Isabella de’ Medici

28 September 2010

I am just about to finish Isabella de’Medici: the Glorious Life and Tragic End of a Renaissance Princess by Caroline P. Murphy and just thought I would share my thoughts about it as I have enjoyed this book so much.

I started reading it as I am planning to write a novel about Isabella and her unfortunate cousin, Leonora de’ Toledo but have to say that I would have relished this book anyway, even if I wasn’t approaching it as a researcher.

Isabella de’Medici was the beloved daughter of Cosimo de’Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and was raised in Florence, spending her life amongst the splendours of the Pitti and Uffizi palaces, where she reigned as first lady of Florence after the death of her mother, eclipsing all others with her beauty, intelligence, wit and lively charm.

Murphy goes into a great deal of detail about the lives of Isabella and the rest of the Medici family, uncovering their sumptuous life style, their ambitions both princely and papal and, most significantly for Isabella, the private scandals and machinations that took place in the splendid corridors and halls of their palaces.

The book starts by charting Isabella’s life as a pampered Medici princess through her marriage to the rather horrible Pietro Orsini, Duke of Bracciano. As her father’s favourite, she was encouraged to remain in Florence at his side rather than living with her husband in Rome, which led, not unexpectedly, to an estrangement of sorts between the couple as they lived entirely separate lives. Not that Isabella appears to have minded as she was having a splendid time in Florence, throwing extravagant parties, being courted by everyone, putting all other women in the shade and secretly entertaining her lovers.

Things started to go wrong for Isabella when her powerful, handsome, adoring father died in 1574 and was succeeded by her creepy older brother Francesco, who was rather less admiring of Isabella’s free spirited ways and reputedly loose morals. He sympathised with the complaints of the awful Duke of Bracciano, her husband and turned a blind eye when he eventually strangled Isabella at a Medici family villa in July 1576.

I found the details of Isabella’s fabulous early life and terrible end to be written in an absorbing and fascinating way, that kept my attention throughout and kept me gripped until the very last page. I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves a really well written history book and particularly relishes those about members of ruling houses in the sixteenth century.

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