At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Giulio d’Este of Ferrara

Plots and prison ruin life of handsome son of Duke


Giulio d'Este, as he was said to have looked on his release from prison at the age of 81
Giulio d'Este, as he was said to have looked on his
release from prison at the age of 81
Giulio d’Este, who spent more than half of his life in prison for taking part in a failed conspiracy against his half-brother, the Duke of Ferrara, was born on this day in 1478 in Ferrara.

He was the illegitimate son of Ercole I d’Este, an earlier Duke of Ferrara, born as a result of an affair the Duke had with Isabella Arduin, a lady in waiting to his wife.

Giulio was often in conflict with his half-brothers, Alfonso and Ippolito, which led to him eventually playing his part in a plot to assassinate them.

He had grown up in the court of Ferrara and later lived in a palace on the Via degli Angeli in Ferrara.

The first major conflict between Giulio and Ippolito arose over a musician, Don Rainaldo of Sassuolo. Rainaldo was in the service of Giulio, but Ippolito, who had by then become a Cardinal, wanted him for his chapel and so in 1504 he abducted Rainaldo and held him in the Fortress of Gesso.

When Giulio discovered where he was being held, he went with a group of armed men and recovered the musician. In a sign of defiance, Giulio replaced him with the warden of the fortress.

Ferdinand Kingsley - son of the great British actor Ben Kingsley - played Giulio in the 2011 TV series Borgia
Ferdinand Kingsley - son of the great British actor Ben
Kingsley - played Giulio in the 2011 TV series Borgia
Ippolito complained about his actions to his brother, Alfonso, who had by then succeeded their father as Duke of Ferrara, and Giulio was exiled to Brescello – more than 100km (62 miles) away – as a result.

Lucrezia Borgia, Alfonso’s wife, and Isabella d’Este, his sister, eventually managed to persuade Alfonso to pardon Giulio.

The following year, Giulio and Ippolito discovered that they were both admirers of the same lady at the court, Angela Borgia, the cousin of Lucrezia, the Duchess.

But Angela favoured Giulio and told Ippolito, who despite being a Cardinal was a ladies’ man, that ‘Giulio’s eyes were worth more than Ippolito’s whole person.

Ippolito ordered his servants to kill Giulio and tear out his eyes and when they discovered Giulio on his own, returning to Ferrara from a trip, they surrounded him, beat him brutally and stabbed his eyes.

Although he was not killed he was badly scarred, lost the eyesight in one eye and was left with blurred vision in the other.

Giulio's palace in the Via degli Angeli is now the headquarters of the Prefecture of Ferrara
Giulio's palace in the Via degli Angeli is now
the headquarters of the Prefecture of Ferrara
Alfonso then organised a formal truce between Giulio and Ippolito, but Giulio bore a grudge against his half-brother for the loss of his eyesight and his good looks. He was also angry with Alfonso for not punishing Ippolito.

Another of his half-brothers, Ferrante, aspired to replace Alfonso as Duke and Giulio and other men hostile to Alfonso helped him organise a plot to eliminate Alfonso and Ippolito.

The conspirators waited at night in the street with poisoned daggers but failed to encounter Alfonso. Ippolito’s spies gathered evidence about the plot for him but, before he could relay it to Alfonso, Lucrezia and Isabella urged Giulio to flee to Mantua to be protected by Francesco Gonzaga.

The conspirators were tried in Giulio’s absence and along with his half-brother, Ferrante, and three other men, Giulio was found guilty and condemned to death.

Alfonso threatened to take his army to recover Giulio and eventually Francesco had to hand him over. The other conspirators were executed, but the sentences for Giulio and Ferrante were reduced to life imprisonment.

Ferrante died in prison at the age of 63 after 34 years of incarceration, but Giulio was freed by Alfonso II d’Este - his great nephew - at the age of 81 after he had spent 53 years in prison.

Giulio caused a stir when he was first seen out in the streets of Ferrara again because despite his years in prison he was said to have retained his charm and erect posture and he was still dressed in the fashion of 50 years before.

The Este Castle dominates the centre of Ferrara
The Este Castle dominates the centre of Ferrara
Travel tip:

Ferrara is a city in Emilia-Romagna, about 50 km (31 miles) to the north-east of Bologna. It was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598. Building work on the magnificent Este Castle in the centre of the city began in 1385 and it was added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the end of the Este line.

Travel tip:

Giulio d’Este’s palace in Via degli Angeli is now the headquarters of the Prefecture of Ferrara. It was designed by Renaissance architect Biagio Rossetti and was given to Giulio by his natural father, Ercole I, Duke of Ferrara. After Giulio’s imprisonment, it was taken over by his arch enemy and half brother, Ippolito. The palace became the property of the Province of Ferrara in 1932.



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