The Tigress of Forlì by Elizabeth Lev
Between her birth in 1463 as the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan, and her death in 1509 as a member of the powerful Medici family, Caterina Sforza's life crossed the firmament of Italy's High Renaissance like a shooting star.
In her 46 years she bore eight children and buried three husbands. She was painted by Botticelli, slandered by Machiavelli, feted by Pope Sixtus IV and authored a recipe book that went through 100 editions. In her lifetime she was celebrated as a warrior who fearlessly led her own troops into battle.
After successfully defending her city-state Forlì, on multiple occasions (a cause for which she was ready to sacrifice her own children) Caterina was eventually defeated, and imprisoned, where she was raped by Cesare Borgia.
Caterina was honoured at her death as "without a doubt the first lady of Italy". Her youngest son would become - like her - a brilliant soldier and a national hero, and the next four generations of her descendants would include two Dukes of Tuscany, a Queen of France and a Queen of England.
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English language books in Rome: The Tigress of Forlì
Available from the Almost Corner Bookshop, Via del Moro 45 (Trastevere), tel. 065836942.