Within six months of his acclamation by the people as "Head of the State," Cosimo obtained from the Emperor Charles V. the full recognition of his title of Duke of Florence.
There were great doings at the Palazzo Medici in the May of 1539, when Cosimo welcomed his bride, Donna Eleanora, second daughter of Don Pedro de Toledo, Duca d'Alba, the King of Spain's Viceroy at Naples. She was certainly no beauty, but a woman of estimable qualities, and profoundly imbued with the spirit of devotion. Hardly, perhaps, the wife Cosimo would have chosen, had not reasons of State as usual guided him. Eleanora, nevertheless, proved herself a worthy spouse and an exemplary mother.
Within the palace Eleanora was shocked to find a little child, "La Bia"—short for "Bambina," "Baby"—she was called, some two years old. No one seemed to know quite who was her mother. Some said she was a village girl of Trebbio, and others, a young gentlewoman of Florence. Only Cosimo's mother, Madonna Maria, knew, and she refused to reveal the girl's identity, but she admitted that "La Bia" was Cosimo's child. Eleanora would not tolerate her presence in the palace, so Cosimo sent her off with several attendants to the Villa del Castello, where, perhaps fortunately, she died on the last day of February the following year.
The first years of Cosimo's government were years of unrest and peril throughout Tuscany. The adherents of the dead bastard Duke were neither few nor uninfluential. Encouraged by the Clementine coterie in Rome, the members of which had from the first opposed Cosimo's succession to the Headship of the Republic, they made the Florentine Court a hot-bed of intrigue and strife.
The party, not inconsiderable, which supported the claims of Giuliano, younger son of Pierfrancesco the Younger, and brother of Lorenzino, Alessandro's murderer, gave much trouble. Giuliano, who had been an associate of the Duke and an abettor of Lorenzino's "devilries," fled precipitately from Florence, and sought the protection of the Duke of Milan. Lorenzino's confession was written partly with a view of removing suspicion from his brother, and to leave unprejudiced the claims of his father's family. There were many other cliques and parties, great and small, each bent upon the other's destruction in particular and upon the undoing of the Republic in general.
By far the most formidable opposition to Cosimo's rule came from Venice, whence the Florentine exiles, under the command of Filippo negli Strozzi's two sons, Piero and Roberto, who had married Lorenzino's sisters, Laudomia and Maddalena, raised, with the assistance of the King of France, a strong force, and invaded Tuscany.
It needed not the persuasion of Madonna Maria to urge Cosimo to action, although her active representations to the Emperor—which obtained the Imperial sanction and promise of co-operation—were important factors in his resolution. Cosimo gathered together what men he could rely upon in Florence, and when once his battle-banner was unfurled with the black pennon of his redoubtable father, numbers of old campaigners hastened to his support.
On 31st July, 1537, the opposing forces met in the valley of Montemurlo. Cosimo displayed much of the daring and ability of his father, and victory was never in doubt. The Strozzi and Baccio Valori were taken prisoners to Florence, bound upon broken-down farm-horses, and their forces were dispersed. It was reported that in the heat of the battle Otto da Montanto, an Imperial officer, riding past Cosimo, lowered the point of his sword as he shouted, "Forward, Signore, to-day the fortunes of the Emperor and of Cosimo de' Medici will prevail!"
Cosimo wore no velvet gloves in dealing with his enemies, secret and pronounced. Arrest, confiscation, torture, banishment, and execution thinned once more the ranks of the noblest families of Tuscany. Filippo negli Strozzi, who was regarded as the leader of the anti-Cosimo party, was taken prisoner and cast into the fortress of San Giovanni. Apparently his aim was not a restoration of a Papal nominee to the Headship of the State, but his own advancement to that position. He was put on the rack, and eventually done to death by Cosimo's orders.
The years 1538, 1539 and 1540, are deeply dyed with the blood of victims. Florentine vengeance again proved itself satisfied only with wholesale annihilation. It has been computed that in the latter year alone, nearly five hundred men and women, chiefly of good family and high distinction, came by violent deaths. Of these, one hundred and forty-six were decapitated by Cosimo's express orders!
Perhaps "The Terror" was inevitable, but it revealed in a lurid light the revengeful and implacable temper of the young ruler. If he had inherited, through many generations, the craft and pushfulness of the Medicis, he had also become possessed of some of the brutality of the Sforzas, through his grandmother Caterina, natural daughter, by the lovely but dissolute Lucrezia Landriani, of Galeazzo Maria, Duke of Milan. This prince possessed all the worst points of a Renaissance tyrant, and was "a monster of vices and virtues": perhaps he was insane, at all events, Caterina was accustomed to speak of him as "Uno Fantastico!"
There was at least one ray of sunshine in that year of swift, dark deeds, for, in less than a month after poor little "La Bia" had flown back to Heaven, as lovely and as precious a gift as ever came to gladden the hearts of young parents was vouchsafed to Cosimo and Eleanora, in the birth of their first-born, a girl.
In the Registri dei Battezzati dell' Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore is the following record: "On April 13th, 1540, was baptised a female child of the Duke of Cosimo, born on the third day of the same month, and she was registered in the name of Maria Lucrezia." Alas, the joy of that natal day was marred by the solicitude which the delicacy of the frail infant caused her father and mother. No one thought she could live, but Duchess Eleanora was a tender nurse, and her weaning caused the cradle to rock with hope as well as love.
Just twelve months later a baby brother came to keep little Maria company, a strong and vigorous boy, dark-haired and sallow like his Spanish mother. He was christened Francesco, after the patron saint of his day of birth. Cosimo was not in Florence at the time, he had gone to pay his respects to the Emperor Charles V. at Genoa.
The object of his visit to the Imperial Court was to thank Charles for the German bodyguard of Landesnechte which he had sent to Florence to defend the Medici Palace and its inmates during the three years of disorder and repression, and to ask for an extension of their services.
Florence was full of Spaniards who had occupied Tuscany in force under the Commendattore Raimondo da Cardona, and who had helped in the terrible sack of Prato. They were a menace to peace and order in the city, and brawls between them and the citizens were of daily occurrence.
Duchess Eleanora perhaps naturally held with her fellow-countrymen, certainly she made a poor attempt to conceal her dislike for Florence and its people. At Santa Maria Novella she endowed a chapel for Mass, which served as a rallying-point for the foreigners, and acquired thereby its name, Cappella degli Spagnuoli.
The Duchess had, however, other than quasi-patriotic duties to perform, for, in 1542, she again became the mother of a little daughter—Isabella Romola they called her, in compliment to beloved Spain. She was, like Francesco, a healthy child, and she was fair, as "playful as a kitten," and thoroughly Medici in temperament.
Cosimo busied himself in peaceful pursuits. He greatly encouraged the arts and crafts, and set on foot sagacious reformation of the conditions and activities of the great Trade Guilds. The College of Science was due to his patronage; and, in 1540, he extended his special protection to the Florentine Academy—whence sprang the still more famous Accademia della Crusca.
Still due regard was paid to the exigencies of political peace and the maintenance of safeguards, Throughout Tuscany Cosimo raised forts and works of defence. All the more important towns were fortified, and entrenched camps and bastions were erected at San Martino in Mugello, and at Terra del Sole. He kept his hand upon the pulse of Florence: no slackening of restraint was possible. The men who had acclaimed him in 1537 were quite capable of crying out for his supersession at any time. Fickle indeed were the Florentines ever, but in Cosimo they had a master who would not let them go.
The Duke's family was growing fast, and each year as it passed gave him a precious hostage to love and to fortune. The Duchess, in 1543, brought forth her fourth child, another boy, called Giovanni, after his grandfather, and in honour of good St John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence. Lucrezia followed in 1544, and then there came and went in 1545 and 1546 Antonio and Piero. Garzia was born in 1547. A year sped by, and in 1549, Ernando or Ferdinando, made his appearance and then came a barren season, and when, perhaps, it had been concluded that the Duchess had ceased child-bearing, came a great surprise, one more little son, in 1554, Piero was his name.
Meanwhile, Maria had been growing fast along with her many brothers and sisters. At the age of eight or nine she was an attractive little damsel. "Tall for her age, with a face not only pretty, but intelligent, and as merry and as full of life as was possible. Her broad forehead was indicative of more than ordinary mental power." Her thirst for knowledge and her power of acquisition delighted her doting father and mother.
Maria was reared with all the care that love and hope could inspire, and at her mother's knee she learned her first lessons. The unhappy result of poor young Caterina's education proved to Duke Cosimo that the convent was no place for her, and, although he placed Alessandro's illegitimate little daughters, Giulia and Porczia, with the good nuns, he resolved that no such experience should be that of his own dear children. The common saying, "The cow that is kept in the stall gives the best milk" had for him a special significance!
Florentine children were noted for precocity and cruelty. Perhaps the tragedy of Giacopo de' Pazzi, and the mauling of his mutilated body by the street urchins, had left their marks on succeeding generations of boys and girls. The most popular pastime was mimic warfare, wherein the actualities of wounds and even deaths were common constituents. Every dangerous sport was encouraged and, if by chance, or by intent, a boy killed his rival, nobody cared and few lamented. The spirit of revenge was openly cultivated, and cruelties of all kinds were not reprimanded. Whether Cosimo's children shared in the general juvenile depravity, it is impossible to say: they were, as they left the nursery, kept hard at work with their lessons—Maria certainly, and probably Isabella, shared the studies of their brothers. At first, Maestro Francesco Riccio, who had been their father's tutor also, grounded them all in Greek, Latin, grammar, music, and drawing; and then Maestro Antonio Angeli da Barga, a scholar and writer of considerable merit, took them through the higher subjects of composition, poetry, rhetoric, and geometry.
Foreign languages—at least French and Spanish—were not forgotten, for, before Donna Maria was eight years old, she spoke the latter tongue with fluency. The very learned Maestro Pietro Vettori, when he joined the household of the Duke as teacher of Greek and philosophy to Don Francesco, was greatly struck by the young girl's attainments, and so charmed was he by her sprightly manner, that he obtained permission for her to join her brother's lessons.
Donna Maria, before she was twelve, could read and quote Homer with ease. She composed elegantly in Greek and Latin, and, possessed of a remarkably sweet and sympathetic voice, she was able to recite from memory, and even to expound her own juvenile opinions, both in Latin and in Tuscan.
Cosimo and Eleanora inhabited the Medici Palace, in the Via Larga, just five years, and then he transferred his official residence to the Palazzo Vecchio. This he did to show that he was absolute ruler of Tuscany as well as head of the Medici family. With the skilled assistance of Tasso, the architect, and Vasari, the painter, he set about structural and decorative alterations and adornments, which rendered the old building more suitable as a residence for the Sovereign.
In 1549 Duchess Eleanora purchased the Pitti Palace from Buonaccorso Pitti, for 9000 gold florins, and laid out the adjacent gardens. There the Duke and Duchess took up their residence with their family and their suite.
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Among young aspirants to fame and fortune, who enrolled themselves in the "Bande Nere," were several scions of the proud and warlike Rimini family of Malatesti. One branch of the family held the Marquisate of Roncofreddo, and their stronghold was the castle of Montecodruzzo. Marquis Leonida de' Malatesti was the happy father of many sons and daughters. After the premature death of the Condottiere Giovanni de' Medici, his sons maintained their allegiance and devotion to the cause of his son Cosimonino.
Giacopo and Lamberto, elder sons, became esquires of the young Medico, and were of the party which entered Florence on that memorable day in 1537. A younger boy, Malatesta, followed his brothers' example, for, in 1548, in the list of officers and men of the Ducal household in Florence, appears his name as a page, but of the tender age of ten.
The lad was possessed of the vigour and spirit of his race, and it required all the patience and tact of Frate Cammillo Selmi, the Master of the Pages, to keep him in order. His pugnacious disposition attracted the attention of the Duke, and his pretty looks and fair hair charmed the Duchess. One other recommendation the young boy had—his father's fidelity and worthy services, and he was looked upon as a pet of the palace, and became rather a playmate than an attendant of the Duke's family. Besides, his mother was a Florentine—she was Madonna Cassandra, the daughter of Messer Nattio de' Cini, a devoted adherent of the Medici.
Many were the escapades in which Francesco, Giovanni, Garzia, and Ernando, the Duke's sons, were joined by young Malatesta de' Malatesti and other pages of the household. One such boyish prank, when the Court was at Pisa, in the winter of 1550, had a tragic ending. In the pages' common room the lads were playing with shot-guns, which were supposed to be unloaded. Picking up one of these, by mere chance, Malatesta aimed it jokingly at his companions, when to his and their alarm the weapon exploded, and, sad to behold, poor young Francesco Brivio, a son of Signore Dionisio Brivio of Milan, a fellow page, fell to the ground mortally wounded.
Consternation reigned in the palace, the Duke's private physician, Maestro Andrea Pasquali, was sent for in all haste from Florence, and everything was done for the unfortunate lad, but, on the fourth day—it was just before Christmas—the promising young life passed away.
Malatesta, with his heart breaking, was confined in the guard-room, and there he remained pending the Duke's decision. Every one was grieved beyond measure at the tragic occurrence, but all took Malatesta's part. The young Medici were eager and united in their version of the affair, moreover Donne Maria and Isabella were filled with pity for the unhappy young prisoner. Indeed, the former regarded him with a sister's love: she was just ten and the lad thirteen, and she pleaded with the Duchess, her mother, to have the boy released.
The Duke sent for Signore Tommaso de' Medici, the Chamberlain of the Court, and gave him instructions to set the boy at liberty, after administering the useful punishment of twenty strokes with a birch rod, and giving him a severe reprimand and caution!
Signor Brivio and his wife, of course, were dreadfully cast down by their sad bereavement, and both wrote piteously to the Duke, and so did Marchese Leonida de' Malatesti. Cosimo sent very sympathetic letters in return: that to the Marchese was as follows: "... Consideration has been given ... it has not been found that there was any malice between the boys.... Do not trouble yourself any further about the matter, for your boy remains in our service, in which we hope he will behave as he ought, and we hold you in the same esteem as we have ever done. May God preserve you."
Young Malatesta grew to be a fine, high-spirited soldier of the Duke's bodyguard. Loyal to the core to his master, and ambitious for the honour of his family, no enterprise was beyond his scope, no obstacle insurmountable. Intercourse between the princes and princesses and himself became naturally less familiar, but the affections of early boy and girlhood are not easily dissipated; and so Malatesta de' Malatesti and Maria de' Medici found, but, alas, for their woe and not for their weal!
Whilst boys and young men in Florence were free to come and go as they liked, and to mix with all sorts and conditions of men and women, the case was precisely the opposite for girls. Very especially severe were the restrictions imposed upon the growing daughters of the Duchess Eleanora. Brought up amid all the austerity and fanaticism of the Spanish Court, Eleanora de Toledo viewed woman's early life from the conventual point of view.
Jealous of her children's honour, she fenced her three daughters around with precautions which rendered their lives irksome to themselves and troublesome to all who were about them. Maria and her younger sisters were literally shut up within the narrow limits of the apartments they occupied in the palace—happily for them it was not the Palazzo Vecchio but the more roomy Pitti, with its lovely Boboli Gardens.
With carefully chosen attendants and teachers, their lives were entirely absorbed by religious exercises, studies, and needlework. Rarely were they seen at Court functions, and rarer still in the city. If they were allowed a day's liberty in the country, they were jealously guarded, and every attempt at recognition and salutation, of such as they chanced to meet, was rigorously checked.
Beyond association with their brothers, and anxiously watched intercourse with the members of the Ducal suite, their knowledge of the sterner sex was absolutely wanting. It was in vain that Cosimo expostulated with his consort; she was inexorable, and, indeed, she stretched her system so far as to exclude the ladies of the Court. Perhaps she was right in this, for the Duke himself was the daily object of her watchfulness!
Cosimo was wont to meet her restrictions by some such remark as "Well, you see, Eleanora, Maria and Isabella are of the same complexion as myself; we have need of freedom at times to enjoy the pleasures of the world."
Love, we all know, cares neither for locks nor bars, and lovely young Maria de' Medici was surely made to love and to caress. She had many adorers, whose ardour was all the more fierce by reason of their inability to press her hand and kiss her lips. She was in 1556 betrothed to Prince Alfonso d'Este, eldest son of the Duke of Ferrara. He was certainly not in the category of lovers, even at sight, for he had never seen his bride to be. That was an entirely unimportant incident in matrimonial arrangements. The union was projected entirely for political reasons, and chiefly for the putting an end to the protracted contest for precedence between the two families, which every now and again threatened to plunge all Italy into war.
Alfonso d'Este was the heir of his father, Ercole II.—of his titles and wealth, but not of his good looks and polished manners: besides, his reputation for chastity and sobriety was not of the best. Directly Maria was told of the arrangement she expressed her disgust and her determination not to submit to parental dictation. Her reception of the Prince was cold in the extreme, she declined to see him apart from her sisters and attendants, and he returned to Ferrara in no amiable frame of mind.
Meanwhile love, true love, had peeped through the jalousies of Princess Maria's window, and his arrows had fled their dangerous course unseen by any but herself, and him whose heart was hers. No one suspected that a life so guarded could, by any means, be filched from its restraints; but so it was, and the first gossip sprang out of the mouth of a venerable Spanish retainer of the Duchess, the faithful custode, Mandriano, who guarded his mistress's door almost night and day.
Traversing one day an unfrequented part of the gardens of the Palace on the Hill, the old fellow thought he heard voices, and, approaching a grove of laurels, he descried the young Princess in the arms of Malatesta de' Malatesti!
The Duchess was furious when Mandriano told her, and immediately conveyed the portentous news to her husband. Cosimo reflected long and acted warily, for he made no move for many days. Stealthily he tracked the unsuspecting lovers to their trysting-place. Mandriano's story was quite correct.
He summoned the two young people to his private closet, he acquainted them with the fact that the liaison could not continue, and ordered Malatesta to prepare for immediate imprisonment—with the loss of all his honours and the confidence of his Sovereign. The boy pleaded in vain, and testified to the innocence of the love-making without effect, except to raise the Duke's anger to a dangerous pitch. Maria threw herself at her father's feet and appealed for mercy for her lover, asking that the parental vengeance should fall on her and not on Malatesta.
"That you shall have, base child of mine," Cosimo cried in a fierce tone; "see, you shall have the justice of a Roman father!" Then, plucking out his poignard from its hidden sheath, he stabbed his child to the heart! Drawing forth the gory weapon, he flung it at the head of the despairing youth, and, throwing his cloak around his shoulders, rushed out of the chamber slamming-to the door!
Malatesta must have fallen in a deadly swoon across the lovely form of his innamorata, incapable of speech and action, for, there they were found, both apparently dead, by brethren of the Misericordia, who had been summoned by the Duke. Malatesta was thrown into prison, and there he languished for seven long years, without anyone knowing of his existence. His parents had asked Cosimo repeatedly about the boy, but no answer was ever given—the Duke having forbidden the subject to be named.
To the Duchess he prevaricated and hinted that the sudden death of the child was due to the malignant spotted fever, and that he had given personal instructions for the immediate removal and interment of her body. The brethren of the Misericordia might have enlightened the grief-stricken mother, only they were sworn to secrecy; they knew how the beauteous young girl had died. They laid her fair body to rest in a grave unknown even to her father, and not among her people in San Lorenzo.
Cosimo moved the Court immediately to Livorno, and thence to Pisa, and there they kept their Lenten fast in strict seclusion. There was universal grief in Florence where the unhappy Princess, though rarely seen in public, had become the favourite of the people, through her fresh young beauty and by what was known of the sweetness of her character and the brilliancy of her attainments.
Duchess Eleanora and her children mourned piteously for lovely Maria: there seemed to be no solace for their grief. As for the Duke, he was a changed man, the bitterness of remorse had turned his natural reserve into moroseness. He was like one beside himself, his wonted firmness and self-control, at times, failed to stay him, and he preferred to shut himself up alone in one of the towers of the castle at Livorno, venting his passionate despair in fits of weeping and in abject cries of self-reproach.
No one dared to go near to him, for to all who presumed to intrude upon his woes he was like a lion roused. That ever ready secret blade might be whipped out to another's undoing! Still, in calmer moments he reflected, as Muzio has suggestively written: "Maria was very beautiful, as beautiful as any child of earth, most courteous and gentle, her seriousness compelled everyone to respect her, her sprightliness, to love her. She was pleasing to Heaven, whither she had gone sinless to reinforce the angelic choir, and to wear the most fragrant coronal of roses among the companies of holy virgins."
As for the unfortunate young Malatesta, he pined in his dungeon within the keep of San Giovanni for a while, but "hope springeth ever in youthful hearts," and his one and consuming thought was of escape. His conduct seems to have been exemplary, and he gained the sympathy and friendship of his gaolers. At length he ventured to unbosom himself to a worthy sergeant of the guard, and this man assisted him, knowing well what great risk they both incurred.
One evening Malatesta unseen, save by his friend, scaled the prison wall, and made good his escape from Florence and Tuscany. He did not venture to seek sanctuary within his father's castle, but, flying to the coast, boarded a vessel bound for Candia, a fief of Venice, and outside Duke Cosimo's jurisdiction. Various tales are told of his future career—some affirm that assassins, in the pay of Duke Cosimo, tracked him to his doom, and others, that he fell, fighting against the Turks at Famagusta. Anyhow, the kindly sergeant was put to death by order of the Duke!
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Cosimo de' Medici was not the sort of man to brood very long over troubles, however prostrating and desperate. He was essentially a man of action, prompt, eager and able: probably no one ever had a more thorough confidence in his own ability. There were several questions of supreme importance, both public and private, which claimed his attention.
The everlasting disagreement between the aristocracy and the democracy was only partially healed by the alliance of the two against an autocracy. Cosimo was bent upon being absolute ruler of Tuscany, and the development of his will raised against him and his Government constant opposition. He meant to keep his hand tight hold of the bridle of his charger "Tyranny," and to spur him on where he willed.
The Mediceo-Este dispute still called for firmness and determination. Tuscany and Florence had certainly a better case than the Romagna and Ferrara, but intrigue and bribes could achieve what the sword and pen could not. Cosimo meant to keep on his steel gauntlets, although he covered them with the fragrant silk gloves of plausibility. With this idea ever present, he was bent upon retaining the advantage he had gained over Duke Ercole in the matter of poor young Donna Maria's betrothal, for he had other daughters to consider. Donna Isabella was provided for, for better or for worse—alas, that the latter was to be her sad fate—beautiful, fascinating Isabella de' Medici, but Donna Lucrezia, nearly fifteen years of age, was the forfeit her father paid in his gambit of Medicean aggrandisement.
In the July that followed Donna Maria's tragic death, with all the circumstances and pomp of state ceremonial, Lucrezia de' Medici was married to Alfonso II., Duke of Ferrara, the same prince who had been affianced to her sister Maria.
It was not without misgivings that this step was taken: Duchess Eleanora, in particular, expressed dissatisfaction with the match, and feared, perhaps superstitiously, the portent of a second unlucky alliance. Anyhow the preparations for the nuptial day, and the pageants which accompanied it, drew off the thoughts of all from the terrible event of Christmas.
Cosimo, however, had other and, from his own personal point of view, more attractive objects upon which to expend thought and action. As soon as the marriage festivities were over, he set out with a small suite of expert surveyors and agriculturists to the Maremma. It was a peculiarly unhealthy region, and had gone out of cultivation, and its former inhabitants had deserted it.
The Duke determined to drain the land by cutting a canal right through from the Arno to the sea. Next, he set to work to afforest the newly recovered ground, to carve it out in allotments suitable for agricultural pursuits, and to encourage the settlement of vigorous working peasant-tenants. A certain portion of the estates he set apart to his own use for the preservation of wild game. He rebuilt and enlarged the ruined castle of Rosignano, ten miles from Livorno, for the occupation of himself and his family and for his hunting associates.
At Pisa he had peculiar interests. The University, which Lorenzo "il Magnifico" had refounded, had been abandoned by his successors and was closed. Cosimo took the matter up: he re-established all that had been done by his illustrious predecessor, and endowed a number of professorial chairs—especially in chemistry, wherein he was himself an ardent student and sapient expert—and kindred sciences, and founded scholarships or apprenticeships for youths of every station.
The climate of Pisa suited Duchess Eleanora and young Don Giovanni—who was a delicate lad—better far than that of Florence; it was sedative and not so rigorous in winter as that of the higher Val d'Arno. Then, too, they were there within easy reach of their favourite seaside residence, Livorno, in whose harbour rode constantly galleons of war from Spain flying the Duchess' own dear country's ensign.
Cosimo and his family of course had many other distractions from the affairs of State. In addition to his attainments as a chemist, in which science he especially interested his eldest son, Francesco, he excelled in his knowledge of botany. With passionate devotion to an attractive subject he taught his children the nature and the use of all growing things. At the Pitti Palace he had his laboratories.
Printing and the printing-press found in Cosimo an ardent patron. Away in the grounds of the Casino di Cosimo—"_Il Padre della Patria"—within the confines of the monastery of San Marco, he printed, bound, and published, literary works of all kinds. Torrentino, Paolo Giovio, Scipione Ammirato, Benedetto Vasari, Filippo de' Nerli, Vincenzio Borghini, and many other writers, printers, and critics, collectors, forgathered at the Ducal studios.
Architecture and the embellishment of the city had also Cosimo's active sympathy: piazzas, bridges, fountains, statues, still bear the marks of his supervision. Benvenuto Cellini, Michael Angelo Buonarroti, Baccio Bandinelli, Giovanni da Bologna, Bernardo Buonlatenti, Francesco Ferrucci, Tribolo, Giorgio Vasari, were among his proteges and personal friends.
In all these enterprises he shared his pleasures with his sons, and so the years passed on with rays of brilliant sunshine piercing the clouds of darkling deeds. Alexandre Dumas has well summed up the character of Cosimo de' Medici: "He had," he says, "all the vices which rendered his private life sombre, and all the virtues which made his life in public renowned for splendour; whilst his family experienced unexampled misfortune, his people rejoiced in prosperity and gladness."
Perhaps in the delights of music and dancing and in the invigorating exercises of the chase, Cosimo found his best-loved relaxation. No Florentine valued more thoroughly, and shared more frequently than he, in the layman's privilege of assisting in the choir of the Duomo at the singing of the "Hours." Musical reunions in the gardens of the Pitti Palace were of constant recurrence, where he and his children danced and sang to their hearts' content, amid the plaudits of the company.
The Duke easily excelled all his courtiers and the many distinguished visitors who made Florence their rendezvous, in exploits in the hunting-field. No one rode faster than he, always in at the death, whether buck or boar, he was second to none as a falconer. He knew every piscatorial trick to take a basketful of fish, and in the game of water-polo, in the Arno, no swimmer gained more goals!
In the middle of October, 1562, the Duke and Duchess, with their four sons, Giovanni, Garzia, Ernando, and little Piero—only eight years old—accompanied by a limited suite, left the Palazzo Pitti for a progress through South Tuscany and the Maremma. At Fuicchio and Grosseto they made sojourns, that the Duke might inspect the new fortifications, which were nearing completion, and view the partly formed roads.
The cavalcade passed on to Castiglione della Pescaia, Massa Maritima, and thence to the Castello di Rosignano, where they went into residence for the hunting season. The members of the Ducal family were not in very robust health, and Maestro Stefano had "indicated" the healthy pastime of the chase as a cure for enfeebled constitutions. Don Giovanni, born 28th September, was just nineteen. He was of a gentle disposition, serious beyond his years, amenable to the dictates of conscience, and attracted by the offices of religion. In many ways he resembled his mother, and was physically more of a Spaniard than a Florentine. From his earliest years he evinced a remarkably docile submission to all who were placed over him as teachers or governors. He was gifted with great ability, for, sharing as he did, the studies and duties of his brothers, he very soon surpassed them all in polite accomplishments. Francesco Riccio, now the Duke's Major-domo, noted the young prince's cheerfulness, conscientiousness and diligence. The reports which Maestro Antonio da Barga made to his father of his son's progress were full of praise of his young pupil's aptitude and perseverance. Giovanni de' Medici was, in many respects, a brilliant exponent of Count Baltazzare Castiglione's Cortegiano or "Perfect Gentleman."
Cosimo expected great things of his amiable and accomplished son, and, noting especially his sobriety and integrity, destined him for the service of the Church. Pius IV. succeeded to the Papal throne in 1559, and his election was in a great measure due to the advocacy of the Duke of Florence. In January of the following year, he invited young Giovanni to visit Rome, and immediately conceived an immense fancy for his charming visitor. Giovanni was preconised Cardinal-Deacon, with the title of Santa Maria in Domenica, and the Pope presented him his own private residence, with its appointments and household. The young Cardinal spent some weeks in the Eternal City, and gathered around him, by his courtesy and liberality, most of the Florentine exiles in Rome and its environs. They were generally in a woeful condition, and the young prince undertook to bring their misfortunes and their fervent wishes before his father.
The Cardinal of Lorraine and the Cardinal Camerlengo Ascarno Sforza had previously visited the Tuscan Court, and had received Cosimo's consent to his son's acceptance of the biretta.
Giovanni Battista Adriani in his Istorie di Suoi Tempe, has placed on record that this youthful Prince of the Church was "of mature judgment and wise beyond his years, and of such a bearing that it would have been difficult to have found anyone more attractive, more seemly in his morals, and very sensible." In Rome Giovanni gave himself up especially to the study of antiquities, and he became a great favourite with the many pious, learned, and distinguished men who were gathered round the mild and religiously-minded Pontiff.
Cardinal de' Medici's secretary was the erudite and upright Abbot Felice Gualterio, who subsequently gathered together his letters and literary compositions, "wherein are noble and benevolent expressions of his affection for his father and mother and his brothers and sisters." Garzia, two years his junior, is often named with sincerest love and pleasure.
Pius, constant in his devotion to the young Cardinal, added to his honours and prerogatives by creating him, early in 1561, Archbishop of Pisa, but, inasmuch as he had not reached the age prescribed for holding ecclesiastical preferments, Canon Antonio da Catignano was appointed Administrator of the spiritualities of the See. However, in March, the young Archbishop made his ceremonial entry into Pisa, accompanied by the Duke and Duchess, with their family and court.
The Pope greatly desired that Cardinal Giovanni should enter Holy Order, and to this the young prince cordially and reverently acceded, but, for reasons of his own, Cosimo declined his consent, remarking that "a prince of his house was more distinguished than a consecrated prelate." As a set-off to this discourteous reply to Pius, the Duke, whilst at Pisa, founded the military order of San Stefano, as a thank-offering for the subjugation of Siena, much after the pattern of the Knights of Malta—constituting himself Grand Master and the Cardinal, Chancellor.
Giovanni actually undertook his duties as Archbishop by granting letters of appointment to benefices within his diocese. One is dated 24th October, 1562, and was addressed to the Bishop of Arezzo, about the presentation to a certain abbey which had become vacant upon the death of Cardinal della Cueva.
It was at this period that Pius wrote to Duke Cosimo, suggesting a matrimonial alliance between the Duke's eldest son, Don Francesco,—who was undertaking a princely tour of the chief European Courts for the double purpose of making himself known personally to the various Sovereigns, and of looking out for a suitable consort,—and the Princess Maria Garzia of Portugal. The proposition was backed up by an offer of the kingly title to the Duke. Both propositions fell to the ground, but Pius, in his eagerness to render the Duke of Florence homage, and to prove his gratitude, asked his acceptance, for his young son Garzia, of the command of a Papal ship of war.
Garzia, the third of Duke Cosimo's surviving sons, was born on 1st July, 1547. His baptism, for some unknown reason, was delayed three years, and not until 29th June, 1550, was he held at the ancient font in the Battisterio di San Giovanni, having for his sponsor Pope Julius III., who was represented by Jacopo Cortese da Prato, Bishop of Vaison, the writer of a curious letter descriptive of the ceremony.
The little fellow was a thorough Medico, full of spirit, frank, and daring. Blessed with the good looks of his father's family, he was the merriest among his brothers and sisters. Mischievous, and passionate too, at times, he endeared himself especially to his mother by his fascinating manners and his whole-hearted devotion.
Whilst regarding his brilliant son Giovanni, perhaps, with the keenest affection, Cosimo saw in his younger boy traits not unlike his own, and an instinctive love of arms. Garzia then was from the first years of boyhood destined for a military career, having placed before him the splendid example of his redoubtable grandfather, "Giovanni L'Invincible."
Upon his thirteenth birthday, the Duke appointed his gay young son Admiral of the Florentine fleet at Pisa, naming as his Vice Admiral, Baccio Martelli, the most valiant and best experienced naval commander in his forces, and the head of one of the most ancient Florentine families.
In spite of Cardinal Giovanni's expression of affection for his younger brother, there is no doubt that he was not a little jealous of his mother's partiality for Garzia. One would have thought that Duchess Eleanora would have regarded with special delight and love the son who most resembled herself in appearance and disposition; but perhaps the reason for her preference may be gathered by looking into the happy, radiant, laughing face of her bonnie little son, as painted by Angelo Bronzino at the Uffizi in Florence!
It would seem that when the Court reached Rosignano the Duchess, Giovanni, and Garzia complained of fever, and they were for a few days confined to the house. The good air and the charm of country life were specific, and the invalids regained their vigour and their good spirits, and all were eager for the sport. Each day had its particular rendezvous, and what form the pastime should take was agreed overnight by the chief huntsmen and falconers.
The Duchess Eleanora did not always accompany her husband, and Ernando—who was not quite thirteen—generally remained with his tutors at the Castle until afternoon, when they both sallied forth, with little Piero, to meet the returning-hunting party. Upon the ever-memorable twenty-sixth of November the Duchess had been persuaded by Don Giovanni to go with them, for there was to be a deer-drive in the forest between the castle and Livorno, and he expected to have a chance of exhibiting his skill as a marksman at a notable full-grown roebuck.
Giovanni and Garzia were equally fearless riders, and very soon after the game had been rounded up, the special quarry they were after went off at a tremendous rate, out-distancing his pursuers until he was lost in the forest. The brothers separated and met again in an open glade, where both descried the buck, quietly browsing upon the fresh green grass. Garzia seems to have sighted the animal first, but whilst he was somewhat slow in bringing his weapon to his shoulder, the Cardinal aimed, fired, and dropped the game. He at once dismounted and ran to claim the prize. High words followed, and, when Giovanni made some insulting remark about his less mature station as a marksman, Garzia, over-heated by the chase, and aggravated by his brother's raillery, hastily drew his heavy hunting-knife and brandished it before Giovanni's face, threatening to do for him if he did not desist, and withdraw his claim to first shot.
Giovanni pushed the boy from him, perhaps somewhat roughly, and then Garzia, having entirely lost command of himself, struck a blow at his brother which wounded him severely in the groin. Giovanni fell to the ground, exclaiming, "And this from you, Garzia. May God in Heaven forgive you. Call help at once."
The blast of the horn soon gathered round the unhappy brothers courtiers and huntsmen. Giovanni was bleeding freely, his hose and buskins were saturated, and Garzia was weeping piteously, and crying out despondently, "Oh God, I have killed Giovanni! Oh God, I have killed Giovanni!" A huntsman snatched up the gory lethal weapon, lest the boy, in his despair, should turn it upon himself.
All that they could do to staunch Giovanni's wound they did, and having made a temporary stretcher with guns and hunting-cloaks, the little cavalcade was preparing to move on to seek further assistance. They had not proceeded very far when the Duke and his attendants rode upon the scene. Halting the bearers of his son he enquired who it was they carried. Before any one could make a reply, Don Garzia ran shrieking up to his father.
"It is me, your Garzia, I have killed Giovanni," he cried out in abject terror.
Cosimo motioned the sorrowful bearers to proceed, and they and their burden were no sooner out of sight than Duchess Eleanora came up in her sedan-chair, terribly agitated by the cries she had heard in the forest. She approached her husband and found him standing lost in thought, with that terrible expression upon his face which he exhibited once before when she had enquired for her first-born, Maria!
There, too, on the sward, was her favourite son, her Garzia, apparently in a swoon, and she advanced to aid him. Garzia heard his mother coming towards him and, rousing himself, he ran and threw himself into her arms, weeping bitterly.
Then once more he turned to his father pleadingly, and kneeling to him, grasped his legs, imploring pardon for his crime—for neither father nor son doubted but that Giovanni was dead. Baring his head, and holding his arms wide apart to Heaven, the Duke appealed to God to direct his actions. Then, turning to his son, grovelling at his feet. "Behold, thy brother's blood," he cried with bitterness, "asks vengeance of God and of me, thy miserable father; and now I shall deal with thee alone. Certainly it is a heinous crime for a father to kill his son, but it would be a still more grievous sin to spare the life of a parricide, lest he went on to exterminate his family, and lay their name in the dirt, to be execrated of all men. I have now resolved what to do, for I would far rather live in history as a pitiless father than as an unjust Sovereign."
The Duchess, judging that Cosimo actually intended to slay his son, and knowing how fruitless any efforts of hers would be to avert such a terrible calamity, fell upon her knees and prayed aloud to Heaven to save the poor, young boy, and spare her own broken heart. Shutting her eyes, and covering her ears, she awaited, more dead than alive, the fall of that hand, within which was convulsively grasped a flashing poignard!
Cosimo once more prayed most earnestly to God to approve the justice of his deed, to pardon him for so executing the Divine wrath, and for peace for the souls of his young sons. Then, bending towards the unconscious Garzia, he exclaimed, "I will have no Cain in my family," and, at the same moment, he plunged his weapon into the heart of his boy.
With a last despairing shriek Garzia fell away, crying, as he expired, the one word "Mother!"
The Duchess also lay upon the grass, still as death; indeed, her heart had stopped its beat when Cosimo raised her, and bid her sternly to act the woman. She was speechless and demented, and at the sight of her dear son's crimson blood colouring the fresh verdure where he had fallen, she lost her reason, and her cries and shrieks resounded through the forest.
From all sides courtiers and huntsmen appeared upon the scene. The Duke silently waved them away, and, beckoning four of the most trusty of his retainers, he bade them pick up the dead body of the young prince and bear it after him, whilst he commanded the lacqueys to carry back the Duchess in her sedan-chair to the Castle.
Asking which way the bearers of the murdered Giovanni had taken, he ordered his own cortege to follow on to Livorno. Arrived at the palace, the corpses of the two unfortunate young princes were arranged for burial. Upon baring Don Garzia's body, a fresh wound was discovered in his back, but whether by the hand of Don Giovanni no one ever knew. This fact, however, was reported to the Duke and furnished him with a satisfactory reason for the double tragedy—for he deemed it wiser just then that the truth should not be published!
Solemn obsequies were celebrated in the Duomo of Pisa. Don Giovanni was honoured with all the gorgeous ceremonies due to a Cardinal Archbishop, and some say his body was left there, whilst the burial of poor Don Garzia was completed by a simple service in San Lorenzo in Florence. The cause of the twofold lamentable occurrence was officially ascribed to malarial fever—the two young victims having contracted, as it was said, the fatal malady during the progress of the Court through Tuscany.
The Duchess Eleanora did not long survive her sons. She never left her bed in the Castle of Rosignano until she was carried for expert advice and treatment into Pisa. Prince Francesco returned in haste, from his tour of the Courts, and did much, by his loving sympathy, to revive his stricken mother. Still of no real avail were all the remedies, for she breathed her last one month after that terrible day in the forest, and her body was borne sorrowfully into Florence, and, within the octave of Christmas laid beside her dearly-loved Garzia.
As for Duke Cosimo, Don Francesco found him a changed man, aged by a good ten years, silent, morose, and indifferent to all that transpired around him.
News of the tragedy was current in the city of Trent, where the Aecumenical Council was in session, and it made a great impression upon the assembled prelates and assistants. Masses were offered for ten days for the repose of the souls of Giovanni and Garzia, and devotions were addressed to Heaven on behalf of the father who had—no one there for a moment doubted—been the avenger of one son's blood and the spiller of the other's.
Within two years Cosimo de' Medici—ever pursued by an accusing conscience and diverted only from suicide by indulging in every sensuality within his power, executed an instrument of abdication of his sovereignty, naming Don Francesco Regent of the Duchy, and retaining for himself no more than the title of Duke of Florence.
Three Murdered Princesses
"Shall I go in, or shall I not?" asked Isabella de' Medici, Duchess of Bracciano, with a catch in her voice.
Donna Lucrezia de' Frescobaldi, her first Lady of Honour, made no reply, but grasped her mistress' arm convulsively. The two women stood pale and trembling at the door of the Duke's bedchamber, in their charming villa of Cerreto Guidi, a few miles out of Florence.
There was something uncanny in the air, which caused the Duchess and her lady instinctively to draw back. It was not the Duke's voice, for that was pitched in an unusually tender key, and yet, its very unusuality might have caused their trepidation. There was something indefinable in the situation, which produced apprehension and alarm.
Doubtless their nerves were overstrained by the terrible event at Cafaggiuolo. Eleanora, the Duchess's sister-in-law, had seen and felt the cold steel dagger, struck out from behind the arras, by her husband's hand—she was dead! Every titled woman, and many another too, felt instinctively that she was walking on dangerous ground: murder seemed to lurk everywhere, and marriage appeared to spell assassination!
* * * * *
The remorse of Cosimo de' Medici for the murder of his dearly-loved child Maria, his first-born, did not hinder his policy of aggrandisement. He was determined to keep the whip-hand over Ferrara, and to maintain the precedence of his house over that of the Estensi. He had already sacrificed one daughter, not only to his parental passion but to his sovereign will, and one daughter still remained unbargained; he would use her to hold what he had got.
Lucrezia was no more than twelve years old when Maria passed to Paradise. Prince Alfonso was twenty-two, and his father, Duke Ercole II., had apparently no fiancee in view for him, and the lad seemed not to be in a marrying mood. At the moment Ferrara was isolated, but Cosimo, seizing a favourable opportunity, through his relationship with the King of Spain, contrived to arrange a treaty between that kingdom, Tuscany and Parma, which he adroitly extended to include Ferrara.
It was a powerful combination, and Cosimo had his price, and that price was the betrothal of Alfonso and Lucrezia. The Duke of Ferrara yielded, and in the same month, March 1558, the treaty of alliance was signed at Pisa, and the two young people were affianced there by proxy.
To be sure, there was trouble with Rome. Julius III., in 1552, had bespoken Lucrezia for his bastard nephew, Fabiano Conte Del Monte—a man without resources and of no recognised position nor of good character—it was just a selfish whim of the Pope—the children never saw each other. Cosimo, with his usual daring, brushed the whole project aside, and made a liberal contribution to Peter's Pence that year!
If Lucrezia was somewhat less fair and less clever than Maria, she was, all the same, an attractive girl. Thin in figure—as all growing girls—tall, well-formed, with the promise of a well-proportioned maturity, she had an oval face and a high forehead, well-clustered with curly auburn hair. There was a peculiarity about her eyes—black they were or a very dark brown—they had something of that cast of optic vision which was remarkable in Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria" and in Lorenzo, "Il Magnifico," as well as in other members of the family.
"She had a pretty mouth and a dimpled chin, and always wore a pleasing expression indicative of good-nature and resolute affection. Very unlike her elder sisters, Maria and Isabella, she was somewhat reserved in manner; she spoke little, but expressed her opinion with flashes of her eyes." Her father admired her firmness of resolution greatly, and generally spoke of her as "La Mia Sodana," "my little strong-willed daughter."
"She is quite a chip of the old block," he was wont to say of her, "quite one of us—a Medico in frocks!" Lucrezia shared the lessons of her brother, and had been brought up specially with the idea of a brilliant foreign marriage, and her maid was a girl from Modena who knew Ferrara well.
One condition of the marriage-contract was most unusual—namely, that the bridegroom should be free to leave Florence upon the third day after the nuptials had been celebrated! This was necessary, the Prince averred, in order that he might keep an appointment he had made, with his father's consent, with the King of France—the enemy of the quadruple alliance!
Prince Alfonso troubled himself very little about his fiancee. He was devoted to selfish pleasures, and, when his energies were called into play, they were devoted to the service of arms. His betrothal to Maria de' Medici, without his consent, her untimely and suspicious death, and the character Duke Cosimo bore for tyranny, ambition, and greed, were undoubtedly deterrent to the young man's wish to cultivate another Medici alliance.
His own father, Duke Ercole, resembled his prospective father-in-law in many respects. The Estensi, with the Malatesti of Rimini and Pesaro, the Sforzai of Milan, and the Medici of Florence, were classed as "families of tyrants." Duke Ercole was a man of strong will and forceful action—a tyrant in his own family and cruel to his unhappy consort—he could not brook any disobedience to his behests. He commanded his son to set forth at once from Ferrara and claim his bride in Florence.
Accompanied by a glittering retinue, which included a dozen Lords of the Supreme Council, Prince Alfonso took his way over the Apennines, along the Bologna road. On 18th June the cavalcade was discerned from the heights of Olivets, wending its way through Boccaccio's country to the city walls.
He was received with great distinction by the Duke and Duchess, attended by the whole Court; and his welcome by the citizens was very cordial. Florentines always loved a spectacle. Everyone, however, remarked the Prince's haughty bearing, and the coldness with which he returned Cosimo's greeting. He bore himself as a man in presence of a foe whose every action must be watched intently. The Duchess, with all her Spanish sensibility, perceived at once the disfavour of their guest, and sought to interest him in the scene around him and in the happiness in prospect.
Alfonso was quite unmoved. He met Lucrezia's greeting with a cold handshake, and begged that the marriage ceremonies might be hurried forward, as "he had not much time to spare." Cosimo joined in the Duchess' entreaties that the uncanny condition, in the marriage-contract, might be observed in the breach.
"My word is pledged to the King of France," he replied disdainfully, "and go I must."
Duke Ercole, in a letter delivered to Cosimo by Alfonso, urged the former not in any way to dissuade his son from carrying out his intention. It was common knowledge, however, in Ferrara, and reported by members of the Prince's retinue to the courtiers of Florence, that Henry II. of France had made known to Duke Ercole his intention of repaying the three hundred thousand gold ducats he owed Ferrara. A condition accompanied the proposal, namely, that the Duke should withdraw from the alliance, and despatch his son at once to Paris, to assure the bona fides of the new arrangement.
Moreover, Henry hinted not only at the advisability of separating the too youthful couple, and of giving the Prince military employment until his young wife attained a more mature age; but suggested that some way should be found, even at the eleventh hour, of allying Alfonso to a French princess.
Nevertheless, Alfonso claimed his Florentine bride, whilst Lucrezia appears to have conceived an attachment for the warlike young Prince, who caused a courier to inform his father that the Princess "seemed to like" him. Duke Ercole replied as follows: "I am much pleased that your bride is satisfied with you. I would rather have heard your own state of mind in regard to the matter...."
Letters to the Duke from the chief members of the Prince's suite assured him that the Prince really fell in love with the Princess at first sight, but there is no word of Alfonso's extant which shows that he cared in the least for the bride State policy had assigned for him.
Duchess Eleanora was exceedingly provoked by the young Prince's demeanour and his insistence upon the observance of the unnatural condition. Moreover, she protested to the Duke her wish that the marriage might at least be postponed, pointing out, with a woman's intuition of trouble, that no good could come out of such an uncanny arrangement.
She, of course, was Spanish, and she seems to have forgotten that French blood flowed in Alfonso's veins—his mother, Duchess Renata, or Renea, being a daughter of Louis XII. Duke Ercole added to the trouble by deeply wounding the Duchess' susceptibilities with a suggestion that the young bride should be sent to Ferrara, immediately after the nuptial ceremony, under the care of chosen proxies for his son.
Haughtily she answered the Duke's representative: "A married daughter of the Medici, and of Spain, remains at her parents' palace until her husband, and no one else, takes her away."
The day fixed for the marriage was 3rd July—a Sunday—and the wedding Mass was celebrated in the private chapel of the Palazzo Pitti, by the Bishop of Cortona. One hundred and one comely Florentine gentlewomen formed a beauteous guard of honour for the bride, each arrayed splendidly in silk brocade and covered with costly jewels. As many young nobles, with the accompaniment of music and dancing, performed a gorgeous pageant of Greeks, Indians and Florentines. In the Piazzo di Santa Maria Novella a State exhibition of the popular Florentine game of Il Calcio (football), was given by sixty of the best-looking and most noble youths, attired in cloths of gold and silver.
The bride and bridegroom retired late at night to the Palazzo Medici in the Via Larga, set in order for them, but, on the third day, Prince Alfonso, as good as his word, set off for France! Don Francesco, Lucrezia's eldest brother, accompanied him as far as Scarperia, on the Bologna road, and there bade him a not too friendly farewell. The young man had made a very bad impression in Florence; he had kept himself entirely to himself, and had gone through his part of the ceremonials like a puppet.
Lucrezia moved like the fabled princess in a dream. Her eyes were wet with weeping, and, although she restrained her emotion, her disappointment and distress caused her silent and bitter suffering. Accustomed as she was to obey implicitly the commands of her autocratic father, she knew that she must submit to the harshness of her spouse, and make the best of a most unfortunate and embarrassing situation.
Alfonso had forbidden her to write to him, but appointed a faithful follower of his, Francesco da Susena, as confidential Chamberlain of the youthful Princess. He was to provide funds and disburse them for the expenses of the Princess, and to keep his master well posted in all that transpired, and, in particular, to inform him of every word and action of his forsaken girl-wife!
Ten days after the departure of the Prince from Florence, he wrote a letter to Lucrezia, which he bade da Susena read, and then give her. The Court was at Poggio a Caiano in villeggiatura, and the Chamberlain was in the company. He gave the Princess her husband's letter, and made the following report to his master:—
"I was taken to the slope of a hill, where Her Highness the Princess was walking with the Duchess Eleanora, who is always with her. I gave her the letter, which she took greedily, with exceeding joy, and retired apart with it. She read it over and over again, and then she questioned me about your Highness.... I told her that she had no occasion to fear, for your Highness would run no more risk than the king himself. She appeared much comforted, and told me to beg your Highness, in her name, to hasten your return to Florence." Within six months of Lucrezia's ill-fated marriage, Duke Ercole died at Ferrara, and her husband succeeded as Alfonso II. The life of Ercole and his Duchess Renata had been anything but happy. He was as ambitious as he was unscrupulous: Lord of Modena and Reggio and Papal Vicar of Ferrara, his possessions stretched from the Adriatic to the Apennines. Extravagant and devoted to amusement, he spared neither time nor money in the full enjoyment of pleasure.
The Court of Ferrara became under him the most splendid Court in Europe—famous for the excellence of its music and its dancing and the superiority of its theatre—Carnival lasted from New Year's Day to Ash Wednesday. Duchess Renata never loved her husband nor his people. Until she fell under the influence of Calvin she was discontented, passionate, and bigoted. The Duke scouted her ill-humour and treated her cruelly.
"Peu d'amys, qui conques est loing d'eulx" was said of unhappy Renata. She gave her disposition to her son, but he did not follow her religious predilections. He enclosed her in a convent—the sanctuary of princely widows and orphans—where she died in 1597.
Duke Alfonso sent to Florence for his consort early in 1560, but, true to her determination, Duchess Eleanora required him to come for Lucrezia in person! With perhaps less frigidity than he had exhibited the year before, but with very little more friendliness, Alfonso made his second appearance in Florence. He was accompanied by Cardinal de' Medici, his brother-in-law—so soon to come to a tragical and untimely end in the Maremma—and a princely escort of two thousand five hundred horsemen. The young Duchess, not yet sixteen, mounted upon a cream-white palfrey, rode out of the Porta San Gallo, by the side of her husband. The day was gloomy and the purple and white crocuses, which children scattered before her, betokened, so it was said, disaster.
Anyhow, it was a sorrowful parting with her parents, and with Florence. Never again was she destined to see them or it. The days of her childhood, spent happily enough with her brothers and sisters, were over: the fatigues and intrigues of a hostile Court were before her, and, already, trouble had marked her young life with scars—more were to follow.
The Duke and Duchess entered Ferrara in full State, on 21st February, but their reception was as cold as was the weather. The dynastic dispute, whilst ostensibly healed at its head, still affected the limbs of the Duchy. The people were, to a man, and perhaps to a woman, anti-Medicean, and showed their disapproval of their Sovereign's consort, by abstaining from taking their share in the festivities.
One's heart bleeds for this child-bride of seven months introduced unguarded to the gayest, maddest, and most corrupt Court in Italy. Of the Ferrarese it has been justly said: "By nature they are inclined only for pleasure and revenge." True enough, happiness and tragedy are close partners in life's story. No one loved Lucrezia de' Medici in Ferrara—least of all her husband.
Perhaps the position may be succinctly stated—"the bride of three nights was not enceinte! Had she only possessed the attributes of coming motherhood, Lucrezia's origin might have been condoned. But surely it was foul cruelty which fixed the fault on her alone. As it was, the poor young Duchess was accorded at her husband's court the position of a 'Cosa della lussuria'—to be set aside as soon as the novelty had passed away!"
The Duchess determined, possessed as she undoubtedly was, though so young, of much of the force of character of her family, to put a good face upon things. Her letters to her parents, written during the Carnival, are full of pleasant details of her new life. She was enjoying, with girlish zest, the gaieties around her, and entering fully into the merry prospects of the Court masquerades. Whether her expressions are quite sincere, is, perhaps, immaterial under the circumstances—she knew her father's disposition too well to make complaints.
The anniversary of her wedding came round to find her childless and devoid of any prospect of issue. Duke Alfonso was far too much engaged in politics and pleasure to give his due to his wife, who yearned in vain for the fulfilment of the conjugal vow. Duchess Renata had her party at Court, a party opposed, as she was, to anything and everything Florentine: her son gave heed to her cautions, and thus the breach widened.
Alfonso's long absences from home, and his disinclination for his wife's society, left Lucrezia to seek necessary consolations elsewhere. She did not fail of admirers in that giddy Court: the wonder is that she maintained her dignity as well as she did. The Duke became jealous, of course, of his neglected wife—all faithless husbands are the same. He paid spies to report to him the daily occupations of the Duchess, with the names of her visitors and friends. Thus evil eyes and ears were opened, and evil tongues began to wag, until they caused the utter undoing of the innocent young Duchess.
Alfonso, in vain, tried to fix the lovers of his wife—she was as tactful as they were prudent—but he was not without means to his end. The Duchess early gave symptoms of ill-health. In Florence she was the strongest of all her father's family, but at Ferrara she became delicate and a victim to incessant sickness. What could it be?
The Court physician hinted at pregnancy, but the Duke knew that was impossible, so far as he was personally concerned, nevertheless it served its purpose. The winter came on and the Duchess was confined to her apartments in the palace, suffering from continual fever and nausea. Maestro Brassavola—of good report as a specialist in feminine ailments—treated her unsuccessfully. Unhappy Lucrezia—no mother to console her, no friend to speak to her, all alone in the big palace with unkindly attendants—nearly sobbed herself to death. Daily bleedings and cuppings further diminished her strength. Some say that Don Francesco, her brother, was urged, by his mother, to pay Lucrezia a visit, but the bad terms upon which he stood with Duke Alfonso was an effectual bar to his mission. Whether from craven fear or premeditated cruelty, the Duke never entered the sick-room, and seemed entirely indifferent to his poor young wife. Indeed, he continued his life of prodigality and self-indulgence unrebuked, as we must suppose, by his conscience.
At last the Duchess' condition became so critical that the physicians could no longer disguise the danger, and they intimated to the Duke the approach of death. Then, and then only, Alfonso found his way to his wife's bedside. With a sorrowful, stricken face she greeted him affectionately, and remorse seemed, at length, to have brought him to his senses. He became the most tender of nurses and watched by his dying wife day and night—but the poison had worked its cause!
At midnight, 21st April 1561, after months of cruel suffering, neglected, affronted, and wronged, the innocent soul of poor young Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, passed into another world. She was not yet seventeen years old—in bitter experience of life's hardships she was seventy. At the autopsy of her body Maestro Pasquali of Florence declared that death was caused by putrid fever! Thus was the Duke's duplicity preserved.
Funeral honours due to her rank were rendered, and her shrunken little body was buried in the Estensi chapel of the convent church of Corpus Domini. A marble slab before the high altar reads thus:
"Lucretia de' Medici—moglie di Alfonso II., Duca di Ferrara"—and that is all—as curt and as cruel as possible. The Duke's show of grief was as insincere and hypocritical as could be. He shut himself up in his palace with a few chosen cronies for seven days; meanwhile sending off Bishop Rossetto, a court chaplain, to Florence, to communicate the sad tidings to Duke Cosimo and Duchess Eleanora.
Very soon after the death of Lucrezia the Marchese Creole de' Contrari, a prominent Ferrarese noble, was cast into prison upon an unstated charge, but it was given out by his jailor, that he had aspired to the hand of an Estensi princess. He was never seen alive again, for he was strangled in Duke Alfonso's presence—who caused his name to be vilely linked with that of the poisoned Duchess! Cosimo and Eleanora made a show at least of grief, and a splendid Requiem was sung for Lucrezia at the Medici church of San Lorenzo. At the same time Cosimo made known, in most heartless fashion to Alfonso that, whilst he was resigned to the will of Heaven, he assured him of his sincere affection, and expressed a fervent wish that nothing should loosen their bonds of true and solid friendship! Devout Duchess Eleanora's indifference is harder to explain than Duke Cosimo's nonchalance. Perhaps in her case evil associations had corrupted good manners, or, more likely, the memory of her child Maria's terrible death compelled discretion in her dealings with her husband—"Tyrant of tyrants." It might be her turn next to feel that cold steel!
And what about Duke Alfonso? Well, very soon he forgot all about Lucrezia, and found consolation, though actually he needed none, in a second marriage. This union, however, led to the resurrection of the hatchet of discord, which Cosimo and Ercole had agreed to bury underground.
The new Duchess was Barbara d'Austria, sister of the Archduchess Giovanna, bride of Don Francesco, poor Lucrezia's brother. A double wedding was fixed at Trento in August 1565, but a fracas occurred at the church doors between the Medici and Estensi suites for precedence. The two princely couples were married separately by the Emperor Maximilian's command, each in the capital of the bridegroom's dominions. Duke Alfonso died in in 1597.
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One notable effect of the foreign marriages of the Medicean princes was the settling of aliens, in considerable numbers, in Florence. With Clarice and Alfonsina d'Orsini had come greedy Roman adventurers; with Margherita and Giovanna d'Austria many enterprising Germans; self-seeking Spaniards came with Eleanora de Toledo.
From one point of view this foreign immigration was advantageous—it tended to revive the falling fortunes of Florentine commerce. On the other hand aliens were introduced into prominent positions at the Court and in the city, whose speculations robbed the citizens of their fame and fortune.
In the suite of Duchess Eleanora de Toledo were several young relatives, bound to her by ties of affection and looking to her for patronage and advancement. The ranks of these dependants were constantly being recruited by young people of noble birth, for whom the exceptional educational advantages obtainable in Florence were strong attractions.
One of these was the Duchess's niece and godchild—Donna Eleanora, the daughter of her brother, Don Garzia de Toledo. Born in 1553 in Naples, where her father kept his Court as Viceroy for the King of Spain, the child lost her mother when she was only seven years old. The Duchess Eleanora adopted her and sent to Naples for her, and little Eleanora de Garzia was brought up with the children of Cosimo and Eleanora, and she was regarded by them as their sister.
Upon the Duchess' melancholy death in 1562, her daughter Isabella, Duchess of Bracciano, acted the part of mother, young as she was, and only just two years married. She had no child of her own, and, apparently, no promise of one, anyhow by her husband; and the lively, pretty little Spanish girl, nestling upon her knee, much consoled her in her disappointment.
At fourteen, Eleanora de Garzia was, as Antonio Lapini has described her: "Beautiful, elegant, gracious, kindly, charming, affable, and, above all, possessed of two eyes rivalling the stars in brilliancy." She was also a clever girl, and her studies had been carried on in companionship with the younger children of her aunt—Garzia, Ferdinando, and Piero. The strictness of their control was loosened when the Duke became a widower, and he does not seem to have done anything to guard the morals of his young children.
The Court of Florence was not the place in which to rear, in ways of obedience and steadiness, young boys and girls, and Eleanora and her "brothers" were left pretty much to themselves, save for the indulgent guardianship of their tutors and attendants. To be sure, Don Ferdinando was sent off to Rome when he was fourteen, and was enrolled in the Sacred College. Don Garzia's tragic death in 1562 left Don Piero the sole playmate of little Eleanora—a strange act of Providence.
Duke Cosimo was not quite inconsolable for the loss of his Spanish wife; he had, during her lifetime, set an evil example in Florence for libertinage and unchastity. Every good-looking girl, in city or at Court, in one way or another, received his amorous attentions; and the halo which surrounded his first acclamation as Duke, and which he earned well, be it said, became dimmed by the execrations of many disgraced and suffering households. Men and women saw the bad days of Duke Alessandro revived, and Florence, after a temporary purgation, became once more the sink of iniquity.
When the Duke laid aside, in 1564, his sovereignty, it was that he might give reins to his passions, and, of the many girls he ruined, probably not one he loved better or longer than Eleanora degli Albizzi. At Villa del Castello he had his harem. This was the example Cosimo de' Medici set his wayward, precocious son Piero, and the lad followed it to his heart's content, until his escapades became so notorious, and raised up such a storm of resentment amongst the citizens, that his father was forced to intervene.
At fifteen, young Piero was sent off to Pisa and attached to the staff of the Admiral of the Florentine fleet, Cavaliere Cesare Cavanglia. In various encounters with Turkish galleons and the barques of buccaneers, the young Medico proved himself no coward—indeed the Admiral reported of him most favourably. Well for his fame had Piero remained before the mast and upon the quarter-deck.
The lad was practically his own master, and the memories of Florentine gallantries filled his mind with desires for their resumption. Two years of naval-military discipline were quite enough for him, and he returned home again. He found Donna Eleanora de Garzia a grown woman and a woman of the world; an arrant flirt, like her protectress, the Duchess Isabella; dividing her time between the Villa Poggio Baroncelli and his father's villa at Castello.
Rumours of illicit intercourse between her and the Grand Duke were current all over Florence, and evil gossips at Court affirmed that the liaison had been of long continuance, wherein, too, the Duchess Isabella was herself implicated. Cosimo seems to have been conversant with the tittle-tattle, and, fearing the evil effect it might have for all concerned, determined to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and to keep the scandal within the family.
His son Piero—who was walking closely in his father's footsteps, and leading a free and fast, wild life, heavily in debt and habitually intoxicated, and the companion of loose women and gamesters—should be his scapegoat. He would marry him to his cousin! At the beginning of the negotiations Piero refused stoutly his father's proposition, asserting his intention not to marry. By dint of ample offers of enlarged pecuniary emoluments and by tempting promises of exculpation from the consequences of his lustful extravagances, Piero at last yielded an unwilling assent to the betrothal. How far he was influenced by threats we can well imagine.
Piero de' Medici and Eleonora de Garzia de Toledo were married in the private chapel of the Pitti Palace on the morning of 21st April 1571. That very night his young wife revealed the fact that she was enceinte, and she named his father, Duke Cosimo, as her ravisher! The Prince was too much taken up with his own pleasure to care very much about this revelation: he would go his own way, and his wife might go hers—such was the morality of the day! Still, this discovery was the first page in the tragic history of beautiful Eleanora di Piero de' Medici.
Very shortly after the marriage Eleanora, who was then at Pisa, was delivered of a child, whom, in the absence of her husband, she named Cosimo—a significant nomenclature! She caused letters to be written to the Grand Duke Francesco, her brother-in-law, to acquaint him with the birth of the child, and to crave protection for his father's son!
Following the unhappy example of Paolo d'Orsini and Isabella de' Medici, and being absolutely their own masters, Piero and Eleanora agreed to live separate lives—he, a boy of seventeen and she just eighteen. What more disastrous beginning can be imagined for two young wedded lives, and yet it was inevitable. Piero did not care a bit for Eleanora, and Eleanora hated and despised Piero.
The marriage was but a brief break in evil associations, for the boy returned to his boon-companions in the city, and the girl sought the solace of her lovers. It was in vain the Grand Duke pointed out the errors of their ways—Piero retorted with a "Tu quoque frater!" He had every bit as much right to console himself with a mistress, one or more, as Francesco did with his "Cosa Bianca!" Moreover, he became urgent in his demand for a still more liberal allowance, which the Grand Duke weakly conceded—as he had done in the case of his other grasping brother, the Cardinal.
Everything and everybody at the Court of Florence seemed to be demented. To enjoy the basest pleasures and to indulge in the foulest passions, such was the way of the world; and Eleanora was but a child in years, but a woman in experience—and that experience not for the honour of her life, alas! Sinned against, she sinned like the rest. How could a lovely, talented, warm-hearted girl, with the hot blood of Spanish passion coursing through her veins, resist the admiration, the flattery, and the embraces of the gay young cavaliers of the Court? She merely followed the vogue, she was no recluse; and when, in 1575, she was enrolled as a "Soul" in the Accademia degli Elevati, she assumed the name of "Ardente"—a true title—a correct epithet!
One of the captains of the palace guard—himself a remarkably handsome and gallant soldier—Francesco Gaci, had a prepossessing young son, Alessandro, a cadet of the same regiment, who fell violently in love with Don Piero's fascinating young wife. Unable to restrain his boyish ardour, one day he seized Donna Eleanora's hand, covered it with kisses, and professed himself ready to die for love of her. The Princess, pining for love, looked with favour upon her infatuated lover, and granted him something of what he wished.
Alas, for love's young dream! The Grand Duke caught wind of it, and without making much ado, promptly stopped the intrigue. Alessandro Gaci was removed summarily from his commission and enclosed in the monastery of Camaldoli; whilst to the Princess was administered a smart rebuke and warning.
Eleanora's haughty spirit rose at the interference of her brother-in-law in matters of her heart, and she determined to act in opposition to his commands. She had scarcely got off with the old love before she was on with the new. This time she appears to have made the first advance. At all events, in the entourage of the Grand Duchess Giovanna, was an attractive and youthful knight of the Order of St Stephen of Pisa—Duke Cosimo's new naval-military order. He was a court chamberlain with the military rank of lieutenant—Bernardino, the son of Messer Sebastiano degl' Antinori, who had translated Boccaccio's works for Cosimo.
The young cavaliere had the misfortune to kill, quite accidentally, in a friendly game of "Calcio," a great friend of his—Francesco de' Ginori. The game was played in presence of Princess Eleanora and many ladies of the Court. Bernardino wore Eleanora's favours, as he usually did, making no secret of his passion for Don Piero's neglected, beauteous wife, and of the return of his love by his fair innamorata—it was indeed the talk of the town.
The Ginori, an ancient and lordly family, intimately connected with the Medici, claimed satisfaction at the hands of the Grand Duke for what they chose to call the assassination of their young relative. Francesco judged that the liaison between his sister-in-law and the so-called "assassin" required regulation, especially as she had failed to comply with his previous admonition. The two offences would be best judged by the banishment of the cavaliere, whose rank forbade his inclusion in a monastery. Consequently Bernardino was sent off, under guard, to a fortress in the Isle of Elba, and Princess Eleanora was confined, during the Grand Duke's pleasure, to her apartments in the Medici Palace.
The old tale that "love laughs at locks" had now one fresh telling! An amorous correspondence began between the parted lovers, which was carried on for a considerable time without detection. At last there came a day when the secret was out, through the carelessness of Bernardino's brother Filippo, the intermediary in the love affair. Watching his opportunity of dropping a letter into the hand of the Princess, as she passed through the corridor connecting the Pitti and the Uffizi—just completed by Duke Cosimo's orders—Captain Filippo had the curiosity to read the billet-doux himself. He failed to notice that a brother officer was standing close by, who also glanced at the contents of the letter.