THIRD MILLENNIUM LIBRARY

BIOHISTORY

 

BEATRICE D'ESTE-- DUCHESS OF MILAN

CHAPTER VIII

Birth of her son Cesare

1491

 

All these caresses and adulation, all the expeditions and hunting-parties and fêtes in her honour, were naturally very delightful to this young princess of fifteen summers, who had till now hardly left home, and who flung herself with such boundless enjoyment into every new form of amusement. Life for her was full of mirth and rapture; a long prospect of endless pleasures seemed to open before her as the first breath of spring passed over the green Lombard plains, and the delicious gardens of the Castello of Milan and the long avenues on the sunny terraces of Vigevano burst into leaf. The world seemed waking into new bliss, and Duchess Beatrice was the gayest and gladdest of its creatures. So at least she appeared to those who saw her in the full enjoyment of chase or dance. But there was a darker side to the picture. Lodovico looked on his young wife as a joyous and fascinating child, as he told Giacomo Trotti, "lieta di natura et molto piacevolina," and thought that as long as he treated her with consideration and respect, and at the same time allowed her every possible indulgence, he might continue to go on his own way and take his pleasure in whatever form he chose. But he soon found out his mistake. This young wife of his, full of mirth and high spirits as she was, had a deeper nature and a stronger will than he suspected. If a constant round of amusements could have satisfied her, she might have accepted the playful caresses of her indulgent husband, and been content with the share of affection which he bestowed upon her. But Beatrice asked for more than this. She was bent on having sole possession of her lord's heartof reigning there at least without a rival. And when she discovered that Lodovico had a mistress actually living in the Castello, whom he visited constantly and loved passionately, her whole being rose up in arms. Her proud spirit would not brook a rival, and she vowed the duke must choose between his mistress and his wife. When the Ferrarese envoy saw the newly wedded duke on his way to Cecilia Gallerani's rooms within a month after his marriage, he was full of gloomy forebodings. But Lodovico was perfectly frank with him, and did not attempt to conceal his actions or the motives of his conduct. For a while Beatrice spent her time riding or hunting about the country with Messer Galeazzo and her ladies, and remained in happy ignorance of the true state of affairs. But this could not last long. Soon a rumour of Cecilia's presence in the Rocca reached her ears; she heard how often the duke was seen in her company, and was told that before many weeks were over his mistress was likely to bear him a child. The first intimation which we have of this rude awakening which had come to the young duchess is in a letter addressed by Trotti to Duke Ercole, which he sends in the strictest confidence, begging his master to allow no one but our illustrious Madonna to read it, and then to burn it without delay. In this letter he says that Beatrice has absolutely refused to wear a certain vest of woven gold which her husband had given her, if Madonna Cecilia ever appeared in a similar one, which it seems was also Lodovico's present. The duke himself, he adds, had been to see him that day, and had promised faithfully that he would put an end to his liaison with Cecilia, and would either marry her to one of his courtiers or desire her to become a nun. Lodovico, it is plain, had realized that the situation had become impossible, and that he could not keep up his relations with his old mistress without causing open scandal. He was true to his promise, and that carnival he broke off the connection which gave Beatrice so much pain, and wrote to Giacomo Trotti from Vigevano on the 27th of March, informing him that he had decided not to see Madonna Cecilia again, and that after her child's birth she had agreed to become the wife of Count Lodovico Bergamini. This strange compact was duly carried out.

On the 3rd of May, the duke's discarded mistress gave birth to a son, who received the name of Cesare; and in the following July, Cecilia Gallerani was married to Count Lodovico Bergamini of Cremona, one of the Moro's most loyal servants and subjects. Her trousseau on this occasion was of the most sumptuous description, and it was noticed that the corbeille which held her gowns bore the ducal arms. At the same time the Duke of Bari presented her with the stately Palazzo del Verme, originally built by his ancestor, Filippo Maria Visconti, for the great Captain Carmagnola, on the piazza of the Duomo, as a token of his regard and a heritage for her infant son. Court painters and sculptors were employed to decorate the halls and porticoes with frescoes and medallions of the finest marble, and at the time of the French invasion, eight years later, Countess Bergamini's palace was described as the finest private house in Milan. Cecilia devoted herself to the classical studies in which she had taken delight from her earliest youth, and entertained her learned friends in her town house or at her villa near Cremona until she died in advanced old age, some years after the last of Lodovico's sons had ceased to reign over Milan. Lodovico seems to have kept his promise loyally, but always treated Cecilia and her husband with marked favour, and acknowledged the boy Cesare as his own son.

A curious letter addressed to him by the poet Bellincioni, in February, 1492, when the duke was absent from Milan for a few days, begins by informing Lodovico that he has given Duchess Beatrice a pastoral which she wishes to send her husband, and goes on to say that he was dining yesterday with Madonna Cecilia. He tells Lodovico how he had seen her son Cesare, who had grown into a very fine child"quale è grasso, dico grasso!"and how he had made the little fellow laugh. In the same letter he complains of all that he has to suffer at the hands of envious detractors, and by way of ingratiating himself with the duke, reminds his Highness that he had always prophesied Madonna Cecilia's child would prove to be a boy. Bellincioni himself composed several sonnets in honour of Cesare's birth and of his accomplished mother. And among the exquisite miniatures of the little Maximilian Sforza's Libro del Gesù in the Trivulzian library, we find a picture of Lodovico and Beatrice's child sitting at dinner with his mother and a lady bearing the name of Cecilia, in whom tradition sees the duke's old mistress, Countess Bergamini.

But although Cecilia remained at court, and even maintained friendly relations with her famous lover, she never seems to have given Beatrice cause for jealousy again, and her name is never again mentioned in Giacomo Trotti's confidential despatches to his master. Only the singular fact that Beatrice d'Este's portrait was never, so far as we know, painted by Leonardo, the supreme master at her husband's court, may well be owing to the remembrance that he had formerly painted Cecilia Gallerani. The proud young duchess who would not wear a robe similar to that bestowed upon his mistress by her husband, may naturally enough have declined to have her portrait painted by the same artist, however excellent a master he might be. But whether or no this was the true reason of this strange omission, there was certainly no portrait of Beatrice d'Este by Leonardo's hand in Milan a year after her death, or her own sister Isabella would not have applied to Cecilia Gallerani for the loan of her picture as an example of Leonardo's art. From this time, however, the young duchess succeeded in winning her husband's heart, and for many years to come retained undivided possession of his roving affections. On the 20th of April, Trotti wrote to Ferrara that Signor Lodovico had been to see him on the second or third day in Easter week, and had spoken with the greatest warmth and affection of his wife, with whom he spent his whole time, and whose charming ways and manners gave him the greatest pleasure. Madonna Beatrice is, as he says, not only of a joyous nature, but of noble and elevated mind, and at the same time very pleasing and no less modest. And in May, when Cecilia's son was born, the duke himself told his wife the news, repeating his determination never again to renew the old connection. His letters to Isabella d'Este abound in the same expressions of genuine love and admiration for his young wife. He is never tired of dwelling on her perfections, on her courage and fine horsemanship, and looks on with an indulgent smile at her wildest freaks and escapades.

Early in March he and Beatrice went to Vigevano, accompanied as usual by Messer Galeazzo and a few courtiers and ladies. All his life Lodovico retained especial affection for this old Lombard town, where he had been born, and which he had greatly improved and beautified during the last few years. By his care the streets were paved, and new houses erected; the buildings of the ancient Forum, which dated back to Roman times, were restored; and the church repaired and adorned with pictures, and decorated by the hand of the sculptor Cristoforo Romano.

"At Vigevano," writes the contemporary Milanese chronicler Cagnola, "a place very dear to the house of Sforza, Lodovico made a fair and large piazza, and adorned it with many noble buildings and a fine park, which he filled with beasts of prey for the pleasure of the ducal family. He also laid out some most beautiful gardens, and since all this country was very dry and arid, he constructed aqueducts with great artifice and ingenuity, and brought water into the place in such abundance that these lands, which had hitherto been sterile and barren, bore fruit in great quantities. And so entirely did he improve and alter the whole place that, instead of Vigevano, it might well be called Citta nova."

At the same time Lodovico rebuilt on a magnificent scale the old castle which crowns the heights above the valley of the Ticino, and employed Bramante to design the lofty tower and the arcaded courts with delicate traceries and terra-cotta mouldings in the finest Lombard style. This favourite palace of the Moro's has been turned into a barrack, and little remains of its former splendour; but Bramante's tower is still standing, and on the north gate of the keep we may read a significant inscription placed there by the citizens of Vigevano, recording the many benefactions of this most illustrious duke, who loved his native city so well, and was never tired of heaping benefactions on her people. "By his care not only was this splendid house raised from the ground, and the square of the old Forum restored to its pristine shape, but the course of rivers was turned, and flowing streams of water were brought into this dry and barren land. The desert waste became a green and fertile meadow, "the wilderness rejoiced and blossomed as the rose."

The same sentiments inspired the verses in which Galeotto del Carretto, one of the most accomplished poets of Beatrice's court, celebrated Lodovico's improvements in this his favourite country house:

"Vigevano, che gia fu gleba vile,
Ha fatto adorno, e gli agri a quel contigui
Ha coltivati con saper utile,
E i steril campi, e al far fructo ambigui
Fertili ha facto et abondanti prati,
E d'acqua ticinèse tutti irigui."

Both Cagnola and Galeotto refer, no doubt, to the vast system of irrigation which Lodovico constructed at immense pains and expense to fertilize this district of Lomellina, and which may well have earned the gratitude of its inhabitants. The great Naviglio Sforzesca, which has resisted the ravages of time, formed part of this admirable system, and was probably constructed under the supervision of Leonardo, who was often at Vigevano with Lodovico, and who in later years became his chief engineer. It was here, in the immediate neighbourhood of Vigevano, that Lodovico established his model farm for the encouragement of agriculture. Like all the Moro's other undertakings, this was planned on a splendid scale. The villa itself was an imposing quadrangular building, with four lofty towers, and a noble gateway adorned with a Latin inscription cut in gold letters on a tablet of massive marble, and bearing the date 1486. These lines, composed at the duke's request by Ermolao Barbaro, the learned Venetian scholar, who was a personal friend of his, and represented the republic at his court, record how Lodovico, the son of one Sforza Duke of Milan, and uncle and guardian of another, brought water to fertilize this barren province, and was the builder of this fair house, "villaque amenissima a fundamentis erecta." In order to carry out his schemes, the duke acquired a large extent of land in the neighbourhood, partly by purchase, and partly by the confiscation of territory, which, as Corio remarks, naturally provoked much discontent among individuals, and did not help to increase Lodovico's popularity, although in the end it largely benefited both the state and posterity. He proceeded to dig canals, and bring water on the one side by the Naviglio Sforzesca from the Ticino, and on the other by the Mora Canal from the Val Seria. Then, with the help of exports from Vicenza and Verona, he introduced the culture of the mulberry with excellent results, and planted large vineyards. Here he tried various experiments in the culture of the vine, such, for instance, as that of burying vines in winter, which Leonardo noted down when he visited Vigevano in March, 1492. At the same time Lodovico brought vast flocks of sheep from Languedoc, and built the large farm known as La Pecorara, close to the new villa. La Grange, as they called this farm, aroused the admiration of the French chroniclers who followed Louis XII. in his invasion of Lombardy, more than any other of the beautiful and marvellous houses and enchanted gardens which they saw in this wonderful land of Milan. Robert Gaguin cannot find words in which to express his amazement at the marvellous number of beasts that he saw therehorses, mares, oxen, cows, bulls, rams, ewes, goats, and other beasts with their young, such as fawns, calves, foals, lambs, and kidsor the massive pillars and lofty vaulting of the stables, which are described as being larger than the whole of the Carthusian convent in Paris.

"The farm itself," he writes, "is finely situated in a wide meadow about four leagues in circumference, with no less than thirty-three streams of fair running water flowing through the pastures, and well adapted for the practical uses of agriculture, since they serve for the bathing and cleansing of the animals as well as for the watering of the grass. The plan of the farm-buildings is a large square, like some noble cloister, and in the park outside are barns and ricks of hay and other produce. In the central courtyard are the houses of the governors and captains who direct all the work on the farm. In the outhouses, which are built in the shape of a great cross, the labourers have their homes, together with their wives and families. Some of these clean and tend the cattle or groom the horses. Others milk the herds of cows at the proper time. Others, again, receive the milk and bear it into the dairies, where it is made into the great cheeses which they call here Milan cheeses, under the superintendence of the master cheese-maker. The exact weight of everything, that is to say, of the hay, milk, butter, and cheese, is carefully recorded, and there is an extraordinary wealth and abundance of all these things."

These Milan cheeses were so highly esteemed by the French invaders in 1499, that Louis XII. took back a large quantity with him to Blois, and kept them for several years in a room especially devoted to that purpose. They were preserved in oil, and are mentioned in one of his wife Anne of Brittany's inventories of the year 1504.

Such were the manifold industries which this far-seeing prince established on his royal domain, less, as he said, for actual profit than for the encouragement of better methods in agriculture and the promotion of his poorer subjects' prosperity. And over all he kept the same keen and vigilant eye, paying attention to every detail and providing for every contingency. The management of this model farm and the progress of the extensive works that were being executed in the new palace of Vigevano filled every moment that he could spare from affairs of state at Milan. But on this occasion his especial object in visiting his native city was, as he tells Isabella d'Este, to stock the park with game of all kindsdeer, chamois, hare, and pheasantsas well as the wild boars and wolves for the more serious sport known as la grande caccia.

"I am hoping to go to Vigevano on Monday," he writes from Milan on the 26th of February, "with my wife, and intend to make extensive preparations for fresh hunting-parties, so that when you are here we may be able to give you the more pleasure. As for my wife, I really believe that since your departure she has not let a single day pass without mounting her horse!" And later in the summer he says, "My wife has become so clever at hawking that she quite outdoes me at this her favourite sport."

Beatrice herself gives a lively account of her country life during the spring of 1491, in a charming letter which she addressed to her sister from Villa Nova, another of Lodovico's delightful pleasure-houses in the valley of the Ticino between Milan and Pavia.

"I am now here at Villa Nova, where the loveliness of the country and the balmy sweetness of the air make me think we are already in the month of May, so warm and splendid is the weather we are enjoying! Every day we go out riding with the dogs and falcons, and my husband and I never come home without having enjoyed ourselves exceedingly in hunting herons and other water-fowl. I cannot say much of the perils of the chase, since game is so plentiful here that hares are to be seen jumping out at every cornerso much so, that often we hardly know which way to turn to find the best sport. Indeed, the eye cannot take in all one desires to see, and it is scarcely possible to count up the number of animals that are to be found in this neighbourhood. Nor must I forget to tell you how every day Messer Galeazzo and I, with one or two other courtiers, amuse ourselves playing at ball after dinner, and we often talk of your Highness, and wish that you were here. I say all this, not to diminish the pleasure that I hope you will have when you do come by telling you what you may expect to find here, but in order that you may know how well and happy I am, and how kind and affectionate my husband is, since I cannot thoroughly enjoy any pleasure or happiness unless I share it with you. And I must tell you that I have had a whole field of garlic planted for your benefit, so that when you come, we may be able to have plenty of your favourite dishes!

"Ex Villa Nova, 18 Martiji, 1491."

 

It is plain from this letter that harmony had been restored between the wedded pair, and that the rock on which Beatrice's happiness had seemed likely to founder had been fortunately avoided.

The passing cloud that cast a shadow on her bright young life had rolled away, and this letter breathes the serene happiness of the spring airs about her. But her affection for her sister was warmer and stronger than ever, and hardly a day passed without some fresh expression of her impatience for Isabella's returnan impatience which both Lodovico and Galeazzo seem to have shared.

On the 21st of April, after describing a successful wolf-hunt from Vigevano, in which the Duke and Duchess of Milan and their courtiers had all taken part, Lodovico writes

"The whole distance must have been at least thirty miles, yet on the way home both the duchesses stayed behind the rest of us, to make their horses race one against the other; and if your Highness had been here, I think you would have entered the lists and tried your luck against them. And since you must come soon, and are expected by us impatiently, I will remind your Highness to bring some of those fine Barbary steeds which your illustrious lord the marquis keeps in his stables, and then you will easily be able to beat all the others."

Again, on the 16th of May, Lodovico writes in the same strain

"I am as sorry as you are that you could not be here for these wolf-hunts, because, as you said in the letter written with your own hand on the 5th instant, I am quite sure you would have given us proofs of your spirit and courage. I must, however, tell you that your sister's boldness is such that I think even you would hardly come off victor in this contest, especially as, since you were here, she has made great progress both in the arts of horsemanship and of hunting. All the same, I am so impatient to see you together and to match your courage one against the other, that it seems to me a thousand years until your arrival!"

Beatrice, it appears, was absolutely fearless in the presence of danger, and faced an angry boar or wounded stag with the same lightness of heart. The greater the risks she ran, the higher her spirits rose. This feature of his young wife's character aroused the Moro's highest admiration. In a letter of the 8th of July, after recounting the various incidents of a long day's hunting, he tells the Marchesa what a narrow escape Beatrice has had from an infuriated stag which gored her horse.

"All at once we heard that the wounded stag had been seen, and had attacked the horse which my wife was riding, and the next moment we saw her lifted up in the air a good lance's height from the ground; but she kept her seat, and sat erect all the while. The duke and duchess and I all rushed to her help, and asked if she were hurt; but she only laughed, and was not in the least frightened."

Isabella herself was burning with eager desire to join Lodovico and Beatrice in these hunting-parties, and have a share in the thrilling adventures which they narrated in their letters, But her husband the marquis was away all the spring and early summer; first at Bologna, where he attended his brother Giovanni Gonzaga's wedding, and afterwards with his sister the Duchess Elizabeth at Urbino. After his return to Mantua he fell ill, and when he recovered it was already late in August, and Isabella was compelled very reluctantly to decline Lodovico Sforza's pressing invitations. Money was scarce at the court of Mantua, and the expenses of a journey to Milan were heavy. So she contented herself with going to see her mother that autumn at Ferrara, and put off her visit to Milan until the following spring, much to the disappointment of Beatrice and her husband. Lodovico wrote her word that he had been arranging a tournament at Pavia in honour of the christening of Gian Galeazzo's son, the little Count of Pavia, but that since she would not come, he had made up his mind to put it off and have no jousting.