Lucrezia - Eleanora - Isabella
Alfonso's long absences from home, and his disinclination for his wife's society, left Lucrezia to seek necessary consolations elsewhere. She did not fail of admirers in that giddy Court: the wonder is that she maintained her dignity as well as she did. The Duke became jealous, of course, of his neglected wife - all faithless husbands are the same. He paid spies to report to him the daily occupations of the Duchess, with the names of her visitors and friends. Thus evil eyes and ears were opened, and evil tongues began to wag, until they caused the utter undoing of the innocent young Duchess.
Alfonso, in vain, tried to fix the lovers of his wife - she was as tactful as they were prudent - but he was not without means to his end. The Duchess early gave symptoms of ill-health. In Florence she was the strongest of all her father's family, but at Ferrara she became delicate and a victim to incessant sickness. What could it be?
The Court physician hinted at pregnancy, but the Duke knew that was impossible, so far as he was personally concerned, nevertheless it served its purpose. The winter came on and the Duchess was confined to her apartments in the palace, suffering from continual fever and nausea. Maestro Brassavola - of good report as a specialist in feminine ailments - treated her unsuccessfully. Unhappy Lucrezia - no mother to console her, no friend to speak to her, all alone in the big palace with unkindly attendants - nearly sobbed herself to death. Daily bleedings and cuppings further diminished her strength. Some say that Don Francesco, her brother, was urged, by his mother, to pay Lucrezia a visit, but the bad terms upon which he stood with Duke Alfonso was an effectual bar to his mission. Whether from craven fear or premeditated cruelty, the Duke never entered the sick-room, and seemed entirely indifferent to his poor young wife. Indeed, he continued his life of prodigality and self-indulgence unrebuked, as we must suppose, by his conscience.
At last the Duchess' condition became so critical that the physicians could no longer disguise the danger, and they intimated to the Duke the approach of death. Then, and then only, Alfonso found his way to his wife's bedside. With a sorrowful, stricken face she greeted him affectionately, and remorse seemed, at length, to have brought him to his senses. He became the most tender of nurses and watched by his dying wife day and night - but the poison had worked its cause!
At midnight, 21st April 1561, after months of cruel suffering, neglected, affronted, and wronged, the innocent soul of poor young Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, passed into another world. She was not yet seventeen years old - in bitter experience of life's hardships she was seventy. At the autopsy of her body Maestro Pasquali of Florence declared that death was caused by putrid fever! Thus was the Duke's duplicity preserved.
Funeral honours due to her rank were rendered, and her shrunken little body was buried in the Estensi chapel of the convent church of Corpus Domini. A marble slab before the high altar reads thus:
"Lucretia de' Medici - moglie di Alfonso II., Duca di Ferrara " - and that is all - as curt and as cruel as possible. The Duke's show of grief was as insincere and hypocritical as could be. He shut himself up in his palace with a few chosen cronies for seven days; meanwhile sending off Bishop Rossetto, a court chaplain, to Florence, to communicate the sad tidings to Duke Cosimo and Duchess Eleanora.
Very soon after the death of Lucrezia the Marchese Creole de' Contrari, a prominent Ferrarese noble, was cast into prison upon an unstated charge, but it was given out by his jailor, that he had aspired to the hand of an Estensi princess. He was never seen alive again, for he was strangled in Duke Alfonso's presence - who caused his name to be vilely linked with that of the poisoned Duchess! Cosimo and Eleanora made a show at least of grief, and a splendid Requiem was sung for Lucrezia at the Medici church of San Lorenzo. At the same time Cosimo made known, in most heartless fashion to Alfonso that, whilst he was resigned to the will of Heaven, he assured him of his sincere affection, and expressed a fervent wish that nothing should loosen their bonds of true and solid friendship! Devout Duchess Eleanora's indifference is harder to explain than Duke Cosimo's nonchalance. Perhaps in her case evil associations had corrupted good manners, or, more likely, the memory of her child Maria's terrible death compelled discretion in her dealings with her husband - "Tyrant of tyrants." It might be her turn next to feel that cold steel!
And what about Duke Alfonso? Well, very soon he forgot all about Lucrezia, and found consolation, though actually he needed none, in a second marriage. This union, however, led to the resurrection of the hatchet of discord, which Cosimo and Ercole had agreed to bury underground.
The new Duchess was Barbara d'Austria, sister of the Archduchess Giovanna, bride of Don Francesco, poor Lucrezia's brother. A double wedding was fixed at Trento in August 1565, but a fracas occurred at the church doors between the Medici and Estensi suites for precedence. The two princely couples were married separately by the Emperor Maximilian's command, each in the capital of the bridegroom's dominions. Duke Alfonso died in in 1597.
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