Francesco - Il Virtuoso
The Grand Duchess Giovanna gave birth, on 19th May, the following year, to a son - a sickly child to be sure, but the undoubted heir of his father. Ferdinando's hopes were shattered, but he had not done with Bianca Buonaventuri. Within nine months, on 9th February, Giovanna died, somewhat suddenly, and the Cardinal failed not to intimate that Bianca was the cause thereof, and to name poison as her means! The truth is, that the Grand Duchess one day getting out of her sedan-chair, slipped upon the polished marble floor, and, being again near her confinement, a miscarriage resulted, from which she never recovered.
Within two months of the burial of sour-tempered, unlovable Giovanna, the Grand Duke married Bianca, Pietro Buonaventuri's widow, privately in the chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio.
One immediate result of this marriage was the quasi-legitimisation of the child Antonio - a vigorous youngster and certain to outlive frail little Filippo.
Reconciliation with Venice, public marriage, and Coronation were in due order celebrated, and Bianca Cappello, "the true and undoubted daughter of Venice," was enthroned in the Duomo, as the true and lawful Grand Duchess of Tuscany! Cardinal Ferdinando watched all these ceremonials from afar - the only one of his family who declined to honour the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess with his presence during the festivities.
Represented by an inferior official of his household, he remained in Rome, closely shut up in his palace, a spectacle to the world at large of ungovernable prejudice and foiled ambition. His cogitations, however, were very grateful, for he was working out in his intriguing brain a ready method for ridding himself, not alone of the two children, bars to his pretensions, but of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess also! Ferdinando was determined to succeed Francesco as Sovereign of Tuscany, come what might!
Never was a man more changed than the Grand Duke Francesco when he placed the new Grand Duchess beside him on his throne. Twelve years of gloom and disappointment gave way before the advent of the "Sun of Venice."
The best, happiest, and most popular years of his reign exactly synchronise with the period of Bianca's ascendency. No strife of parties, no pestilence, no foreign war, black-marked those years. Arts and crafts revived with the increase of population and of confidence, and men began to agree that there was something after all to be said - and to be said heartily - for Macchiavelli's "Prince," and his idea of a "Il Governo d'un solo."
In this glorious eventide of the Renaissance were reproduced some of the magnificence of its heyday, under Lucrezia and Lorenzo de' Medici.
In the early days of Francesco's infatuation for Bianca he had given forth an impassioned madrigal, which once more he sang to her as his good angel-guardian: -
"Around my frail and battered barque There is always serenely swimming, And wakefully watching me, Lest I perish, a beautiful and powerful Dolphin. Warn'd and shielded from every buffet Of the deadly wave, I feel secure. Fierce winds no longer cause me fear. I seek succour no more from oars and sails Safely accompanied by my loving Guardian!"
Francesco's devotion for Bianca continued as the years sped on their way, and he noted with supreme satisfaction that every word and action of hers were marked with unquestioning affection. The loves of Francesco and Bianca at Pratolino recalled those of Giuliano and Simonetta at Fiesole, whilst the wits, and beaux, and beauteous women who consorted there, revived the glories of the Platonic Academy.
Montaigne, who visited the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess, both at the Pitti Palace and at Pratolino, in 1580, says: "I was surprised to see her take the place of honour above her husband.... She is very handsome ... and seems to have entirely subjugated the Prince."
The Cardinal was not unobservant of the trend of Florentine affairs. Plots and counterplots were quite to his liking. The Pucci conspiracy and the vengeance upon the Capponi affected him closely. Francesco was not ignorant of the patronage and encouragement vouchsafed to his secret enemies by his eminent brother in Rome - and he watched each move.
The peace and prosperity which marked the progress of the "City of the Lion and the Lily," after Bianca Buonaventuri mounted the Grand Ducal throne, were not regarded complacently by the uneasy Cardinal. The very fact that she was the admirable cause thereof, embittered his Eminence's soul, and his spleen was mightily enlarged by the creatures who pandered to his vicious ill-nature. The fascination of the Goddess engendered detestation as love was turned once more to hate in the crucible of his passions.
"She is nothing but a strumpet, and without a drop of royal blood," so he reasoned, and so he spoke; and he backed up his aphorism by conniving at the foul report in 1582, which accused "Bianca Buonaventuri" - as he always styled her - of causing poison to be administered to poor little Filippo - Giovanna's puny, sickly child! He even had the audacity to accuse Francesco of complicity, because he had ordered no elaborate court mourning, conveniently ignoring the fact that a gracious compliment was paid to Spanish custom and court etiquette, by the simplicity of the obsequies.