The only possible way to begin the story of Caterina Sforza is by making use of the words agitator, rebel, fighter, renegade, and unyielding.
She was a woman of substantial strength, intelligence, and tenaciousness. Caterina would take charge of the world around her and show unbelievable character despite her hard as nails attitude. She was a vigorous lady who would endure catastrophe after catastrophe in her life and come out even bolder.
Caterina was a force to be reckoned with! She would become one of the most infamous women in renaissance Italy known for her many vendettas; including hostilities and discord with other well know noble families such as the famous Borgia family. She would surpass the rank of a bastard and be known as Countess of Forli as well as Lady of Imola. Caterina would also become an acting regent in the place of her young son Ottaviani. The lady would have several marriages and lots of children.
Caterina Sforza was the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza who would inherit the title Duke of Milan and his mistress Lucrezia Landriani. Caterina had a pretty decent early life despite being born a bastard. This was because Galeazzo’s father Francesco died when Caterina was very young. At the death of Francesco, her father would become the next Duke of Milan which allowed the man to bring all his four illegitimate children from Lucrezia to court. Caterina would become accepted and live the luxurious lifestyle of a duke’s daughter.
Things were pretty good at the start of her life. She received the finest education available this included Latin and reading. She was given the education of a noble. She even learned skills such as horseback riding and hunting. She was a quick study and quite proficient on all things she attempted at this stage in her life. It would not be long before things would however change in the young girl’s life. At the age of nine, she would become formally engaged to Girolamo Riario. He was a close relative to a reigning pope and had lots of power. She remained in her family’s court until the age of fourteen. Many historians believe that she did not consummate the marriage until she left her father’s home.
At the age of fourteen, Caterina’s father was murdered, and she left to join her husband in Rome. She was impressed and quite taken with Girolamo Riario’s connections, wealth, and nobility. It would not be long before she was pregnant and would give birth to her first child at the age of fifteen. The baby was a girl named Bianca. Things went smoothly for the most part in the next several years and she would have more children. It was about 1484 during extreme turmoil in Rome that Caterina showed just how ambitious and challenging her personality truly was. She would take advantage of the distractions of others to seize control of Castel Sant’ Angelo along with her husband. The woman was twenty-one during this time and about seven months pregnant. It would not be long; In fact, it was only thirteen days before they surrendered and fled the holding escaping to Romagna.
Eventually, Caterina and her family would be ruling Forli. Girolamo was not the best leader and showed no military promise. It was Caterina herself that would do much of what was needed around Forli. Girolamo would also suffer a financial loss to his income because of his departure from Rome. The loss was just not hit on a personal level for the family because around 1485 Forli city’s government completely ran out of money. This would lead to Girolamo increasing the taxes on his people. This made him extremely unpopular.
In April of 1488, Caterina’s husband Girolamo would be murdered by the Orsis family. Caterina’s palace would be sacked and she along with her children would be taken, hostage. Through clever wit and manipulation, the lady was able to convince her captors to let her depart in order to convince the people at the fortress of Ravaldino to submit to the Orsis. She was able to do this because the Orsis did not think she would do anything against them because they had her children as hostages. Once Caterina’s freedom was established she went into a rage and immediately started planning her vengeance on the Orsis family.
They threatened to kill her children right in front of her if she did not go along with their commands. She made it safely to Fortress of Ravaldino and apparently is recorded saying in response to the Oasis’s threat that “they could kill her children if they really wanted. She had woman parts to make more”. The vulgar response startled and frightened the Orsis family and they did not dare harm any of the Riario children. Caterina with the help of her uncle Ludovico II Moro destroyed her enemies and regained control of her land. She was also reunited with her offsprings and all was well.
At the end of April in 1488, Caterina became the acting regent of Forli in place of her young son Ottaviani. The boy was to inherit from his father but was too young to actually exercise his new power directly. This is why Caterina who already took back the lands for her family would take Ottaviani’s place for the time being. The first act she did as regent was continuing her revenge on the Orsis family for the death of her husband Girolamo. She ordered all those involved including women and others from different families who assisted imprisoned.
The young countess from this point on personally ran all government and dealt with all issues in her city-state. Unfortunately, Cesare Borgia would eventually lay siege upon Caterina’s people. The Countess after a long drawn out siege was captured and taken with Borgia’s army to several places. She would end up in the prison of Castel Sant’ Angelo. She would eventually be released when the French army of Louis XIII would arrive during their conquest. She released all her fiefs and money to the French and would travel to Florence for the remainder of her life.
When Caterina arrived in Florence in 1501 she lived at the villas of her third husband Giovanni de’ Medici. She would embark on a huge custody battle with her brother in- law Lorenzo de ’Medici for the return of her son Giovanni. He had been placed in Lorenzo custody during Caterina’s imprisonment. She after several years was successful in getting her son back. She for the most part after this point lived her life devoted to her children, alchemy, and writing. Please leave a comment below and let me know what you thought of the fierce lady! Also please CLICK HERE if you want to read more about Caterina’s feud with the Borgia and how she may have tried to poison the pope!