Salviati, Maria (1499–1543)

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Salviati, Maria (1499–1543)

Florentine noblewoman. Name variations: Maria de Medici. Born Maria de Medici in 1499; died in 1543; daughter of Lucrezia de Medici (b. around 1480) and Jacopo or Giacomo Salviati; sister of Elena Salviati ; married Giovanni (delle Bande Nere) de Medici (1498–1526, son of Caterina Sforza ), in 1516; children: Cosimo I (1519–1574), ruler of Florence (r. 1537), grand duke of Tuscany (r. 1569–1574, who married Eleonora de Medici ).

Born in 1499 into one of the wealthy patrician families of Florence, Maria Salviati was the daughter of Giacomo Salviati and Lucrezia de Medici (who was the daughter of Florentine ruler Lorenzo "the Magnificent" de Medici). Maria has been praised by biographers as a courageous woman, intelligent, and devoted. She grew up with the boy whom she would eventually marry, Giovanni de Medici, an orphan raised by her parents. Giovanni was one of the few Medici men who earned his living as a mercenary; he came from one of the lesser branches of the wealthy Medici family, and thus did not share in the banking fortune for which the Medici are famous. Maria and Giovanni married in 1516, when she was 17 and he was 18. They had only one child in ten years of marriage: Cosimo I, born in 1519, who in time became ruler of Florence. A military leader and politician of distinction, Maria's son raised the status of the Medici family—who had been ruling Florence without legitimate authority—when he was named the first grand duke of Tuscany by the Holy Roman emperor in 1569.

In an era when ten or more children were the norm for aristocratic families, Maria and Giovanni's one child points to the almost constant separation of husband and wife during their marriage. Giovanni's skills as a soldier led him to higher and higher military ranks, until eventually he was the renowned commander of the pope's army. It was the black armor ( bande nere, in Italian) that he and his soldiers wore which gave Giovanni the name he is known by, Giovanni "delle Bande Nere." He relied heavily on Maria, despite the fact that she remained in her parents' palace in Florence while he was on campaign. Their copious correspondence is still preserved, and shows the close relationship between the two. In his letters, Giovanni asks Maria for supplies and depends on her to administer their lands. Maria in turn shows herself to be both businesswoman and caring wife in her letters, constantly asking Giovanni to come home from his wars but resigned to taking care of their domestic affairs in his absence. She also offered Giovanni advice on maintaining his professional and political alliances.

When he was wounded in battle in 1525 and the pope withheld pay for his troops, Maria traveled to Rome herself and successfully demanded that he pay Giovanni's soldiers. The next year, at the height of his rise to fame as a military leader, Giovanni died in battle at age 28 and was buried in Mantua. Since he had spent much of his money on his troops, Giovanni left Maria and her young son with little financial security. She spent the next ten years in retirement at the palace of Trebbia outside Florence, devoting herself to raising Cosimo.

It was not just the fact that she was impoverished and widowed that led Maria to retire with her son; she was justifiably afraid for Cosimo's well-being. With Giovanni's death, the seven-year-old boy became one of the few potential heirs to the Medici fortune, since the primary branch had no legitimate male heirs living. This made the boy the possible target of numerous would-be heirs, and so for fear of his life Maria chose to keep him close to her, and away from the political intrigues of Florence. As Cosimo grew and needed her care less, Maria joined the Third Order of St. Dominic and devoted herself to working with the poor and sick of the Tuscan countryside. Their financial needs were taken care of by two benefactors, Filippo Strozzi and the marquis of Mantua.

In 1537, Cosimo, only 17 years old, jumped into Florentine politics on the assassination of the hated Florentine despot Alessandro de Medici by a Medici relative, Lorenzino. Cosimo put himself out to the Florentine patricians as the rightful ruler of the city and received widespread support. An intelligent political strategist, Cosimo soon was able to consolidate his power, which included the execution of his former benefactor, Filippo Strozzi, whom Cosimo feared would raise a faction against him. Maria was shocked and saddened by Cosimo's actions and wrote to him, admonishing him and advising him to back down. Cosimo ignored her requests, and following his coming to power, he saw his mother only rarely. Maria moved from Trebbia to another palace, at Castello. She died and was buried there in 1543. In 1685, her remains and those of her husband were brought to the Medici mausoleum in Florence and reburied together.


Micheletti, Emma. The Medici of Florence. Florence: Scala, 1980.

Young, George F. The Medici. 2nd ed. NY: E.P. Dutton, 1911.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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