Beatrice D'este 1475-1497
( Originally Published 1907 )[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BEATRICE D'ESTE could never have been a beautiful woman, though most con-temporary writers affirmed that she was. Neither was she particularly good ; nevertheless, very few women of the Renaissance make any-thing like the same intimacy of appeal. Nothing in her life has become old-fashioned. She suggests no reflections peculiar merely to the time in which she lived. The drama of her domestic existence is so familiar and modern, that it might be the secret history of half the charming women of one's acquaintance.
At the same time she was vividly typical of the Renaissance. Nobody expressed more completely what the determined quest for beauty and joy could do. And as far as she was concerned it could do everything except make a woman happy. Her life, in fact, is one of the most absorbing instances of the tragedy that lies in wait for the majority of women after the pleasantness of youth is over.
Born at Ferrara on June 24, 1475, Beatrice was the younger sister of the great Isabella D'Este, who became one of the chief connoisseurs of the Renaissance. There is always some pain entailed in being the plainer sister of a beauty. Triumph also, in those days, was entirely for the precocious. Isabella embodied precocity itself. Though only a year older than Beatrice, she showed herself incomparably the more graceful, the more receptive, the more premature of the two. At six she had become the talk of the Ferrarese court circle. As a future woman was desired to do, she already showed signs of culture, of tact, of fascination. A pretty little prodigy, with hair like fine spun silk, her hand was constantly being asked for in marriage ; and no visitor ever came to the court but Isabella was sent for to show off her premature accomplishments.
There is little said about Beatrice. A second girl had been so frankly unneeded that at her birth all public rejoicings were omitted. She passed her babyhood with her grandfather, the King of Naples, and when she came back, a round contented child, with a chubby face and black hair, she served chiefly as a foil to Isabella, who was like some fine and dainty flower, with her pale soft hair and finished elegancies of behaviour. At Ferrara education had become a hobby. A son of the great Guarino, who with Vittorino da Feltre practically laid the foundations of modern schooling, had the chief control of their education. I t was not a bad one, perhaps, save for its excess. These two mites were at lessons of some kind from the time they got up to the time they went to bed. Happily, the Renaissance was all for the open air, and a good deal of their education took place in the garden of a country villa belonging to the D'Estes. Petrarch's sonnets were among the lighter literature allowed them, and a good many of the sonnets were set to music especially for their thin incongruous voices. Guarino was their master for Cicero, Virgil, Roman and Greek history ; other teachers took them in dancing, deportment, music, composition, and the rudiments of French. Isabella, indeed, is said to have spoken Latin as easily as her native tongue.
Though a little severe, Leonora was a capable and conscientious woman. Most of the qualities that Beatrice could have inherited from her mother would have been very good for temperament—presence of mind, courage, intelligence, decision. The girl's light-heartedness she probably got from her Uncle Borso, Ercole's brother and predecessor, whose fat and smiling face Corsa's painting has made the very type of cruel joviality. Ercole was not jovial, and the chief characteristics he transmitted to his daughters were strong artistic and literary passions, a gift for diplomacy, and, perhaps, a little elasticity in the matter of conscience.
Culture pervaded the atmosphere at the court of Ferrara. And though Leonora saw to it that the children were strictly trained in religious observances, it was essentially life, and a full and engrossing life, that they were being prepared for. At six Isabella was already engaged to the future Duke of Mantua. Some time afterwards, Ludovico Sforza of Milan, uncle and regent for the young Duke Giangaleazzo, wrote and asked for her in marriage. He was not a person to refuse lightly. The real duke everybody knew to be foolish almost to the point of mental deficiency. 11 More, as Ludovico was called, held the power of Milan, and politically an alliance with Milan would be good for Ferrara. Ercole answered the request by saying that his eldest daughter was already promised to Mantua, but that he had another daughter a year younger, and if the King of Naples, who had adopted her, gave his consent, Ludovico could have her instead. The political value of the marriage remained the same, and Ludovico accepted without demur the little makeshift lady. Hence, at nine years old, Beatrice, as a substitute for her more elegant sister, became engaged to a man of twenty-nine. She was then still living with her grandfather at Naples. But when, in the following year, she returned to Ferrara, to be educated with Isabella, she was publicly recognized as Ludovico's future wife, and known as the Duchess of Bari, the title to be hers after marriage.
It was over this engagement that Beatrice was made acutely to realize the difference of life's ways with the plain and the bewitching. The young Marquis of Mantua soon became an ardent lover of his golden-haired lady. He wrote to her, he sent her presents ; a slight but pretty love affair went on between the two during all the years of their engagement. And when in due course they were married, it was with every show of eagerness upon the side of the handsome bridegroom. Ludovico, on the other hand, took no notice whatever of the childish Beatrice ; there was no interchange of winning courtesies, no presents, no letters. Twice, when the marriage was definitely settled, Ludovico put it off ; and on the second occasion, at any rate, no girl could avoid the sting of wounded vanity. Everybody had been eager to marry Isabella. Beatrice also, according to the notions of her time, was grown up, and far too clear-witted not to understand the gossip following upon Ludovico's second withdrawal. Unmistakably she was not wanted, Her future husband had his heart already filled, There was another woman in the case, and a woman loved with such intensity that Il Moro literally had not the courage to face marriage with a different lady. On the arrival of the ambassadors asking for a second delay, an agent of the court wrote that everybody was annoyed and the Duke of Ferrara extremely angry.
This was in April, 1495, and for several months Beatrice lived on quietly in the Castello at Ferrara. To deepen the dulness, not only Isabella, but her half-sister Lucrezia, was now married. Among the people of the court it was openly said that the marriage with Ludovico would probably not take place at all, Beatrice went back to lessons, music she was all her life a great lover of music and to needlework in the garden. But she probably felt fiercely dispirited and without hope. Thankfulness for life itself cannot exist in youth. At fifteen it is not possible to thank God for just the length of time ahead. Most likely, also, she hated Ludovico. No girl of any spirit could have done otherwise, and Beatrice had more spirit than most.
Then, suddenly, in August, another ambassador arrived from Milan, and even then hopes began to float again. The ambassador had come this time with a present from the bridegroom to his betrothed. It was exquisite--a necklace of pearls made into flowers, with a pear-shaped pendant of rubies, pearls, and diamonds. The ambassador came also to fix a day for the wedding. Ludovico had at last made up his mind to the rupture with his mistress, Cecilia Gallerani, the rare and beautifully mannered woman, who has been compared, with Isabella D'Este and Vittoria Colonna, as among the most cultured women of the Renaissance.
Now, at last, Beatrice became brusquely a person of importance. The subject of Cecilia Gallerani was dropped like a burning cinder, and outwardly everything smoothed to a satin surface. There was more money than in the Mantuan marriage, and no expense was consequently spared in Beatrice's trousseaux. Only Leonora still worried a little. Ludovico came of a bad stock the only one among the family to show fine qualities had been the famous Francesco Sforza, founder of the dynasty.
As for the present duke's father, and Ludovico's brother, Galeazzo Maria, he had been a fiend, whose very soundness of mind was questionable. True, Ludovico's own ability was indubitable. The skill with which he had steered himself from exile into the regency could not be questioned. Moreover, though nominally only Regent, he had already commenced to drive in the thin end of the wedge of usurpation. The real duke was old enough to control his own state, and had recently been married to Isabella, daughter of the King of Naples. Notwithstanding this, the regency continued with a grasp tightened, rather than loosened, upon the affairs of Northern Italy. Meanwhile preparations for the marriage were rapid and luxurious, and as soon as possible, though it was then in the depth of winter, Beatrice and her suite started for the wedding. At Pavia Ludovico was waiting to receive them, and as soon as Beatrice had been helped on to a horse, wonderfully caparisoned for the occasion, the two rode slowly side by side from the water's edge she had come by boat up the Po—across the bridge that spans the river Ticino, and through the gates of the Castello of Pavia.
It would be interesting to know what lay in the minds of both. In the case of Ludovico one surmise has as much likelihood as another. He was a man much experienced in women, and to a person whose mistresses were always beautiful and interesting, Beatrice, at first sight, could have offered very small attractions. She had not the features to possess beauty of the finest quality. At the same time she was compensated by almost all the minor enticements. The smooth and delicate freshness of youth was fragrant in her, and, like Isabella, she was extremely graceful in body. But the chief attraction of her face sprang from its oddity, and the inner rogue it suggested. According to rigid canons she was plain, but her plainness was so near to prettiness that it was as often as not over the border.
The first impression given by lier portrait in the Altar-piece, said to be 1-male's, is disappointing. From her personality the expectation is of something different a little more distinguished, a little more wanton, and a little more incontestably seductive. But a mild fascination comes with familiarity. Waywardness and intelligence are both in the face ; the gift of humour is clear as day. Her expression radiates a mixture of sauciness and wisdom. In certain clothes and in certain moods she must have looked adorable, more especially before she was actually dressed, when her curls hung upon her shoulders.
What Beatrice thought of Ludovico is more easily hazarded. The man was handsome, and bore every sign of a personal force of character. His profile formed too straight a line, but in the general effect his features were impressive and masterful. Beatrice was fifteen, and as Isabella's plain sister had never yet been incensed with too much flattery. Ludovico had in fact reached at her child-like heart with unequal advantages ; confronted by this suave and dignified person a girl's imagination had everything to feed upon.
They were married next morning, and a few days later Beatrice made her state entry into Milan Ludovico, Giangaleazzo, the real duke, his wife Isabella, and every Milanese person of importance, meeting her at the gates. She and Ludovico then rode side by side in a procession through the town, the horses being decorated and the streets lined with people to cheer them as they passed.
But the really interesting incident of the day was the meeting of the two girls, the reigning duchess and the duchess of the Regent. The situation pushed them into antagonism, and into mean and agitated rivalries. Isabella's was the position of easier righteousness, Beatrice's the one of more colossal temptations. Everything moreover in the future was to help them into unfairness. The wife of the futile duke was cringed to by nobody. All Milan cossetted and flattered the wife of the Regent who held the power, and suggested still greater power in the future. To have been meek and secondary would have required a temperament of great spiritual vitality. Beatrice came of a worldly family, and the reasons for not tethering ambition grew to be very specious. Giangaleazzo, as head of the State, was too clearly incapable. Il Moro did all the work, bore all the responsibility, and when necessary, all the execration. Why should an idle, dull-witted boy, who did nothing, enjoy the benefit of public precedence ? Why should Beatrice and her husband walk humbly behind these two, whose importance was as a balloon inflated for the occasion ?
Corio says that from the first days of her arrival in Milan, Beatrice chafed at yielding place to Isabella. But Corio, who wrote many years after the death of Beatrice and Ludovico, was bent upon making the worst of them. And to contradict him there is a good deal of correspondence which goes to show that at the beginning the girls were glad enough to have each other for companionship. Some writers of the struggle between Beatrice and Isabella also urge that it was Beatrice who drove Ludovico to schemes of usurpation. This is one of the statements that are introduced in the heat of advocacy. Ludovico had made his mark as a dangerous personality years before he married Ercole's second daughter. The Ferrarese ambassador had written of him long before his marriage that he was a great man, who intended later on to make himself universally recognized as such.
The day before her state entry into Milan, Beatrice's brother Alphonso was married to the gentle Anna, who, after his death, was to be succeeded by the enigmatic Lucrezia Borgia. A week of public rejoicing followed, after which Leonora returned to Ferrara, and Beatrice commenced the routine of her new existence. But the reports of Ludovico, sent shortly afterwards, were pleasant reading for the girl's father.
The Ferrarese representative at the court of Milan wrote that Ludovico was incessantly singing his wife's praises, and a few days later added that he was brimming over with admiration both for his wife and his sister-in-law, and that he reiterated incessantly the extreme delight their society gave him. Then, some time after the last of Beatrice's people had left, Trotti once more repeated that Ludovico appeared to have no thought but how to captivate and amuse his wife, and that every day he repeated how much he loved her.
Not only Trotti, but Pallissena D'Este, a cousin, and one of Beatrice's elder ladies-in-waiting, wrote enthusiastic accounts of the Milanese ménage at the commencement. Palissena's letter was to Isabella, and not to Beatrice's parents. She wrote that Beatrice was unceasingly made much of by her husband, and that every possible tender attention was paid to her by him. According to her accounts the two were delightful to see together, the man being evidently as delighted to spoil the pretty child, as the child was to be spoilt by him. And since Beatrice had been the plain member of the family, with uncertain prospects of future beauty, the writer mentions, with an evident sense of conveying good news, that in the new climate the girl had grown not only very much stronger, but very much better looking.
Beatrice was certainly very happy at this time nothing in life compares with the first days of the first love affair and Ludovico as a lover has already been insisted upon. Muratari, writing of her after the shyness of her arrival had worn off she is mentioned as being timid at first describes her as young and always occupied in dancing, singing, or in some kind of amusement. Muratari also touches upon one of Beatrice's weaknesses. Truly never was a woman more intelligently fond of dress. She came to Milan a child, but within a year she knew her woman's business like her alphabet, and of that, one of the serious items is to understand that a woman is most frequently rendered attractive by her clothes. In dress, Beatrice had one peculiar predeliction she loved ribbons. She liked to have her sleeves tied with them ; she liked them, in fact, almost everywhere. In the AItar-piece portrait her gown is extremely ugly, but little superfluous-looking ribbons are tied all over it. She also grew certainly to be extravagant. On one occasion, when her mother went over her country house, she was shown the Duchess of Bari's wardrobe. There were eighty-four gowns, pelisses, and mantles, besides many more that had been left in Milan. There is no doubt that eighty-four gowns and mantles were too many at one period. Beatrice grew over-rich for the finer qualities of character to keep exercised. To desire a thing, if only in passing, was to have it.
During the first months after her arrival in Milan, however, she was a child, and too much cossetted to realize more than a very limited responsibility. Her life for some time was little more than a perfect example of the winning freshness belonging to the Renaissance conception of happiness. Open-air pleasures were a large part of its delight. Every man who was rich enough had a country residence with shady places and pools of water. Beatrice constantly went picnics into the country. A certain Messer Galeazzo Sanseverino, who later married Ludovico's illegitimate daughter Beatrice, wrote a description of one of them. He said it was in a letter to Isabella that they started early in the morning, and as they drove he, Beatrice, and another lady they sang part-songs arranged for three voices. Having arrived at their destination Ludovico's country house at Cussago they immediately commenced fishing in the river, and caught so many fish that they were obliged to fling some back into the water. A portion of the rest was cooked for their midday meal, and afterwards, the writer says, for the sake of their digestions, they played a vigorous game of ball. This finished, they made a tour over the beautiful palace, and after that once more started fishing. This might well have been occupation enough for one day, but when fishing had grown wearisome horses were saddled, and they first flew falcons by the river-side, and then started hunting the stags on the duke's estate. It was not until an hour after dark that the indefatigable and cheerful party got back to Milan.
When Rabelais wrote his description of a day in Pantagruel's life, he might well have had this pleasure outing in remembrance.
Ludovico took no part in these outings ; affairs of state, he said, absorbed his time. To have instantly suspected these affairs of state would have needed the sharpened wits of worldly knowledge. But presently, since everybody but the bride knew or guessed from the beginning how the duke really occupied himself, comments began to circulate. In the end Beatrice realized the truth. There are no letters showing how she first grasped the fact that Ludovico still gave tenderness to another woman ; but she knew at last that Cecilia Gallerani was not only shortly expecting to be confined, but was also still lodged in apartments at one end of the Castello. The last fact in itself must have sufficed to be insufferable. Whether Beatrice made a scene or not, she could only have felt burnt up with anger as well as with sickness of heart. A crisis became inevitable. The particular motives were trivial, but the triviality occurred when anything would have been too much for her. Ludovico gave his wife a gown of woven gold. The moment she wore it curious expressions flickered over the faces of her household Cecilia Gallerani was going about in its counterpart. Only one inference presented itself. Beatrice soon knew, and by this time had borne as much as the unseasoned endurance of her years was able. What followed is summarized in a letter by Trotti to the Duke of Ferrara a letter which he begs the duke to burn immediately. Trotti speaks of the garment as a vest, showing that it was only part of a dress, and he says that Madonna Beatrice had refused to wear hers again if Madonna Cecilia was allowed to appear in another similar. The attitude was a bold one for a child of fifteen, and Beatrice must have made k with the most unhindered courage. For immediately afterwards Ludovico himself went to interview Trotti, and so make sure that something more soothing than a mere statement of Beatrice's grievance went to Ferrara. He gave an actual promise that the liaison should come to a conclusion. He would either find a husband for the lady or send her into a nunnery.
Beatrice won, and, indeed, won handsomely. Political expediency was on her side, but the girl's own likeableness must be counted for something in the matter. Ludovico was among the most cunning men of Italy, yet upon this occasion he did exactly what he promised. As soon as Cecilia had recovered from the birth of a son the two alternatives were considered. Her tastes were not for convents, and she married a Count Ludovico Bergamini. With this, as far as II Moro was concerned, the episode closed. Beatrice would probably have preferred the convent, for, as things remained, Cecilia was not in any sense removed out of society. She continued to receive all the notable men of that part of the world at the beautiful palace a little way out of Milan which Ludovico had given her as an inheritance for his son, and at all court functions she appeared as usual.
Beatrice's triumph may have come to her a little through her courage. It was a quality Ludovico admired above all things, though his own was not to be relied upon. Commines says of him, " Ludovico was very wise, but extremely timid, and very slippery when he was afraid. I speak as one well acquainted with him, and who has arranged much diplomatic business with him."
Few characters of the Italian Renaissance are more difficult to get at than Ludovico's. Like Caesar Borgia, he had much of the magnificent adventurer in his blood, and though he never cut the figure in Italy that Caesar Borgia did, he was in many ways the more interesting of the two. Csar Borgia outshines him easily as a schemer, as a fighter, as a man nothing stopped and nothing staggered ; but Caesar Borgia was known as a being more eager to conquer towns than to govern them, and Il Moro was above all admirable at the head of a state. His politics were over-cunning, but as a ruler of Milan he went consistently for improvement and for more humanity than was customary. In personal charm he must have run the Borgia close. All those who knew him intimately liked him. There was dignity of presence and an eloquent habit of speech. Leonardo da Vinci could not be reckoned an easy man to satisfy, but he lived for sixteen years contentedly under the patronage of Ludovico. Ludovico's ambitions did not drive him at the same furious pace as the other's, and he worked for a city and the future along with and in the interval of his own deep plots. A con-temporary writer, Cagnola, says of him that he improved to an extraordinary degree the town of Milan, by enlarging and embellishing the streets and squares, and by the erection of many fine buildings, the fronts of which were decorated with frescoes. He did the same at Pavia, until both towns, previously hideous and filthy, were scarcely recognizable. Corio adduces further evidence in his favour by saying that every man of culture and Iearning, wherever he could be found, was enticed by Ludovico to Milan, and in some flowery phrases writes that all that was sweetest in music and finest in art and literature was to be found in the court of Il Moro.
This, put in plainer Ianguage, was very nearly true. Ludovico had a passion for having great men as company. His library, too, was famous. He collected books in France, Italy, and Germany. He had manuscripts printed, copied, illuminated wherever he could find them. In connection with this library, besides, a pleasant trait in his character comes out. He allowed scholars to borrow his books for purposes of study, and even gave facilities to them for using his library. The universities of both Milan and Pavia were saved by his energy, and his attitude towards education was always generous and impersonal.
To a man so full of temperament Beatrice's own nature was very much in tune, and after the disposal of Cecilia Gallerani there came to her the really good time of her life. It seems more than probable, in fact, that Ludovico had already grown fond of the round-faced girl with the audacious expression and the inexhaustible vitality of ways. Some of her earlier escapades were like a school-boy's home for the holidays, but Ludovico referred to them invariably with a touch of pride. He wrote on one occasion to Isabella that his wife, the Duchess of Milan, and their suites, had, at Beatrice's instigation, been dressing up in Turkish costumes. These dresses, also under Beatrice's impetuous influence, were finished in one night's labour. She herself sewed vigorously with the rest, and Ludovico wrote that upon the duchess expressing surprise at her energy, replied that she could do nothing without flinging her whole soul into it. That was like Beatrice ; she had no impulses that were not glowing, tremendous, whole-hearted. Some of her nonsense at this time, nevertheless, was not so pleasing, though Ludovico does not appear to have realized its naughtiness. He wrote on another occasion, and still with an air of pride, that one of her amusements in the country was to ride races with the ladies of her suite, when she would gallop full speed behind some of them in the hope of making them tumble off their excited horses.
Of Beatrice's pluck many instances are given, but at this time, undoubtedly, she was a little drunk with youth and happiness. Trotti wrote to Ferrara of a wrestling match between her and Isabella of Milan, in which Beatrice succeeded in throwing Isabella down. And the tirelessness of the creature came out also in a letter of her own to Isabella of Mantua, in which she told her sister how every day after their dinner she played ball with some of her courtiers. In the same letter there is another assurance that she was really happy, not only because she was young and vigorous, but because her heart was satisfied, for she mentions, as if it brimmed over spontaneously from a joy still fresh enough to be marvelled at, how tender her husband was to her. She added a pretty and affectionate touch by mentioning a bed of garlic which she had planted on purpose for her sister when she should come to stay with them, garlic being evidently a flavouring of which Isabella was extremely fond.
Beatrice's statement of Ludovico's affectionate habits is largely corroborated. Once, when she was ill, Trotti reported to Ferrara that Ludovico left her bedside neither night nor day, but spent his entire time trying to soothe and distract her.
As far as Beatrice was concerned, this illness could not consequently have been entirely lament-able. It is in the nature of women not to begrudge the price paid for visible assurances of being beloved, and to Beatrice Ludovico had soon become the integral requirement of life.
Some time after this the real duchess, Isabella, gave birth to a son. At last Giangaleazzo was not only duke, but possessed an heir to come after him, This child destroyed the Regent's prospects. Giangaleazzo, weak as well as foolish, had not the making of old bones in him. Until now the able and popular Regent stood with an easy grace, one day to be persuaded to step into his nephew's shoes. Isabella's son put girders to her house, and thrust Ludovico's future back to that of simple service, gilded and honourable, but yet, after all, merely service to the house of which he was not head. For Beatrice and Ludovico, moreover, this new-born infant tinged the situation either with fiat mediocrity or with a new and secret ugliness. No change showed, however, upon the surface. Public rejoicings took place to celebrate the birth of an heir, and life then fell back into its customary habits. There is a picture of these days given many years after by Beatrice's secretary, the elegantissimo Calmeta, as he was called at the time. He wrote that her court was filled with men of distinction, all of whom were expected to use their talents for her intellectual pleasure. When she had nothing else to do, a secretary read Dante or some minor poet out loud to her, on which occasions Ludovico would more often than not come and listen with her.
Calmeta mentions some of the men who made Beatrice's court remarkable, but the greatest of all, Leonardo da Vinci, is not included. From what it is possible to ascertain, Leonardo came very little into Beatrice's private existence. His life was enclosed by what Walter Pater calls " curiosity and the desire of beauty," and the passion for humanity was very slightly developed in him. He believed in solitude, and, in a limited and cordial fashion, indulged in it.
In reference to his coming to Milan, Pater, referring to the facts given by Vasari, says, " He came not as an artist at all, or careful of the fame of one ; but as a player on the harp, a strange harp of silver of his own construction, shaped in some curious likeness to a horse's skull. The capricious spirit of Ludovico was susceptible also to the power of music, and Leonardo's nature had a kind of spell in it. Fascination is always the word descriptive of him."
Leonardo's letter to Ludovico about his coming to Milan is written in a very different mood, and, read in the light of his fame, is wholly humorous. He says, " Having, most illustrious lord, seen and pondered over the experiments of all those who pass as masters in the art of constructing engines of war, and finding that their inventions are not one whit different from those already in use, I venture to ask for an opportunity of acquainting your excellency with some of my secrets.
" Firstly, I can build bridges, which are light and strong and easy to carry, so as to enable one to pursue and rout the enemy; also others of a stouter make, which, while resisting fire and assault, are easily taken to pieces and placed in position. I can also burn and destroy those of the enemy.
" Secondly, in times of siege I can cut off the water supply from the trenches, and make pontoons and scaling ladders and other contrivances of a like nature."
Seven other paragraphs follow, explaining contrivances for ensuring success in warfare by land or sea. It was only at the end of the tenth that he touched upon less military matters. Then he wrote : " In times of peace, I believe that I could please you as completely as any one, both in the designing of public and private buildings, and in making aqueducts. In addition, I can undertake sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay. In painting I am as competent as any one else, whoever he may be. Moreover, I would execute the commission of the bronze horse, and so give immortal fame and honour to the glorious memory of your father and the illustrious house of Sforza."
Leonardo had painted Cecilia Gallerani for Ludovico before the time of Beatrice's arrival, but, as far as one knows, never painted Beatrice. Mrs. Cartwright suggests, and the opinion has been repeated elsewhere, that the reason for this sprang from Beatrice's jealousy of the beautiful woman who had preceded her. But this is not in keeping with her nature. Beatrice loved all beautiful pictures, and was far too intuitive not to know that if any one could give her portrait beauty, Leonardo was that man. Whatever strangeness exhaled from within he would have drawn upon the surface. That he should never have painted her is extraordinary, but, at the same time, it is absolutely certain that he would never have felt any inclination to. Leonardo did not care for any woman's face that could look happy and be satisfied with that mere possession. And the Regent's wife had no withholdings in her expression, and no subtleties, save perhaps the subtlety of audacity and laughter.
Presently Beatrice gave birth to a son, and whatever sinister thoughts had ebbed and flowed in Ludovico's brain before, now became permanent and concrete. Beatrice's confinement was in itself the first open threat at Isabella. The arrangements for the child's arrival were a menace in their unfitness. A queen's son could not have been received into the world with more elaborate ceremony. The layette and cradle were exhibited to ambassadors as if a future monarch were being waited for. The cradle was of gold, its coverlet of cloth of gold. With no restraint as to cost, three rooms had been decorated one for the mother, one for the child, and one for the presents, which poured in every hour. The boy was no sooner born than public rejoicings were ordered. Bells were rung for six days, processions were held, prisoners for debt were released, and ambassadors, councillors, and all important officials entered to congratulate the slender girl in her magnificent bed, with its mulberry and gold coloured hangings.
At the court of Giangaleazzo meanwhile Isabella must have felt as if bitterness stifled her —bitterness and the sick despair of any creature conscious suddenly that it is trapped. Everybody remembered that when the real heir to the duchy had been born two years before, there had been Iess extravagance and formality than for the entry of the Regent's infant. And when a week later Isabella also went to bed and brought a second child into the world, the torture of the body must have been little in comparison to the torture of the mind that knew its children already marked out for disinheritance. Even her confinement became a convenience to Ludovico, who was able to inform the ambassadors that the rejoicings were for a double joy, though the statement was not made with any intention to deceive. The thin end of the wedge had been driven in, and Ludovico desired men to grow prepared and seasoned for what would one day be thrust upon them as an accomplished policy.
When both duchesses had recovered, ceremonies of thanksgiving were organized. They drove together in wonderful clothes and as part of a gorgeous procession to the church of St. Maria della Grazie. Beatrice may have uttered some light gratitude as she knelt, but to Isabella the day must have been a burning anguish, wearying to the very fibre of her nature. She and Beatrice sat side by side, and their dresses were almost equally extravagant. The public only saw two bejewelled and magnificent figures, but one of the two women already hated the other, with a heart swollen by the wrongs she did not dare to utter.
From this day forward Isabella's life is ill to think of ; for Ludovico's plans were soon no longer secret. The King of the Romans was to marry his niece Giangaleazzo's sister and to receive with her an immense dowry. In return he was to give Ludovico the investiture of Milan. On paper this change of dukes did not read as a flagrant usurpation. Giangaleazzo had been cleverly thrust into the position of sinner. It was seemingly abruptly discovered that he had no right to the dukedom at all without the consent of Maximilian. The viscontis held it in fief from the empire. When they died it should have passed back into the keeping of Germany. The duchy belonged to the emperor, and the Sforzas holding it on their own authority made them nothing less than adventurers. Il Moro, confirmed as duke by the King of the Romans, would possess the duchy upon legal and unimpeachable grounds, and have only dispossessed therefore a creature without any rights to hold it at any time, and incapable into the bargain.
Isabella fought with an impassioned fury for her child and her position. It was brave, heart-rending, and useless. Giangaleazzo could not be made even to understand Ludovico's treachery. I n a fit of temper he could beat his wife, as a child strikes what offends it. But he could not grasp any more than a child that a person, who had never given it an unkind word, should nevertheless intend to do it evil. Sometimes driven beyond control, Isabella would fix the story of Ludovico's coming usurpation into his wandering attention. For a moment her burning phrases stimulated some dim perception. But presently Ludovico and the boy would meet, and Giangaleazzo, in reality bewildered and helpless without the support of this capable, pleasant relative he had leant on since infancy, would blurt out all his wife's accusations and come back to her soothed into the implicit faith of before. Not a soul that would, had the capacity to help her, whilst the crowd had gone over to the light-hearted, triumphant duchess who was stepping remorselessly into her place.
Of all the women of the Renaissance there are none more piteous and more innocently forlorn than this girl Isabella, married to the futile son of a madman and pitted against the unrighteous cravings of a Ludovico. He and Beatrice between them made her life a nightmare, but they never abased her courage. The letter to her father, given by Corio as hers, but generally looked upon as worded by the historian, shows the noble fierceness that ran through her body. In burning phrases she laid bare the unjust misery of her position. Giangaleazzo was of age, and should have succeeded some time back to the duchy of his father. But so far was this from being the case that even the bare necessities of existence were doled out to them by Ludovico, who not only enjoyed all political power, but who kept them practically both helpless and unbefriended. The bitter hurt she endured through Beatrice came out in the mention of the latter's son and the royal honours paid to him at birth, while she and her children were treated as of no importance. In truth she added and there is something so hot, so passionately and recklessly sincere in the whole letter that it is difficult to believe that anybody but Isabella herself wrote it —they remained at the palace in actual risk of their lives, the deadly envy of Ludovico aching to make her a widow. But her Ietter, for all its despair and anger, was imbued with an unbreakable spirit. When she had laid bare the danger, the loneliness, and humiliation of her position, explaining that she lacked even one soul she dared speak openly to, since all her attendants were provided by Ludovico, she closed with a brave and defiant statement that in spite of every-thing her courage still endured unshaken.
Beatrice, it is true, does not show bravely in this one matter. True, from the worldly stand-point of the time, it was not as ugly as it seems to-day. Position during the Renaissance was legitimately to those indomitable enough to seize it. But the private intuitions of the heart do not alter greatly at any period, and in these Beatrice was not by nature deficient. She had strong affections and abundant fundamental graces of temperament Iaughter, courage, insight, wholeheartedness, multiplicity of talents. But during the first years of her married life she had too many happinesses at once. There was nothing in her life to quicken the spiritual qualities, nor to foster the more delicate undergrowths of character pity, compassion, the living sense of other sorrows. She lived too quickly, and there was no time for conscience to hurt her. That she could be tender there are little incidents to bear witness. Her motherhood, for instance, was both charming and childlike. She wrote to her mother, in sending the baby's portrait, that though it was only a week since the picture had been painted, the baby was already bigger, but that she dared not send his exact height because everybody told her that if she measured him he would never grow properly.
The innocent foolishness of this disarms harsh judgment. And in judging Beatrice's relations to Isabella of Milan there is no need to deduce a bad disposition from one bad action. No individuality stands clear from some occasional unworthinesses. In this one matter Beatrice was inexcusable, heartless, driven by nothing but an unjust ambition. But in others she was charming, affectionate, thoughtful, and moreover, under circumstances of colossal temptations and a great deal too much wealth, she remained a devoted wife, a faithful friend, and a woman capable in the end of a sorrow deep enough, practically, to kill her. In addition, it was harder for Beatrice than for most people to be really very saintly. She had too much of everything vitality, intelligence, charm of person and the call of life in consequence became too loud and too insistent. It is partly because of this that one loves her. For she had enough grace to be lovable, but not enough to be above the need of a regretful compassion and understanding. It is, of course, possible to be extraordinarily robust to feel life sing in one's body through sheer physical well-being and yet be all aflame in spirit also. But it is certain that when for a woman considerable personal fascination is added, this extreme vitality makes it much harder to retain only a sweet and limpid thinking. Each actual moment becomes too engrossing and sufficient.
There is, of course, no use in denying that from the time Ludovico was immersed in disreputable politics, Beatrice knew a great deal about them. To help, in fact, in their fulfilment she was herself presently sent as envoy to Venice. The Venetians were reluctant to fit in with II Moro's intentions, and it was realized at Milan that what may be lost by argument may be won by unuttered persuasion. In any case, a pretty woman, all gaiety, tact, and responsiveness, could only be a pleasant incident for a party of elderly gentlemen. So Beatrice, with all the clothes that most became her, went to Venice, where she set the teeth of the women on edge with the wicked excess of her personal splendour. But though the feminine society of Venice did not love her, Beatrice knew that her business was with men, and that to fascinate, therefore, she must give out the charm the eye perceives immediately.
During her visit she wrote long letters to her husband, telling him everything save the information not wise to trust on paper. She even gave a description of the clothes she wore on each occasion. The fact is interesting, because nothing could constitute a clearer revelation of the closeness of their married relationship. Only when a husband and wife are on the tenderest terms of comradeship does a man care to hear what his wife wears, and even then he must possess what might be called the talent for domesticity.
The wedding of Bianca, sister of Giangaleazzo, became the next step in Ludovico's policy. It was during the pageants organized to show the greatness of the match that the Duchess Isabella made her last brave show in public. She knew exactly what lay at the back of the marriage, but maintained to the end the fine endurance of good breeding. Through all the ceremonies that preceded Bianca's departure into Germany, Isabella outwardly bore herself as any tranquil-hearted woman, who was the first lady of Milan, should do. Later on, some at least of the anguish surging within was to overflow in a sudden torrent. But in public nothing broke her wonderful composure. Not until Charles VIII, carne to see her privately did her accumulated sorrows openly express themselves.
Previously to this Louis XII., then Duke of Orleans, had been sent into Italy, to discuss plans with Ludovico. Nobody thought much then of the man who was Iater to destroy Il Moro. A contemporary wrote sneeringly that his head was too small to hold much in the way of brains, and that Ludovico would find it easy enough to outwit him. Charles followed, when Beatrice and her court journeyed from Milan to Asti in order to fascinate and amuse him. Beatrice even danced for his pleasure, and she was an exquisite dancer. As a result Charles metaphorically fell at her pretty feet, which was only natural, considering that her appearance must have been gay and young enough in a dress of vivid green and with a bewildering blaze of jewels to have fascinated anybody.
Coming after a duchess all radiance and light-heartedness, Isabella, on the other hand, empty of everything but desolation, could only appear a disagreeable interlude. Giangaleazzo was already ill at Pavia when Charles VIII. crossed into Italy, but after Ludovico and Beatrice had done everything possible to amuse the French king, he passed on to the town of Pavia. Here the real duke lay in bed, and it was Isabella who received the king and Ludovico at the entrance to the Castello, dramatically beautiful in her forlorn observance of social obligations. Commines gives a detailed account of Isabella's sudden outcry against the downfall being prepared for her house. In this account he says that the king told him that he would like to have warned Giangaleazzo had he not feared the consequences with Ludovico. Commines adds that, disregarding the Duke of Bari's presence, Isabella threw herself on her knees before the French king, and piteously besought him to have pity on her father and brother, in answer to which, the situation being a very awkward one for him, he could only beg her to think of her husband and herself, she being still so young and lovely a woman.
That Charles pitied these two, as lambs Iying in the paws of a wolf, is very clear from Commines' statement.
And a few days later Giangaleazzo died. His life had been useless, but he took leave of it with an arresting gentleness. After a serious illness he had rallied, taken a fair amount of nourishment, and slept a little. That same evening he asked to see two horses Ludovico had sent him, and they were brought into the great stone hall, out of which his room opened. He talked of Ludovico, his confidence remaining childlike and unshaken to the end. His uncle, he said, would have been sure, would he not, to come and see him, if the French business had not swallowed up attention ? As he grew weaker, he asked his favourite attendant much as a woman might ask about her lover, for the pleasure of the answer if he thought his uncle loved him, and grieved at his serious illness. Satisfied, he begged to see his greyhounds, and then, all his little interests tranquillized, quietly fell asleep. He was dead next morning, and Ludovico's path was made easier than before. He was, in fact, instantly proclaimed head of Milan. Guicciardini says of it, " It was proposed by the heads of the council that, considering the importance of the duchy, and the dangerous times dawning for Italy, it would be extremely undesirable that a child not yet five years old should succeed his father. .. . Ambition getting the better of honesty, the next morning, after some pretence of reluctance, he accepted the name and arms of the Duke of Milan."
At the time Ludovico was almost universally credited with having murdered Giangaleazzo, but the accusation has since fallen to the ground. Practically it was based upon the fact that the moment of the duke's passing was too opportune to wear an air of naturalness. In spite, moreover, of what men thought, nothing dared be uttered openly, and Ludovico, blazing in cloth of gold, rode to the church of St. Ambrozio to give public thanks for his accession. The wind was with him for the moment. Beatrice, too, had become the first lady of Milan, and her soul stood in a more perilous state than ever. She had reached the place of her desire by ways too shady for loveliness of thought to have had much hold in her.
Isabella meanwhile, from this time onwards, passes into a desolate private existence. But there is an incident which occurred first that remains very difficult to penetrate. Literally at Ludovico's mercy after her husband's death, she still bore herself bravely. For a time she refused to leave Pavia. When she did, we are told that Beatrice drove out to meet her, and that when they carne together, some two miles from town, she got out of her own carriage and entered Isabella's, both women sobbing bitterly as she did so. That Isabella should cry was natural ; she was weak with the weariness of sorrow. But Beatrice's was not the nature to weep either easily or falsely. Clearly face to face with the price paid for her own position, it beat back upon her for a moment as an utter heaviness, and she cried because Isabella was the living expression of despair, and they had once been intimate and companionable. God knows what they said to each other in this drive together, or whether through the passing grace of a sudden penitence Beatrice found any-thing the widow could hear without a sense of nausea. For how dire Isabella felt her life to have become is revealed in a singularly tender reference made to her by the court jester Barone, who wrote that she was so changed, and so thin and grief-stricken, that the hardest heart could not have seen her without compassion.
But the Duchy of Milan was to yield little happiness to the two who had acquired it so shabbily. Charles' Italian campaign soon thrust Ludovico into both difficulty and danger. At the commencement of it he had been a great man. But when one Italian town after another became as a doormat for Charles to walk over, he perceived suddenly the flaw in his French invasion policy. Ferrante of Naples wrecked was one thing; Italy given over to Charles VIII. another.
He was not even personally safe with Louis of Orleans at Asti. A league was formed, in which the Pope, the King of the Romans, the King and Queen of Spain, Henry VII. of England, the Signory of Venice, and the Duke of Milan all combined. Isabella D'Este's husband was made captain, with the express duty of cutting off Charles' triumphant return into France. This fight against the king, so cajoled at the beginning, and the subsequent peace patched up between him and Ludovico, is purely a matter of history. In the attack against Asti, made by Louis of Orleans, however, Beatrice showed a magnificent and practical courage. Ludovico's own astuteness had died in a sickly terror, and he had rushed back to his fortified castle at Milan. At the time there is little doubt that he was suffering from nervous exhaustion ; but it was Beatrice whose courageous eloquence roused Milan, and it was Beatrice who ordered the steps necessary to defend the town and Castello.
It was about this time, also, that she showed a disarming and warm-hearted rightness of feeling. Among the booty her sister Isabella's husband, Francesco, had acquired from the French were some hangings that had belonged to Charles V I I I.'s own tent. They were originally forwarded to Isabella, but presently Francesco asked her to send them back, as he wished to give them to Beatrice. That made Isabella angry. She had some degree of reason, but her expression of it was repellently ungracious. The hangings, not-withstanding, were sent to Beatrice. Happily, she would not have them. As keenly as Isabella, she loved beautiful and notable things, but with the simple statement that, under the circumstances she felt she ought not to have them, she returned the draperies to her sister. In doing so she was beginning to practise the little niceties that help to keep existence lovable. Had she lived, she would almost surely have weathered the over-eager selfishnesses of her married life. They were after all largely due to the absorption that all youth suffers during the first unsettled, uncertain period, when life is still all newness and personal excitements. But her time was short, and after the settling of peace with France, the end drew horribly near to her.
For five years she had been happy. Ludovico constituted the integral part of heaven for her, and after the first fierce struggle she had lived in the soft security of an equal affection. Nature had given her brains and seductiveness. To have both in one person, and then, as crowning grace, to possess a genius for light-heartedness, was more than most women can rely upon in the unceasing labour of retaining a husband's affectionateness. But Beatrice was bolstered by even more than this. The tastes of husband and wife were similar Ludovico had no hobbies outside the radius of her understanding. Nevertheless, at twenty she stumbled upon the disheartenment that for most wives lurks about the forties. She could not keep her husband from the charm of other women. She had been every-thing, but the time had come when a pretty face was to sweep her peace down like a house of flimsy cardboard.
She had grown stale observation, dulled by familiarity, could receive no fresh impression. The very years they had handled life together worked not for, but against, her. All her ways had grown a parrot-cry ; those of other women were new and half mysterious. Further, she was at that time physically in a peculiarly defenceless condition. When Ludovico's last passion swept him away from her, Beatrice was once more expecting to be a mother.
Among the members of her household at this time there had been included the daughter of a Milanese nobleman, a girl called Lucrezia Crivelli. This Lucrezia Crivelli was far too beautiful to be a safe person in the house of any man susceptible to all precious or lovely objects. Could anything, indeed, be more exquisite than her face as painted by Leonardo da Vinci ? At the same time, to look for long at the beautiful oval is to see that its meekness is purely a sham expression. The eyes too, so gentle, undisturbed, observant, are just a little, though illusively, unscrupulous. It is essentially the face of a young girl with all the delicate finencsses and sweet, reliant placidities of inexperience ; but it is also a face already rich in power, reservations, and a silent deliberateness of conduct. In addition to all this, her hair was golden, her head almost perfectly outlined. In any court she must have created a sensation she was so dazzling, and yet so quiet, so self-contained, and so demurely and subtly dignified. The temperament was probably cold. There is more thought than feeling in its gracious quietude thought and a dim suggestion of pain, not in the present, but for the future. Small wonder she drew Ludovico. To be young, beautiful a sweet wonder to look at and, in addition, to strain at men's heartstrings by just a hint of wistfulness, is to be dangerous beyond bearing.
Ludovico's admiration became rapidly unmistakable. From being constantly pin-pricked, Beatrice saw the friendship between the two spring suddenly into something mortal to her heart. The two were thrown hourly into each other's society the man with the inflammable response to beauty, and the girl with the discreet and tantalizing loveliness. It was a tense drama of three, For Beatrice was always there as the tortured third. From the commencement nothing was spared her. Each day some new incident shook her with unutterable anticipations. Slowly existence, as she watched these two, became a solidifying terror. There must have been some scenes at the commencement. No woman could accept a crisis such as this and not cry out for mercy. But Beatrice, with the innate wisdom that so soon grew strong in her, quickly realized that to plead was like a voice trying to be heard above a tempest. Ludovico was infatuated. Everybody knew, and talked of the affair, both at the Court of Milan and beyond it. In 1496, a Ferrarese ambassador wrote that the latest news from Milan was the duke's infatuation for one of his wife's ladies-in-waiting, with whom he passed the greater part of his time a fact which was widely condemned there.
That same autumn Ludovico's natural daughter, whom Beatrice had adopted when she carne to Milan, and whom she Ioved dearly, died. Only a few months back she had been married to the Galeazzo di Sanseverino, who had helped so largely to keep Beatrice merry in the first months of her marriage. Her name was Bianca, and in her portrait by Ambrogio da Predis a portrait sometimes said to be of Beatrice D'Este she looks adorable. Her death struck Beatrice when she was already heartsick. A dozen times between daylight and bedtime Lucrezia and Ludovico had acquired the power to drive the blood to her temples. Muralto, who mentions Il Moro making the girl his mistress, says, with the simplicity characteristic of the period when touching anything emotional, that though it caused Beatrice bitter anguish of mind, it could not alter her love for him. It is very evident that Beatrice dared nothing against this later mistress. With an admirable wisdom—the wisdom of an intelligence which had deepened upon the facts of experience she did not struggle, after five years of married life, against the fever of this tempestuous passion. But a passionate restlessness wore her out. She looked upon days unending and unbearable. In a few weeks her manner changed entirely. She, who had been like an embodied joy for years, grew to have tears always near the surface. I n the end she became too weary to control them ; for there is no weakness like that brought about by a forlornness constantly goaded into fresh sensations. Both her ladies and her courtiers, in the inevitable publicity of court habits, saw her eyes frequently blinded by silent tears. But she said nothing, and they could not be certain whether they fell because of her husband's conduct or because of the death of Bianca.
To some extent she had become abruptly absorbed by a new outlook. All her life previously she had been a frank materialist ; the question of death had loomed too distant to need attention. But suddenly life had betrayed her, and in the bitter knowledge of its cruelties the soul stirred to tragic wakefulness.
The Renaissance, as far as she was concerned, had shown itself inadequate. It had promised, with artistic and philosophic culture, to bring happiness. But in practice it provided nothing for the heart of women. It could not make men faithful, nor help the warm and simple ways of domesticity from the denudations of instability. There remained only the question of the after-life to fall back upon, and Beatrice, enfevered and tortured, tried to fix her mind upon this prospect. Bianca had been buried in the church of St. Maria delle Grazie, and during the last months of her existence Beatrice formed the habit of going constantly to her tomb, and of staying there for hours at a time. In fact, shipwrecked as far as life was concerned, and brought by her approaching motherhood to the nearness and possibility of death, her soul sprung at last into a quivering alertness, drawing her to silent introspections in the dark and restful church, where the girl who had been alive a short time back, now lay quietly buried. Only the most unshaken agnostics can come close to death and not suddenly feel an overwhelming necessity for some preparatory equipment some consciousness of a clean and justified existence. And Beatrice, whose manner hinted to those about her the possession of a secret fore-boding of what was coming, had reached very close to the moment when this peace, both of remembrance and of hope, would be tragically necessary.
On January 2, 1497, she drove as usual to the church of St. Maria delle Grazie. She remained there for hours, as if only in this one sombre place could she obtain a little respite and tranquillity. Her ladies who probably disliked these outings beyond expression had difficulty in coaxing her at Iast from the building. They got her home, and she seemed much as usual until about eight o'clock in the evening, when the agony of child-birth suddenly commenced in her.
Her pains only lasted three hours. Then she gave birth to a still-born child, and shortly after midnight she died. For a short hour she lay in her canopied bed, worn in body and uncomforted in soul. Then she died, and whom Ludovico loved or did not love mattered not one whit to her.
But her death had been brutal, unexpected, sudden, and acted upon Ludovico like a douche of icy water. Passion for Lucrezia died brusquely through the shock. Beatrice, had she known it, had never been profoundly discarded, and the thought of life without her had not formed part of the Lucrezia madness.
And suddenly she was dead. There had been no reconciliation. ln the abruptness of her collapse, there had not been an interval in which to endear her back to joy. She had suffered great pain, and then, in a forlorn and piteous weakness, passed from existence.
Ludovico's grief became intense. His passionate prostration was so unusual in the callousness of the period, that every one talked about it. He refused to have her name mentioned in his presence, and when most widowers of that time would have been thinking of a second wife, he was still spoken of as caring nothing any longer for his children, or his state, or for any-thing on earth.
Seven months after her death he continued still apparently a changed man. He had become religious, recited daily offices, observed fasts, and lived " chastily and devoutly." His rooms were still draped in black, he took all his meals standing, and every day went for a time to his wife's tomb in the church of St. Maria delle Grazie.
His last action in connection with Beatrice has a certain moving sentimentality. It was when the miserable end of his adventure had commenced, and he was obliged to escape from Milan with all the haste he could. His safety depended upon his swiftness. Knowing this, he nevertheless stopped at the church of St. Maria delle Grazie, and stayed so long by the tomb of his wife that the small group with him became anxious for their own skins as well as his. He carne out at last with the tears streaming down his face, and three times, as he rode away, he looked back towards the church, as if all his heart held dear lay there behind him.
Not long afterwards he was captured, and his captivity at Loches is one of the few inexcusable stains upon Louis XII.'s character.
Queens Of The Renaissance:
Catherine Of Siena 1347-1380
Beatrice D'este 1475-1497
Anne Of Brittany 1476-1514
Lucrezia Borgia 1480-1519
Margaret D'angouleme 1492-1549
Renee, Duchess Of Ferrara 1510-1575