Sforza, Caterina (1463–1509)

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Sforza, Caterina (14631509)

Countess of the Italian domain of Forli and a formidable rival to the Borgia family, Caterina Sforza was the illegitimate daughter of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza, a member of the ruling dynasty of Milan. At the age of ten she was engaged to Girolamo Riario, the nephew and reputed illegitimate son of Pope Sixtus VI. She moved to Rome and bore her husband eight children, while the couple, with the help of the pope, became the rulers of the cities of Imola and Forli. The couple spent lavishly to win the support of the people of these towns, but their heavy taxes and Riario's cruelty and deceit earned them widepsread hatred. A conspiracy by a rival family, the Orsi, against Riario ended with his assassination in 1488; Caterina and her children were taken prisoner but Caterina escaped, promising to turn over the fortress of Forli to her enemies. Once she was released, however, she turned against them and gathered a strong company of supporters, eventually winning back the city and taking bloody vengeance on her enemies. Her second marriage, to Giacomo Feo, came to a tragic end in 1495 when he was murdered while the couple was riding through the streets of Forli. Caterina soon had the conspirators and all their families massacred.

Caterina then allied with Florence through a secret marriage to her third husband, Giovanni de' Medici. After Giovanni's death in 1498, Pope Alexander VI offered a marital alliance between his daughter Lucrezia Borgia and Caterina's son, Ottaviano Sforza. The pope was seeking to expand the papal dominions to Imola and Forli, but when Caterina refused the alliance, Alexander simply issued a decree granting Imola and Forli to his son Cesare Borgia, who then assembled a huge army of mercenaries and French troops and began a siege. Refusing all offers of a truce, Caterina took personal command of her troops and held out in the citadel of Forli until January 1500. She was taken as a prisoner to the Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome, but was released in 1501 and fled to Florence. When the Medici dynasty turned against her, she retreated to the convent of Annelena, where she remained until her death in 1509.

See Also: Alexander VI; Borgia, Cesar; Sforza dynasty