1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cappello, Bianca

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CAPPELLO, BIANCA (1548–1587), grand duchess of Tuscany, was the daughter of Bartolommeo Cappello, a member of one of the richest and noblest Venetian families, and was famed for her great beauty. At the age of fifteen she fell in love with Pietro Bonaventuri, a young Florentine clerk in the firm of Salviati, and on the 28th of November 1563 escaped with him to Florence, where they were married and she had a daughter named Pellegrina. The Venetian government made every effort to have Bianca arrested and brought back, but the grand duke Cosimo de’ Medici intervened in her favour and she was left unmolested. However she did not get on well with her husband’s family, who were very poor and made her do menial work, until at last her beauty attracted Francesco, the grand duke’s son, a vicious and unprincipled rake. Although already married to the virtuous and charming Archduchess Giovanna of Austria, he seduced the fair Venetian and loaded her with jewels, money and other presents. Bianca’s accommodating husband was given court employment, and consoled himself with other ladies; in 1572 he was murdered in the streets of Florence in consequence of some amorous intrigue, though possibly Bianca and Francesco were privy to the deed. On the death of Cosimo in 1574 Francesco succeeded to the grand duchy; he now installed Bianca in a fine palace close to his own and outraged his wife by flaunting his mistress before her. As Giovanna had borne Francesco no sons, Bianca was very anxious to present him with an heir, for otherwise her position would remain very insecure. But although she resorted to all sorts of expedients, even to that of trying to pass off a changeling as the grand duke’s child, she was not successful. In 1578 Giovanna died; a few days later Francesco secretly married Bianca, and on the 10th of June, 1579, the marriage was publicly announced. The Venetian government now put aside its resentment and was officially represented at the magnificent wedding festivities, for it saw in Bianca Cappello an instrument for cementing good relations with Tuscany. But the long expected heir failed to come, and Bianca realized that if her husband were to die before her she was lost, for his family, especially his brother Cardinal Ferdinand, hated her bitterly, as an adventuress and interloper. In October 1587 both the grand duke and his wife died of colic within a couple of days of each other. At the time poison was suspected, but documentary evidence has proved the suspicion to be unfounded.

See S. Romanin, Lezioni di storia Veneta, vol. ii. (Florence, 1875); G. E. Saltini, Tragedie Medicee domestiche (Florence, 1898).  (L. V.*)