Francesco - Il Virtuoso
Francesco met her ill-humour with a frown. He pointed to the morals of her father's court, and to the Florentine cult of Platonism, and he bade her mind her own business and not make troubles. Her appeals to Duke Cosimo and to her brother the Emperor Maximilian were in vain. Francesco plainly hinted that she might go back to Vienna if she liked, for nothing that she could say or do would alter his admiration and his devotion for Bianca Buonaventuri. The strictness of married life had long ago disappeared from the conventions of Florentine society. Mutual relationships proved that men might live as they pleased, so long as they did not renounce the offspring, even when they were assured that it was not their own. The term "Partiti" - "Sharers" or "Partners" - perhaps less literally but more emphatically, "kindred souls," was bestowed upon this relationship. Still at no time was Francesco a sensuous man or a libertine like his father. His devotionally-affected mother, Eleanora de Toledo, had trained him in moral ways, and had called forth in him regard for religion and sympathy for charitable objects. Possessed of great self-command and reticence, he never betrayed himself in any way; passionate he was beyond the ordinary, but never revengeful. He loved one woman, and only one, and to her he proved himself faithful until death took them away together; but she was not Giovanna, his political wife, she was Bianca, the wife of his heart and mind.
Next to his love of Bianca was his love of money: no prince of his house was ever half so wealthy or so sparing. Avarice came to him through the rapacity of Giovanna's German followers and through her own extravagance.
The year after his marriage, Bianca Buonaventuri was introduced at Court as Bianca Cappello. The young Duchess of course was furious, and pointedly refused all intercourse with her rival. Bianca, on the other hand, laid herself out to propitiate the dour Austrian princess and to stifle slander. Still a mere girl, she was in full command of all the moves in woman's strategy. There was no school like that of Venice for the display of tact and fascination. To be sure, she was living in a crystal palace, but she was perfectly ready to repair all damages. Bianca was severely upon her guard, and her conduct was perfectly correct in every way.
Very rarely did young Cardinal Ferdinando visit Florence, but in 1569, Cosimo, his father, sent for him, that he might embrace him before he died, being, as he thought, on the point of death. At the magnificently immoral Court of the Vatican he had heard the gossip about the lovely Venetian girl who had so completely captured his brother Francesco. Quite naturally, the by no means ascetic young ecclesiastic desired greatly to see for himself the Venetian charmer, and he journeyed to Florence, bent upon judging for himself.
Francesco greeted Ferdinando quite affectionately - there was no reason why he should not - and unhesitatingly introduced him to Bianca. At the impressionable age of twenty, the young Prince fell at once under the spell of those bewitching eyes. Who could resist her? In the fulness of her womanhood Bianca Buonaventuri was without rival among the fair women of Florence, and the boy-Cardinal made, like all the rest, impassioned love to her.
Back again in Rome and busy with his plans for the great Medici Palace in the Eternal City he lost none of his admiration for his brother's "Flora," till evil tongues began to wag around him. Was not he, Ferdinando, Don Francesco's heir-presumptive? Duchess Giovanna had given her husband none but daughters; she, too, was in delicate health and might die without a son being born. What then? Why, of course, Francesco would marry Bianca Buonaventuri, and by her secure the succession. Whether he was destined for the Papacy or not, the Grand Duchy was his by inheritance, and it behoved him, they said, to guard his rights and further his expectations!
Ferdinando listened to this tittle-tattle and it caused ambitious distrust of Francesco and Bianca. As heir-presumptive to a temporal sovereignty, he began to surround himself with all the attributes and circumstances of his position. His palace was regal in its magnificence, his entertainments were upon a princely scale, and he assumed an overbearing demeanour in his relations with Francesco.
Instigated by inveterate intriguers in his entourage, he quite hypocritically affected to be shocked at his brother's liaison with Bianca, although he made no demur at his father's relations with Eleanora degli Albizzi, Cammilla de' Martelli, and other innamorate. Giovanna was only too delighted to have the invaluable assistance of the young Cardinal in her campaign against "the hated Venetian." At length he took the bold step of expostulating with Francesco upon his intercourse with the captivating rival of Giovanna. The Prince was furious, and warned his brother never to name the subject again, and on no account to meddle with his private affairs.
Ferdinando replied that he was quite content to abstain at a price. The truth was, that his lavish extravagance had exhausted his revenue and restricted his powers of borrowing, and he was in lack of funds for the maintenance of his state in Rome.
In a weak moment Francesco gave heed to Ferdinando's stipulations, and provided him with funds and increased his family allowance. In gratitude, the Cardinal threw into his brother's teeth the fact of his position as heir-presumptive, and insisted upon the purchase of a piece of land at the confluence of the Pesa with the Arno. There he built his Villa Ambrogiana, which became the seat of an anti-Francesco cabal and the headquarters of an elaborate system of paid spies and toadies.