Sforza, Francesco (1401–1466)

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Sforza, Francesco (14011466)

Duke of Milan from 1450 until 1466. The illegitimate son of Muzio Sforza, a condottiere (mercenary), he was born in San Miniato, a village of Tuscany. He was raised in the Basilicata region of southern Italy, where he ruled as the marquis of Tricarico, a title granted him by the king of Naples. On reaching adulthood he followed his father's profession and earned a reputation while in the service of Naples as a skilled and courageous military leader. Francesco served in the forces of Pope Martin V as well as Filippo Maria Visconti, the leader of Milan. He fought against Venice in 1431 and as a reward for his service, Filippo Maria engaged his illegitimate daughter, Bianca Maria, to him.

Sforza felt no strong loyalty to the Visconti clan, however, and while campaigning against the papal territories he changed his allegiance to Pope Eugenius IV, who rewarded him with the title of vicar of Ancona. In the service of Florence and then Venice, he campaigned against Milan in 1438 and 1440. When his territories in southern Italy came under siege by the king of Naples, however, he again allied with the Visconti, and in 1441 married Bianca Maria Visconti.

Sforza's further campaigns against Milan on behalf of Venice convinced Filippo Maria to bribe him again by naming him the commander of the armies of Milan. On the latter's death in 1447, Milan declared a republic. Francesco allied with Venice and the Medici rulers of Florence, then besieged and conquered Milan and proclaimed himself its duke in 1450. In the same year, he made the Peace of Lodi with Cosimo de' Medici, the leader of Florence. Francesco allied with Florence and other northern cities in order to prevent conquest of northern Italy by larger and more unified realms of northern Europe, a threat that came to fruition after his death when the king of France invaded Lombardy to subdue the power of Milan. Francesco's son Ludovico succeeded him and was formally proclaimed Duke of Milan by Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire.

Francesco glorified himself and his new Sforza dynasty by his patronage of sculptors, artists, and architects who raised new monuments and buildings in Milan. He improved the city's finances and made the Milanese court an important center of Renaissance scholarship.

See Also: Sforza, Caterina; Sforza, Ludovico; Visconti dynasty