1 July 2019

Clara Gonzaga – noblewoman

Countess from Mantua founded European dynasties

Clara Gonzaga's marriage began a dynasty of European royalty
Clara Gonzaga's marriage began a dynasty
of European royalty
Clara (Chiara) Gonzaga, the eldest daughter of Federico I Gonzaga and Margaret of Bavaria, was born on this day in 1464 in Mantua.

One of her six children became Charles III, Duke of Bourbon and led the imperial army sent by Emperor Charles V against Pope Clement VII in what was to become the Sack of Rome in 1527.

Clara was also to feature as one of the characters in The Heptameron, a collection of 72 short stories written in French by the sister of King Francis I of France, Marguerite of Angouleme, who had been inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron.

Clara had five siblings, including Francesco II Gonzaga, who married Isabella d’Este.

She was married at the age of 17 to Gilbert of Bourbon Montpensier. Four years later he succeeded his father as Count of Montpensier and Dauphin of Auvergne.

Clara and Gilbert had six children, but when she was just 32, Gilbert, who had also become Viceroy of Naples and the Duke of Sessa, died of a fever while in Pozzuoli near Naples, leaving her a widow.

Cesare Borgia was a  threat to Mantua
Cesare Borgia was a
threat to Mantua
Three years later, Clara acted as a mediator on behalf of her brother Francesco, who was trying to form an alliance with King Louis XII of France in order to protect Mantua, which was being threatened by both Cesare Borgia and the Doge of Venice.

Clara died in 1503, just before her 39th birthday and was buried at the Chapelle Saint Louis in the Church of Aigueperse in Auvergne.

Among her many descendants are King Louis XIV of France, Queen Marie Antoinette of France and Franz Josef I of Austria, the longest reigning Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Through the Houses of Hanover, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Windsor, Clara is also an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II of England.

Mantua is an atmospheric city with a lakeside setting
Mantua is an atmospheric city with a lakeside setting
Travel tip:

Mantua is an atmospheric old city in Lombardy, 155km (96 miles) to the southeast of Milan, famous for its Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707. The Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, depicting the life of Ludovico III Gonzaga, Clara’s grandfather, and members of his family. The beautiful backgrounds of imaginary cities and ruins reflect Mantegna’s love of classical architecture.

Sulphuric smoke rises from the ground at Solfatara
Sulphuric smoke rises from
the ground at Solfatara
Travel tip:

Pozzuoli, where Clara’s husband Gilbert died in 1496, a year after becoming Viceroy of Naples, is a municipality in the Metropolitan City of Naples in the region of Campania, lying in the centre of an area of volcanic activity known as the Campi Flegrei (Phlegraean Fields). Plumes of pungent sulphuric smoke can be seen emerging from the ground at nearby Solfatara. In the 1980s the city experienced hundreds of tremors and the sea bottom was raised by almost two metres, making the Bay of Pozzuoli too shallow for small craft. The volcanic sand found in the area provided the basis for the first example of concrete in construction.

More reading:

Isabella d'Este, 'first lady of the world'

Cesare Borgia: From Cardinal to military leader

Why the election of Pope Clement VII caused a split in the Catholic Church

Also on this day:

1586: The birth of composer Claudio Saracini

1878: The birth of romanticised career burglar Gino Meneghetti

1888: The birth of abstract painter Alberto Magnelli


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