Caterina Sforza, Contessa di Forlì
|Also Known As:||""The Tiger of Forlì""|
|Birthplace:||Milan, Milan, Lombardy, Italy|
|Death:||Died in Florence, Florence, Tuscany, Italy|
Daughter of Galeazzo Maria I Sforza, duca di Milano and Lucrezia Landriani
|Managed by:||George J. Homs|
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About Caterina Sforza, contessa di Forli
Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forlì (early 1463 – 28 May 1509) was an Italian noblewoman, the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan and Lucrezia Landriani, the wife of the courtier Gian Piero Landriani, a close friend of the Duke.
In defense of her states, Caterina directed military maneuvers and the supply of troops, arms and horses. The training of militias was executed by the Countess in person. At the age of forty-six years, "The Tiger of Forlì", who had "frightened all of Romagna" died on 28 May 1509.
Raised in the refined Milanese court, which in the 15th century was admired by all of Europe, Caterina later held the titles of Lady of Imola and Countess of Forlì, by her marriage to Girolamo Riario. She was also the Regent for her first-born son, Octaviano.
The descendant of a dynasty of famous condottieri, Caterina, at an early age, distinguished herself by her bold and impetuous actions that were instigated to safeguard her possessions from possible usurpers, and to uphold the military defense of her states, when they were involved in the myriad political intrigues that were a distinguishing feature of 15th century Italy.
In her private life Caterina was devoted to various activities, among which were "experiments" in alchemy and a love of hunting and dancing.
She was a devoted mother as well as a dedicated teacher to her many children, of whom only the youngest, the famous captain Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, inherited the forceful, militant character of his mother.
Following a heroic resistance on her part, she had to face the vindictive fury of Cesare Borgia, who took Caterina as his prisoner. Upon regaining her liberty following her imprisonment in Rome, she led a quiet life in Florence.
In the final years of her life, she confided to a monk: "If I were to write the story of my life, I would shock the world".
Caterina Sforza was born in Milan. It is believed that she spent the first years of her life with the family of her natural mother. The close relationship between mother and daughter was never severed; in fact, Lucrezia followed the growth of Caterina, and she was always beside her in the crucial moments of her life, even in her final years in Florence.
Upon the succession of Galeazzo Maria Sforza as Duke of Milan in 1466, following the death of his father Francesco, he arranged for his four children to be brought to court: Carlo (born in 1461; later Count of Magenta), Caterina, Alessandro (born in 1465; later Lord of Francavilla) and Chiara (born in 1467), who by her first marriage, became Countess dal Verme di Sanguinetto and Lady of Vigevano, and by her second marriage, Lady of Novi) all mothered by his mistress Lucrezia. The children were entrusted to their paternal grandmother, Bianca Maria Visconti and, subsequently, all were eventually adopted by Bona of Savoy, who became Galeazzo Maria's second wife on 9 May 1468.
At the Sforza court, frequented by writers and artists, Caterina and her siblings received a humanistic education. At that time, in the Italian courts, the girls of noble families were receiving the same education as their male siblings. In addition to Latin and the reading of the Classics, which were imposed by the teachers, Caterina was taught, in particular by her paternal grandmother, to be proud of her militant ancestors, to be bold in the application of arms, and astute in the skill of government. From her adoptive mother, she received her share of the maternal warmth and affection that Bona of Savoy poured over all of the children of her husband, confirmed by the correspondence between the two women after Caterina had left the Milanese court.
The Duke's family resided in Milan and Pavia, and often stayed at Galliate or Cusago, where Galeazzo Maria devoted himself to hunting. It was likely at one or the other of the two places that Caterina also acquired her passion for hunting, which would remain with her for the rest of her life.
In 1473 Caterina was betrothed to Girolamo Riario, the putative son of Paolo Riario and Bianca della Rovere, sister of Pope Sixtus IV. There were persistent rumours, however that Girolamo was a son of the Pope. Caterina replaced her cousin, the eleven-year-old Costanza Fogliani, as Girolamo's bride because, (according to some historians), the girl's mother refused to allow the consummation of the marriage until Costanza reached the legal age, which was then fourteen. Despite the bride being just ten years of age, the marriage of Caterina and Girolamo was celebrated on 17 January 1473, but consummated four years later (1477) when Caterina reached the age of fourteen.
Pope Sixtus IV gave Girolamo the Lordship of Imola, already a Sforza city, but at the time a fief of the Riario family. After a triumphal entrance into Imola in 1477, Caterina went to Rome with her husband, where he lived for many years at the service of his uncle, the Pope. The following year, in March 1478, Caterina gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Bianca after Girolamo's mother, Bianca della Rovere, and Caterina's paternal grandmother, Bianca Maria Visconti. Caterina subsequently gave birth to five more children in the next nine years.
In the Vatican court
Upon her arrival in Rome in May 1477, Caterina found a city full of cultural fervour, with a desire for renovation.
Rome, at the end of the 15th century was no longer a medieval city, but was not yet the important centre of artistic endeavors which it would be a few decades later. It was shortly to become one of the most important cities of the Renaissance.
The atmosphere was a mix of intrigue, and power, which was pursued without scruples, with the material interests far exceeding the spiritual. Caterina was banned from meddling in politics by her husband, but she quickly integrated- owing to her extroverted and sociable character- into aristocratic Roman society.
Caterina, as evidenced by correspondence from that period, immediately became admired in her new role as one of the most beautiful and elegant among the noble Roman women. She was welcomed everywhere, treated with great respect and lavishly praised by all of society including the Pope. She soon transformed from a simple adolescent into a refined and powerful intermediary between the Roman court and other Italian courts, especially Milan.
In the meanwhile, Girolamo was given a leading position in the expansion policy of Pope Sixtus IV after the premature death of the Pope's favored nephew, Cardinal Pietro Riario. His power grew daily, and he soon displayed increasing ruthlessness towards his enemies. In 1480, the Pope, with the objective of attaining a strong domain in the land of Romagna, assigned to Girolamo the Lordship of Forlì, which had remained vacant after it was sequestered from the Ordelaffi family. The new Lord tried to earn the favour of the populace by erecting magnificent public buildings and churches, and by abolishing taxes.
The lives of Caterina and Girolamo changed abruptly with the death of Sixtus IV, which occurred on 12 August 1484.
Prisoner of Castel Sant'Angelo
At the news of the death of the Pope, all who had suffered under his regime commenced to loot and sack the city, bringing chaos, disorder, and terror to the streets of Rome. Girolamo's residence, the Orsini palace in Campo de' Fiori, was assaulted, stripped of all its content and almost destroyed.
In this time of anarchy, Caterina, who was in her seventh month of pregnancy, crossed on horseback to occupy the rocca (fortress) of Castel Sant'Angelo on behalf of her husband. From this position and with the obedience of the soldiers, Caterina could monitor the Vatican and dictate the conditions for the new conclave.
Meanwhile, the disorders in the city increased. A militia accompanied the arrival of the Cardinals. The latter did not want to attend the funeral of Sixtus IV and refused to enter into conclave, for fear of coming under the fire of Caterina's artillery. The situation was difficult because only the election of a new Pope would put an end to the violence in the Eternal City.
Girolamo and his army occupied a strategic position at that point, yet could not implement an effective solution. The Sacred College asked Girolamo to leave Rome, offering in return the sum of 8,000 ducats in compensation for the damages to his property, the confirmation of his Lordship over Imola and Forlì and the military post of Captain-General of the Church. Girolamo accepted. When Caterina was informed of the decisions taken by her husband, she increased the quota of her soldiers and made preparations for resistance in order to force the Cardinals to parlay with her. The Cardinals again approached Girolamo, who took up a counterposition against his wife. As a result, on 25 October 1484 Caterina surrendered the fortress to the Sacred College and left Rome with her family. The Sacred College were then able to meet in conclave to elect the new Pope.
Upon their arrival in Forlì, where law and order had been maintained due to Ludovico il Moro, the Riarios were informed of the election of an old opponent as the new Pope Innocent VIII, who confirmed Girolamo in his Lordships of Imola and Forlì and the appointment as Captain-General of the Pontifical army. That appointment, however, was only nominal; the new Pope deprived the position of any real function or control over the Papal military and refused to make any payments to Girolamo for leaving Rome.
Despite the loss of income, Girolamo did not reimplement the payment of taxes for the people of Forlì.
This situation lasted until the end of 1485, when public spending became untenable and Girolamo, strongly pushed by a member of the Council of Elders, Nicolò Pansecco, was forced to reconsider his taxation policy and was obliged to levy the taxes. This measure was deemed by the population as expensive and, soon, Girolamo made enemies amongst all the citizens of Forlì.
The increase of the taxes, which affected mainly the artisan class and landowners, added to the discontent that had previously been limited to the families who had suffered under the Girolamo's system of persecution against all whom he suspected of treachery. His enemies soon began to conspire against him with a view to making Franceschetto Cybo, the illegitimate son of Pope Innocent VIII, lord of Imola and Forlì in his stead. In this climate of dissatisfaction among the Forlì nobility flourished the idea of overthrowing the rule of Riario.
After more than a half dozen failed conspiracies, Girolamo was eventually killed on 14 April 1488 by a conspiracy led by members of the Orsis, a noble family of Forlì. The palace of the lord was sacked, while Caterina and her children were made prisoners.
Since the fortress of Ravaldino, a citadel of strategic importance to the defense of the city refused to surrender to the Orsis, Caterina offered to go to convince the castellan, Tommaso Feo. The Orsis believed the good intentions of Caterina because she left her children as their hostages, but once inside she let loose a barrage of rather vulgar threats and promises of vengeance against her former captors. According to a famous legend (without historical veracity) when they threatened to kill her children still in captivity she exposed her genitals from the fortress walls and said: Ho con me lo stampo per farne degli altri! (I have the instrument to bear more!). With the assistance of her uncle Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, she was able to defeat her enemies and to regain possession of all her dominions; she wreaked vengeance on those who had opposed her and re-established her power over Forlì.
Lady of Imola and Forlì
On 30 April 1488 Caterina began her government as the regent of her eldest son Ottaviano, who was recognized by all members of the city and the heads of its judiciaries as the new Lord of Forlì, though he was considered too young to rule in his own right.
Caterina's first act as Regent of Forlì was to avenge the death of her husband, according to the custom of the time. She ordered that all the people who were involved in the Orsi conspiracy were to be imprisoned, among them the Pope's governor, Monsignor Savelli, all the pontifical generals, the castellan of the fortress of Forlimpopoli, on account of their treachery, and also all women of the Orsini and other families who had assisted in the conspiracy. Soldiers sought out anyone who had taken part in the conspiracy. The houses owned by those imprisoned were razed to the ground, while their valuables were distributed to the poor. On 30 July 1488 came the news that Pope Innocent VIII had given to Ottaviano Riario the official investiture of his state "until his line ended." In the meantime, Forlì was visited by Cardinal Raffaele Riario, officially to protect the orphan children of his late cousin Girolamo Riario but, in agreement with the Pope, to actually oversee the government of Caterina.
The young Countess personally dealt with all issues concerning the government of her city-state, both public and private. To consolidate her power she exchanged gifts with the lords of neighboring states and involved herself in the marriage negotiations of her children following the custom of the time. She also revised the tax system by reducing and eliminating some duties, and sharply controlled her realm's spending. Caterina dealt directly with the training of her militia in the use of weapons and horses. It was her intention that the lives of the people in her cities and towns be orderly and peaceful, and she expected her subjects to appreciate these efforts.
The states of Forlì and Imola was smaller than the great Italian states but, due to their geographical position, had a considerable strategic importance in the political arena of Italy at that time. On 25 July 1492 Pope Innocent VIII also died, and was replaced by Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who took the name of Pope Alexander VI. His election seemed to be a favourable event for the rule of Caterina, as while she and her husband had lived in Rome, the Cardinal had often been a guest at their home, and in addition, he was godfather of their first son, Ottaviano, the Lord of Forlì.
In September 1494, encouraged by Ludovico il Moro Sforza, King Charles VIII of France formally claimed the Kingdom of Naples as the rightful heir of the House of Anjou. At first Pope Alexander VI also gave his support to this act.
During the conflict between Milan and Naples, Caterina, who knew her state to be vulnerable to invasion as Forlì was situated in a valuable position for any invading army seeking to travel south to Rome, tried to remain neutral. On one side, her uncle Ludovico wrote her that he had made an alliance with Charles VIII, and the other Cardinal Raffaele Riario argued in favour of the King of Naples, now also supported by the Pope who had switched sides to oppose France's ambitions in Italy. Caterina finally chose to support King Ferdinand II and prepared the defense of Imola and Forlì from the French.
Betrayed by her Neapolitan allies, who the first attack of the French defeated, the Countess immediately changed sides and allied with Charles VIII, leaving his army via libera to reach the Kingdom of Naples. The King of France conquered Naples in thirteen days. This frightened the Italian principalities, worried about their own independence, and they joined forces in an Anti-French League against Charles VIII, who was forced to quickly return to France after the defeat at the Battle of Fornovo.
On this occasion Caterina managed to remain neutral. Not participating in the expulsion of the French, she maintained the support of her uncle Ludovico in Milan and also that of the Pope.
Two months after the death of Girolamo a rumour was spread that Caterina was close to marrying Antonio Maria Ordelaffi, who had started to court her. This marriage would end the claims of the Ordelaffi family on the city of Forlì. Antonio Maria, feeling confident, wrote to the Duke of Ferrara that the Countess had made promises to marry him. When Caterina saw how things stood, she imprisoned all those who had helped to spread the false news. These promises were also addressed before the Senate in Venice that summoned Antonio Maria to Friuli, where he remained confined for ten years.
In point of fact, Caterina had fallen in love with Giacomo Feo, the brother of Tommasso Feo, the castellan who had remained faithful to her in the days following the assassination of her husband. Caterina married him secretly in 1488, in order to avoid losing the custody of her children and, therefore, the regency of her states.
Giacomo was appointed castellan of the fortress of Ravaldino instead of his brother, and was awarded with an order of chivalry from Ludovico il Moro. In April 1489, Caterina gave birth to Giacomo's son, Bernardino, later called Carlo in honor of King Charles VIII, who had granted Giacomo the title of Baron of France.
All the chronicles of the period reported that Caterina was very much in love with the young Giacomo. Soon, many people had begun to worry that there was the possibility that she would remove her son Ottaviano from the government and give all the important posts to her paramour. She had replaced the castellans of the fortresses of her states with her closest relatives: the fortress of Imola was given to Gian Piero Landriani, the husband of her mother, and the fortress of Forlimpopoli to Piero Landriani, her half-brother, while Tommaso Feo was married to Bianca Landriani, Caterina's half-sister. In the meanwhile, a Tossignano conspiracy was planned to the effect that in order to take possession of the fortress by those who were loyal to Ottaviano, they had to kill both Giacomo and Caterina. The Countess discovered the plot and imprisoned or executed those who were involved in the conspiracy. Immediately after this conspiracy was foiled there followed another plot organised by Antonio Maria Ordelaffi, who had never become resigned to the loss of Forlí, but this also failed.
The power of Giacomo meanwhile had increased and with his cruelty and insolence, he won the hatred of all the citizens, including the children of Caterina. On one occasion he slapped the eldest, Ottaviano Riario, the rightful Lord of Forlì, in full view of the public, but nobody had the courage to defend the boy. After this incident the situation in Forlì became very difficult and the adherents of Ottaviano decided to liberate the city from the domination of Giacomo Feo.
On the evening of 27 August 1495, returning from a hunt, Caterina, her daughter Bianca Riario and some of her ladies-in-waiting, were traveling in their carriage, followed on horseback by Ottaviano, his brother Cesare and Giacomo Feo, as well as many staffieri and soldiers. Giacomo was attacked and mortally wounded, as a result of a conspiracy in which Caterina's children were involved. The same day Gian Antonio Ghetti, the main conspirator behind the plot, went to Caterina satisfied with the outcome, convinced that she had secretly given the order to kill Giacomo. Caterina, however, was not aware of the plot, and her revenge was terrible. When her first husband was murdered, she avenged his death according to the criteria of justice of the time; now she reacted with vindictive fury. Caterina was not satisfied with mere executions, their deaths had to be among the most cruel and painful. She not only prosecuted the wives and mistresses of the conspirators, but she also sought out the children, even those in early infancy, and all were summarily tortured and executed.
The involvement of Caterina's emotions in her revenge prevented her from understanding the political reasons that had inspired the plot, whose vast proportions indicate that it was long and carefully planned. It had involved almost all the supporters of Ottaviano Riario, who were convinced that Caterina had given her tacit consent to the removal of the man who was considered the "usurper" of the state's rightful ruler. They had wanted to uphold the power of the Riario family. Caterina, as a result of the massacre which followed the assassination of Giacomo Feo, lost forever the favour and good will of her people.
In 1496, the ambassador of the Republic of Florence, Giovanni de' Medici il Popolano, paid a visit to Caterina. The second son of Pierfrancesco il Vecchio, he belonged to a collateral branch of the Medici family. Along with his older brother Lorenzo, he had been sent into exile because of his open hostility toward their cousin Piero, who succeeded his father Lorenzo il Magnifico in the government of Florence. In 1494, when King Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, Piero was forced to sign an unconditional treaty which allowed the French army to move freely into the Kingdom of Naples. The people of Florence were liberated, deposed Piero and proclaimed the Republic. Giovanni and his brother were able to return to their homeland. They renounced the surname of the family and took the name of Popolano. The government appointed Giovanni as ambassador of the Florentine Republic to Forlì.
Shortly after having paid tribute to the Countess as befitted his status of ambassador, Giovanni and his entourage were housed in the apartments adjacent to Caterina's in the fortress of Ravaldino. The rumours of a possible marriage between Giovanni and Caterina, as well as a conflict which loomed on the horizon between Venice and Florence alarmed all the lords of the League and the Duke of Milan.
Caterina couldn't hide from her uncle Ludovico her third wedding's plans and her own feelings; she truly fell in love with the handsome, charming, and intelligent Giovanni. The situation was different from the previous one, because this time Caterina had the approval of her children and finally she also obtained the consent of her uncle. The marriage of two people from such powerful families, however, was likely to arouse opposition, so they were wed in secret. The marriage took place in September 1497.
In April 1498, Caterina bore Giovanni a son, the last of her children. The child was baptized as Ludovico after his mother's uncle, the Duke of Milan, but later he became renowned under the name Giovanni dalle Bande Nere.
Meanwhile, the situation between Florence and Venice was getting worse and Caterina, who stood in the way of the passage of the two armies, was preparing the defense. She also sent a contingent of knights to the aid of Florence, lead by her eldest son, Lord Ottaviano Riario, who was accompanied by men she trusted, who were trained by herself, and her husband, Giovanni.
Suddenly Giovanni became seriously ill and was compelled to leave the battlefield and return to Forlì. There, despite treatment, his condition continued to deteriorate and he was transferred to Santa Maria in Bagno, where he hoped for a miraculous recovery. On 14 September 1498 Giovanni died in the presence of Caterina, who had been summoned to attend him urgently. Giovanni's death left Caterina alone to face one of the most ruthless, ambitious, and implacable families in Europe, the Borgias.
The defense against Venice
After having returned immediately to Forlì in order to make the preparations for the defense of her states, Caterina was kept occupied directing the military maneuvers, the supply of troops, arms and horses. The training of the militias was executed by the Countess in person, to find additional money and troops, she never tired of writing to her uncle Ludovico, the Republic of Florence and the neighbouring states who were her allies. Only the Dukes of Milan and Mantua sent a small contingent of soldiers to aid her.
After a first attack by the Venetian army, which inflicted severe destruction in the occupied territories, the army of Caterina managed to outmanoeuvre the Venetians. Afterwards, the war continued with small skirmishes until the Venetians were able to circumvent Forlì to reach Florence by another route.
Because of this staunch defense, many historians of the Romagna have bestowed on Caterina Sforza the nickname of "Il Tigre" (The Tiger).
The conquest of the Duke of Valentinois
In the meantime, Louis XII, had succeeded to the French throne, and who claimed the rights both to the Duchy of Milan -as a grandson of Valentina Visconti-, and the Kingdom of Naples -as heir to the House of Anjou. Louis XII, before starting his campaign in Italy, secured an alliance with Savoy, the Republic of Venice and Pope Alexander VI. In the summer of 1499 Louis XII came to Italy, with his formidable army, and without having to fight a single battle, occupied Piedmont, as well as the cities of Genoa and Cremona. On 6 October he settled in Milan, which was abandoned the previous month by Duke Ludovico who was a refugee in the territories of Tyrol under the protection of his nephew-by-marriage Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.
Alexander VI had allied with the King of France in return for his support to establishing a Kingdom for his son Cesare Borgia in Romagna. With this aim in mind, he issued a Papal Bull on 9 March 1499 to invalidate the investiture of the feudal Lords of the lands, including Caterina. When the French army left Milan with the Duke of Valentinois to began the conquest of Romagna, Ludovico il Moro regained the Duchy with the help of the Austrians.
Caterina sought relief from Florence against the approaching French army, but Florence was threatened by the Pope. She immediately began to recruit and train many soldiers and began to store weapons, ammunition and food. She reinforced the defenses of her states with important works, especially that of Ravaldino where she resided and which was already considered impenetrable. She also evacuated her children to the city of Florence.
On 24 November Cesare Borgia arrived in Imola. The city gates were opened by some of the habitants, and he was able to take possession, after having conquered the fortress where the castellan Dionigi Naldi of Brisighella resisted for several days. After seeing what had happened with her minor city, Caterina specifically asked the people of Forlì if they wanted to do the same, or if they wanted to be defended and, in this case endure a siege. Because the people hesitated to answer, Caterina absolved the citizens of Forlì from their oath of fealty, and defended herself in the citadel.
On 19 December, the Duke of Valentinois also took possession of Forlì and began the siege of the fortress. Caterina repeatedly refused all the offers of peace, first from the Duke of Valentinois and another by Cardinal Raffaele Riario. In response, Cesare Borgia offered 10,000 ducats for her, live or dead. She also tried to take the Duke prisoner, when he came near to the fortress to parlay, but this attempt failed.
For several days the artillery of both factions continued to bombard each other: those of Caterina inflicted many losses to the French army, but this could served only to dismantle the defenses of the main fortress. What was destroyed during the day was later rebuilt during the night. The besieged also found time to play and dance.
The solitary resistance of Caterina was admired throughout all Italy; Niccolò Machiavelli reports that many songs and epigrams were composed in her honour, but sadly all were lost except that of Marsilio Compagnon.
As the time passed, without obtaining any results, the Duke of Valentinois changed his tactics. His troops began to bombard the walls of the fortress continuously, even at night until after six days, opened two large gaps in the walls. On 12 January 1500, the bloody battle was decisive, quick and Caterina continued to resist fighting herself with weapons in her hands until she was finally captured and taken prisoner. Immediately she surrendered herself to Antoine Bissey, bailli of Dijon, as a prisoner of the French, knowing that there was a law that prevented France to hold women as prisoners of war.
Cesare Borgia obtained the custody of Caterina from the French general, Yves d'Allègre, promising that he would treat her not as a prisoner but only as a guest. They were therefore forced to go with the army that was preparing to conquer Pesaro. The conquest had to be postponed because on 5 February Ludovico il Moro returned to Milan, forcing French troops to turn back. The Duke of Valentinois then left alone with the Papal army, went to Rome, where he took Caterina, where she was held in the Belvedere Palace. Towards the end of March, Caterina tried to escape; but she was discovered and immediately imprisoned in Castel Sant'Angelo.
In the prison of Castel Sant'Angelo
To justify the imprisonment of Caterina, Pope Alexander VI accused her of trying to kill him with letters impregnated with poison in November 1499, as a response to the Papal bull which had deprived the Countess of her fiefdoms.
Even today it is not known if the accusation was founded or not. Machiavelli believed that Caterina had really tried to poison the Pope, while other historians, such as Jacob Burckhardt and Ferdinand Gregorovius are not certain. A trial was also conducted which never ended and Caterina remained imprisoned until 30 June 1501, when she was released by Yves d'Allègre, who had come to Rome with the army of Louis XII for the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples.
Alexander VI alleged that Caterina signed documents were she had renounced all of her fiefs, because in the meantime his son Cesare, with the acquisition of Pesaro, Rimini and Faenza, was appointed Duke of Romagna.
After a brief stay in the residence of Cardinal Raffaele Riario, Caterina embarked in Livorno to Florence, where her children were waiting for her.
In Florence, Caterina lived in the villas which had belonged to her third husband Giovanni de' Medici, often staying at the Villa Medici di Castello. Soon, she complained of being mistreated and living in a straitened financial situation.
For many years she conducted a legal battle against her brother-in-law Lorenzo de' Medici for the custody of her son Giovanni, who was entrusted to him during her detention. In 1504, her son was finally returned to her, because the judge recognized that her confinement as a prisoner of war wasn't comparable with a criminal's detention.
With the death of Pope Alexander VI on 18 August 1503, Cesare Borgia lost all his power. This reopened all the possibilities to restore to power all of the old feudal lords of the Romagna who had been deposed. Caterina lost no time and began to send letters to adherents and plead her case in her own name and that of her son Ottaviano Riario to Pope Julius II. The new Pope was favourable to restoring the lordships of Imola and Forlì to the Riarios, but the populace of both cities declared that a majority of the people opposed the return of the Countess, so that the state instead passed to Antonio Maria Ordelaffi on 22 October 1503.
After having lost her last chance to return to her former power, Caterina spent the last years of her life dedicated to her children, in particular to her youngest son Giovanni--who was her favorite and the most like her in personality and character--her grandchildren, her "experiments" in alchemy, and her correspondence with former friends of hers.
In April 1509 Caterina was stricken by a severe case of pneumonia. She appeared to have recovered, but had a relapse of the disease, after which she made her will and arranged her burial. At the age of forty-six years, "The Tiger of Forlì", who had "frightened all of Romagna" died on 28 May 1509.
In her book The Warrior Queens: Boadicea's Chariot, British historian Antonia Fraser presents Caterina Sforza as a contrasting figure to her contemporary Isabella I of Castile. Fraser points out that whilst the murders ordered by Caterina were no worse than the massacres ordered by Isabella, historians have been much harsher in their judgment of the former. Fraser accounts for this fact by pointing out that Isabella's actions were sanctioned by the Church, as they were carried out in the name of Catholicism, whilst Caterina's were motivated by the personal, secular desire to preserve her property and rights.
From her first marriage with Girolamo Riario, Caterina had six children:
Bianca (b. Rome, March 1478 - d. after 1522), married firstly in 1494, Astorre III Manfredi, Lord of Faenza (d. 1502), and secondly in 1503, Troilo Rossi (d. 1521), the first Marchese di San Secondo. From her second marriage, she had 9 children.
Ottaviano (b. Rome, 31 August 1479 - d. Bologna, 6 October 1523), Lord of Imola and Forlì (1488-99), later Bishop of Volterra and Viterbo.
Cesare (b. Rome, 24 August 1480 - d. Rome, 1518 or 1540?), Archbishop of Pisa and Patriarch of Alexandria.
Giovanni Livio (b. Forlì, 30 October 1484 - d. 1496).
Galeazzo (b. Forlì, 4 December 1485 - d. Bologna, 1557), married in 1504, Maria Giovanna della Rovere (b. Senigallia, 1486 - d. Bologna 1538), Dowager Lady of Camerino, and eldest sister of Francesco Maria I della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. They had a daughter, Giulia, and a son, Giulio (d. 1565). Their descendants, who later received a Ducal title, became extinct in the male line with Francesco Maria Riario della Rovere in 1676.
Francesco, called "Sforzino" (b. Imola, 17 August 1487 - d. after 1509), Bishop of Lucca.
From her second marriage with Giacomo Feo, Caterina had one son:
Bernardino (later Carlo) (b. April 1489 - d. 1509).
From her third marriage to Giovanni de' Medici, Caterina had one son:
Ludovico (b. Forlì, 6 April 1498 - d. Mantua, 30 November 1526), renamed Giovanni after the death of his father, and later became one of the greatest condottieri of his time and a national hero as Giovanni dalle Bande Nere. He married Maria Salviati (17 July 1499- 29 December 1543), the daughter of Jacopo Salviati and Lucrezia di Lorenzo de' Medici. Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1519- 1574) was their son.
In June 1537, twenty-eight years after Caterina's death, her grandson Cosimo de' Medici, the only son of her own son Giovanni, became the Duke of Florence and in 1569, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Through him, Caterina was the direct ancestress of the later Grand Dukes of Tuscany, the Dukes of Modena and Reggio and the Kings of Spain and France. Other notable descendants included Marie de Medici, King Charles II of England, and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Caterina Sforza, contessa di Forli's Timeline
Milan, Milan, Lombardy, Italy
January 17, 1477
Rome, Rome, Lazio, Italy
August 31, 1479
Rome, Rome, Lazio, Italy
August 24, 1480
Rome, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Forli, Forlì-Cesena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
December 18, 1485
Forlì, Forli, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
August 17, 1487
Imola, Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy