Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Bianca Maria Sforza: Holy Roman Empress & Queen of Germany

Bianca Maria Sforza was the eldest legitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, and his second wife, Bona of Savoy. Bianca was bon on April 5, 1472 in Pavia and was named after her paternal grandmother, Bianca Maria Visconti. Bianca’s family, as the rulers of the Milanese duchy, reigned over the rich land of Lombardy, which was renowned throughout the western world for its culture and influence. Bianca’s father was an extremely cruel and ruthless man with hoards of enemies all over Italy, especially in his own city. After his father’s death in 1466, the twenty-two year old Galeazzo ruled Milan with his mother but soon forced her to leave the duchy. Galeazzo was also infamous for his lust and it was said that he raped the wives and daughters of many of his noblemen. Once he grew tired of his mistresses, he would hand them off to his courtiers for their own pleasure. He was sadistic and loved causing others physical pain through torture, which he enjoyed performing himself.

Bianca Maria's father - Galeazzo Maria Sforza
(Piero del Pollaiolo, 1471)
The year Galeazzo became the Duke of Milan he married into the powerful Gonzaga family, who ruled over the prominent city of Mantua. He had no children by his first wife, Dorotea Gonzaga, as she died just a year after the wedding. His second marriage was to Bianca Maria’s mother, Bona of Savoy, who had been previously betrothed to Edward IV of England before he secretly married Elizabeth Woodville. Bona was the daughter of Louis I, Duke of Savoy, the French-born son of the Antipope Felix V and Mary of Burgundy (a granddaughter of King John II of France), and Princess Anne of Cyprus. Therefore, Bona was of royal French and Italian descent, which made her a valuable marriage prospect for the Duke of Milan. Galeazzo Maria and Bona of Savoy wed on July 22, 1468 and had a total of four children. Their first child, Gian Galeazzo Sforza, would succeed his father as Duke of Milan and marry his first cousin, Princess Isabella of Naples. One of their children was Bona Sforza, who married Sigismund I, King of Poland, and had six children, including three queens (one who ruled Poland in her own right) and a king. Galeazzo Maria and Bona had a second son before Bianca Maria, who was their third child. Their fourth and youngest child, Anna Maria, would marry the future Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso I d’Este. Along with her three siblings, Bianca Maria had various illegitimate siblings from her father’s many affairs. Five of these illegitimate siblings were all the offspring of Galeazzo Maria’s principal mistress, Lucrezia Landriani. One of these children was the famous Caterina Sforza, the fearless Countess of Forlì and Lady of Imola. When Bianca was four years old, her father was assassinated by three of his own high-ranking officials. The assassination occurred inside the Church of Santo Stefano on December 26, 1476 where Galeazzo Maria, who was thirty-two years old at the time, was attending mass. Almost as soon as he arrived, the three conspirators, who killed their tyrannical Duke for both personal and political reasons, stabbed him to death. The title of Duke of Milan fell to Galeazzo’s eldest son, the seven-year-old Gian Galeazzo, who ruled under the regency of his mother. However, a power struggled erupted between Bona and her brother-in-law, Ludovico Maria Sforza, resulting in the complete overthrow of Bona and her son in 1480. Ludovico (who was nicknamed “Il Moro”) claimed the duchy and his nephew’s title for himself and forced Bona to flee Milan while the young Gian Galeazzo remained behind as his uncle’s prisoner.

The most realistic portrait of Bianca Maria Sforza
(Leonardo da Vinci, 1490's-1500)

On January 6, 1474, Bianca, who was three months shy of her second birthday, married her maternal first cousin, Philibert I, Duke of Savoy. Philibert, who was the grandson of King Charles VII of France through his mother, was a boy of just eight years when he married his infant cousin. Although marriage between two parties below the age of puberty was rare, it was not entirely unheard of, especially when it came to using marriage as a means to increase the power of both marital families. Bianca moved to Savoy with her bridegroom’s family after the wedding and grew up under the care of her in-laws (also her uncle and aunt), without ever really knowing her own family. In the spring of 1482, the ten-year-old Bianca was widowed when her husband and cousin, Philibert, died at the age of seventeen. Since he had no children with Bianca (due to the fact that she was still a pre-pubescent child), the title of Duke of Savoy passed to Philibert’s younger brother, Charles. With her husband-cousin’s death, Bianca returned to Milan, where her uncle now reigned. Ludovico could care less about the well being of his nieces and nephews; so, he took essentially no interest in their upbringing. As a result, Bianca received a poor education for an Italian noblewoman of the time. She spent her days in Milan simply doing whatever she pleased, which was mostly needlework. As Bianca entered her teenage years, her uncle (who saw his niece only as a pawn to use in the game of marriage) looked to marry her off to a powerful family in order to benefit himself. In 1485, she was betrothed to the illegitimate but only son of King Matthias of Hungary, Janus Corvinus. With the match, Bianca would gain the rights to own various Hungarian counties while her betrothed’s father sought to attempt to ensure his son’s inheritance of Hungary and Bohemia and make him Duke of Austria. However, after the marriage by proxy was signed in late 1487, King Matthias’s wife, who vehemently opposed the match, made it impossible for the marriage to take place. In 1492, a marriage between Bianca and King James IV of Scotland was also proposed but the idea never amounted to anything significant.

Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor
(Albrecht Dürer, 1519)
Finally, Bianca was successfully engaged to a suitable groom and married off for a second time. The wedding between Bianca Maria Sforza and Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany, and Archduke of Austria, occurred on March 16, 1494 in Hall, Tyrol. Maximilian, who was thirteen years older than his twenty-two year old bride, ruled over a huge swath of land that stretched all the way from eastern France to modern-day Poland and extended down to northern Italy. Maximilian, who was a Habsburg through his father and a descendant of the royal families of Portugal and Aragon through his mother, had been married previously to Mary, Duchess of Burgundy. His marriage to the extremely wealthy Burgundian heiress (a descendant of French royalty through both her mother and father) added the domains of Burgundy in France and the Low Countries to Maximilian’s empire. However, the marriage between Maximilian and Mary was not just a success politically, it was also a triumph in terms of love. Maximilian adored his first wife, who he had two children with – Philip I, King of Castile and Margaret, Archduchess of Austria. Unfortunately, Maximilian and Mary’s happy life together ended after just five years when Mary died as the result of a terrible fall from her horse. In 1490, Maximilian made a marriage by proxy to the young Anne of Brittany, who was the Duchess of Brittany in her own right. But, the marriage was never officially completed with the bride and groom present, so, just months after the proxy marriage, King Charles VIII of France invaded Brittany and forced Anne to renounce her unconsummated marriage with Maximilian. He then married her himself, claiming her vast inheritance while Maximilian protested in vain. The marriage between Bianca Maria and Maximilian was made at the start of the Italian Wars, a drawn-out succession of conflicts that encompassed essentially every major kingdom of Western Europe (basically, it was just a petty fight between arrogant rulers over land in Italy that everyone seemed to claim at once). With the marriage, Maximilian would get Bianca’s impressive dowry while Bianca’s uncle would be recognized and confirmed as Duke of Milan. Maximilian would also be able to affirm his rights to the Imperial jurisdiction of Milan. It was actually Bianca and Maximilian’s marriage that triggered the Italian Wars, as the match angered France so much that Charles VIII decided to march into Italy.

Bianca Maria Sforza
(Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, 1495)
Unlike Maximilian’s first marriage, his second was not happy at all. The couple never had a good relationship with one another, even from the start. Right after the wedding night, Maximilian bemoaned that although Bianca may have been more beautiful than his first wife, she was not nearly as intelligent. The new Holy Roman Empress and Queen of Germany never succeeded in winning her husband’s affections, no matter how hard she tried. Maximilian simply could never accept her and constantly compared her to the late Mary of Burgundy, claiming that Bianca was too dull-witted, childish, chatty, and careless in regards to money and her actions. Although Maximilian was displeased with his wife, he did want to have children with her. Bianca became pregnant several times but she never managed to deliver a living child. She did have a very good relationship with her two stepchildren, both of whom were less than ten years her junior. Courtiers were appalled at Bianca’s lack of dignity in regards to her relationship with Philip and Margaret, for she would get down on the floor to play with them, which was seen as very unbecoming of a queen. After 1500, Maximilian was no longer concerned with Bianca at all, as she had done nothing to capture his romantic attention and had failed in her most important role as a consort – to bear children. He was so disinterested in her that when they went on trips, he left her behind as a form of security when he was unable to pay for his rooms. So, she lived almost entirely separate from her husband in different castles in Tyrol, holding her own court comprised mainly of her native Milanese folk. Bianca Maria Sforza died on December 31, 1510 in Innsbruck at the age of thirty-eight, most likely from some sort of illness. She was buried in Stams but, even in death, her husband wanted nothing to do with her. Though they had been married for sixteen years, Maximilian didn’t go to her funeral or even devote a gravestone to her. He survived his wife by nine years until his own death on January 12, 1519 at the age of fifty-nine.

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