1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sforza, Caterina

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22314571911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 24 — Sforza, Caterina

SFORZA, CATERINA (1463-1509), countess of Forli, was an illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza (see above). In 1473 she was betrothed to Girolamo Riario, a son of Pope Sixtus IV., who was thus able to regain possession of Imola, that city being made a fief of the Riario family. After a triumphal entry into Imola in 1477 Caterina Sforza went to Rome with her husband, who, with the help of the pope, wrested the lordship of Forli from the Ordelaffi. Riario, by means of many crimes, for which his wife seems to have blamed him, succeeded in accumulating great wealth, and on the death of Sixtus in August 1484, he sent Caterina to Rome to occupy the castle of St Angelo, which she defended gallantly until, on the 25th of October, she surrendered it by his order to the Sacred College. They then returned to their fiefs of Imola and Forli, where they tried to win the favour of the people by erecting magnificent public buildings and churches and by abolishing taxes; but want of money obliged them to levy the taxes once more, which caused dissatisfaction. Riario’s enemies conspired against him with a view to making Franceschetto Cybo, nephew of Pope Innocent VIII., lord of Imola and Forli in his stead. Riario thereupon instituted a system of persecution, in which Caterina was implicated, against all whom he suspected of treachery. In 1488 he was murdered by three conspirators, his palace was sacked, and his wife and children were taken prisoners. The castle of Forli, however, held out in Caterina’s interest, and every inducement and threat to make her order its surrender proved useless; having managed to escape from her captors she penetrated into the castle, whence she threatened to bombard the city, refusing to come to terms even when the besiegers threatened to murder her children. With the assistance of Lodovico il Moro 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. Being now a Widow she had several lovers, and by one of them, Giacomo Feo, whom she afterwards married, she had a son. Feo, who made himself hated for his cruelty and insolence, was murdered before the eyes of his wife in August 1495; Caterina had all the conspirators and their families, including the women and children, massacred. She established friendly relations with the new pope, Alexander VI., and with the Florentines, whose ambassador, Giovanni de' Medici, she secretly married in 1496. Giovanni died in 1498, but Caterina managed with the aid of Lodovico il Moro and of the Florentines to save her dominions from the attacks of the Venetians. Alexander VI., however, angered at her refusal to agree to a union between his daughter Lucrezia Borgia and her son Ottaviano, and coveting her territories as well as the rest of Romagna for his son Cesare, issued a bull on the 9th of March 1499, declaring that the house of Riario had forfeited the lordship of Imola and Forli and conferring those fiefs on Cesare Borgia. The latter began his campaign of conquest with Caterina Sforza’s dominions and attacked her with his whole army, reinforced by 14,000 French troops and by Louis XII. Caterina placed her children in safety and took strenuous measures for defence. The castle of Imola was held by her henchman Dionigi Naldi of Brisighella, until resistance being no longer possible he surrendered (December 1499) with the honours of war. Caterina absolved the citizens of Forli from their oath of fealty, and defended herself in the citadel. She repeatedly beat back the Borgia’s onslaughts and refused all his offers of peace. Finally when the situation had become untenable and having in vain given orders for the magazine to be blown up, she surrendered, after a battle in which large numbers were killed on both sides, to Antoine Bissey, bailli of Dijon, entrusting herself to the honour of France (January 12, 1500). Thus her life was spared, but she was not saved from the outrages of the treacherous Cesare; she was afterwards taken to Rome and held a prisoner for a year in the castle of St Angelo, whence she was liberated by the same bailli of Dijon to whom she had surrendered at F orli. She took refuge in Florence to escape from persecution from the Borgias, and the power of that sinister family having collapsed on the death of Alexander VI. in 1503, she attempted to regain possession of her dominions. In this she failed owing to the hostility of her brothers-in-law, Pierfrancesco and Lorenzo de' Medici, and as they wished to get her son Giovanni de' Medici (afterwards Giovanni dalle Bande Nere) into their hands, she took refuge with him in the convent of Annalena, where she died on the 20th of May 1509.

See Buriel, Vita di Caterina Sforza-Riario (Bologna, 1785); F. Oliva, Vita di C. Sforza, signora di Forlì (Forli, 1821); Pietro Desiderio Pesolini Dall’ Onda, Caterina Sforza (Rome, 1893); English translation by P. Sylvester (1898). This is the best and most complete work on the subject; E. M. de Vogiié, Histoire at poésie (Paris, 1898); and Ernesto Masi, “C. Sforza,” in the Nuova Antologia for May 1 and May 15, 1893.