5 July 2018

Giovanni Sforza – Lord of Pesaro and Gradara

Military leader was briefly married to Lucrezia Borgia

A 15th century portrait of Giovanni Sforza d'Aragona
A 15th century portrait of Giovanni
Sforza d'Aragona
Giovanni Sforza d’Aragona was born on this day in 1466 in Pesaro in the region of Le Marche.

The illegitimate son of Costanzo I Sforza, Giovanni became part of the powerful Sforza family and inherited his father’s titles when he was just 17, as Costanzo I died leaving no legitimate children.

Giovanni Sforza is mainly remembered for being the first husband of Lucrezia Borgia, but he was also a condottiero - a professional army commander -  who fought military campaigns and ruled over Pesaro and Gradara from 1483 until his death.

In 1489 Sforza married Maddalena Gonzaga, the daughter of Federico I of Mantua, but she died the following year.

As Giovanni was related to the Sforza branch who ruled the Duchy of Milan, he was regarded as a valuable connection by the Borgias and with the help of Giovanni’s cousin, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, the Borgias arranged a marriage between Giovanni, who was by then in his twenties and Lucrezia, the 12-year-old illegitimate daughter of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI.

Lucrezia Borgia is said to have tipped off Sforza of a plot to have him killed
Lucrezia Borgia is said to have tipped off
Sforza of a plot to have him killed
A proxy marriage took place on 12 June 1492 as the contract stipulated that Lucrezia would stay in Rome and not consummate the marriage for a year.

Giovanni and Lucrezia then spent two years together in Pesaro, during which his importance to the Borgia family dwindled because they had formed other political alliances.

It is believed that the Pope and his son, Cesare, contrived a plot to murder Giovanni while he was in Rome, but Lucrezia was informed by her brother and warned Giovanni to leave the city.

In 1497 the Pope petitioned for an annulment of the marriage on behalf of Lucrezia.

Giovanni refused to accept the annulment as he would have had to return Lucrezia’s dowry and also sign a paper stating he was impotent.

In response, he accused Lucrezia of paternal and fraternal incest, a claim which has sullied the reputation of the Borgia family over the centuries, even though it may not have been true. The marriage was eventually annulled on the grounds of non-consummation.

Giovanni was excommunicated in 1500 and there were several attempts to kill him. He was forced to leave Pesaro and could safely return to his home city only after the death of Alexander VI.

Giovanni Sforza remarried and fathered a son, Giovanni Maria, who succeeded him as Costanzo II, after his death in Pesaro in 1510.

The Palazzo Ducale - Ducal Palace - in Pesaro
The Palazzo Ducale - Ducal Palace - in Pesaro
Travel tip:

Pesaro, which Giovanni Sforza ruled between 1483 and 1510, is a coastal city in Le Marche with a 15th century Ducal Palace, commissioned by Alessandro Sforza, one of Giovanni’s ancestors. It has become known as the city of music because the opera composer Gioachino Rossini was born there in 1792. The Rossini Opera Festival has taken place in Pesaro every summer since 1980 and the town is home to the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Gioachino Rossini, which was founded from a legacy left by the composer.

The medieval castle at Gradara
The medieval castle at Gradara
Travel tip:

Giovanni Sforza was also Lord of Gradara, a town in the region of Le Marche about 15km (9 miles) from Pesaro. Gradara has a double line of medieval walls and a large castle. It is famous for being the location of the ill-fated, true love story of  Paolo and Francesca, which was described by the poet Dante Alighieri in the fifth canto of his famous work, Inferno.

More reading:

Did Lucrezia Borgia deserve her notoriety?

Giovanni dalle Bande Nere - last of the great condottieri

Francesco Sforza and the Treaty of Lodi

Also on this day:

1966: The birth of footballer Gianfranco Zola

1982: Paolo Rossi scores a hat-trick as Italy eliminate Brazil from the 1982 World Cup in Spain

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