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

Lodovico Sforza enters Lyons as a captive--His imprisonment at Pierre-Encise and Lys Saint-Georges--Laments over Il Moro in the popular poetry of France and Italy--Efforts of the Emperor Maximilian to obtain his release--Ascanio and Ermes Sforza released--Lodovico removed to Loches--Paolo Giovio’s account of his captivity--His attempt to escape--Dungeon at Loches--Death of Lodovico Sforza--His burial in S. Maria delle Grazie.


On the 2nd of May, 1500, barely a month after Lodovico Sforza’s triumphant return to Milan, the ancient city of Lyons witnessed a strange and mournful procession, in which he was again the central figure. That day the King of France’s captive was led along the banks of the swift Rhone and through the Grande Rue up to the fortress of Pierre-Encise, on the top of the steep hill that crowns the old Roman city. The scene has been described in a well-known letter by an eye-witness, the Venetian ambassador Benedetto Trevisano, one of the envoys who had been sent, three years before, to meet the emperor on his descent into Italy, and whom the Duke of Milan had entertained royally at Vigevano. The fierce and vindictive tone of the writer, the exultant spirit in which he triumphs over the fallen foe, is another proof of the terror and hatred which the Moro inspired in Venice. Trevisano’s letter was written on the evening of the 2nd of May, and addressed to the Doge.

“To-day, before two o’clock, Signor Lodovico was brought into the city. The following was the order of the procession: first came twelve officers of the city guard, to restrain the people who thronged the streets from shouting. Then came the Governor of Lyons and Provost of Justice on horseback, and then the said Signor Lodovico, clad in a black camlet vest with black hose and riding-boots, and a black cloth berretta, which he held most of the time in his hand. He looked about him as if determined to hide his feelings in this great change of fortune, but his face was very pale and he looked very ill, although he had been shaved this morning, and his arms trembled and he shook all over. Close beside him rode the captain of the king’s archers, followed by a hundred of his men. In this order they led him all through the town, up to the castle on the hill, where he will be well guarded for the next week, until the iron cage is ready, which will be his room both by night and day. The cage, I hear, is very strong, and made of iron framed in wood, in such a manner that the iron bars, instead of breaking under a file or any other instrument, would throw out sparks of fire. One thing I must not forget to tell you. The ambassador of Spain and I were together at a window when Signor Lodovico passed, and when the Spaniard was pointed out to him, he took off his hat and bowed. And being told that I was the ambassador of your Serene Highness, he stopped, and seemed about to speak. But I did not move, and the captain of the archers, who rode by him, said, ‘Go on go on!’ Afterwards the captain mentioned this to the king, who said, ’Do you mean that he refused to pay you any reverence?’ adding that such men as this who do not keep faith are bad, and so on. And I replied that I should have felt shame rather than honour if I had received any sign of courtesy from a person of this kind. The king was in his palace, and had seen Signor Lodovico pass, and with him were many other lords and gentlemen, who spoke much of the Moro. His Christian Majesty said that he had decided not to send him to Loches as he had intended, because at certain seasons of the year he himself goes there with his court for his amusement, and would rather not be there with him, as he does not wish to see him. So he has decided to send him to Lys in Berry, two leagues from the city of Bourges, where the king has a very strong castle with trenches wider than those of the Castello of Milan, full of water. This place is in the centre of France, and is kept by a gentleman, who was captain of the archers when his Majesty was Duke of Orleans, and had a body of tried guards who were trained by the king himself. When the Moro alighted from the mule which he rode, he was carried into the castle, and is, I am told, so weak that he cannot walk a step without help. From this I judge that his days will be few. I commend myself humbly to your Serene Highness.


Fortunately, the iron cage seems to have been a fable invented by the Venetian ambassador, and from all accounts the prisoner was well and honourably treated, although the king absolutely refused his request to see him during the fortnight that he remained in the fortress at Lyons. He received visits, however, from several of the king’s ministers, who all remarked that if he had been guilty of some foolish actions his words were remarkably wise toutefois moult sagement parloit.” Anger gave place to pity at the sight of this victim who had suffered so terrible a reverse of fortune, and the Benedictine chronicler, Jean d’Auton, deplores the sad fate of this unfortunate prince, who, after many golden days of wealth and prosperity, was doomed to end his life in weary and lonely captivity far from house and friends: “Somme, si lé pauvre Seigneur captif, de deuil inconsolable avoit lé coeur serre a nul devoit sembler merveilles.” The sorrowful destiny of the “infelice Duca,” who had once boasted himself to be the favourite of fortune Il Figlio della Fortuna” became the burden of popular poetry, alike in France and Italy. Jean dAuton himself gives vent to his feelings in an elegy on the vanity of earthly glories

“Si Ludovic, qui jadys pleine cacque Heut de ducatz et pouvoir magnifique, Est en exil, sans targe, escu ne placque, Captif, afflict, plus mausain que cung heticque, Et que, de main hostile et inimique, Malheur fière rudement et estocque Gloire mondaine est fragile et caducque.”

The grief of the Milanese bards for their duke’s cruel fate found utterance in the following lament:

Son quel duca in Milano Che compianto sto in dolore ... Io diceva che un sel Dio Era in cielo e un Moro in terra E secondo il mio disio Io faveva pace e guerra Son quel duca di Milano,” etc.

Fausto Andrelino wrote a Latin poem beginning with the lines

“Ille ego sum Maurus, franco qui captus ab hoste Exemplum instabilis non lève sortis eo;”

and Jean Marot found inspiration in a Venetian song Ogni fumo viene al basso” which he rendered in the following lines, alluding to the legend of the Moros fresco in the Castello of Milan:

“Jadiz fist paindre une dame, embellie Par sur sa robe, des villes d’Ytalie Et luy au près tenant des epoussetes, Voullant dire, par superbe follie, Que l’Ytalie estoit toute sonillie Et qu’il voulloit faire les villes nettes. Le roi Loys, voulant ravoir ses mettes, Par bonne guerre luy a fait tel ennuy Que l’Ytalie est nettoye de lui! Chose usurpée legier est consommee, Comme argent vif qui retourne en fumee.”

From Lyons the captive duke was removed to Lys Saint-Georges in Berry, where he remained during the next four years in the charge of Gilbert Bertrand, the king’s old captain of the guard. He was allowed to take exercise in the precincts of the castle and to fish in the moat. According to Sanuto, he was not wholly cut off from his friends. “Since he likes to know what is happening in the world outside, the king allows him to receive letters and to hear the news.” But his health suffered from the confinement, and in the summer of 1501, he became so ill that Louis XII., who was hunting in the neighbourhood, sent his doctor, Maitre Salomon, to see him. The physician was shocked at the prisoner’s altered appearance; his long hair, as we learn from a contemporary miniature, had turned entirely white, and there were black circles round his eyes. He sighed constantly, complained of the faithless subjects who had caused his ruin, and asked eagerly for the latest news of the treaty with the King of the Romans. Maitre Salomon told the king that he believed Signor Lodovico was losing his reason, and his account moved Louis so much that he sent to Milan for one of the duke’s favourite dwarfs, in order to beguile the weary hours of captivity. Meanwhile, in justice to Maximilian, it must be said that he was untiring in his efforts to obtain the release of his friend and kinsman. For many years he steadily refused to grant Louis XII. the investiture of Milan, unless Lodovico was set at liberty, and repeated his solicitations to this effect with the most unwearied pertinacity. On this point, however, the French king was inexorable. He knew the hold which the Moro had retained on the hearts of his subjects, and would not run the risk of another rebellion by allowing Lodovico to join his children at Innsbruck. At the prayer of the Empress Bianca, he released her brother, Ermes Sforza, in 1502, and a year later allowed Ascanio Sforza to return to Rome, at the request of Cardinal d’Amboise, and give his vote in the papal conclave. After the accession of his old enemy, Giuliano della Rovere, to the papal throne, Cardinal Sforza once more attained a high degree of honour and prosperity, and when he died, in 1505, Julius II. raised the magnificent monument in the church of S. Maria del Popolo to his memory. In February, 1504, the German ambassador made another strong appeal to the king on his master’s behalf for Lodovico’s release, but the only concession that he could obtain was some relaxation in the rigour of his treatment. The duke was removed to the chateau of Loches in Touraine, a healthy and beautiful spot, on the summit of a lofty hill, and was allowed greater liberty and more society.

All contemporary writers agree that he bore his long and tedious captivity with remarkable patience and fortitude. “I have heard,” writes the Como historian, Paolo Giovio, “from Pier Francesco da Pontremoli, who was the duke’s faithful companion and servant during his captivity, that he bore his miserable condition with pious resignation and sweetness, often saying that God had sent him these tribulations as a punishment for the sins of his youth, since nothing but the sudden might of destiny could have subverted the counsels of human wisdom.”

Early in the spring of 1508, the Moro seems to have made a desperate attempt to escape. According to the Milanese chronicler Prato, he bribed one of his guardians, with gold supplied, as we learn, from Padre Gattico, by the friars of S. Maria delle Grazie, and succeeded in making his way out of the castle gates hidden in a waggon load of straw. But he lost his way in the woods that surround Loches, and after wandering all night in search of the road to Germany, he was discovered on the following day by blood-hounds, who were put upon his track. After this, his captivity became more severe. He was deprived of books and writing materials and cut off from intercourse with the outer world. It was then, too, in all likelihood, that he was confined in the subterranean dungeon, still shown as the Moro’s prison. The cell, as visitors to Loches remember, is cut out of the solid rock, and light and air can only penetrate by one narrow loophole. There, tradition says, Leonardo’s patron, the great duke who had once reigned over Milan, beguiled the weary hours of his captivity by painting red and blue devices and mottoes on his prison walls. Among these rude attempts at decoration we may still discover traces of a portrait of himself in casque and armour, and a sun-dial roughly scratched on the stone opposite the slit in the rock. And there, too, half effaced by the damp, are fragments of inscriptions, which tell the same piteous tale of regret for vanished days and weary longings for the end that would not come.

Quand Mort me assault et que je ne puis mourir Et se courir on ne me veult, maïs me faire rudesse Et de liesse me voir bannir. Que dois je plus guérir?”

Or this

Je porte en prison pour ma device que je m’arme de patience par force de peine que l’on me fait pouster” (porter) . .

Again, in large letters among the fragment of red and blue paint, we read

Celui qui ne craint fortune n’est pas bien saige.”

Even more pathetic, when we recall the joyous days at Milan and Vigevano, where Lodovico listened to readings from Dante in Beatrice’s rooms, is the following version of Francesca da Riminis famous lines:

Il n’y au monde plus grande destresse, Du bon tempts soi souvenir en la tristesse.”

At length death brought the desired release. Marino Sanuto briefly records the fact in the following words: “On the 17th day of May, 1508, at Loches, Signor Lodovico Sforza, formerly Duke of Milan, who was there in prison, died as a good Christian with the rites of the Catholic Church.” All we know besides is that his faithful servant, Pier Francesco, was with him to the end, and closed his eyes in the last sleep. To this day the place of his burial remains unknown. A local tradition says that he was interred in the church of Loches at the entrance of the choir, but a manuscript account of the Sieur Dubuisson’s travels in 1642, preserved in the Mazarin Library, states that Ludovic Sforza sleeps in the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre on the eastern side of the church. On his death-bed, it is said, he desired to be buried in the church of the Dominican friars at Tarascon, but we never hear if his wishes were carried out, and no trace of his burial is to be found in this place. On the whole we are inclined to think the most trustworthy authority on the subject is the Dominican historian of S. Maria delle Grazie, Padre Gattico. In the history of the convent which he wrote a hundred and fifty years after the Moro’s death, he tells us that the friars of his convent supplied the duke with means for his unfortunate attempt to escape, and that this having failed, after his death they removed his body to Milan, and buried him by the side of his wife, Duchess Beatrice. This may very well have been effected during the reign of Lodovico’s son Maximilian, who was restored to his father’s throne in 1512, and would explain the uncertainty which has always existed at Loches as to the Moro’s grave, and the absence of any inscription to mark his burial-place.

For Lodovico’s sake, let us hope, the good Dominican’s story is true. It is good to think that, after all the distress of those long years of exile and captivity, the unfortunate prince should have been brought back to rest in his own sunny Milanese, under Bramante’s cupola, in the tomb where he had wished to lie, at Beatrice’s side. There, during the next three centuries, masses were duly said for the repose of Duke Lodovico’s soul and that of his wife, on the four anniversaries sacred to their memory, “in gratitude,” writes Padre Pino, “for all the benefactions that we have received from this duke and duchess.” And to this day, on the Feast of All Souls, the stone floor immediately in front of the high altar, where Beatrice’s monument once stood, is solemnly censed, year by year, in memory of the illustrious dead who sleep there, in Lodovico’s own words, “until the day of resurrection.”