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

State of political affairs in Italy--Vacillating policy of Lodovico Sforza--Death of King Ferrante of Naples--Alliance between his successor Alfonso and Pope Alexander VI.--Lodovico urges Charles VIII. to invade Naples--Sends Galeazzo di Sanseverino to Lyons--Cardinal della Rovere’s flight from Rome--Alfonso of Naples declares war--Beatrice at Vigevano--The Gonzagas and the Moro--Duchess Isabella and her husband at Pavia.


While Lodovico’s newly-formed alliance with Maximilian strengthened his hands on the one hand, on the other it helped to aggravate the strained relations already existing between himself and the royal family of Naples. The promise of the investiture of Milan, which he had received from the emperor, soon became known; it was freely discussed that autumn both in Rome and Venice, and gave Alfonso of Calabria good reason to take up arms in defence of his son-in-law Gian Galeazzo’s rights. But King Ferrante still hesitated to declare war against Milan, and, while he raised forces and made preparations for the defence of his dominions, was far more concerned to detach Lodovico from the French alliance than to interfere in the domestic affairs of Milan on behalf of his granddaughter and her husband. In August he succeeded in making peace with Pope Alexander, and even consented to a marriage contract between his granddaughter Sancia, and Godfrey Borgia, the Pope’s young son. This new departure alarmed Lodovico seriously, and produced a marked alteration in his foreign policy. When Charles the Eighth’s envoy, Perron de’ Baschi, visited Milan in June, he met with polite but vague answers from the Moro, and received no distinct promise of support in the conquest of Naples. But early in September, Count Belgiojoso returned to France, and lost no time in seeking an interview with the king. “Is your Majesty going to undertake the expedition or not?” were his first words. “Signor Lodovico is anxious to learn your intention.”

“I have already told Signor Lodovico my intentions a thousand times over, by envoys and letters,” replied the king, petulantly, and proceeded to intimate that if the Moro played him false, he would support the Duke of Orleans in reviving his old claims on the Milanese. Belgiojoso hastened to assure Charles of his master’s friendly sentiments, upon which the king’s ill temper mollified, and he said, “Then I will regard him as a father, and seek his advice in everything.”

All the same, when Charles repeated his request that Lodovico should send him Messer Galeazzo, and expressed his great wish to see the hero of so many tournaments in person, the Moro once more gave an evasive answer, and told Belgiojoso that he could not spare his son-in-law at present. The Pope showed his friendliness to the house of Este by including Beatrice’s brother Ippolito, a lad of fifteen, among the twelve cardinals whom he created that September, his own son, Cesar Borgia, being another of the number. In November he sent Lodovico his cordial congratulations on his niece’s marriage with the emperor, and presented Maximilian with a consecrated sword.

“This is the state of affairs in Italy at present,” wrote the chronicler Malipiero on the 25th of September, 1493. “The Pope is in league with Lodovico of Milan. Maximilian, King of the Romans, has been elected emperor, and has taken Bianca Sforza to wife with 400,000 ducats, and Lodovico is to be invested with the duchy of Milan by him as emperor. At Rome Cardinal Ascanio’s affairs prosper, and Lodovico of Milan is on intimate terms with the Pope and all of his allies. And Duke Ercole has sent his son Alfonso to France to tell King Charles that his troops will have free passage to Naples through his dominions, because he is the father-in-law of Lodovico.”

Under these circumstances, old King Ferrante, becoming desperate, made a last effort to win over Lodovico to his side, and implored him to use his influence to stop the French monarch, warning him that the tide of events might in the end prove too strong for him. “The time will come,” replied Lodovico proudly, “when all Italy will turn to me and pray to be delivered from the coming evils.” In his anxiety to recover the Moro’s friendship, the old king even thought of coming to Genoa himself to meet his granddaughter’s husband, and arrive at some agreement. But early in the new year he fell ill, and died of fever on the 25th of January, at the age of seventy.

The death of Ferrante and accession of his son Alfonso, the father of Duchess Isabella, and a personal enemy of the Moro, brought matters to a crisis. The old king could never conquer his dislike of the Pope, and had only given a reluctant consent to the proposed marriage of his granddaughter with a Borgia. Alfonso, on the contrary, was ready to agree to any terms which might conciliate Alexander VI., and employed every artifice to obtain the Pope’s support, and that of Piero de’ Medici against France and Milan. In spite of the compliments that were exchanged on both sides upon his accession, Alfonso’s enmity to Lodovico Sforza was well known at Naples, and the Milanese ambassador, Antonio Stanga, warned Lodovico to beware of assassins and prisoners, since, to his certain knowledge, the “new king has paid large sums of money to several Neapolitans of bad repute, who have been sent to Milan on some evil errand.” After much vacillation on the Pope’s part, and prolonged negotiations with both France and Naples, he was induced by the Orsini, who were staunch allies of the house of Aragon, to grant Alfonso the investiture of Naples, and to send his son, Cardinal Juan Borgia, to officiate at his coronation. A papal bull was addressed to Charles VIII., warning him not to invade Italy at the peril of his soul, and Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, whose influence had been hitherto all-powerful with the Pope, left the Vatican and retired to his own palace. The Pope’s change of front finally determined Lodovico’s policy. From this moment he threw himself heart and soul into the alliance with France, and left no stone unturned to bring Charles VIII. into Italy. In an important letter which, on the 10th of March, he addressed to his brother, Cardinal Ascanio, who shared all his secrets, he reminds him that he had originally been no friend to the French invasion.

“It is not true,” he writes, “that the whole movement proceeds from me. It was the Most Christian King who took the initiative, which is proved by the appeal for the investiture of Naples, which he addressed to the late Pope Innocent, and also by many letters written on the subject by our own hand. When the Treaty of Senlis was signed, he sent his envoy to tell me that he meant to invade Italy. At that moment, seeing how badly the King of Naples had behaved against the Holy Father, I was not sorry to come to the help of His Holiness. I ceased to dissuade the Most Christian King from the enterprise. I approved his resolution, and now he is at Lyons.”

As late as the 6th of February, Lodovico had again declined to send Messer Galeazzo to France, saying that every one would think he had come to hasten the king’s movements, and that in this way Charles would lose the honour of the campaign. But when the news of the alliance between Alfonso and the Pope reached him, he made no further difficulties, and on the 1st of April, Galeazzo started for Lyons. On the 5th, he entered the town secretly, disguised as a German, and, accompanied only by four riders, made his way to the royal lodgings, and saw the king privately, this being the day which had been selected by Lodovico’s astrologer, Ambrogio da Rosate, for his arrival at court. On the following morning he made his public entry, attended by a suite of a hundred horsemen clad in the French fashion, which Messer Galeazzo himself commonly affected. The king received him with the utmost cordiality, and conducted him immediately to see the queen, whom he presented with a magnificent Spanish robe in Lodovico’s name, together with choice specimens of Milanese armour, jennets from his own famous breed, and several handsome silver flagons filled with fragrant perfumes, in which Charles took especial delight. The French king fell an easy victim to this brilliant cavalier’s personal charm. He insisted on seeing him ride in a tilting match before the court, and could talk of nothing but Messer Galeazzo’s feats of horsemanship, whether in council or at table, and even when he went to bed. He bestowed the order of St. Michel upon his guest, and, among other marks of favour, he invited Galeazzo to his private rooms, where he sat with a few of his favourites, and, taking one of the fairest maidens by the hand, presented her to his visitor. Then the king himself sat down by another, and so they remained for some hours in pleasant conversation.”

In his reply to Belgiojoso, who duly reported these events to his master, Lodovico dwells with infinite satisfaction on the great honours which have been paid to his dear son, and rejoices to hear that his Majesty has introduced him into his private apartments, and even shared his domestic pleasures with him. The presence of Galeazzo di Sanseverino at Lyons had, no doubt, the effect of counteracting the intrigues of the Duke of Orleans and the Aragonese party at the French court, and the confidence with which he inspired Charles dissipated any doubts which the king may have entertained of Lodovico’s honesty. “The mission of Signor Galeazzo,” wrote Belgiojoso, “has been crowned with success. Without his coming, the enterprise would have been utterly ruined.”

Another and still more powerful advocate of the expedition now appeared at Lyons in the person of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who, in Guicciardini’s opinion, “was the fatall instrument of all the miseries of Italy.” This bitter enemy of the Borgias had been repeatedly threatened with assassination by the Pope’s creatures, and, feeling that Ostia was no safe place for him, he embarked one night in a fisherman’s bark and fled first to Savona and thence to Genoa. Here, with Lodovico’s assistance, he managed to proceed on his journey to France, and on the 1st of June reached Lyons, where his vehement invectives against the Pope and urgent entreaties helped to hasten the king’s preparations. At the same time Erasmo Brasca, acting under Lodovico’s orders, succeeded in disarming Maximilian’s opposition to the French king’s invasion of Italy, and wrote to his master on the 14th of June, informing him that the French ambassador had just left Worms with an assurance from the emperor that he would not impede that monarch’s designs upon Naples. When, ten days later, Galeazzo di Sanseverino returned to Milan, the die was cast, and the French invasion of Italy was at length finally determined. Meanwhile the long-expected rupture between Milan and Naples had taken place. On the 8th of May, Alfonso was crowned by the papal nuncio, Juan Borgia, after the marriage of the Princess Sancia to Godfrey Borgia had been solemnized on the previous day. A fortnight later, as the king rode in state, accompanied by all the foreign ambassadors, to church on the Feast of Corpus Christi, he took occasion to ask the Milanese envoy, Antonio Stanga, if the news which reached him from Lyons were true, and the French king’s enterprise, after being almost given up, had now been decided upon, owing to Messer Galeazzo’s visit. The ambassador listened deferentially, cap in hand, but courteously disclaimed all knowledge of such information.

“Tell Signor Lodovico,” returned the king, “that he will be the first to rue the day when the French set foot in Italy.”

“Before I had time to reply,” writes Stanga, “the other ambassadors had arrived to salute his Majesty, and I did not see him again alone.”

A few days later the Milanese envoy was abruptly dismissed, and war declared against Milan. Alfonso committed the first open act of hostilities by seizing Lodovico’s principality of Bari. At the same time a fleet was equipped to attack Genoa, and the land forces prepared to join the papal army and march through Romagna against the Milanese.

The winter of 1494, “that most unhappie year for Italy,” writes Guicciardini, “for that in it was made open the way to infinite and horrible calamities,” was spent by Lodovico and his wife at their favourite palace of Vigevano. After Bianca’s wedding they had retired there, to spend the remaining period of Beatrice’s mourning at this country retreat, and did not leave until the spring was well advanced. From here Beatrice wrote on the 3rd of January to rejoice with her sister Isabella on the birth of her first child, a daughter, who received the name of Leonora, after their beloved mother. The duchess congratulated her sister in affectionate terms, and signed herself, “Quella che desidera vedere la Signoria Vostra.” She who desires to see your Highness,


Below she added messages from her baby-boy: “Ercole begs me to commend him to your Highness, and to his new cousin.”

Perhaps Beatrice was the more cordial and warm in expressing her affection for her sister because of the difference that had lately arisen between her husband and the marquis, who had lately been invited to take the command of the King of Naples troops in the war against Milan. This offer he eventually declined, as well as an invitation from the French king to enter his service; but on this and other occasions his attitude excited Lodovicos displeasure, while the Moros somewhat imperious request annoyed both Gianfrancesco and his wife. For one thing, Isabella could not forgive the way in which her brother-in-law desired that fish from the lake of Garda should to sent to Milan at his pleasure, and wrote to her husband on the 1st of February in the following terms:

“I am quite willing to see that fish should be sent to Milan occasionally, but not every week, as he requests in his imperious fashion, as if we were his feudatories, lest it should appear as if we were compelled to send it, and it were a kind of tribute.”

But although Beatrice’s exalted position and the splendour of the Milanese court sometimes excited Isabella’s envy, and Lodovico’s pretensions ruffled her equanimity, nothing ever disturbed the happy relations between the sisters. Beatrice was always frank and generous in her behaviour to Isabella, and the marchioness remained sincerely attached to her, and in her letters to her beloved sister-in-law, the Duchess of Urbino, constantly assures her that she holds the next place in her heart to that occupied by her only sister, “la sorella mia unica, la Duchessa di Bari.”

It was at Vigevano that winter, on the 28th of January, that Lodovico drew up the deed of gift by which he endowed his wife with his palace lands of Cussago, as well as the Sforzesca and other lands in the district of Novara and Pavia. The deed, signed with his own hand, and richly illuminated by some excellent miniature painter of the Milanese school, is preserved in the British Museum, and is an admirable example of contemporary Lombard art. Medallion portraits of Lodovico and Beatrice are painted on the vellum, together with a frieze of lovely putti, supporting their armorial bearings, and a variety of Sforza devices and mottoes, interspersed with festoons of foliage and fruit, torches and cornucopias. Lodovico’s strongly marked features and long dark hair are relieved by the richness of his dark blue mantle sown with gold stars, while Beatrice wears a gold ferroniere on her brow. Her dark brown hair is coiled in a jewelled net, a lock strays over her cheek, as in Zenale’s portrait in the Brera altar-piece. Her mauve bodice is enriched with gold arabesques, and a cross of pearls hangs from a long chain she wears round her throat.

There were no fetes that spring at Milan or Pavia. The treasury was exhausted by the great expenses of the Empress Bianca’s wedding, and the court was still in mourning, while Lodovico’s time and thoughts were absorbed in diplomatic correspondence and preparations for war. But there were gay hunting-parties at Vigevano, in which Beatrice joined with all her wonted spirit and love of sport.

“I must thank you for your pleasant account of my brother’s hunting-expeditions,” wrote Lodovico on the 18th of March to his old favourite, Count Tuttavilla, who was staying in Rome with Cardinal Ascanio; “but I really think, if my brother were here and could join in our hunting-parties, he would find them even more delightful.” In the same letter he gives Girolamo a hint of the deed of investiture which he was hoping to receive from Maximilian.

“I have nothing else to say, saving that, by reason of the warm friendship we entertain with his serene Majesty the King of the Romans, as well as with the Most Christian King, to which we may add the love which his Holiness bears us, I hope soon to give you some good news which will greatly please you."

Girolamo Tuttavilla, the old and tried servant to whom this letter was addressed, had left Milan in February, owing to a quarrel with Galeazzo di Sanseverino and his brothers, whose haughty manners gave frequent offence to other Milanese courtiers. Both Lodovico and Beatrice, to whom Tuttavilla was sincerely attached, did their best to allay his displeasure, and Cardinal Ascanio tried to induce his guest to use greater moderation in speaking of Messer Galeazzo and his brothers; but, although Girolamo kept up friendly relations with the duke and duchess, the wound was never healed, and he refused to return to Milan. He afterwards entered the service of the young King Ferrante of Naples, and when a league was formed to oppose the French invaders, was appointed to command the cavalry, but found himself once more brought into contact with his old rivals Galeazzo and Fracassa, who were at the head of the Milanese contingent, and soon parted company with them, complaining that Messer Galeazzo would obey no one. But he never renounced his allegiance to Lodovico, and sent him and Beatrice his most hearty congratulations when the Moro became Duke of Milan.

The Sanseverini brothers seem frequently to have given offence to Lodovico’s other ministers by their proud bearing. Even the mild and patient Erasmo Brasca incurred Messer Galeazzo’s displeasure by repeating some reports about his French leanings which had reached the German court, and had to send an apology before he could obtain pardon for his mistake. But nothing could diminish the favour with which Lodovico regarded his son-in-law, and during his absence at Lyons we find him busy in preparing a new and splendid palace at Vigevano to receive Messer Galeazzo and his youthful bride. In a letter which the Moro addressed on the 11th of May to his superintendent of works, the Marchesino Stanga, we find a mention of this building, as well as of the decoration of several rooms in the Castello of Milan.

“MARCHESINO, We have given orders that the rooms which are being added on the garden side should be furnished according to the enclosed list, and desire that you should provide Messer Gualtero with the necessary money, 127-1/2 ducats, which you will charge on the extraordinary fund. You will provide in the same way for the moneys which I have assigned for the building of Messer Galeazzo’s palace, and for the conduits for watering the Giardinato and the adjoining lavatories, also for the painting of the hall and dining-room occupied by the chamberlain of my illustrious consort, so that they may be fit for use, as arranged, by the end of the month."

Neither the pressure of political affairs nor the anxieties of approaching conflict could destroy Lodovico’s interest in artistic matters in the decorations of the Castello or the furnishing of his new rooms. The object which at this time lay nearest to his heart was the completion of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Dominican church which he had taken under his especial protection, and which he intended to be the burial-place of his family. Even now Bramante was engaged in constructing the new cupola, and before long his favourite painter Leonardo was to set to work on his great Cenacolo in the refectory.

While Lodovico and Beatrice were pursuing these different objects of their ambition, the unfortunate Duchess Isabella was eating out her heart in the Castello of Pavia. After the imperial wedding, at which she had made so brave a show, she and Gian Galeazzo retired to Pavia, and were rarely seen in public again. The duke’s health and mental condition became every day more enfeebled, and his wife devoted herself wholly to him and her children. That winter she gave birth to a second daughter, who was named Ippolita after her grandmother, but died at the age of seven. And now, as if to increase the sadness of her forlorn condition, came the prospect of war with Naples, and the invasion of her father’s dominions by a foreign monarch, who entered Italy as the ally of Lodovico, the usurper of her husband’s throne. But melancholy as her surroundings were, and keenly as she felt the sight of her rival Beatrice’s prosperity, the privations which she and her husband were forced to endure have been greatly exaggerated. According to Corio, they were often destitute of food and necessaries, and reduced to the verge of starvation. This chronicler, however, was not only frequently inaccurate in his statements, but had a spite against Duchess Beatrice, whose character and actions he totally misrepresented, while, after Lodovico’s fall, his ingratitude towards his former master drew down upon him the bitter reproaches and invective of Lancinius Curtius. In this instance his statements are refuted by the bills for the expenses of the ducal household, which are still preserved in the Milanese archives. From these records we learn that Isabella’s ladies were as numerous and as richly dressed as those of any reigning sovereign, and that her camoras and jewels were as sumptuous as Beatrice’s own. Gian Galeazzo’s stables were always well filled with horses and hounds, for Lodovico was too wise to grudge his nephew anything that tended to occupy his thoughts and distract them from public affairs. And during his last illness the unfortunate duke announced his intention of giving dowries to a hundred poor maidens on his recovery, which affords another proof that his poverty was not so great as Corio has declared. But none the less it was a bitter mortification for a king’s daughter of the proud house of Aragon to see herself and her husband left with the mere semblance of power, while her cousin reigned in her place.