
for three days in state in the Palazzo Pitti, and
then carried in solemn procession to the church of
San Lorenzo for burial.
If merely to save appearances, or
to conceal his real intention, the new Grand Duke
ordered the body of the Grand Duchess to be placed
beside that of her husband in the Cappella Medici
of the church. For six brief hours it was suffered
to remain, and then, at midnight, agents of Ferdinando,
well paid for their profanity, deported all that was
mortal of the brilliant “woman whom he hated”
to an unknown grave in the paupers’ burial plot
beyond the city boundary! “For,” said
he, “we will have none of her among our dead!”
Such was the end of the beautiful
and accomplished Bianca Cappello “Bianca,
so richly endowed,” as wrote one of her panegyrists,
“by nature, and so refined by discipline, able
to sympathise with and help all who approached her her
fame for good will last for ever!” The wiles
of the serpent and his cruel coils had crushed the
“Daughter of Venice”: it was the
triumph of an unworthy man over a lovable woman.
She was not the only victim Ferdinando’s poison
overpowered Giovanni de’ Pucci, whom
the Pope was about to advance to the Cardinalate, an
inoffensive ecclesiastic, incurred Cardinal Ferdinando’s
displeasure by his sympathy with the Grand Duchess.
He died mysteriously after drinking a glass of wine
which Ferdinando had poured out for him!
Bianca had not been many days buried
when ominous reports began to be rife all over Florence
and along the countryside. People asked each
other why the body of the Grand Duchess had been snatched.
“Was it,” they said, “to hide the
real culprit and to stifle awkward questions?”
The tongues of the night-birds, who had thrown that
precious body aside contemptuously, and had not been
permitted to mark the grave in any way, were loosened,
they gave the name of their employer Ferdinando’s
That was quite enough to fix preferentially
the guilt upon the guilty party, but when the medical
advisers of the new Grand Duke admitted reluctantly
that neither Francesco nor Bianca had died from malarial
causes, the chitter-chatter of the villa and the palace
became unmuzzled, and first one and then another domestic more
or less personal contributed his piece
of private knowledge of the facts of the double tragedy.
Putting these all together piecemeal,
the story reads somewhat as follows: Cardinal
Ferdinando had for a very long time determined that
it was absolutely essential to his succession to the
Grand Duchy that Don Francesco should not be permitted
to have a child a boy, by his second wife,
Francesco’s health was indifferent
and he seemed likely not to live long, but, be that
as it might, the Cardinal joined the hunting-party
at Poggia a Caiano fully intent upon making an
attempt upon the lives of both Francesco and Bianca.
Among his suite was a valet, one Silvio, a man of
fiendish ingenuity, who had made himself invaluable
to his master in many an intrigue. To him Ferdinando
committed the task of mixing the poison, which he
procured from Salerno, in the food or beverage of the
Grand Ducal couple.
Silvio made several attempts to accomplish
his commission, but the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess
did not touch the dishes specially treated
as they passed from the kitchen to the hall whilst
in their cooling wine cups, so much beloved of Francesco,
the poison failed of its effect. To be sure,
two days before the Grand Duke’s actual seizure,
he rejected a game-pasty which had a peculiar taste,
and the Grand Duchess had, as she thought, detected
her brother-in-law playing with the wine glasses,
which she at once caused to be replaced by others.
Upon the evening when a ragout of
mushrooms was served at the supper-table, it was observed
that the Cardinal quite emphatically declined to partake
of the dish, but that he pressed Francesco and Bianca
to eat largely of it! Bianca ate sparingly, and
advised her husband to follow her example; her intuition
perceived danger in the delicacy, alas, it was in
This was all, perhaps, that came out
concerning the tragedy, but the Cardinal met the story
with another. He caused it to be bruited about
that Bianca had tried to circumvent his death!
For this purpose she had herself made a cake, which
she urged him to eat, but which Francesco insisted
upon tasting, whereupon she consumed what he had left.
The Cardinal further put into the Grand Duchess’s
mouth the plausible lament; “We will die together
if Ferdinando escapes!”
Nobody believed this version, which
merely confirmed the real truth, for neither Francesco
or Bianca had ever expressed a wish for Ferdinando’s
Within three hours of the death of
Francesco, Ferdinando rode swiftly into Florence,
accompanied by a suite of his own creatures not
a single officer of the Grand Ducal house accompanied
him. His escort was fully armed and so was Ferdinando.
Stopped at the gate by the guard, he gave, to the
utter surprise of the subaltern, the Grand Ducal password,
and was accorded the Sovereign’s salute.
Thence he passed at a gallop to the Palazzo Pitti,
where he placed personally his seal upon the great
doors, and then put up at the Palazzo Medici.
A messenger was despatched before
dawn to the Dean of the Duomo to order the big bell
to sound. This was the first intimation to Florence
that the Grand Duke Francesco was dead. The Lords
of the Council hastened from their beds to the Palazzo
Vecchio, where Ferdinando joined them, and, there
and then, required them to pay him their allegiance.
Thus Ferdinando de’ Medici became
third Grand Duke of Tuscany. His character as
a ruler may not be discussed here at length, but of
him it has been succinctly said: “He had
as much talent for government as is compatible with
the absence of all virtue, and as much pride as can
exist without true nobility of mind.”
When Pietro Buonaventuri so complacently
resigned his bewitching young wife to be the plaything
of Don Francesco de’ Medici, he also yielded
up the guardianship of his little daughter, Pellegrina,
and she lived with her mother in the private mansion
Bianca had received from the Prince near the Pitti
At the time of the assassination of
Pietro the child was eight years old a
lovely girl, resembling, in person and manners, her
attractive mother. The Prince took her under
his special care, in fact adopted her, and treated
her as if she was his own dear daughter. Naturally,
the Duchess Giovanna resented this arrangement, and
strictly forbade her own daughter, Eleanora a
year Pellegrina’s junior to have anything
to do with the base-born child of her hated rival.
Nevertheless, the sparkling, merry
little girl became the pet of the Court where
she was always greeted as “La Bella Bianchina.”
and no one dreamed of throwing her father’s
evil career in her face. At the public marriage
of the Grand Duke and the widowed Bianca Buonaventuri,
Pellegrina was, of course, a prominent figure.
She had grown tall and had inherited the charming
traits of her sweet mother. She was fourteen
years old, and eligible as the bride of any acceptable
suitor. Her dowry was considerable; equal indeed
to that of the Princess Eleanora; and the Grand Duke
was no less solicitous than the Grand Duchess about
the choice of a husband.
At first it was hoped that a young
Florentine might be the successful lover, and indeed
such an one appeared to have been secured, when young
Pietro Strozzo the son of Messer
Camillo di Matteo negli Strozzi one
of Pellegrina’s sponsors at her baptism was
judged worthy of the matrimonial prize. They
were accordingly betrothed, but the inconstancy of
Love was once more proved, for the young fellow was
a wayward youth, and, although only seventeen, had
fixed his affections elsewhere!
The match was broken off, but within
a year of Pietro’s renunciation another aspirant
for Pellegrina’s hand and dowry appeared in the
person of a distinguished young foreigner Conte
Ulisse Bentivoglio de’ Magioli da
Bologna. He was reputed to be the natural
son of Signore Alessandro d’Ercole Bentivoglio,
and had been adopted by his maternal uncle, Conte
Giorgio de’ Magioli. His mother’s
name was Isotta a beautiful girl at the
Court of the Lords of Bologna, who had romantic relations
with both Signore Alessandro and Conte Giorgio.
Which of the two was Conte Ulisse’s father mattered
far less, from a matrimonial point of view, than the
fact that the prospective bridegroom was unusually
wealthy and well-placed.
Conte Ulisse, twenty years of
age, went to Florence along with the Bologna deputation
to greet Grand Duke Francesco upon his marriage with
Bianca Buonaventuri. Then it was that he first
saw Pellegrina, and was accepted as her betrothed
husband. He remained in Florence a considerable
time, and took a leading part in the splendid festivities
and the notable giostre, wherein he was hailed
as a champion in the “Lists.”
The marriage was celebrated three
months after the Grand Ducal wedding, and, amid the
tears of her mother, Pellegrina departed with her husband
for Bologna. Everything went well for a time with
the youthful Count and Countess. Grand Duchess
Bianca paid them several visits, and Countess Pellegrina
spent much time in Florence. For example, she
took part in the marriage ceremonies of Virginia de’
Medici, unhappy Signora Cammilla’s child, in
1586, with Don Cesare d’Este. The year after
her coronation the Grand Duchess went in state to
Bologna, to assist at the accouchement of her
daughter. A little son made his appearance, and
as though to fix the real parentage of the Count,
he was baptised Giorgio.
Two more sons came to seal the happiness
of the young couple Alessandro and Francesco and
two daughters Bianca and Vittoria and
then the happy relations between the Count and Countess
underwent a change, and her husband’s love ceased
to peep into Pellegrina’s heart. The Count
was much occupied with military matters, like most
young nobles of his age; he also undertook diplomatic
duties, and was sent, in 1585, as the special ambassador
of Bologna, to congratulate Pope Sixtus V. upon his
elevation to the Pontifical throne.
At the Roman Court he met Don Piero
de’ Medici the Florentine envoy and,
through him, got into evil company. He returned
to Bologna unsettled in his feelings, and looking
for excitement and illicit intercourse. His passion
for Pellegrina was passing away, and he sought not
her couch but the company of a lovely girl of Bologna
who had fascinated him.
By degrees his love for his sweet
wife grew cold, and at length he had the effrontery
to establish his innamorata in his own mansion.
Pellegrina protested in vain, but the more she admonished
her husband the more flagrant became the liaison.
Cast off and even spurned in her own house, the poor
young Countess longed for her dear, dead mother’s
presence. She had now no one to counsel and comfort
her. Left pretty much to herself, she yearned
for companionship and love. She was only twenty-four,
and still as attractive as could be.
What she sought came at last, when
young Antonio Riari took up his residence at Bologna
as a student-in-law. He was the great-grandnephew
of the infamous creature of reprobate Pope Sixtus IV. Count
Girolamo de’ Riari of the Pazzi Conspiracy
a hundred years before. Good-looking, gay, amorous,
and blessed with robust health and ample means, the
young man was the lover of every pretty girl.
Attracted mutually to one another,
the Countess Pellegrina yielded herself to her admirer’s
embraces although Antonio was a mere lad
of seventeen. The intimacy grew until news of
it reached Count Ulisse’s ears in the boudoir
of his sweetheart! The gossip doubtless was garnished
to the taste of the retailers and of the receiver.
The Count turned upon his wife as
he might have been expected to do, seeing that he
had habitually been unfaithful, and taxed her with
unfaithfulness! Innocently enough, Pellegrina
told him exactly how matters stood, craved his forgiveness,
and begged for the restitution of marital rights.
Conscious of his own turpitude and irregularity of
life, he met her protestations with scorn, and, seeing
in the episode an opportunity of legalising his illicit
lusts, he denounced her publicly and set spies to
report her conduct.
These mercenaries, knowing the mind
of their master, did not hesitate to translate his
words into deeds; and very soon they were able to realise
their dastardly purpose. Although the Countess
had warned young Riario of the danger which menaced
them both, and was, for a time, more circumspect in
her intercourse with her lover, the fascination of
mutual passion overbore the dictates of prudence.
Like a “bolt from the blue”
fell the blow or blows which,
if not delivered by Count Ulisse in person, were
his de jure. Two paid assassins chanced
upon the loving couple one day, clasped in each other’s
arms, in a summer-house in a remote part of the Bentivoglio
Swift and certain was the aim!
Pellegrina and Antonio were discovered, late at night,
each stabbed through the back, and strangled with
cords dead with eyes of horror
gazing wildly at the pale moon! No shrift had
they, but bitter tears were shed by tender sympathisers,
and accusing fingers were pointed at the Count.
What cared he! He merely shrugged
his shoulders and sardonically hinted that as he had
brought his wife from Florence from Florence,
too, had he learned how to take personal vengeance
upon a faithless spouse and her accomplice! The
dark deed was done on 21st September 1589, and Count
Ulisse lived on with his evil conscience and his
new wife till 1618, when he, too, fell in Bologna
by an assassin’s blade just retribution
for the foul murder of lovely Pellegrina Buonaventuri.