Eleanora degli Albizzi
With a view to obtain the good graces of Don Francesco, Almeni began a system of betraying confidences of a strictly private and familiar character. Blessed with the spirit of flattery, like all consummate courtiers, he conceived it to be a stroke of excellent personal policy to purvey for his Highness' appreciation or the reverse, his father's intimate concerns.
He repeated the conversation the old Duke and he had held about Eleanora degli Albizzi and her child, and advised the Prince, for his own advantage, to inform his father that any steps he might take to advance his innamorata or their bastard, would be resented by him as Regent of the Duchy. Apparently Almeni did not regard the young mother with lenient eyes, but viewed her ascendency over the infatuated Duke with disfavour, as offering rivalry to his own position.
Francesco, smarting under his father's strictures in respect to his amours with Bianca Buonaventuri, and resenting his constant interference in his private affairs no less than in his public duties, was only too ready to give ear to any scandal which he might turn to good account. At first he kept his own counsel, but one day, being unusually exasperated with words of reproach uttered by his father, Francesco proclaimed his displeasure at, and opposition to, the views of the Duke with respect to Eleanora degli Albizzi.
Cosimo knew at once how his secret had been exposed, and by whom. He managed to control his passion, but indignantly retorted that there was a son's duty to a father which should have taught Francesco to disbelieve unfavourable rumours. He returned at once to Castello.
Sforza Almeni, of course, entirely ignorant that Prince Francesco had unwittingly betrayed him, presented himself as usual before the Duke to learn his pleasure. Cosimo addressed him sternly: "Almeni, you have betrayed my confidence. You, who of all men I trusted implicitly! Go, get out of my sight. Go at once anywhere you will - only go - never let me see your face again!"
Almeni, dumfounded, set off at once for Florence. He knew too well Cosimo's temper to bandy words, and sought interviews with Prince Francesco and the Duchess Isabella. With their knowledge he remained in the city, perhaps faintly hoping the Duke might relent and send for him back. A few days later Cosimo went into Florence, and passing through an ante-chamber at the Pitti Palace, he was astounded to see Almeni calmly standing in the recess of a window.
No one else was in the room, and, as Almeni saluted his master and proceeded to make an appeal for mercy, Cosimo became infuriated at his disobedience and impertinence, and, reaching up to a hunting-trophy on the wall, he seized a stout boar-spear, and cried out in a loud voice - "Traitor, base traitor, thou art not fit to live, thou hast slandered thy master and fouled thy nest! Die!"
With a sudden thrust he struck the affrighted Almeni to the heart. It was a fatal wound, for, with a shriek of agony, the unhappy man fell at his master's feet, the shaft of the weapon still fast in his wound. The day was Wednesday, 22nd May 1566, the Eve of the Annunciation. The corpse lay there for several hours, and no questions were asked as to how and by whom Almeni had been done to death. At nightfall the Misericordia brethren wound him to his burial in the secret vaults of the dismantled church of San Piero Scheraggio.
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In less than a month after the murder of Sforza Almeni, Cosimo's dearly-loved little daughter died in sudden convulsions, due, it was reported, to the administration of poison. Eleanora was inconsolable, and the Duke did all he could to comfort her. He organised fetes and hunting-parties for her, and both at Castello and, even in Florence, he drove with her quite openly, treating her as his lawful wife.
Early in the following year Eleanora was once more enceinte and, on 13th May, she became the mother of another child, a boy, whom Cosimo declared was a true likeness of his famous father, Giovanni "delle Bande Nere," and consequently that name was given him. The Duke's happiness knew no bounds, but the arrival of this second child, born out of wedlock and in the face of the hot displeasure of Duke Francesco and Duchess Giovanna, was the disenchantment of Cosimo's love-dream. The liaison could not continue, and, truth to tell, Cosimo himself was the cause of its cessation. The lustful old man had seen another lovely girl in Florence, and Eleanora's star became dimmed in the new effulgence!
Eleanora's recovery and convalescence were not this time marked by the devotion of her lover, he never so much as went near her, although she was at Castello all the time and Giovanni was born there. The disillusionment of them both was as immediate as it was dramatic. It was reported that the Pope had written a remonstrance to Cosimo, and hinted that the creation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, which the Duke earnestly coveted, was entirely out of the question until he had put away his mistress, and had renounced the errors of his way.
It may have been court gossip, but one reason for Duke Cosimo's drastic treatment of his innamorata, was the intimacy which had sprung up between Eleanora and his own precocious and vivacious son, Piero. If the father had fouled his couch, he could not allow his own son access thereto as well.