Eleanora degli Albizzi



Pathetic Victims of Fateful Passion

"Di fare il piacere di Cosimo" - To serve for Cosimo's pleasure! In such words, an immoral father condemned his lovely daughter to feed the unholy lust of the "Tyrant of Florence" - Moloch was never better served.

Eleanora and Cammilla, cousins after the flesh, were each dedicated as a cosa di Cosimo - the property of Cosimo. If he did not murder their bodies, he slew their souls - that was the manner of the man, the fashion of his time.

Romantic attachments, full of thrilling pathos, ran then like golden threads through the vulgar woof and web of woe and death. Someone has said that "Love and murder are next of kin"; true, indeed, was this what time Eleanora and Cammilla were fresh young girls in Florence. They were each made for love, and love they had; but that love was the embrace of a living death, selfish, cruel, and damning. Better, perhaps, had they died right out by sword or poison than suffer, as they did, the extremity of pathos - the shame of illicit love!

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The tragedy of Eleanora degli Albizzi was, perhaps, the most callous and the most pathetic of all those lurid domestic vicissitudes which traced their source to the "Tyrant of Florence," Cosimo I., Grand Duke of Tuscany.

She was not the only Eleanora whose name as, alas, we know, spelled misfortune. Eleanora de Toledo of the broken heart, and Eleanora de Garzia de Toledo of the bleeding heart, awaited in Paradise Eleanora degli Albizzi of the heart of desertion.

"Albizzi o Medici?" had once and again divided the power of Florence, but in the course of high play in the game of politics the latter held the better hands, drew more trumps, and gained rubber after rubber. But what a splendid record the Albizzi had! When the Medici were only tentatively placing their feet upon the ladder of fame, Orlando, Filippo, Piero, Luca, and Maso - to name a few only of those leaders of men and women - had scored the name Albizzi as Anziani, Priori, Gonfalonieri, and Capitani di Parte Guelfa.

In fact that aristocratic family dominated Florence and the Florentines until Salvestro, Giovanni, and Cosimo, of the democratic Medici, disputed place and power, and built up their fortunes upon the ruins of their rivals' faults and favours.

Eleanora was the daughter of Messer Luigi di Messer Maso degli Albizzi. This Messer Maso, a hundred years before, had not seen eye to eye with his masterful brother - the autocratic Rinaldo, but, noting the trend of political affairs, had, truth to tell, turned traitor to the traditions of his family, and had thrown in his lot with the rising house of Medici.

Messer Luigi was not a rich man, but in fairly comfortable circumstances, and slowly retrieving the shattered fortunes of his ancestors. His mansion was in the fashionable Borgo degli Albizzi, and he owned other town property and some farms in the contado. He held, too, several public offices, and was an aspirant to a Podestaship, as a stepping-stone to that most coveted of all State appointments, the rank of ambassador.

In some way or another he gained the favourable notice of Duke Cosimo, and seems to have rendered him some acceptable service: at all events, he found himself at home in the entourage of the Sovereign. By his second wife, Madonna Nannina, daughter of Messer Niccolo de' Soderini - a lineal descendant of the self-seeking and notorious adviser of Don Piero de' Medici - he had two daughters, Constanza and Eleanora, named after her godmother, the Duchess Eleanora.

Constanza was married to Antonio de' Ridolfi, the same year that the poor broken-hearted Duchess sobbed herself to death at Pisa after the terrible tragedies of 1557 and 1562, and Messer Luigi was left with Eleanora, the pride of her father's heart, the joy of his home. As beautiful as any girl in Florence, she was just sixteen, highly accomplished, full of spirits, and endowed with some of that pride and haughty bearing which had distinguished her forbears. She had, in short, all the makings of a successful woman of the world.

Admitted to intimacy and companionship with the children of the Duke, he had noted the graceful development of the bright young girl's physical and mental charms; and he had given evidence of his interest in her by many pleasant courtesies, both to herself and to her parents.

Messer Luigi soon observed the partiality of his Sovereign for his fascinating young daughter, and being a man anxious, after the manner of a true Florentine, even in those degenerate days, to better himself and his family, he saw that something more than mere romance could be made out of the situation. The commercial assets of his daughter's person loomed large in his estimation, for if the Duke took a serious fancy to Eleanora, it was conceivable that she might one day become his consort!

When the girl told her father of the Duke's kindness to her, and of his embraces and tender words, he counselled her not to repel her admirer, for what he meant was all for her good and for the distinction of her family. The liaison went on unrebuked, encouraged by Cosimo's promises and Luigi's hopes. Nannina's tears of apprehension were brushed aside by Eleanora's kisses.

Very tactfully Messer Luigi let the Duke know that his attentions were acceptable, and that he and his good wife were vastly honoured by his condescension to their daughter. In view of favours to come, he plainly intimated that Eleanora was quite at his disposal, or, as he put it, quite courtier-like, di fare il piacere di Cosimo!

The Duke needed no encouragement as the universal lover and ravisher of the most comely maidens in Florence. He was only too pleased to carry off this charming young druda to his villa at Castello, and Eleanora was nothing loth to go - the prospect of a throne has always been an irresistible attraction to women in all ages!

Cosimo's sons were well aware, as indeed, was the whole Court and the city too, of their father's love affairs. The Duke and the Prince-Regent Francesco were mutually suspicious, and fawning, faithless courtiers fanned the flame of jealousy and mistrust between them. The father threw Bianca Cappello into his son's face, and he, in exchange, flung back Eleanora degli Albizzi! At length, Cosimo desisted from the acrimonious warfare, content to let things be as they might be at the Pitti Palace and Pratolino, whilst he was left in seclusion with his innamorata at Castello. Cardinal Ferdinando, a boy of fifteen, lived in Rome, and Don Piero, only ten, was indifferent to such matters, but Duchess Isabella of Bracciano was intensely interested, an amiable go-between her father and Don Francesco. Cosimo did nothing with respect to removing the reproach attached to his intrigue with Eleanora degli Albizzi, and, consequently, when in December 1566, a little girl was born to him, the whole of Florence was conventionally shocked. Duchess Giovanna, Don Francesco's sanctimonious Austrian wife, offered a vigorous protest, and declined to have anything to do with the unfortunate young mother and her dissolute old lover. Her feeling ran so strongly, both with respect to the liaison of Cosimo and to her husband's intrigue with the "beautiful Venetian," that she made an urgent appeal to her brother, the Emperor Maximilian to intervene.

It was said that the young Duchess sent a copy of her letter to Duke Cosimo, who was furious at her conduct. He asked her by what right she had dared to stir up ill-will at the Imperial court, and advised her to mind her own business in the future. To the Emperor Cosimo, addressed a dignified reply to the Imperial censure: "I do not seek for quarrels," he said, "but I shall not avoid them if they are put in my way by members of my own family."

What Messer Luigi and Madonna Nannina degli Albizzi thought and said, no one has related. They could not say much by way of complaint, for they had foreseen, from the beginning of the Duke's intimacy with Eleanora, that an "accident," as they euphemistically called it, was to be expected. They had, in fact, sold their child to her seducer, and must be content with their bargain!

Cosimo, for his part, was delighted with his dear little daughter, come to cheer the autumn of his life. He loaded Eleanora with presents, watched by her bedside assiduously, and told her joyfully that he meant to marry her and so legitimatise their little child. Born at Messer Luigi's, the baby girl was anxiously watched lest emissaries from the Pitti Palace should try to get hold of her.

The Duke made indeed no secret of his pleasure, and moreover consulted with his most trusted personal attendant, Sforza Almeni, how the legitimatisation could be best effected, so as to secure for the little lady a goodly share in the Ducal patrimony, and also a pension in perpetuity for the mother, Eleanora.

This Sforza Almeni, when quite a youth, had been attached to the household of Duke Alessandro. He was the son of Messer Vincenzio Almeni, a gentleman of Perugia, and, when the Duke was assassinated by Lorenzino de' Medici, he performed the first charitable offices of the dead upon the bleeding body. Moreover, young Almeni's father was a faithful friend and confidant of Madonna Maria de' Salviati, the mother of Cosimo. In consequence of the devotion of both father and son, Sforza was taken into the household of the new Duke and eventually became his private secretary.

With Duchess Eleanora, Sforza became a great favourite, for he was most sympathetic and helpful in her schemes for the advancement and protection of her Spanish proteges. Both Cosimo and his consort bestowed many benefactions upon their faithful servitor. Among them was a monopoly in the supply of fish from Perugia to Florence, a privilege which put, upon the average, a good six hundred gold florins per annum into Messer Sforza's pocket!

The Duke also conferred upon his fortunate and trusty counsellor valuable property in the parish of San Piero a Quintole, a farm and buildings at Fiesole, and lastly, in 1565, a very fertile estate at Peccioli, originally the property of Piero de' Salviati.

Had Messer Sforza Almeni only been content with these opulent benefactions, all might have gone well with him; but, alas, human ambition and the interests of self lead good men often enough astray, and the Duke's private secretary began to look for favours at the hands of the heir to the Ducal throne, the Prince-Regent Francesco. In short, he attempted to serve two masters.

With a view to obtain the good graces of Don Francesco, Almeni began a system of betraying confidences of a strictly private and familiar character. Blessed with the spirit of flattery, like all consummate courtiers, he conceived it to be a stroke of excellent personal policy to purvey for his Highness' appreciation or the reverse, his father's intimate concerns.

He repeated the conversation the old Duke and he had held about Eleanora degli Albizzi and her child, and advised the Prince, for his own advantage, to inform his father that any steps he might take to advance his innamorata or their bastard, would be resented by him as Regent of the Duchy. Apparently Almeni did not regard the young mother with lenient eyes, but viewed her ascendency over the infatuated Duke with disfavour, as offering rivalry to his own position.

Francesco, smarting under his father's strictures in respect to his amours with Bianca Buonaventuri, and resenting his constant interference in his private affairs no less than in his public duties, was only too ready to give ear to any scandal which he might turn to good account. At first he kept his own counsel, but one day, being unusually exasperated with words of reproach uttered by his father, Francesco proclaimed his displeasure at, and opposition to, the views of the Duke with respect to Eleanora degli Albizzi.

Cosimo knew at once how his secret had been exposed, and by whom. He managed to control his passion, but indignantly retorted that there was a son's duty to a father which should have taught Francesco to disbelieve unfavourable rumours. He returned at once to Castello.

Sforza Almeni, of course, entirely ignorant that Prince Francesco had unwittingly betrayed him, presented himself as usual before the Duke to learn his pleasure. Cosimo addressed him sternly: "Almeni, you have betrayed my confidence. You, who of all men I trusted implicitly! Go, get out of my sight. Go at once anywhere you will - only go - never let me see your face again!"

Almeni, dumfounded, set off at once for Florence. He knew too well Cosimo's temper to bandy words, and sought interviews with Prince Francesco and the Duchess Isabella. With their knowledge he remained in the city, perhaps faintly hoping the Duke might relent and send for him back. A few days later Cosimo went into Florence, and passing through an ante-chamber at the Pitti Palace, he was astounded to see Almeni calmly standing in the recess of a window.

No one else was in the room, and, as Almeni saluted his master and proceeded to make an appeal for mercy, Cosimo became infuriated at his disobedience and impertinence, and, reaching up to a hunting-trophy on the wall, he seized a stout boar-spear, and cried out in a loud voice - "Traitor, base traitor, thou art not fit to live, thou hast slandered thy master and fouled thy nest! Die!"

With a sudden thrust he struck the affrighted Almeni to the heart. It was a fatal wound, for, with a shriek of agony, the unhappy man fell at his master's feet, the shaft of the weapon still fast in his wound. The day was Wednesday, 22nd May 1566, the Eve of the Annunciation. The corpse lay there for several hours, and no questions were asked as to how and by whom Almeni had been done to death. At nightfall the Misericordia brethren wound him to his burial in the secret vaults of the dismantled church of San Piero Scheraggio.

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In less than a month after the murder of Sforza Almeni, Cosimo's dearly-loved little daughter died in sudden convulsions, due, it was reported, to the administration of poison. Eleanora was inconsolable, and the Duke did all he could to comfort her. He organised fetes and hunting-parties for her, and both at Castello and, even in Florence, he drove with her quite openly, treating her as his lawful wife.

Early in the following year Eleanora was once more enceinte and, on 13th May, she became the mother of another child, a boy, whom Cosimo declared was a true likeness of his famous father, Giovanni "delle Bande Nere," and consequently that name was given him. The Duke's happiness knew no bounds, but the arrival of this second child, born out of wedlock and in the face of the hot displeasure of Duke Francesco and Duchess Giovanna, was the disenchantment of Cosimo's love-dream. The liaison could not continue, and, truth to tell, Cosimo himself was the cause of its cessation. The lustful old man had seen another lovely girl in Florence, and Eleanora's star became dimmed in the new effulgence!

Eleanora's recovery and convalescence were not this time marked by the devotion of her lover, he never so much as went near her, although she was at Castello all the time and Giovanni was born there. The disillusionment of them both was as immediate as it was dramatic. It was reported that the Pope had written a remonstrance to Cosimo, and hinted that the creation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, which the Duke earnestly coveted, was entirely out of the question until he had put away his mistress, and had renounced the errors of his way.

It may have been court gossip, but one reason for Duke Cosimo's drastic treatment of his innamorata, was the intimacy which had sprung up between Eleanora and his own precocious and vivacious son, Piero. If the father had fouled his couch, he could not allow his own son access thereto as well.

Then it was that Duke Cosimo missed the intelligent services of faithful, faithless Sforza Almeni - he would have done the dirty work of extricating his master from his false position as well, or better, than any one else. Eleanora and he had from the first been rivals for the confidences of the Duke, and hated each other heartily. She had good grounds doubtless for her contempt and distrust, by reason of the heartless and mean insinuations affecting her manner of life, which the trusty private secretary poured into the perhaps too ready ears of his master.

The solution, however, of Cosimo's dilemma came quite suddenly from a perfectly unexpected quarter - from the Pitti Palace. Francesco and Giovanna had never ceased trying to detach the old debauchee from his lascivious entanglements. His conduct was fatal to the reputation and the authority of his successor.

On 17th July a party of young men of good family riding out of one of the gates of the city, encountered another like company. One of the former, Carlo de' Panciatichi, accidentally cannoned against Jacopo d'Antonio, and the latter dismounted and demanded satisfaction for the presumed insult. A duel was promptly arranged, in which young Panciatichi dealt his opponent a fatal blow with his dagger. D'Antonio fell and was carried to the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, where he died three days after.

By Duke Cosimo's recent enactment, such an occurrence was counted as a criminal offence, which required purgation by the payment of a heavy fine, failure to pay being punished by sentence of death. TheOtto di Guardia e Balia met and deliberated the matter, and imposed a fine of four thousand gold lire. This sum Messer Bartolommeo de' Panciatichi, Carlo's father, was unable to pay, and, in consequence, the lad was required to surrender himself for incarceration in the dungeons of the Bargello.

Carlo de' Panciatichi failed to report himself, and his sentence bore the added punishment for contempt of court. The unhappy father appealed for mercy, and, because the law of the Ducal Court was superior to that of the State, threw himself upon the protection of Duke Francesco.

It was woman's wit which now untied the knot twisted about the young man's throat. The Duchess Giovanna has, by some, been credited with the origination of the tactful expedient, but some say Bianca Buonaventuri was its inspiratrix. Anyhow, the solution came in a form agreeable to all parties concerned, namely, the full pardon of the criminal - on condition of his immediate marriage with Eleanora degli Albizzi!

Carlo de' Panciatichi was thus made the scapegoat for Duke Cosimo's intrigue. The sentence of the Otto was quashed by the payment by the Duke of the heavy fine imposed in the first case; and in response to Duke Francesco's request, the charge of contempt was withdrawn. Neither Carlo nor Eleanora were consulted in the matter, but she was laden with costly presents by Duke Cosimo, and ten thousand gold florins found their way into Carlo's empty pockets!

This timely arrangement was made on 20th July, and Carlo and Eleanora became man and wife the following month. Duke Cosimo on the same day caused little Giovanni to be legitimatised, and he was entered in the Register of Baptisms as "Giovanni de' Medici, undoubted son of Cosimo I. Duke of Florence and Siena." An ample provision was made for the child's maintenance by the Duke, and Carlo de' Panciatichi agreed to his being an inmate in his house along with his mother.

The marriage was celebrated privately in the presence of the two Dukes, in the chapel of the Pitti Palace, and the young couple at once took up their residence at the Panciatichi Palace in the Via Larga. Upon Carlo was conferred the order of "Knight of San Stefano," and Messer Bartolommeo, his father, was enrolled as a senator for life.

It would appear that Eleanora abandoned herself to her new life with exemplary fortitude and resignation. She certainly had exchanged "new lamps for old," and she made the best of an honourable marriage, in spite of the violent and arrogant manner of her husband, whose fame as a violent braggadocio was a safeguard against the advances of young Piero de' Medici. Three years after the marriage a child was born, to whom the name of Cosimo was given, a laconic compliment to the old libertine! A second son appeared in 1571, Bartolommeo, but he died within a twelvemonth of his birth, and then, in 1577, came a third child to the Panciatichi mansion, another Bartolommeo, so Eleanora decreed. This boy, however, brought with him ineffaceable trouble, for Cavaliere Carlo refused to acknowledge him, and angrily pointed to Don Piero de' Medici as his putative father!

Piero made light of this charge - he was well used to that sort of thing, but, with rare effrontery, he held the infant at the font, whilst Panciatichi absented himself, and Eleanora made a tacit avowal of his parentage. The relations between Carlo and his wife had quite naturally never been of the best, and as gradually fears of death, upon the scaffold faded, or by a retributive d'Antonio hand, and he found himself the untrammelled master of his actions, he began to resent the callousness of the arrangement with Duke Cosimo, after 1570, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Eleanora's intrigue with Don Piero clenched the matter of her cohabitation with her husband. Carlo refused her both bed and board, and, in the spring of 1578, he forced her into the Franciscan convent of San Onofrio da Foligno - a favourite place of sanctuary for dishonoured gentlewomen!

Poor, sinful, sinned-against Eleanora, the pathetic example of a young and beautiful life wasted and corrupted by the ill-conditioned lusts of a profligate lover and his libertine son! With her freedom of action absolutely curtailed, and her complete isolation from her family, the gay and attractive mistress of Castello and of the Medici Palace at Pisa, with countless admirers and many lovers, was indeed an object of sympathetic commiseration. To be sure, the Cavaliere made ample provision for his wife's maintenance, appointed a small suite of attendants, and permitted her to carry with her many cherished bits of furniture and bric-a-brac. He likewise committed to her charge both her children, and offered no objection to occasional visits to his mother of Don Giovanni de' Medici, now a growing boy of eleven.

The Grand Duke Francesco cordially approved this arrangement. With respect to certain jewels and personal effects which Eleanora retained, the Grand Duke made an order that, as they belonged toGuardaroba of the Sovereign, they should be deposited, during the period of her residence in the convent, in the State Treasury.

Then a thick veil was drawn over the life of Eleanora di Cavaliere Carlo de' Panciatichi, and the gates of the convent were closed upon her, never to be opened for her egress! Her beauty and her talents, and the gaiety of her manner were matured, cultivated and restrained in harmony with her melancholy surroundings. Youth gave way to middle age, and middle age to the crepuscule of life, and the seasons came, and the seasons went, and one life in that sanctuary seemed fated to go on for ever. Forgotten and unvisited, Eleanora, the druda of Cosimo I., cast off and spurned; the innamorata of Piero de' Medici, wronged and despised; the wife of Carlo de' Panciatichi, divorced and cloistered, lived on and on, far beyond the scriptural limit of threescore years and ten - the pathetic victim of a callous world.

In the Libri di Ricordanze of the convent is a notice for the year 1634, which startles the sympathetic reader of the tragedy of Eleanora degli Albizzi: "Upon 19th March of this year there passed to a better life the most illustrious Lady, Donna Eleanora degli Albizzi de' Panciatichi, who had resided in this monastery for fifty-six years, and had reached the ninetieth year of her age. She lived in the odour of sanctity with the devotion of a religious, and endowed the monastery with a goodly bequest." The Cosa di Cosimo - per il piacere di Cosimo! as time-serving, unfatherlike Messer Luigi degli Albizzi called the immolation of his fair young daughter, had become the Bride of Christ!

And what of unsympathetic, violent Carlo de' Panciatichi? Well, he, too, got his deserts. The very year after he had put away his wife, he again made himself liable to execution for murder. One morning a servant of his, Sebastiano del Valdarno, who had not been paid wages due to him, ventured to remind his master of the circumstance. Cavaliere Carlo, who could never tolerate demands for money with equanimity, was enraged by the man's presumption, and, seizing hold of a heavy pouch full of bronze denari, he flung it at the unlucky fellow, saying - "Go to hell and take your money with you!"

The impact fractured the man's skull and he died in hospital! Again Panciatichi was condemned to a heavy fine, with the capital sentence in contumacia, by the Otto di Guardia e Balia. He was conveyed to prison, the old Stinche, until he paid the fine. Eleanora, in her convent, heard of his punishment, and actually rendered him good for evil, as a tender-hearted and suffering woman would quite naturally do. She pleaded with the Grand Duke Francesco for his deliverance, and joined her son, Don Giovanni de' Medici, in her appeal.

Cavaliere Carlo de' Panciatichi was not set free till November 1581, when he had fully paid all the claims preferred against him by the family of the man he had slain, which included a provision for a certaincontadina. She was a superior domestic servant in the employment of the Panciatichi family, and a personal attendant upon Eleanora. Madonna Ginevra, she was called, and she had two little girls. Whether these children were the Cavaliere's, no one has related, but upon the death of their mother they, too, found asylum at the convent of Sant Onofrio, and were tenderly treated by sad and lonesome Madonna Eleanora - a sweet and pathetic action indeed!

The Cavaliere raised his head once more under the guilty rule of Grand Duke Francesco's murderer, the unscrupulous Cardinal Ferdinando, and by him was appointed a Gentleman of Honour and a member of the new Grand Ducal Council of Two-Hundred. He died long before his doubly-wronged, unhappy wife, Eleanora, on the 27th February 1620.

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With Cammilla de' Martelli came the end of the prosperous reign and the end of the profligate life of Cosimo de' Medici, last Duke of Florence and first Grand Duke of Tuscany. She was the youngest of the two daughters, the only children, of Messer Antonio di Domenico de' Martelli, and his wife, Madonna Fiammetta, the daughter of Messer Niccolo de' Soderini, a descendant of that earlier Niccolo, the self-seeking and unscrupulous adviser of Don Piero de' Medici.

The Martelli traced their origin through two lines of ancestry: to the Picciandoni of Pisa in the thirteenth century, and to the Stabbielli of the Val di Sieve in the fourteenth. They appear to have settled in the Via degli Spadai, and to have "hammered" among the armourers there, so successfully, that their name was given to the street in lieu of its more ancient designation.

Messer Domenico, Cammilla's great-grandfather, was one of Savonarola's keenest opponents, chiefly in the interests of the Medici, and the great Cosimo counted him among his most trusty friends, but he suffered for his fidelity by being assassinated in 1531, by one Paolo del Nero. Another relative of Cammilla died tragically, Lodovico, who was killed by Giovanni Bandini in a duel at Poggio Baroncelli in 1530 - a duel fought for the hand and heart of the beauteous Marietta de' Ricci, a relative of that other fateful flirt, Cassandra, who was the cause of Pietro Buonaventuri's tragic death, and died by the knives of assassins.

The Martelli were associated with many of the pious works of the Medici: for example, they assisted munificently in the building and endowment of the great church of San Lorenzo. In some way or other Messer Antonio had lit on evil days, at all events he appears to have lost the banking business, which had been mainly operative in the raising of his house, and had reverted to the less lucrative but still honourable occupation of his family - the craft of sword-making. He carried on his business in a house which he rented under the shadow of the Palazzo Pitti.

Both Cammilla and her elder sister Maria were good-looking girls. The latter, in 1566, married a wealthy shoemaker from Siena, Gaspare Chinucci, but her husband divorced her; and then Duke Cosimo caused her father to marry her, in 1572, to an opulent foreign merchant - Messer Baldassarre Suarez, who had come over from Spain and was a protege of the Duchess Eleanora.

Cammilla, born in 1547, possessed all the personal attractiveness which distinguished her mother, whose sister, Nannina, the wife of Messer Luigi degli Albizzi, was mother of Eleanora, Duke Cosimo's druda.

"Tall and of a good figure, fair complexion, with light hair, and a pair of dark eyes like two brilliant stars, she was also most graceful in her carriage and manner, full of intelligence in conversation, and quite naturally fond of admiration and amours." This is a contemporary word-picture of the physical and mental charms of one of the most lovely girls that ever tripped merrily along the Lung' Arno Acciaiuoli - in the footsteps of Beatrice de' Portinari.

That promenade of Prince Cupid was always thronged by the belles and beaux of Florentine society. There the young men, and old men too, could meet and salute their innamorate. Duke Cosimo had not observed for nothing the daily walk of his fascinating young neighbour, he never overlooked a pretty face and comely figure, and his heart was large enough to entertain the loves of many women! His experience was very much like that of Dante Alighieri, who one day saw his Beatrice "in quite a new and entrancing light."

It was in May, in 1564, when all was gay and fresh in Florence, that Duke Cosimo chanced upon Cammilla de' Martelli, as he passed on his way from the Pitti Palace to Castello, to dawdle with the lovely Eleanora degli Albizzi, her cousin. Something prompted the Duke to accost the maiden, - her blush and his own tremor revealed delightful possibilities quite in his way! Very warily he approached Messer Antonio. His idea was probably to keep Eleanora at the Villa del Castello, and to take Cammilla away to his favourite residence, the Palace at Pisa.

If Don Francesco and Duchess Giovanna were aggrieved by the intrigue already going on, it was conceivable that the trouble would be greatly intensified by a second. Cosimo did not wish their increased displeasure nor publicity, so, for a while, he kept his hopes and his intentions to himself. At last, inflamed more and more by the fresh, unsullied beauty of Cammilla, he broached his proposition to Messer Antonio. Greatly in need of money, and hoping much from court patronage, the unnatural father determined to follow the example of his brother-in-law, and surrender, for a worthy consideration, his child as a "Cosa di Cosimo il Duca."

The cast-off Eleanora was married, as we have read, to Cavaliere Carlo de' Panciatichi in September 1567, and on 28th May - eight months after - Cammilla de' Martelli gave birth, at Pisa, to a dear little girl, the latest child of Duke Cosimo! This was by no means to the mind of Duke Francesco, and news of the birth quickly reached the ears of the Pope. His Holiness at once despatched a courier to Duke Cosimo, urging him to legitimatise the child by his immediate marriage with the mother.

This was not at all what the Duke wanted; he preferred, of course, to be quite free to love any girl or woman that he might single out. Nevertheless the pressure was so great that he was compelled to yield; and, in January 1569, he took Cammilla to be his wedded wife, but not to share his Ducal title! That was forbidden by the emphatic opposition of the acting Duke and Duchess, and by the direct intervention of the Emperor Maximilian.

Messer Antonio de' Martelli was in ecstasies, and his unconcealed delight gained for him the nickname "Il Balencio," "like Whalebone"! It is said that when his wife's kinsman, Alamanno de' Pazzi, ventured to congratulate him at his house in the Via Maggio, he found the place gaily decorated, and musicians playing before the door!

"What is this brave show for, Messer Antonio?" he asked.

"Why, Ser Alamanno, I have married my daughter to the Duke Cosimo. Rejoice with me to-day. We have now no relations but Emperors and Princes, what would you!"

Cosimo created his wife's father a Knight of the Order of San Stefano and endowed him with a good annual income. At the same time he advanced Madonna Maria di Baldassarre Suarez to the rank of a Gentlewoman of the Court, and caused unhappy Gaspare Chinucci to be banished out of Tuscany; some indeed say that he even instigated his assassination! Messer Suarez was promoted to an honourable place at Court, and his name was changed to Martelli. Two sons and a daughter blessed his union with Madonna Maria. Violante, as the girl was christened, grew up, as beautiful as her aunt Cammilla, with a pair of eyes like hers, and nothing could restrain the passion of that young libertine, Don Piero de' Medici, for love of her - he was indeed his father's son!

Nevertheless she was not to be his innamorata alone, for Cardinal Ferdinando also "came and saw and conquered," and young Violante became his chief mistress in Florence - the rival in his affections of his father's fascinating young wife, her aunt Cammilla.

In 1570, Cosimo went in State to Rome to be crowned by the Pope as first Grand Duke of Tuscany. From his Holiness he obtained a reversion of the title in perpetuity for his descendants. The Easter of that year he spent at the Pitti Palace, and then he hurried off to Castello to pass the rest of his days with his dearly-loved and charming young wife.

Once there, he dismissed almost all the members of his suite, retaining only two secretaries, a chaplain (!) and two couriers, wishing to lead the quiet life of a country gentleman. He apportioned to his wife Cammilla four gentlewomen as maids of honour. Henceforward neither Cosimo nor Cammilla were seen but rarely in Florence. They spent their time together either at Castello, at Poggio a Caiano, or in Pisa.

December and May had been mated - the former had his consolations, but the latter pined quite naturally for young society. Love is cold and love is captious where age and temperament disagree. Cammilla sighed for the gaieties, the pleasures, and gallantries of Florence. Love's young dream had not been hers, she had not chosen her ancient lover. But admiration for her sprang from a likely though an unexpected quarter, and her cavalier was not warned off by a jealous husband, as was poor Eleanora degli Albizzi's.

The Grand Duke Cosimo, to the very last, kept up the appearance of religion, if not its realities. The fact that a son of his was a member of the Sacred College, and a possible occupant of the chair of St Peter, covered a multitude of sins; not that Cardinal Ferdinando was a mirror of virtue or an example of sanctity.

Ferdinando's relations with Francesco and Bianca were as bad as could be. His arrogance and extortions rendered his presence at the Florentine court unwelcome and even dangerous. At Castello and Poggio a Caiano, on the other hand, he was an honoured guest, and, for lack of lovers, his young stepmother was not displeased by his attentions. Cosimo kept her strictly in seclusion, and she had not the courage, or, be it said, the impudence of her stepdaughter, the Duchess of Bracciano. The loves of the Cardinal and Cammilla were in secret and unprovocative; indeed, the Grand Duke encouraged the intrigue, as being "for Cammilla's good."

Here was a pretty state of affairs. One son, Piero, the seducer of his mistress, Eleanora degli Albizzi, the other, Ferdinando, the lover of his wife! It would be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to exonerate Cosimo from the blame of Cammilla's unfaithfulness. If she sinned, she did so helplessly.

Alas, that she listened not only to the amorous vows of Ferdinando, but also gave credence to his views concerning the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess in Florence. She knew, of course, that there was no love lost between herself and them; and she was quite ready to entertain the evil insinuations which the late Duchess Giovanna had ventilated with reference to Bianca.

This cabal was perfectly well known to the Grand Duke Cosimo, but he let matters take their course; all he cared for was the embraces of his attractive wife and the flatteries of his hypocritical son. The death of Duchess Giovanna threw Ferdinando and Cammilla more than ever into one another's arms. What, and if Francesco and Bianca died without male heir! Why, on the death of Cosimo, Ferdinando and Cammilla might succeed to the Grand Ducal throne. This was the temptation which the Cardinal placed, like a young bud, in Cammilla's bosom. She was but human - very human; she had been slighted by the non-allowance of rank as Grand Duchess. Perhaps Destiny had still that distinction in reserve. She would wait.

The pathos of Cammilla's life deepened during the last four years of Grand Duke Cosimo's life. He became a constant sufferer with many infirmities. The strenuous life he had lived, with its exercise of lustful love and lurid hate, tried to the breaking point his iron constitution. Gout was his direst torment, a malady productive of ill-humour at its worst, and poor Cammilla, lonely wife, nurse, companion, had none to share his impatience.

Her own health gave way under the strain, and her indisposition pointed to apoplexy and to mental trouble. But deliverance came at last. On 20th April 1574, Cosimo breathed his last at Poggio a Caiano, in his fifty-fifth year. By his death-bed there watched only his chastened wife and his sanctimonious son. Of his other surviving children, Isabella - once his favourite - had suffered for sixteen years the misunderstandings and the heartburnings which her heartless marriage-contract had imposed; she was estranged from him and from Cammilla, and from the Cardinal. Piero was a wastrel, the exponent of his father's worst passions - Piero, "Il Scandalezzatore" as he was rightly called. Francesco had borne ten years' embarrassment as quasi-ruler of the State, subject to ceaseless cautions and contradictions: he was, in no sensuous or homicidal sense, his father's son. All three stayed markedly away from Poggio a Caiano.

       * * * * *

Almost the first act of the new Sovereign was the enclosure of his father's young widow in a convent! He placed her first with the Benedictine nuns of the Vergine dell' Annunziata delle Murate, and then in the noble sanctuary of Santa Monica, not with her poor cousin Eleanora degli Albizzi away at Foligno!

This certainly appears to the ordinary reader of romances a cruel and unjustifiable act, but to the student of diplomatic expediency, it was a foregone conclusion. The security of Francesco's rule depended entirely upon the suppression of dynastic intrigues. The person of Ferdinando was unassailable; as a Prince of the Church he had prerogatives which could not be removed by any temporal sovereign. All that Francesco could do was to forbid his presence upon Tuscan territory, and this he did.

It does not appear that the unhappy Cammilla de' Medici was harshly used; indeed her residence within the convent was made as agreeable as possible, and she had the privilege of receiving visitors, other than political. Madonna Costanza de' Pazzi and eight other noble ladies were attached to her suite, with five Gentlemen of Honour and several domestics.

Cavaliere Antonio de' Martelli pleaded in vain his right as father of Cammilla to take her and her child back under the parental roof. The Grand Duke was immovable in his resolution, he counselled the father to let the matter rest, and gave him and Madonna Fiammetta free access to their daughter, but, on no account, was she to visit them.

As in the case of Eleanora degli Albizzi, an inventory of jewellery and other treasures was made, and whilst Cammilla was permitted to retain certain articles, such objects as were regarded as the property of the reigning Grand Duchess were transferred to the Guardaroba of Bianca. Apparently Francesco determined that no action of his against his father's widow should be construed into a menace against his Government.

Writing to the Grand Duke, on 7th August 1574, soon after Cammilla's reception, the Very Reverend Abbess of Santa Monica humbly thanked his Serene Highness "for the generous treatment of the young widow, and begs remembrance of his good offices for her and for the convent generally."

Trustees were appointed, under the presidency of Messer Roberto de' Adimari, the Chancellor of the Monte de' Pieta, for the administration of the one hundred and four thousand gold florins - the fortune left by Duke Cosimo to the Lady Cammilla, which produced an annual income of four thousand eight hundred gold florins a year, equal to about L2000.

Cammilla settled down as best she could to a life of leisured ease - a lonesome woman, a prisoner under close observation. News of the outside world she had, and when the report of the horrors of the year 1576 reached her, she was prostrated with grief. Indeed, her time seems to have been spent with repining, weeping and sickness - a piteous existence for a young woman of twenty-seven.

At length Cammilla braced herself to bear her disappointments, her trials, her imprisonment, with fortitude, and, like the good woman she really was, she set to work to occupy her time, and that of her suite, in useful and interesting occupations. Gardening and the care of flowers attracted her, and soon the cloisters of the convent were converted into bowers of roses and myrtles.

Her ladies and the nuns also, she encouraged in all elegant handicrafts - silk-embroidery, lace-making, and other stitchery. The results of their industry procured immediate custom, and the noble cloths and lustrous silks of Santa Monica, with the Lady Cammilla's initials attached, became famous far and near. These objects consisted of pillow-cases, screens, portieres, decorative panels, banners, scarves, cushions, handkerchiefs, bodices and various other details of feminine attire, with rich vestments for the clergy, and sumptuous altar-cloths.

The Grand Duchess Bianca, who, with characteristic sweetness and generosity, had all along sympathised with poor Lady Cammilla, was the best customer of the convent industries, and, moreover, she frequently visited the gentle prisoner, and showed her many charming attentions. For two Medici brides, also, Cammilla superintended the preparation of trousseaux - her own daughter Virginia, Duke Cosimo's child, and the Grand Duke's eldest daughter, Maria, who married King Henry IV. of France.

Another sort of employment found in the Lady Cammilla an earnest and skilful directress, namely, the manufacture of sweetmeats, preserves, compotes, pastries, and every sort of delectable confectionery. Perfumes and liqueurs - usually the piquant produce of monasteries - were also cunningly extracted by Cammilla's subtle formulas. These elegant specialities she gave away to old friends and visitors - enclosed in delicate little glass and porcelain bottles and jars of her own design.

The fame of the Lady Cammilla's skill and patronage reached foreign courts, and notable visitors to Florence did not fail to pay their courtesies to the great lady of the convent. Two of these, the Archpriest Monsignore Simone Fortuna, confessor of the Duke of Urbino, and Cavaliere Ercole Cortile, the ambassador of Ferrara, have recorded their visits and their pleasure at seeing "La Serena Signora" in genial company and philanthropically employed. The wily priest added, with sanctimonious admiration for female beauty: "La Martelli is as fascinating as ever!"

Still, liberty is liberty, and captivity - even when made as attractive and as unoppressive as possible - is still captivity. The Lady Cammilla never left the confines of her convent for twelve long years, and not till 4th February 1586 was she allowed a conge. Then a sumptuous cavalcade, with splendid sedan-chairs, halted at the main portal of Santa Monica, and out of one stepped the Grand Duchess Bianca, in gorgeous State robes. She had come to escort in person the Lady Cammilla, with every mark of respect and honour, to the marriage of her daughter, Virginia de' Medici!

The young girl was just eighteen, passably old for a sixteenth-century noble bride! In 1575, she had been assigned as the consort in prospect of Cavaliere Mario Sforza, General of the army of the Grand Duke Francesco. The match, however, was broken off, when Cardinal Alessandro Sforza died, and left an immense fortune, but not to his nephew Mario, as had been expected; and so Mario proved to be too poor a suitor for the girl's hand.

Mario, on his side, had cooled much in his ardour for Virginia. Reports of the Cardinal de' Medici's - Ferdinando's - familiarities, not only with the mother, but with the daughter also, were rife in Florence and in Rome. Sufficient grounds there were for him to accept the cancellation of the proposal with equanimity. The Marchese, for so he had been created, was not a whit more virtuous than the men of his day, but the sensuous are always the harshest judges of their kind!

No, Virginia was, after all, married to Don Cesare d'Este, Duke of Modena. She had by the way, been promised, in 1581, to Francesco Sforza di Santa Fiora, but he changed his mind and renounced the world - conventionally of course - to accept the Cardinal's red hat and privileges from the hands of Pope Gregory XIII. So constantly were natural human instincts dulled by the contrariety of fashion in those degenerate days!

Of Virginia's marriage Torquato Tasso, the Grand Duchess Bianca's enamoured poet-laureate, sang:

"Cio che morte rallenta Amore restringa!"

Virginia died in 1615 - some said she was poisoned by her husband - the last of a degraded race. Sic transit gloria Medici!

The ceremonial of the nuptials was as splendid as a sumptuous Court could make it, and as became the union of a princess of the House of Medici with an ambitious foreign Sovereign. But whilst men and women gossiped delightedly about the charms of the beauteous young bride and the gallant bearing of the groom, every tongue expressed wonderment at the gracious, stately figure of the Lady Cammilla. The chorus of popular applause was hushed, however, when the pathos of her story struck sorrowful chords in every heart.

Upon the obverse of the medals struck for the Duke Cosimo for their wedding, twelve years before, the Signora is represented as a finely-developed woman, with the proud profile of a true daughter of Florence, a high brow, a shapely nose, full cheeks, and a dimpled chin. Her attire is rich, she wears costly jewels, and her hair is tastefully coiffured.

What Cammilla's feelings were, she only knew, and she told them to no one; she bore herself loftily, and made no one her confidante. After the solemnity and festivities she betook herself once more - she had no other choice - to her convent prison, the poorer for the loss of her cherished child, the richer in the estimation of all good people.

Henceforth, her inclusion among the Religious was to be more rigorous, and she never expected to be seen again in Florence: dolorous indeed must have been that parting with the world she loved, but so little knew. She viewed the coming years with apprehension and hopelessness. She had not reached the measure of her destiny, but for that, mercifully, she had not very long to wait, and yet there was to be another slight rift in the clouds of misery.

From time to time Cammilla had suffered from fainting fits and attacks of hysteria, but after her separation from Virginia, these increased greatly in frequency and intensity. Skilful medical treatment was of no avail, and at length her doctors appealed to the Grand Duke for some relaxation of her imprisonment. Freedom from restraint and the benefit of urgently needed change, they knew, would work wonders in the way of recovery.

Don Francesco was immovable to all such representations; he had over and over again declined to reverse or modify his decision. His fully justified fear of the Cardinal's intrigues acted as a negative magnet to all his best propositions. He and she were bound together, he felt sure, in schemes for his own undoing, and Bianca's too.

The Lady Cammilla's life became at last intolerable; sickness, suspicion, and discontent fastened their dire influences upon her. She neglected useful and ornamental pastimes, became morose and impatient, and gave way to fits of frenzied desperation. The Abbess, greatly alarmed, took counsel with her spiritual advisers, who judged that the unhappy lady was losing her reason, and, perchance, her soul. Her condition became so critical that in April 1587 the Tuscan ambassador in Rome applied to the Pope for permission for the chaplain of the convent to celebrate a Mass for the exorcism of the poor lady!

In October of that year the fell schemes of Cardinal Ferdinando had, at last, their fruition, and the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess died together at Poggio a Caiano, victims of his jealousy and hate. He obtained at last what he had striven for so unscrupulously for twenty years - the succession to the Tuscan throne.

Be it, however, in justice told, with respect to the Lady Cammilla, for, when he had spurned the dead body of the Grand Duchess, and hypocritically sad, had followed the remains of his poisoned brother to San Lorenzo, he went right off to the convent of Santa Monica, and acquainted her personally with the fact of delivery from a living tomb.

They had only met very occasionally during the last few years, and she had changed greatly - perhaps he had, too. Her terrible trials, her bodily sicknesses, and her mental derangements had made ineffaceable marks in the erstwhile beauteous girl, and Cammilla de' Medici was no longer possible as the wife of the renegade Cardinal. Marriage was out of the question for her; indeed, her very existence was at stake, and all that Ferdinando could do was to alleviate the sufferings of his innamorata, and to cheer her declining days.

Many years before, Ferdinando had purchased a piece of ground at the confluence of the Arno and Pesa, and, upon it, he built the Villa Ambrogiana, which he furnished in lavish style, boasting that "it will be handy when I come into my own!" This estate, with a sufficient household, he made over to the Lady Cammilla, for her own free use. Before, however, she took up her residence, Ferdinando, now, of course, Grand Duke of Tuscany, placed at her disposal a country villa in the Val d'Ema, to which the suffering Signora was taken, in the hope that the fresh air and pleasant outlook would assist the recovery of her health and spirits.

She improved wonderfully in every way - the fact that she was again her own mistress and free to come and go at will, fortified her immensely, and she determined to devote the residue of her life to the interests of Ferdinando. Called upon, at his succession to the throne, to renounce his spiritual character - it was a character, indeed, which ill-fitted him - the new Grand Duke devoted himself to the duties of his high station. The Lady Cammilla, who had been his confidante in days gone by, was still retained as counseller and guide. Marriage was the most urgent necessity of the Grand Duke for the procreation of legitimate heirs.

He was surrounded by heirs-presumptive and aspirants to the throne - Don Antonio, his brother's adopted son; Don Giovanni, his father's legitimatised son by Eleanora degli Albizzi; his brother Piero, and any one of his bastard sons, and several other scions of the house. The Lady Cammilla entered heartily into all her stepson's ideas, and quickly, though doubtlessly regretfully, agreed with him that a brilliant foreign alliance was an absolute necessity.

Together they passed in review the names of all the eligible princesses in Europe, and at last their choice fell upon Princess Christina, the young daughter of Charles, Duke of Lorraine, and nephew of Queen Caterina de' Medici. She was received in Florence with joy, and married to the Grand Duke in 1589. The Lady Cammilla graced the nuptials with her presence, laying aside the dark-hued garments of sorrow which she had assumed and worn so long.

That was the last time Cammilla was seen in public; she retired first to her villa on the Arno, and then, seeing that the symptoms of illness were returning, she voluntarily retired once more into what had been her prison and her home - the convent of Santa Monica, where she breathed her last on the 30th of May 1590, at the early age of forty-five, to the unutterable sorrow of the devoted ladies of her suite and her faithful attendants. In the Libri de' Morti (1577-1591) we read under that date: "La Signora Cammilla d'il Serenissimo Gran Duca Cosimo de' Medici, despositata in San Lorenzo." Some say she died imbecile.

Upon the reverse of one medal, which Cosimo had struck in honour of their nuptials, was cut around the heraldic emblazonment of an oak tree and a dragon, her legend: "Uno avulso non deficit alter aureus." This may be the epitome of her life's history, and upon it one may moralise at will; and certainly readers of the "Tragedy of Cammilla de' Martelli" will admit that a spoilt life is as great a catastrophe as a violent death.

       * * * * *

It requires no great stretch of the imagination to picture the morals and the manners of society in Tuscany during the last half of the sixteenth century. The superabundance of private riches and the enervation of idle leisure destroyed the framework of domestic economy; "Di fare il Signore!" - to play the gentleman - was the current mode. Everyone strove to surpass his neighbours in luxury and extravagance.

The example of the Court was felt in every grade of life: marital unfaithfulness, personal spleen, and family feuds divided every household. The worst of human passions ran riot, and life became a pandemonium, wherein the sharp poignard, the poison phial, and the strangling rope, played their part at the dastardly will of their owners.

Fair Florence was still - as she will ever be - "The City of the Lily"; but the blue and silver emblematic giglio - the modestly unfolding fragrant iris of the unsophisticated countryside, drooped before the flaming, passionate tiger-lily of the formal garden of debauchery, with its pungent odour and its secretive, incurled scarlet petals - splashed with the blacks and yellows of crime and greed!

                     "Nature ever 
Finding discordant fortune, like all seed 
Out of its proper climate, thrives but ill: 
But were the world content to work, 
And work on the foundation Nature lays, 
It would not lack of excellence." ... 

IL PARADISO, Canto viii.