17 July 2020

Maria Salviati - noblewoman

Florentine whose line included kings of France and England


Jacopo da Pontormo's portrait of Maria Salviati (1537-43)
Jacopo da Pontormo's portrait of
Maria Salviati (1537-43)
The noblewoman Maria Salviati, whose descendants include two kings of France and two kings of England, was born on this day in 1499 in Florence.

Salviati was the mother of Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany and a powerful figure in the mid-16th century.  Her descendants included Louis XIII and Louis XIV of France, and Charles II and James II of England.

Married for nine years to Lodovico de’ Medici, who was more widely known as the condottiero Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, Salviati herself had Medici blood. One of a family of 10 children, her mother was Lucrezia de Lorenzo de’ Medici, who had married the politician Iacopo Salviati, who was from another major banking family in Florence.  Maria’s maternal grandfather was Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Renaissance ruler who famously sponsored Michelangelo and Botticelli.

She was married to Giovanni dalle Bande Nere when she was 18, having known him since she was 10, when he was placed in the care of her parents following the death of his mother Caterina Sforza, daughter of the Duke of Milan.

As a professional soldier, her husband spent much less time with her than she would have liked and Cosimo was their only child. He died in 1526 after being wounded in battle while fighting on behalf of a Medici pope, Clement VII, against the army of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

Maria remained a woman of influence, having successfully managed her husband’s business interests while he was away at war, enhancing the family’s wealth as she did so.  After Giovanni was killed, she could easily have sought out a new husband and formed another powerful partnership. Instead, dressing in the sombre clothes of a novice, she withdrew to the Castello del Trebbio, the grand Medici residence in San Piero a Sieve, in the Mugello valley, north of Florence.

Salviati groomed her son, Cosimo, for power in Florence
Salviati groomed her son, Cosimo,
for power in Florence
Her focus was on grooming her son, Cosimo, for power. She ensured he had an education worthy of a Renaissance prince but was determined to shelter him from the intrigues of Florence until an opportunity arose to push his credentials as a leader.

It was when her cousin, Alessandro de’ Medici, Duke of Florence, was assassinated in 1537 by Lorenzino de’ Medici, who had become friends with Cosimo at Trebbio.  Cosimo had held a temporary position in Alessandro’s court and was familiar with the mechanisms of government yet was not tainted by any associations in the city and Maria was able to convince the Florentine elders that he was ready to lead, even at the age of just 17.

Given that he was so young and from a rural background, those elders perhaps thought Cosimo would be easily manipulated but this proved far from the case.  One by one, he removed each obstacle to his total control of Florence and by 1539, he was Duke of Tuscany as well as Florence and had reinforced his power by marrying Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo, the daughter of a powerful Spanish nobleman then living in Florence.

Maria contented herself with being a dutiful and attentive grandmother, settling at the Villa di Castello, Cosimo’s country residence just outside Florence, where she concentrated on creating a nursery for their children, who would eventually number 11.  She also looked after his illegitimate daughter, Bia, and Giulia de’ Medici, an illegitimate daughter of Alessandro, who was of a similar age.

Sadly, Bia died of a virulent infection in 1542 at five years old and a heartbroken Maria herself passed away a year later, aged just 44.

Cosimo, who would rule Florence until 1569 and Tuscany until his death in 1574, was the father of Francesco I de' Medici, who married Johanna of Austria.

Francesco and Johanna were the parents of Marie de' Medici, who married Henry IV of France and was the mother of Louis XIII of France and Henrietta Maria of France. Louis was the father of Louis XIV of France, Henrietta Maria was the mother of Charles II of England and James II of England.

Cosimo I de' Medici used the Villa di Castello outside Florence as his country house
Cosimo I de' Medici used the Villa di Castello
outside Florence as his country house
Travel tip:

Cosimo I de’ Medici is thought to have commissioned Sandro Botticelli to provide some paintings to decorate the walls of his country house, the Villa di Castello, in the hills northwest of Florence, near the town of Sesto Fiorentino and not far from the modern-day city's airport. Cosimo also commissioned an engineer, Piero di San Casciano, to build a system of aqueducts to carry water to the villa and gardens, a sculptor, Niccolo Tribolo, to create fountains and statues in the gardens and the architect Giorgio Vasari to restore and enlarge the main building.

The Castello di Trebbio, the villa that was turned into a castle by architect Michelozzo Michelozzi
The Castello di Trebbio, the villa that was turned
into a castle by architect Michelozzo Michelozzi
Travel tip:

The Castello di Trebbio was in fact not a castle but a fortified villa, another property acquired by the Medici family and handed down through generations. It was effectively turned into a castle in 1364 by the Florentine architect Michelozzo Michelozzi, on behalf of Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici. It was given Pierfrancesco de’ Medici and inherited by Giovanni delle Bande Nere.  Situated close to the village of Scarperia and San Piero in Mugello, it was expanded by Cosimo I, who loved to go hunting on his estate, and by his son Ferdinando I. It was sold in 1644 by Ferdinando II to a wealthy Florentine, Giuliano Serragli.

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