Read CHAPTER IV of Beatrice d'Este‚ Duchess of Milan‚ 1475-1497 , free online book, by Julia Mary Cartwright, on

Isabella d’Este--Lodovico Sforza delays his wedding--Plot against his life--Submission of Genoa--Duke Gian Galeazzo--The Sanseverini brothers --Messer Galeazzo made Captain-General of the Milanese armies--His marriage to Bianca Sforza--Marriage of Gian Galeazzo to Isabella of Aragon--Wedding festivities at Milan--Lodovico draws up his marriage contract with Beatrice d’Este.


Isabella d’Este, the eldest of Ercole’s and Leonora’s two daughters, early displayed the striking beauty and great qualities that distinguished her in after-years. Her regular features and delicate colouring, her ready wit and gracious manners, charmed all the visitors to Ferrara. The letters of princes and ambassadors were full of her praises. The Mantuan envoy who was sent to Ferrara in 1480, to arrange the terms of the marriage contract, was amazed at the little bride’s precocity. The six-year-old child not only danced charmingly before him, but conversed with a grace and intelligence which seemed to him little short of miraculous. All her teachers told the same story. Whatever Madonna Isabella did was well done. Her quickness in learning, her marvellous memory, and application to her studies were the theme of every one at court. She was the apple of her father’s eye, her mother’s most sweet and cherished companion la mia carissima e dolce figliuola sopra altre.” When she married and left home for Mantua, her poor old tutor shed tears at the loss of his favourite pupil, and wandered through the castle recalling her every word and movement; while for weeks the good duchess could not bear to enter the room or open the windows of the room which her darling child had occupied, and which was now left empty and desolate.

By the side of this brilliant creature, her younger sister, the little Beatrice, passed comparatively unnoticed. Her name is scarcely ever mentioned in the records of the period. Yet she was only a year younger than Isabella, and if all had gone well, the double wedding of the two sisters was to have been celebrated at the same time in February, 1490. But Lodovico Sforza had shown no inclination to press the matter. He professed the most cordial friendship for the Duke of Ferrara, who had every reason to be grateful for his help in the Venetian wars, and entertained Ercole magnificently when, in 1487, he paid a visit to Milan. But when the question of her marriage was mooted, he made excuses and suggested further delay. The extreme youth of the bride, the urgency of affairs of state, were all brought forward as excellent reasons for putting off the marriage until a more convenient season. During the ten years after his return to Milan, Lodovico’s time and thoughts had been fully occupied. The internal as well as the external affairs of his state, the attacks of public enemies and private foes, alike demanded his whole energies. But so far Fortune had favoured him in a wonderful way. An attempt was made by Duchess Bona’s confessor to assassinate him on the steps of Saint Ambrogio at Christmas, 1485, but fortunately failed, because that day Lodovico entered the church by a side door to avoid the crowd. The sympathy excited by this cowardly attempt on his life, and by his recovery from a dangerous illness which brought him to the point of death, helped to strengthen his position at home, while complete success attended his arms and diplomacy. On the one hand, Venice was forced to accept his terms of peace; on the other, Genoa, sorely pressed by her old rival Florence, appealed to the Regent of Milan for assistance, and once more recognized the supremacy of Gian Galeazzo Sforza. A cardinal’s hat was obtained for Ascanio Sforza, in whom Lodovico found an able and loyal supporter both in Rome and Milan. And when, in 1488, Lodovico’s niece, Caterina Sforza, turned to him for help against the conspirators who had murdered her husband and seized the Rocca of Forlì, a Milanese army under young Galeazzo di Sanseverino was promptly sent to her assistance. The citadel was besieged and captured, and the rights of Caterina and her son Ottaviano were triumphantly vindicated. Thus on every side the house of Sforza was restored to its former dignity, and the great Condottiere’s name was respected and honoured. The Milanese once more enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity, and Lodovico was able to devote himself to his favourite pursuits, the encouragement of learning and of the fine arts. Even at the most anxious and busiest times, in the midst of the war with Venice and the negotiations for the league against her, Lodovico had found time to carry on his brother’s schemes for the decoration of the Castello of Milan, and to help forward the works of the Duomo and the Certosa of Pavia. He had begun to rebuild the palace of Vigevano on a splendid scale, and had set on foot a vast system of irrigation for the improvement of the ducal estates. Besides encouraging the rising school of native artists, he had invited the best foreign architects and painters, sculptors and poets, to his court. Already Bramante of Urbino was the chief architect at the ducal court, and now Lorenzo de’ Medici sent a young Florentine master to Milan who played the lute divinely, and whose varied talents might prove serviceable to his friend Lodovico. So Leonardo da Vinci came to the court of the Moro, and found in him so genial and understanding a patron, so generous and kindly a friend, that he settled at Milan, and remained in the duke’s service for the next sixteen years. Thus Lodovico Sforza had shown himself a wise and excellent regent, and had earned the gratitude of both prince and people, while the young duke in whose name he governed was growing up to man’s estate. From his birth Gian Galeazzo had been a frail and sickly child, subject to constant feverish attacks, and in the year 1483 was so dangerously ill that at one moment his doctors despaired of his recovery. As he grew older, it became plain that his mind was as feeble as his body. He was utterly incapable of applying himself to serious business, far less of administering state affairs. His whole days were spent in idleness and pleasure, in hunting and drinking. Horses and dogs were the only objects in which he took any interest. Under these circumstances, it became plain that Lodovico would remain the actual ruler of Milan even though his nephew bore the title of duke. All outward respect was paid to Gian Galeazzo; he lived in great state, with a household and officers of his own, and was surrounded by regal pomp on public occasions. Clad in ducal robes, he appeared seated on a throne erected in front of the Duomo when the Genoese patricians arrived at Milan, and received their homage as duke of the principality of Genoa. His brother Ermes, his sisters Bianca and Anna, shared his state, and when Bianca’s betrothed husband the young prince of Savoy died, she was formally affianced in the Duomo to the eldest son of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. But the real sovereign of Milan was Lodovico Duke of Bari. Here and there a jealous or discontented Milanese nobleman might grumble, but the majority of the duke’s subjects felt that in these troublous days a strong hand was needed at the helm, and knew that they had this strong man in the Moro.

By degrees Lodovico removed those governors of cities and fortresses whose loyalty he had reason to suspect, and replaced them by confidential servants. Filippo Eustachio, captain of the Castello of Milan, a brave and honest man, Corio tells us, who had refused to yield up the keys of the Rocca to Bona’s minion, but whose brothers had been implicated in the plot against Lodovico’s life, was one day arrested by the duke’s orders, and imprisoned at Abbiategrasso; he was afterwards released, no evidence of his guilt being produced, but his post was filled by one of the Moro’s servants. Chief among the trusted captains in whom Lodovico placed his confidence were the Sanseverini brothers, “i gran Sanseverini,” as they were called in the court poet’s verses, as much on account of their great strength and stature as of the exalted position which they held at the Milanese court. Their father, that turbulent soldier Roberto, after making three desperate attempts to unseat the prince whose return to power he had effected, and being three times proclaimed a rebel and outlaw at Milan, had taken service under Pope Innocent VIII. and led the campaign against Alfonso of Calabria, as Captain-general of the Church. But before long he quarrelled with the Pope and returned to the service of the Venetian Republic, until in August, 1486, at the age of seventy, he fell fighting with heroic valour against the Imperialists in the battle of Trent. Of his twelve sons, four entered the service of their kinsman, Lodovico Sforza, and rose to high honour and dignity. All of them were mighty men of valour like their father before them, while a fifth, Cardinal Federigo, was to prove a staunch adherent of the Sforzas in days to come. He inherited the giant stature as well as the martial tastes of his family, and at the consecration of Pope Alexander VI. is said to have lifted Borgia in his arms and placed him on the high altar. The eldest of the brothers, Giovanni Francesco, Count of Caiazzo, succeeded to his father’s estates in Calabria, but lived at Milan, and became one of Lodovico’s chief captains. Both Gaspare the gallant soldier known by his surname of Captain Fracassa and Antonio Maria, the husband of the fair and learned Margherita Pia of Carpi, a beloved friend and cousin of the Este princesses, were prominent figures at the Milanese court. But the most famous and popular of all the brothers was Galeazzo. This brilliant and accomplished cavalier, who was to play so great a part at the Milanese court, early attracted the notice of Lodovico by his personal charm and rare skill in knightly exercises. As a rider and jouster, he was without a rival. Wherever he entered the lists, at Milan or Venice, at Ferrara or Urbino, he invariably carried off the prize, and was proclaimed victor in the games. And to this prowess in courtly exercises he joined a love of art and learning which especially commended him to the Moro. Unlike his brother Captain Fracassa, who refused Caterina Sforza’s invitation to join in dance and song, saying that war was his trade and he sought no other, Galeazzo was a model of courtesy and grace. All fair ladies had a smile for him. Isabella d’Este and Elisabetta Gonzaga honoured him with their friendship, and Beatrice d’Este found in him the truest of friends and best of servants. Three kings of France, Charles VIII., Louis XII., and Francis I., singled him out for special distinction, and after enjoying the highest honour at Lodovico Sforza’s court, he lived to become Grand Ecuyer of France in the next century. French Italian chroniclers alike own the fascination of his handsome presence and extol the gentilezza of this very perfect knight. Leonardo da Vinci and Luca Pacioli the mathematician had in him a noble, generous patron, and Baldassare Castiglione, who knew him in his youth at Milan, has enshrined his memory in the pages of his “Cortigiano.” It was this rare union of qualities which endeared the young Sanseverino to the Moro, who chose him for his intimate friend and companion. On his return from his successful campaign against the Forlì rebels, Lodovico appointed him Captain-general of the Milanese armies, a step which naturally excited great jealousy among his rivals, and mortally wounded the pride of Messer Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, an older captain in the same service. Short of stature and rude of speech, with the big nose and rugged features that are familiar to us in Caradosso’s medal, this able soldier presented a curious contrast to the brilliant and courtly Messer Galeazzo, whose rival he remained to the end of his life. Yet he knew how to appreciate genius, and after his triumphant return to Milan in 1499, employed Leonardo to paint his portrait and design his tomb. Although a Guelph by birth, Trivulzio, up to this time, had been one of Lodovico’s most active supporters. But when he saw a younger rival preferred to him, he left Milan in disgust and retired to Naples, where he entered King Ferrante’s service, and became from that time a bitter enemy of the Sforza’s. Meanwhile the Moro loaded his favourite Galeazzo with honours and rewards. He gave him the fine estate of Castelnuovo in the Tortonese, which had once belonged to his father, the great Condottiere Roberto, as well as a house in Pavia near the church of San Francesco and a palace in Milan, near the Porta Vercellina, and allowed him to build a villa and extensive stables in the park of the Castello. As a last and crowning honour, he bestowed upon this fortunate youth the hand of his illegitimate daughter Bianca, a beautiful and attractive child to whom he was fondly attached. Of her mother we have no certain knowledge, but she is generally supposed to have been some mistress of low origin, and Bianca herself is described by a contemporary writer as “figlia ex pellice nata.” The wedding was solemnized with great splendour in the chapel of the Castello di Pavia, on the last day of the year 1489, but the young princess was still a child, and Galeazzo had to wait five years before he took home his bride. After his marriage he adopted the name of Sforza Visconti, and was treated by Lodovico as a member of his family.

Another wedding which took place about this time was that of the young duke, Gian Galeazzo. He had already entered his twentieth year, and the Princess Isabella of Aragon, to whom he had been betrothed in his father’s lifetime, was turned eighteen, so that the marriage could no longer be delayed. In November, 1488, his brother Ermes was sent to Naples with a suite of four hundred persons, who entered King Ferrante’s capital sumptuously arrayed in silk brocade, and amazed even his luxurious courtiers by the splendour of their gold chains and jewelled plumes. At least Isabella’s father, Alfonso, who had little love for his brother-in-law, and had already found Lodovico more than a match for his own cunning, could not complain that his daughter had not been honourably treated. After a rough passage in the depth of winter, which sorely tried the patience of the court poet Bellincioni, who was a member of the Milanese suite, the bride landed on the 7th of February, and travelled by land to Genoa and Tortona. There her bridegroom, the young Duke of Milan, was awaiting her, with his uncle Lodovico, and a banquet as memorable for ingenuity as for splendour was given in her honour. Each course was introduced by some mythological personage. Jason appeared with the golden fleece, Phoebus Apollo brought in a calf stolen from the herds of Admetus, Diana led Actaeon in the form of a stag, Atalanta followed with the wild boar of Calydon, Iris came with a peacock from the car of Juno, and Orpheus carried in the birds whom he had charmed with his lute. Hebe poured out the wines, Vertumnus and Pomona handed round apples and grapes, Thetis and her sea-nymphs brought every variety of fish, and shepherds crowned with chaplets of ivy arrived from the hills of Arcady, bearing jars of milk and honey to the festive board. At Milan fresh wonders were awaiting the bridal pair. The court of the Castello was hung with blue drapery and wreaths of laurel and ivy, above which the ducal arms, designed in antique style, were seen, supported by figures of Centaurs. Under a seven-columned portico adorned with crimson-and-gold hangings, the duke’s sister, Bianca Maria Sforza, received the bride, and led her to a richly decorated chamber in the Camera della Torre. On the following day the wedding was solemnized with great pomp in the Duomo. The duke and duchess, clad in white, walked hand-in-hand up the great aisles of the church, and finally, were escorted to the rooms prepared for them in the Rocca, and after the Milanese fashion, hung with pure white satin. But the most memorable part of the wedding festivities, and that to which Lodovico himself devoted especial attention, was the performance of an operetta composed by the court poet Bellincioni for the occasion. “It was called Il Paradiso” adds the chronicler to whom we owe these details, “because Maestro Leonardo Vinci, the Florentine, had with great art and ingenuity fabricated a paradise or celestial sphere, in which the seven planets were represented by actors in costumes similar to those described by those poets of old, who each in turn spoke the praise of Duchess Isabella.”

The festivities were interrupted by the illness of the young duke, who was so much exhausted by the fatigues of these successive entertainments, that he was unable to leave his bed for some weeks. But in the following summer two splendid tournaments were held at Pavia, at which Messer Galeazzo, as Sanseverino is always styled in Milanese annals, appeared with twenty followers in golden armour, mounted on chargers with gold trappings and harness, and, having unhorsed no less than nineteen of his opponents, bore off the first prize, a length of costly silver brocade. The duke and duchess were present with their whole court, but the Ferrarese ambassador remarked that the crowd all shouted, “Moro! Moro!” and that Signor Lodovico was by far the most popular personage with the citizens of Pavia.

“He is a great man, and intends to be what he is in fact already everything!” he wrote in his despatches to Ferrara. “And yet who knows? In a short time he may be nobody.”

Gian Galeazzo, however, showed no signs of interfering with his uncle in the management of public affairs. On the contrary, he gave full rein to his pleasure-loving tastes, seldom came to Milan, and spent his days at Pavia or Vigevano in the company of his young wife and a few favourites. Duchess Isabella, as time showed, was a woman of strong character and deep feeling, but she never seemed to have acquired any influence over her feeble husband, and found herself powerless to arouse him to any sense of his position, “La dicte fille” says Commines, “etoit fort courageuse et eut volontier donne credit a son mary, si elle eut pu, maïs il n’etoit guère saige et revelait ce qu’elle lui disait.” Lodovico treated both his nephew and niece with the utmost respect, and discussed the situation freely with the Florentine ambassador Pandolfini, saying that King Ferrante’s envoy had lately gone so far as to suggest that, since this young man could never rule for himself, his uncle might as well assume the title, as well as the cares, of the head of the state. But this, Lodovico declared, was a crime of which he would never be guilty. “If I were to attempt such a thing,” he exclaimed, “I should be infamous in the eyes of the whole world!”

For the present the sense of power, the knowledge that he was the actual ruler, sufficed him, and, as the King of Naples himself recognized, no one could have governed Milan more wisely or well than Lodovico did in his nephew’s name. The birth of Duchess Isabella’s son, in December, 1490, may have been a blow to his hopes. But the happy event was celebrated with due rejoicings, the costly presents from the city of Milan and court officials were displayed in the Castello, and the infant heir of the house of Sforza received the name of his renowned great-grandfather, Francesco, together with the title of Count of Pavia.

Meanwhile Lodovico felt that it was time to think of his own marriage, and to keep the troth which he had pledged to the child-princess of Este. His actions, as he well knew, were narrowly watched at the court of Ferrara. Duchess Leonora was beginning to feel anxious about her daughter’s future, and the marriage of Anna Sforza with young Alfonso d’Este had also to be arranged. Accordingly in May, 1489, when the Duke of Milan’s wedding was safely over, the Ferrarese envoy Giacomo Trotti was sent back to his master duly acquainted with Signor Lodovico’s wishes and intentions respecting these important matters.

On the 10th of May, the articles of the marriage contract were finally drawn up and signed at the Castello of Ferrara. They were on the same basis as the marriage treaties which had lately been drawn up between the Marquis Mantua and Isabella d’Este and the Duke and Duchess of Milan. Lodovico was to receive 40,000 gold crowns and 2000 more in jewels as Beatrice’s portion. A sum equal to three-parts of the bride’s dower was to be chargeable on the goods and lands of Signor Lodovico. If the most illustrious Madonna were to die without children, this dowry was to be returned, as was stipulated in the case of the Duchess of Milan. With regard to the choice and arrangement of the bride’s household, and the number of her women, Lodovico was content to leave all particulars to the Duke and Duchess of Ferrara, trusting to their goodness and prudence to settle all these matters on a scale suitable to the birth and rank of a princess of this illustrious house. But he especially begged Duke Ercole to see that Madonna Beatrice was well supplied with clothes and other necessary articles of toilet fitting the position which she would occupy at Milan as wife of the Duke of Bari and Regent of the State. Last of all, the date of the marriage was positively fixed for the month of May, 1490, Lodovico promising to defray all the expenses of the wedding festivities. At the same time it was also decided that Madonna Anna’s marriage should take place in July, 1490, by which time Signor Alfonso would have completed his fourteenth year, and the sum due to Messer Lodovico for Beatrice’s dowry was to be deducted from that of his niece, who, as a princess of Milan, was to receive a portion of 100,000 crowns.

So Beatrice d’Este’s wedding-day was at length fixed, and Duchess Leonora rejoiced in the happy prospect of seeing both her daughters married in the course of the following year.