Lucrezia - Eleanora - Isabella

Three Murdered Princesses

"Shall I go in, or shall I not?" asked Isabella de' Medici, Duchess of Bracciano, with a catch in her voice.

Donna Lucrezia de' Frescobaldi, her first Lady of Honour, made no reply, but grasped her mistress' arm convulsively. The two women stood pale and trembling at the door of the Duke's bedchamber, in their charming villa of Cerreto Guidi, a few miles out of Florence.

There was something uncanny in the air, which caused the Duchess and her lady instinctively to draw back. It was not the Duke's voice, for that was pitched in an unusually tender key, and yet, its very unusuality might have caused their trepidation. There was something indefinable in the situation, which produced apprehension and alarm.

Doubtless their nerves were overstrained by the terrible event at Cafaggiuolo. Eleanora, the Duchess's sister-in-law, had seen and felt the cold steel dagger, struck out from behind the arras, by her husband's hand - she was dead! Every titled woman, and many another too, felt instinctively that she was walking on dangerous ground: murder seemed to lurk everywhere, and marriage appeared to spell assassination!

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The remorse of Cosimo de' Medici for the murder of his dearly-loved child Maria, his first-born, did not hinder his policy of aggrandisement. He was determined to keep the whip-hand over Ferrara, and to maintain the precedence of his house over that of the Estensi. He had already sacrificed one daughter, not only to his parental passion but to his sovereign will, and one daughter still remained unbargained; he would use her to hold what he had got.

Lucrezia was no more than twelve years old when Maria passed to Paradise. Prince Alfonso was twenty-two, and his father, Duke Ercole II., had apparently no fiancee in view for him, and the lad seemed not to be in a marrying mood. At the moment Ferrara was isolated, but Cosimo, seizing a favourable opportunity, through his relationship with the King of Spain, contrived to arrange a treaty between that kingdom, Tuscany and Parma, which he adroitly extended to include Ferrara.

It was a powerful combination, and Cosimo had his price, and that price was the betrothal of Alfonso and Lucrezia. The Duke of Ferrara yielded, and in the same month, March 1558, the treaty of alliance was signed at Pisa, and the two young people were affianced there by proxy.

To be sure, there was trouble with Rome. Julius III., in 1552, had bespoken Lucrezia for his bastard nephew, Fabiano Conte Del Monte - a man without resources and of no recognised position nor of good character - it was just a selfish whim of the Pope - the children never saw each other. Cosimo, with his usual daring, brushed the whole project aside, and made a liberal contribution to Peter's Pence that year!

If Lucrezia was somewhat less fair and less clever than Maria, she was, all the same, an attractive girl. Thin in figure - as all growing girls - tall, well-formed, with the promise of a well-proportioned maturity, she had an oval face and a high forehead, well-clustered with curly auburn hair. There was a peculiarity about her eyes - black they were or a very dark brown - they had something of that cast of optic vision which was remarkable in Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria" and in Lorenzo, "Il Magnifico," as well as in other members of the family.

"She had a pretty mouth and a dimpled chin, and always wore a pleasing expression indicative of good-nature and resolute affection. Very unlike her elder sisters, Maria and Isabella, she was somewhat reserved in manner; she spoke little, but expressed her opinion with flashes of her eyes." Her father admired her firmness of resolution greatly, and generally spoke of her as "La Mia Sodana," "my little strong-willed daughter."

"She is quite a chip of the old block," he was wont to say of her, "quite one of us - a Medico in frocks!" Lucrezia shared the lessons of her brother, and had been brought up specially with the idea of a brilliant foreign marriage, and her maid was a girl from Modena who knew Ferrara well.

One condition of the marriage-contract was most unusual - namely, that the bridegroom should be free to leave Florence upon the third day after the nuptials had been celebrated! This was necessary, the Prince averred, in order that he might keep an appointment he had made, with his father's consent, with the King of France - the enemy of the quadruple alliance!

Prince Alfonso troubled himself very little about his fiancee. He was devoted to selfish pleasures, and, when his energies were called into play, they were devoted to the service of arms. His betrothal to Maria de' Medici, without his consent, her untimely and suspicious death, and the character Duke Cosimo bore for tyranny, ambition, and greed, were undoubtedly deterrent to the young man's wish to cultivate another Medici alliance.

His own father, Duke Ercole, resembled his prospective father-in-law in many respects. The Estensi, with the Malatesti of Rimini and Pesaro, the Sforzai of Milan, and the Medici of Florence, were classed as "families of tyrants." Duke Ercole was a man of strong will and forceful action - a tyrant in his own family and cruel to his unhappy consort - he could not brook any disobedience to his behests. He commanded his son to set forth at once from Ferrara and claim his bride in Florence.

Accompanied by a glittering retinue, which included a dozen Lords of the Supreme Council, Prince Alfonso took his way over the Apennines, along the Bologna road. On 18th June the cavalcade was discerned from the heights of Olivets, wending its way through Boccaccio's country to the city walls.