Francesco - Il Virtuoso
Just before his death the Grand Duke sent for Ferdinando, told him he had been poisoned by no one but himself, and charged him with the double murder, for he had constant news, of course, of Bianca's illness. He asked him in that solemn hour to honour both of them in burial, to protect the little boy Antonio and his two young daughters, Maria and Eleanora, and to treat kindly all who had been faithful and true to Bianca and himself. Then he gave him the password for the Tuscan fortresses, and asked for his confessor, and so he passed away. As soon as Francesco was dead, Ferdinando demanded to be admitted to the bedside of Bianca. Concealing from her the fatal news, he intimated that Francesco had consigned to him the conduct of affairs, and in the most heartless, inhuman fashion possible, bade her prepare for death!
"See," he added, "I have brought your friend, Abbioso; you may as well make your confession to him as Francesco has done to Frate Confetti."
Bianca, though only partially conscious, knew exactly what the Cardinal meant, and railed at him for his cruelty. In delirium she made passionate appeals to Francesco, and wildly denounced her treacherous brother-in-law. Her cries resounded through the villa, but they stirred no feeling of regret or compunction in Ferdinando's breast. He gloated, fiend-like, over his victim's sufferings. It was not by chance he procured the potent poison he had used. The empiric-medico at Salerno had been well paid to furnish a potion that should, by its slow but deadly action, prolong the tortures of the sufferers! A less vindictive murderer would have secured his victim's quick release, but, during ten terrible days of sickness, delirium and agony, he witnessed the inevitable progress of his vengeance! If Cosimo, his father, had called his young son Garzia "Cain," what would not he have called the man, the bloodthirsty Ferdinando?
Bianca's illness followed precisely the course of the Grand Duke's. The tearful faces of her attendants, and the noise of preparations for his burial, conveyed to her in calmer moments the terrible truth, and she had no longer any wish to live - parted from Francesco. Bianca was already dead. She called the bishop and made a full confession of her whole life's story, hiding nothing, palliating nothing. Out of a full heart she spoke - that heart which had been the source of all her love and her happiness, her misery and her sin.
Antonio she commended to Bishop Abbioso's care, and begged him send the news of her death and Francesco's to Cavaliere Bartolommeo Cappello at Venice. After absolution and last communion, Bianca Cappello, "Daughter of Venice," Grand Duchess of Tuscany, breathed her last in peace - the delirium having abated - on the evening of 30th October, just two days after her husband.
A post-mortem examination, or at least the form of one, upon the Grand Duke revealed, it was said, advanced disease of the liver, the consequences of his unwisdom in the use of cordials and elixirs! With the connivance of the Court physicians, Ferdinando put out a proclamation that the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess - he was compelled to use the title then in speaking of Bianca - had died from "attacks of malarial fever, induced by the unhealthy atmosphere of Poggio a Caiano."
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Francesco's obsequies were attended by all the stately ceremonies usual in the Medici family. Conveyed into Florence by the Misericordia on the evening of his death, his body was exposed for three days in state in the Palazzo Pitti, and then carried in solemn procession to the church of San Lorenzo for burial.
If merely to save appearances, or to conceal his real intention, the new Grand Duke ordered the body of the Grand Duchess to be placed beside that of her husband in the Cappella Medici of the church. For six brief hours it was suffered to remain, and then, at midnight, agents of Ferdinando, well paid for their profanity, deported all that was mortal of the brilliant "woman whom he hated" to an unknown grave in the paupers' burial plot beyond the city boundary! "For," said he, "we will have none of her among our dead!"
Such was the end of the beautiful and accomplished Bianca Cappello - "Bianca, so richly endowed," as wrote one of her panegyrists, "by nature, and so refined by discipline, able to sympathise with and help all who approached her - her fame for good will last for ever!" The wiles of the serpent and his cruel coils had crushed the "Daughter of Venice": it was the triumph of an unworthy man over a lovable woman. She was not the only victim Ferdinando's poison overpowered - Giovanni de' Pucci, whom the Pope was about to advance to the Cardinalate, an inoffensive ecclesiastic, incurred Cardinal Ferdinando's displeasure by his sympathy with the Grand Duchess. He died mysteriously after drinking a glass of wine which Ferdinando had poured out for him![A]
[Footnote A: In 1857, when the Medici graves at San Lorenzo were opened, the bodies of the Grand Duke Francesco and the Grand Duchess Giovanna were easily identified. The bodies also of Maria, the unhappy victim of her father, Cosimo, with the fatal wound; of Eleanora de Garzia de Toledo, Piero's murdered wife; and of Isabella, Duchess of Bracciano, were also recognised. All five were in wooden chests, but robbed of the costly grave-clothes and jewels. There was no trace of the body of the Grand Duchess Bianca!]