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

The war of Pisa--Venice defends the liberties of Pisa against Florence --Lodovico invites Maximilian to enter Italy and succour the Pisans--The Duke and Duchess of Milan go to meet the emperor at Mals--Maximilian crosses the Alps and comes to Vigevano--His interview with the Venetian envoys--His expedition to Pisa.


“After Fornovo,” wrote the Venetian Malipiero, “Lodovico Duke of Milan governed all things in Italy.” The departure of the French had left him practically the arbiter between the other Powers, and afforded him fresh opportunities of satisfying his ambitious schemes. He had long cherished hopes of recovering the city of Pisa, upon which the Dukes of Milan had ancient claims, and in September, 1495, while Orleans still held Novara, he sent Fracassa, at the head of a band of Genoese archers, to help the Pisans defend their newly recovered liberties against the Florentines. Three months later Fracassa was recalled, in tardy compliance with the condition of the Treaty of Vercelli; but early in the following year, the Pisans, finding themselves deserted by the French, turned once more to Lodovico and implored his help. At the same time they sought assistance from the Signory of Venice, who, in March, 1496, publicly took the city of Pisa under the protection of St. Mark, and helped their new allies with liberal supplies of men and money. The Duke of Milan sent a small brigade to join these forces, and strongly encouraged the Venetians to bear the burden of a war from which in the end he hoped to reap solid advantage. But his secret jealousy of Venice, as well as rumours that Charles VIII. was meditating a second French expedition to relieve the distressed garrison of Naples, induced him to seek the help of a new ally In the person of the Emperor Maximilian.

Early in the spring he sent the Marchesino Stanga across the Alps to invite Maximilian to come to the help of Pisa, which as an imperial city had already appealed to him for protection, assuring him that his presence in Italy would maintain the balance of power between Venice and Florence, and curb the French king’s ambition. The prospect of descending upon Italy and assuming the imperial crown flattered Maximilian’s vanity, but, as usual, his movements were hampered by lack of money. At length he agreed to meet the Duke of Milan on the frontier of Tyrol and the Valtellina, and discuss their future plan of operations together.

On the 5th of July the emperor left Innsbruck for Nauders, and on the same day the duke and duchess, accompanied by Galeazzo di Sanseverino and the Count of Melzi, set out on their journey up the lake of Como to Bormio, in the Valtellina, On the 17th they reached the Abbey of Mals, “an ancient monastery,” says Cagnola, “at the foot of those terrible mountains on the way to Germany;” and two days afterwards, received a message from Maximilian, informing the duke and duchess that he was about to pay them a visit, but begging them not to leave their lodgings, as he wished the meeting to be informal and without ceremony. Early on the morning of the 20th, the gay music of hunting-horns woke the mountain echoes, and a hunting-party suddenly appeared at the gates of the old Benedictine abbey. First came a hundred soldiers on foot, bearing long lances, then fifty German lords in hunting-garb, with falcons on their wrists. These were followed by his Imperial Majesty, a princely figure in his simple grey cloth tunic and black velvet cap, with a lion’s skin hanging over his thighs, and the badge of the Golden Fleece on his breast. A troop of servants and pages, in the imperial liveries of red, white, and yellow, brought up the rear of the procession, that wound along the steep mountain-side and halted before the convent, where the Duke of Milan had his lodgings.

The Venetian ambassador, Francesco Foscari, hearing of Maximilian’s proposed visit, had, on Lodovico’s invitation, followed him across the Alps, accompanied by the Cardinal of Santa Croce, the papal nuncio. Both these envoys waited on the emperor at Mals, and that evening Foscaris secretary, Conrade Vimerca, wrote the following account of the meeting between Maximilian and the duke and duchess in his despatches to Venice:

“His Majesty alighted with an eagerness which seemed to me only too great, and went upstairs, where he found the duke alone with the duchess, and spent half an hour in close and affectionate intercourse with them both. Afterwards they all three attended mass in the neighbouring church, and his Majesty appeared, leading the duchess with his right hand and the duke with his left, with such demonstrations of love and familiarity as can hardly be described. All three then rode on horseback to the emperor’s lodgings at Colorno (Glurns), some eight miles distant, where his Majesty entertained the duke and duchess and all their suite at dinner under a pavilion, which had been erected under the trees. His Majesty insisted on both the duke and duchess washing their hands with him in the same bowl, and, sitting down between them at table, himself helped first one, then the other, from the endless variety of dishes spread out before them. All this he did with an ease and kindness beyond anything that I have ever seen in royal personages. Each time the duke spoke he took off his cap, and his Majesty did the same. After dinner they remained for some while in pleasant conversation, and then rode all three together to another place called Mals, one mile further off, his Majesty bearing all the expenses of the entertainment. To-morrow night they will remain together here, and there will be some time for discussion. I am quite sure,” adds the Venetian secretary, “after this that we shall see his Majesty in Italy next August, and this you may hold to be absolutely certain. As for the King of France, they do not even mention his name or think of him any more than if he did not exist.”

Although the Signoria of Venice had joined the Duke of Milan in inviting Maximilian to come to Italy, and had promised him their assistance, they were secretly not a little alarmed at the prospect of another foreign invasion, fearing, as one of their chroniclers observes, that the Germans might prove to be even greater barbarians than the French. In the interview which Foscari had with the emperor at Mals, he endeavoured politely to dissuade him from entering Italy with a German army; but, as his secretary remarked, it was too late, for the Duke of Milan willed that he should come. Nor were the jealous Venetians altogether pleased to see the marks of friendship and confidence with which the German emperor honoured Lodovico and his wife. The familiarity with which Maximilian treated both the duke and duchess, and the evident pleasure which he took in their company, seemed little short of marvellous in the eyes of both Foscari and his secretary.

The singular charm and intelligence of Beatrice made a deep impression upon Maximilian, who could not but contrast her brightness and cleverness with the dulness and ignorance of his own Milanese wife. And the duke’s polished manners and cultured tastes could not fail to exert a powerful fascination upon a monarch whose genuine love of art and romance made him in his way as remarkable a type of the Renaissance as the Moro himself. Even apart from political considerations, this meeting between the two princes, that summer-time in the mountains of Tyrol, was an event of deep interest, and we can only regret that no record of Beatrice’s impressions on this occasion has been left us.

A conference between the emperor, the Duke of Milan, and the ambassadors was held on the evening of that eventful day, and the details of the convention between the allied powers was finally agreed upon. A new league, which Henry the Seventh of England was afterwards invited to join, was formed between the Emperor Maximilian, the Duke of Milan, the Pope, the King of Spain, and the Venetian Republic; and Venice and Milan promised Maximilian a subsidy of 16,000 ducats if he would cross the Alps with an army, and compel the Florentines to give up Pisa and Leghorn.

On the following day, the Venetian ambassador and the papal legate took their leave, and Maximilian accompanied the duke and duchess over the Alps to Bormio, where he joined in a chamois-hunt, and then rode back with his retinue across the mountains to meet the empress at Tirano. Lodovico and Beatrice travelled back to Milan, where they kept the feast of the “glorious martyr St, Lawrence,” on the 10th of August, with unwonted splendour, and then retired to Vigevano to prepare for the emperor’s speedy return.

Before the end of the month, Maximilian had once more crossed that “crudelissima montagna” of Braulio (Piz Umbrail), and was at Bellagio on the Lake of Como, where Fracassa received him, and with five other Milanese knights held a baldacchino over his head as he rode up to the Marchesino Stanga’s Castle on the hills.

“But he only brought six secretaries and two hundred horsemen with him, and as before was simply clad in a suit of grey cloth,” remarks a Venetian writer: “the pettiest German baron would have come with more pomp!” A few days afterwards, the emperor went on to the ducal villa at Meda, near Como, where Lodovico met him with the Cardinal di Santa Croce and Foscari, and conducted him, on the 2nd of September, to see Duchess Beatrice at Vigevano. Here he remained for the next three weeks, enjoying the beauties of the Moro’s favourite summer palace, and admiring the perfection of Lodovico’s latest improvements the clock recently constructed by Bramante, the marble capitals of the great hall, and the model farm and stables of the Sforzesca. Maximilian had originally intended to visit Milan, and the erection of a triumphal arch in the Roman style had been ordered by the duke, together with other decorations on a vast scale; but at the last moment this idea was abandoned. The Venetian, Marino Sanuto, unkindly suggests that the Moro would not allow the emperor to come to Milan, lest he should see Duchess Isabella’s son, who was the rightful heir to the crown. In all probability the true reason lay in Maximilian’s dislike of state-pageants, and his preference for the freedom and country pleasures of Vigevano. As he told the Venetian ambassador, he preferred to travel about in different places and enjoy himself in his own way. And His Majesty added, with a frankness by no means agreeable to Foscari and his government, that he had no need of his company, and he preferred to be alone, since Duke Lodovico, with whom he was very intimate, could tell him all that he wished to know. With which distinctly unpalatable piece of information the ambassador had to be content. Maximilian, he was compelled to acknowledge, had come to Italy as the sworn friend and ally of the Duke of Milan, and the Republic must stoop to take the second place in the councils of the League.

If Beatrice’s charms had captivated the wise emperor at their first meeting in the mountains of the Valtellina, he found her a thousand times more fascinating at her beautiful country home, with her children in her arms. He took great interest in both her little boys, and begged that the elder of the two, Ercole, should bear the name of Maximilian, by which he became known in future days. In memory of this visit the emperor’s portrait was introduced in the beautiful miniatures which illustrate Maximilian Sforza’s Book of Prayers, or Libro di Gesù, still preserved in the Trivulzian Library. Here the young count is represented on horseback, receiving his illustrious cousin, while the words of the Latin oration, which he is in the act of reciting, are illuminated on the front page.

The Venetian Signory had decided to send two special ambassadors to congratulate the emperor on his arrival in Italy, and on the 14th these envoys, Antonio Grimani and Marco Morosini, reached Milan, where they were received by Galeazzo Sforza, Count of Melzi, and lodged in the Palazzo del Verme, then inhabited by Madonna Cecilia Gallerani and her husband Count Lodovico Bergamini, and lately decorated with frescoes and marbles at the duke’s expense. Early the next day they travelled by boat to Abbiategrasso, past the fair villas and smiling gardens that charmed the eyes of Jean d’Auton when he travelled along the banks of the Ticino. Here Foscari, who was already in attendance on the emperor, came to meet them, and they rode into Vigevano, where they were received by the Count of Caiazzo and Galeotto della Mirandola, and listened in torrents of rain to a Latin oration that was delivered in Maximilian’s name. It was already dark when the ambassadors reached the Castello, but the duke himself rode out to welcome them, and conducted them to their lodgings in the palace of his son-in-law, Galeazzo di Sanseverino. Here the duke’s own daughter, Madonna Bianca, the youthful bride whom Messer Galeaz had brought home a few weeks before, entertained her father’s guests, and bade them welcome in the name of her gallant husband, who was laid up with an attack of fever, and was unable to leave his room or attend to business. The next day the ambassadors were granted an audience, at which Marino Sanuto, as a member of Foscari’s suite, was himself present. His Majesty, whom the Venetian described as a magnificent-looking man of thirty-seven, with long hair already turning white, and perfect manners, received them at the top of the grand staircase, on the first floor of the Castello. As usual, he was clad in black and wore a long velvet mantle, and a black woollen cap trimmed with cords in the French style, having taken a vow to wear no colours until he had defeated the Turks, while his sole ornament was a gold chain, with the badge of the Golden Fleece, which hung round his neck. He was seated on a dais, draped with cloth of gold, with the Duke of Milan on his right hand, and the Cardinal di Santa Croce on his left. The ambassadors of Naples and Spain were also present, as well as the Count of Caiazzo, the Marchesino Stanga, Don Angelo deTalenti, the Bishops of Como and Piacenza, the secretary de’ Negri, and other well-known Milanese courtiers. Marco Morosini then pronounced an elegant harangue, which was praised by all present, and graciously accepted by the emperor, who conversed affably with the envoys on general subjects. Afterwards Marino Sanuto was presented to the Duchess Beatrice, who, he remarks, “never leaves her lord’s side, although she is once more with child,” and her two fine little boys, “Ercole, whose name has been changed by His Majesty’s desire to Maximilian, and who is called Count of Pavia, and a second named Sforza.” A succession of fetes and hunting-parties was given by the duke for the entertainment of his imperial guest during the next week, and ending with a “Caccia bellissima” to which the cardinal-legate, all the princes, ambassadors, and courtiers were invited. Two hundred riders took part in the hunt that day, and “I myself,” adds the grave historian, “was there and saw a hare caught by a leopard.”

On the 23rd of September the emperor took leave of the Duchess Beatrice, who presented him, as a parting gift, with a superb litter, made of woven gold, richly adorned with fine needlework “the most beautiful thing which I have ever seen,” writes Sanuto, “and valued at a thousand ducats.” The duke accompanied his guest as far as Tortona, where he left Maximilian to go on to Genoa, and thence by sea to Pisa.

“There are, people say, three reasons,” remarked Marino Sanuto, “why His Imperial Majesty is such fast friends with the Duke of Milan. In the first place, he sees that Lodovico has great power and authority throughout Italy. In the second, he hopes to get some money out of him. And in the third place, he looks on him as a useful ally against the King of France.”

Happily for both the emperor and the Duke of Milan’s peace of mind, the French king’s military ardour had soon died away, and although Trivulzio was sent to Asti, and Orleans would gladly have followed him, Charles the Eighth spent his time in jousts and hunting-parties, and forgot his unhappy subjects in Southern Italy. Ferrante, assisted by a Venetian force under Francesco Gonzaga, recovered one fortress after another. On the 29th of July, Montpensier, after holding the fortified city of Atella during many months, was forced to capitulate with his five thousand men, and himself died of fever a few weeks later at Pozzuoli. Most of his troops shared the same fate, and few of that gallant army lived to return to France. Suddenly, in the midst of his victorious career, the young king Ferrante, who had a few months before obtained a papal dispensation to marry his father’s youthful half-sister, Princess Joan, died of fever, brought on by the fatigues and hardships to which he had exposed himself in the previous campaign. His death was deeply lamented alike by his subjects and his relatives at Milan and Mantua, who retained a sincere affection for this brave and popular prince. Fortunately, his uncle and successor Frederic, the fifth king who had reigned over Naples during the last three years, proved a wise and capable monarch. By degrees he succeeded in capturing the few remaining castles still held by the French, and once more restored peace to his distracted kingdom. Such was the state of affairs that autumn, when the German emperor landed at Pisa on the 21st of October. The citizens received him with acclamations, and, pulling down the French king’s statue, as they had broken the lion of Florence in pieces two years before, placed the imperial eagle on the top of the column in the public square. But they were once more doomed to disappointment. Maximilian, finding himself, as usual, ill supplied with both men and money, and being inadequately supported by his allies of Venice and Milan, was unable to prosecute the war against Florence with any vigour. He attempted to besiege Leghorn; but his fleet was scattered and many of his ships were wrecked by a violent storm, after which he gave up the undertaking, saying that he could not fight against both God and man. One day towards the end of November, he suddenly took his departure, and, leaving Pisa, returned by Sarzana to Pavia. The Venetians saw the failure of this expedition and the fruitless result of their large expenditure of men and money, with great dissatisfaction, and attributed most of the blame to Duke Lodovico.

“Things go badly for the Signory at Pisa,” wrote Malipiero, who was himself on board the Venetian fleet that sailed with Maximilian against Leghorn, “and the cause of this is Lodovico Duke of Milan.... His pride and arrogance are beyond description. He boasts that Pope Alexander is his chaplain, the Emperor Maximilian his condottiere, the Signory of Venice his chamberlain, since they spend their money largely to attain his ends, and the King of France his courier, who comes and goes at his pleasure. Truly a fearful state of things!”

And Marino Sanuto remarked, “The Duke of Milan is one of the wisest men in the world, but his success has rendered him very ungrateful to Venice, whose secret enemy he will always remain. He made a great mistake in allowing the Duke of Orleans to escape from Novara, and some day he will be punished for his bad faith. For he never keeps his promises, and when he says one thing, always does another. All men fear him, because fortune is propitious to him in everything. But none the less, I believe that he will not continue long in prosperity, for God is just, and will punish him because he is a traitor and never keeps faith with any one.”

The Florentine Guicciardini moralized in much the same strain, saying that Lodovico publicly vaunted himself to be the son of Fortune, “little remembering the inconstancy of human fame,” and flattered himself that he would always be able to govern the affairs of Italy, “with his industrie to turn and winde the minds of every one. This fond persuasion he could not dissemble, neither in himself, nor in his peoples, in so much that Milan day and night was replenished with voices vaine and glorious, celebrating with verses Latine and vulgar and with publicke orations full of flatterie, the wonderfull wisedom of Lodowike Sforce, on the which they made to depend the peace and warre of Italy, exalting his name even to the third heaven.”

In those days the bard of Pistoja proclaimed that there was one God in heaven and one Moro upon earth, and sang the praises of this great and divine Duca, who alone could open and close the doors of the Temple of Janus and make peace or war in Italy, while Gaspare Visconti extolled the talents and virtues of Duchess Beatrice as surpassing those of all the most illustrious women of antiquity. Then Leonardo designed that famous series of allegories in his sketch-book, in which Duke Lodovico is represented alternately as Fortune, driving the squalid figure of Poverty away with a golden wand, and throwing his ducal mantle over a helpless youth who flies before the ugly hag; or as supreme Wisdom, wearing the spectacles which can pierce through all disguises, and pronouncing sentence between Envy on the one hand and Justice on the other. Then Bramante painted those frescoes on the walls of the Castello of Milan, in which the Moro was seen crowned and seated on his throne, under a stately portico, administering justice, with four councillors and two pages at his side, while the criminal trembled before him, and officers of state held the scales and prepared to carry out the sentence. And then, too, somewhere else in the palace, an unknown Lombard master painted that fresco of Italy as a fair queen, with the names of the chief cities embroidered on her robes, and the Moro standing at her side, brushing the dust off her skirts with the scopetta or little broom, that favourite emblem which appears in so many illuminated books of the day. On the wall below the painting, the following motto was inscribed:

Per Italia nettar d’ogni bruttura.”

“Take care, my lord duke,” the Florentine ambassador is reported to have said, when Lodovico graciously explained the meaning of the allegory “take care the negro who is so busy brushing Italy’s skirts does not cover himself with dust in his turn!” The courteous duke only smiled at the jest, and shrugged his shoulders; but others overheard the remark and repeated it, much to the satisfaction of his foes in Florence and Venice.

The fame of the great and powerful Duke of Milan had reached the distant cliffs of Albion and the palace of Westminster, and that November Lodovico received a letter from Henry VII. of England, rejoicing with his new ally on the conclusion of the League against France, and the visit of the emperor to Italy. The king further informed him that “the treaty had been solemnly proclaimed by the Cardinal-Archbishop of Conturberi, on the Feast of All Saints, in the cathedral church of the Blessed Apostle St. Paul, in our city of London.” And our friend, Marino Sanuto, proceeds to improve the occasion by informing us that “this King Enrico has for wife Madonna Ysabeta, daughter of the late King Edward, because he defended the cause of Richard, brother of the said Edward. And he has two sons, Artur, prince of Squales, which is a neighbouring island, and the Duke of Yorche.”