Francesco - Il Virtuoso
Plotters of other men's wrongs were ever inconsistent! One would have thought that Ferdinando would have hailed the removal of the only legitimate heir, before himself, to the Grand Duchy, but the delirium of jealousy and the fury of animosity in the Cardinal's evil heart, found a sort of culmination two years later. Bianca's daughter, Pellegrina, the only offspring of Pietro Buonaventuri, gave birth to a child. She had married, shortly after the public nuptials of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess, Count Ulisse Bentivoglio di Magiola of Bologna - a by no means happy marriage as it turned out. This child, a boy, their first-born - indeed poor, pretty Pellegrina's love-child - the Cardinal affirmed "Bianca Buonaventuri" had tried to pass off as her own - another subterfuge confirmative of the first, and that his brother was conversant with the intrigue!
The Grand Duke met the gossip with impassive silence - the wisest thing he could have done - and the Grand Duchess laid herself out to make Cardinal Ferdinando utterly ashamed of himself and his foul aspersions. The integrity of her conduct, and Francesco's sapient conduct of the Government were the admiration of all Italy.
So struck was the Pope with the peace and happiness of the Medicean rule, and the personal characteristics of "the good wife and beneficent consort," as he styled her, that he bestowed upon the Grand Duchess the rare distinction of the "Golden Rose"! At first his Holiness desired the Cardinal de' Medici to head the special mission as Legate, and talked seriously to his Eminence upon his relations with the Sovereigns of Tuscany. He pointed out quite clearly the line of conduct Ferdinando should pursue - the direct converse of the position he had taken up.
The Cardinal began to reflect that the death of little Prince Filippo, and the fact that Francesco had not proclaimed Antonio his heir-apparent, left him at all events the undoubted heir-presumptive. Consequently, when the Florentine Mission, under Archbishop Giuseppe Donzelle of Sorrento, returned to Rome, and the Legate conveyed to him a cordial invitation from the Tuscan Sovereigns to visit Florence, he accepted it with the best grace he could command - keeping, at the same time, his true feelings and intentions to himself.
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Pageant and dirge trip up each other often enough in the course of human life! The lives especially of sovereigns, through the strong light ever beating upon their thrones, are always exposed to vicissitudes of fortune. The Papal Mission had scarcely passed out of recollection, and everything in Florence was happy and prosperous - sunshine is always brightest before eclipse - when the spectre of tragedy again cast its dark shadow over the path of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess.
A right merry party was that which set off from the Palazzo Pitti to the Villa Poggio a Caiano one bright morning in October 1587. The "hunter's moon was up," for the harvest had been gathered in, and the new luscious grapes were in the vat. Pheasant awaited the coming of the sportsmen in the home-coppices, wild boar in the thickets of Monte Ginestra, and other game was ready for the hawk-on-wrist and the dog-in-leash along the smiling valley of the Ombrone.
Hunting and sporting parties were now quite in the Grand Duchess' way. Unused to such exploits upon the canals and lagunes of Venice, she had, from the moment of her elevation, sympathetically entered into the joys of horsemanship and the pastimes of the countryside. Few could beat her in point-to-point - she feared no obstacle, nor dreaded accident, the charge of wild game terrified her not.
"Magnificent," she wrote, on 15th November 1586, "was the sport.... I actually saw four very large boars fall dead at my feet." The Grand Duke, of course, as became "a perfect gentleman," was at one with Bianca in love for, and skill in, all exercises in the open air. His seat was firm, his aim was good, and he revelled in the chase.
Still of Poggio a Caiano he had unpleasing memories, for there he met Giovanna of Austria, and had the first taste of her ill-humour as he rode by her side at her scornful entry into Florence, twelve years before. But Bianca had wrought a vast change in his disposition and environment. She had interwoven fancy and reality, and Francesco was now serenely happy. Often did he sing tender madrigals as they together sauntered in the woods and indulged in pastoral pursuits.
"Sing! sing! ye birds I am wide awake Tho' silent 'mid your tender harmony; And yet I would fain join your sweet concert, Whilst upon the face of fair Bianca, 'Mirror of Love' - I fix my yearning eyes."
The Cardinal was one of this particular hunting party - indeed, the hunt had been arranged entirely in his honour, and he expressed himself as charmed with everything - and especially with the Grand Duchess. This was his first State visit to his brother's Court and his affability knew no bounds. Bianca, on her part, laid herself out to entertain her brother-in-law, and made herself especially attractive and gracious. The presence of the Archbishop of Florence added greatly to her satisfaction and Francesco's. Very wisely, young Antonio was sent to Pratolino with his governor and tutors, and in the merry company no personality could, in any way, recall unhappy incidents of the past. The days were passed in the exhilaration of sport, and the evening repasts were followed by animated conversation, ballets, music and recitations. All the brightest ornaments of the Court were present at the Grand Duchess' behest.
Bianca, herself, in the highest spirits, dressed, sang, and danced, bewitchingly. The frolics of the Orte Oricellari were transferred to the delightful hunting-box, and everybody and everything was as gay as gay could be, and no one troubled about the morrow.