Francesco and Ludovico Sforza di Milano
Sovereign Grand Commander 1480-1485
The Sforzas were a ruling family in Renaissance Italy originally from around Ravenna and named Attendoli, who assumed the name Sforza (meaning strength or force) from their nickname gained through warlike aggressive behaviour and who acquired the duchy of Milan from the previous ruling family, the Visconti's through both marriage and aggression in the mid fifteenth century before losing it to the Habsburgs one hundred years later.
Muzio Attendoli (1369-1424) was one of the most powerful condottieri* of the period and when he died in battle his illegitimate son Francesco (1401-1466) succeeded as commander of his troops. Francesco also became a successful condottiere whose armies were involved in a three-way war with the Milanese republic and Venice, after which he entered Milan in triumph as Duke in 1450. He was someone who kept changing sides; he fought unreliably for Florence, going over to the side of Milan on three occasions, and was keen to fight anyone including his brother Alessandro and his son Francesco whom he defeated at the Battle of Montolmo in 1444. He married Bianca Maria, sole daughter and heir of Philippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan at which time he received a dowry of Pontremoli and Cremona. It was this Francesco who allied himself with René of Anjou in 1442 and marched against southern Italy where he defeated the Neapolitan commander Niccolo Piccinino.When John de Montgomery died in 1445, René named him Grand Commander of his troops in Southern Italy, which included both Francesco's own troops as well as Scottish Archers. He was also one of the original members of Rene's Order of the Crescent which probably contributed to his son becoming the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ordre de Lys. In 1450 after the death of his father-in-law, who had named Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Naples as his successor, Francesco laid siege to Milan, the result of which was being offered the Duchy of that city by its burghers. Although initially there was some resistance to him in the ensuing years, he finally consolidated his position with an alliance with Cosimo de Medici and Florence. However in 1451 he changed sides by supporting Alphonso of Naples and was sacked by René.
Ludovico Sforza, became Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ordre du Lys in 1480 (probably self-proclaimed), whilst Regent of Milan and after the death of René, was born in 1452 at Vigevano, now in Lombardy and was known as Ludovico il Moro (the Moor on account of his dark completion and black hair). He was the second son of Francesco Sforza. He continued to live in his father’s court even after his father was assassinated in 1466 and after his elder brother Galeozza Maria became the new duke. As he was not expected to become ruler of Milan, Ludovico's mother, Bianca saw to it that his education was of a humanistic classical nature, not only learning the classical languages, but also receiving tuition in painting, sculpture, Latin, Greek, Philosophy and letters from Francesca Filelfo, a third cousin of Leonardo da Vinci. It was only later that he was taught the methods of government and warfare. This education was not lost on Ludovico as he is credited, at least in some quarters, as being the man who invented the European Renaissance.
When Ludovico's elder brother died ten years after he had become duke of Milan, the title passed to Galeozza's seven-year-old son Gian Galeozza. Ludovico plotted to wrest the regency of Gian from his mother Bona of Savoy and when the plot failed, he was forced to go into exile. He didn’t give up the struggle however, and through a combination of threats and flattery, finally persuaded Bona to give him the regency and leave the area, as a result of which in 1481 he took control of Milan as regent, a position he held for the next thirteen years. Ludovico quickly sought to strengthen and secure his control of Milan and so sought alliances with other powerful princes such as Lorenzo the Magnificent of Florence, Ferdinand I of Naples, to whose granddaughter Isabelle, he married to his nephew Gian and the Borgia Pope Alexander VI.
Isabelle and Gian eventually set up court in Pavia, but Isabelle resentful of Ludovico having usurped her husband’s rightful claim to the Duchy of Milan sought the help of her grandfather in 1493. As a result Ferdinand ordered Ludovico to surrender control of Milan to Gian. In refusing Ferdinand’s demands Ludovico was fearful of war with Naples, and so, formed an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and Charles VIII of France, whom he invited to invade Naples, accompanies by his Garde Escossais. As a consequence he had to resign as Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ordre du Lys. Ludovico's nephew Gian died in 1494, under suspicious circumstances and for an extremely large sum of money and the hand of Gian's sister Bianca Maria in marriage, Maximilian bestowed the title of Duke of Milan on Ludovico thereby legitimising his rule.
In 1491 Sforza married the fifteen-year-old Beatrice d`Este daughter of Ercole d`Este the Duke of Ferrara and at the same time her brother Alfonso (who later became king and was deposed by Charles VIII) married Ludovico`s niece Anna Sforza. This double family wedding was orchestrated by Leonardo da Vinci. It was Beatrice and Alonso’s sister Isabelle d`Este, who married Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua and father of the future Sovereign Grand Commander of the Lys, Ferrante Gonzaga. Ferrante`s brother Frederick II de Gonzaga and later Duke of Nevers married Marguerite de Montferrat, who was a Paleologue (The Byzantine Imperial family) who were related to the Gonzagas and the Monferrats.
Beatrice reputedly one of the most beautiful and accomplished princesses of the Renaissance period helped make the Sforza court into a centre of brilliant festivals and balls and entertained philosophers, poets and diplomats, as well as being responsible for the splendour of Castello Sforzesco in Milan and the Certosa of Pavia. She was also noted for her excellent taste in fashion and having invented new clothes and styles.
Unfortunately, Beatrice died in childbirth in 1497 aged only twenty-one years and a fresco with her portrait faces da Vinci’s Last Supper. Such was the effect of her death that the poet Vincenzo Calmeta wrote “And when Duchess Beatrice died everything fell into ruin and that court which had been a joyous paradise, was changed into a black inferno.”
Despite his happy marriage to Beatrice, Ludovico had at least three mistresses, firstly Bernadina de Carradis with whom he had a daughter, Bianca Giovanna,secondly Cecilia Gallerani, who gave birth to his son Cesare, in the same year as his marriage (she was also reputedly the subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Lady with an Ermine”) and thirdly Lucrezia Crivelli, mother of his son Giovanni Paolo, born the year Beatrice died and she has been captured in Leonardo’s painting “La Belle Ferroniere.” He apparently only had one mistress at a time.
Upon the death of Lorenzo, the Magnificent in 1492, Ludovico became the most influential statesmen in Italy. He was one of the wealthiest and most powerful princes of the Renaissance holding what has been described as a brilliant court where he spent excessive amounts of money to further the arts and sciences and in addition to patronising such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci†, who was with him for thirteen years as consulting engineer to the court, and the architect Bramante, the painters Foppa, Bergognone and the sculptor Solari. It was this Duke of Milan, who commissioned Leonardo to paint “il cenocolo” (the Last Supper) on the walls next to his father’s burial place in the Santa Maria delle Grazie, an area which had been the refectory and was remodelled for Sforza by Bramante. Leonardo also painted the two versions of the Virgin of the Rock whilst in Milan. Ludovico also invested heavily in agriculture horse and cattle breeding, built roads, bridges, and canals to water large areas as well as building palaces and churches He also created a vast silk industry which employed 20,000 people and the Universities of Milan and Pavia are said to have flourished under him.
Such was Ludovico's power that he boasted that Pope Alexander was his chaplain, Emperor Maximilian his general, King Charles of France his courier and the governing signor of Venice his chamberlain. In 1495 he defeated the French at the Battle of Fomovo making weapons from 80 tons of bronze originally intended for Leonardo da Vinci’s equestrian statue of the Duke.
This however was all to change with the death of Charles VIII in 1498, who was succeeded by Louis XII and who claimed the duchy of Milan as a grandson of Valentina Visconti, the daughter of Giangaleazzo Visconti, the first duke of Milan and who then initiated the second phase of the Italian Wars by invading Milan. With none of the Italian states helping Sforza or Milan, because he had invited the French into Italy, Louis army with the support of Venice and the Milanese populous, who had become oppressed by the Duke’s heavy taxation to support his extravagant lifestyle and court, quickly conquered Milan and drove out Ludovico who took refuge at Innsbruck at Maximilian’s court.
Despite having thrown off the Sforza yoke it wasn’t long before the Milanese tired of Louis and the French and so Ludovico attempted to retake Milan with German and Swiss mercenaries. Unfortunately, during the crucial battle of Novara, a city in which Ludovico was based, his Swiss troops, refused to fight; apparently there were Swiss mercenaries on both sides and they refused to fight against each other and as a result in April 1500 Ludovico was captured by the French and imprisoned, initially at Lyon then at Lys St. George, Berry and for the last four years of his life in the dungeon of the castle of Loches in Touraine, in which he died in 1508 despite attempts to escape. Where precisely he was interred is unknown or at best disputed. Some reports claim he was buried in the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in the Church of Loches whilst a document produced by Dominican friars tells that his body was removed to Milan and reburied alongside that of his wife Beatrice and still another claims Ludovico and Beatrice are buried in Certosa di Pavia.
The Swiss later executed a soldier Hans Turmann, whom they claimed betrayed the Duke of Milan for money and restored the Duchy of Milan to Ludovico`s son, Maximilian Sforza, with his second son Francesco II also becoming Duke of Milan for a short period, but his death in 1535 sparked the second French Invasion of the Italian Wars the result of which was that Milan passed into the Spanish Empire via Charles V and the Habsburgs, Charles himself being a descendant of the Visconti's. Milan came under the control of Austria after the War of Spanish Succession and remained as such until Napoleon III routed the Austrians and the city became part of new Italy.
Niccolo Machiavelli mentions Ludovico a number of times in his masterpiece “The Prince”, albeit condemning him for being the primary cause of Italy`s misery. Several branches of the Sforza family survived up to modern times with Seconda, an illegitimate son of Francesco Sforza, becoming Count Sforza, another
one being the anti fascist statesman and foreign minister of Italy Carlo Sforza (1873-1952).
*Condottieri were mercenary warlords of the professional military free companies contracted to various Italian city states. Condottieri literally means contractor and is synonymous with the English Mercenary Captain.
† In 1481 Leonardo wrote a letter to Ludovico Sforza with the aim of obtaining work at Sforza`s court and amongst a number of items contained in that letter describing what benefit Leonardo would be to him are the following.
“I have a model of a very strong but light bridge extremely easy to carry by which means you will be able to pursue or flee an enemy. I also know ways to burn and destroy those of the enemy.”
“I will make covered vehicles, safe and unassailable which will penetrate enemy ranks with their artillery and destroy the most powerful troops; the infantry may follow them without meeting any obstacles or suffering damage.” Was this a description of the first tank I wonder?