Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

CATERINA SFORZA
(1462-1509)

Italy
Territorial Ruler

Although the circumstances of her birth were far from glorious, Caterina Sforza became one of the most powerful women in fifteenthcentury Italy. She was born in 1462, the illegitimate daughter of the powerful Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the second Sforza Duke of Milan. At the time of her birth, however, her father was not yet the duke; he was a lively prince of eighteen who had become enamored with Lucrezia Landriani, the wife of a close friend; Lucrezia would eventually bear Galeazzo three other children in addition to Caterina.

When Caterina was four her father became Duke of Milan. He assumed responsibility for his children; their illegitimacy did not prevent him from providing them with an aristocratic upbringing. At age ten, Caterina was betrothed to Girolamo Riaro, a man of simple origins who rose to immense power as the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. Galeazzo intended the marriage to secure an alliance between his family in Milan and the papacy in Rome. Girolamo came to Milan to confirm the betrothal with magnificent gifts for his future bride; he then returned to Rome, leaving Caterina behind to mature and continue her education. For the next few years, Girolamo increased his political power in Rome and gained control over Imola, a small but politically and strategically important town in the Romagna area of northeast Italy.

Plans for Caterina's future were accelerated in 1476 when her father was brutally assassinated by political enemies. In order to preserve the planned alliance between Milan and Rome, Caterina was hastily married to Girolamo; she was just fourteen. In 1478, their first child was born; Caterina would eventually give birth to nine children. She grew up quickly from a shy young girl to a beautiful, confident wife and mother. One of her favorite pastimes was hunting; she owned several beloved hunting dogs and horses. She also had an avid interest in collecting and experimenting with recipes for cosmetics

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