Bianca Cappello (1548, Venice – October 20, 1587, Poggio, near Florence) was an Italian noblewoman and the daughter of Bartolomeo Cappello and Pellegrina Morosini. Both of her parents belonged to the oldest and most famous families in the Venetian aristocracy.
She was renowned for her beauty and intelligence, and her court intrigues were the most scandalous of her time. Her life is known through a mix of history and legend.
In his novel Inferno, Dan Brown mentions the secret study of Duchess Bianca Cappello in Palazzo Vecchio, from which the agent Bruder peers in the Hall of the Five Hundred after hearing a sickening thud followed by a growing commotion.
At the age of fifteen and against the will of her family, Bianca ran off and married a young Florentine named Pietro Buonaventuri. Pietro worked as a clerk in the firm of the Salviati, a prominent Florentine-Roman family that, in the 15th century, were bankers to Papa Sisto IV (Pope Sixtus IV). One year later, in 1564, she had a daughter named Virginia.
The Venetian government made every effort to have Bianca arrested and brought back, but the Grand Duke Cosimo I intervened in her favour, and she was left unmolested.
Howewer, she was not enthusiastic about her marriage since her husband’s family was very poor and made her do menial work.
Bianca was a beautiful woman: her beauty attracted Francesco I dei Medici, the son and heir of the Grand Duke Cosimo I. In fact, she soon became the Grand Prince’s mistress. In those days, marriage was not founded on love, but on convenience, so it was customary for wealthy people to take mistresses.
Although already married to Giovanna d’Austria (Joanna of Austria), Francesco I seduced Bianca and gave her jewels, money, and other presents, perhaps with her husband Pietro condescending. In 1572, Pietro was murdered in the streets of Florence as a consequence of some amorous intrigue. It is possible, however, that Bianca and Francesco were involved.
In 1564, Francesco succeeded his father Cosimo I and set up Bianca in a Florentine palace (known today as the Palace of Bianca Cappello, in the Oltrarno district ).
Francesco did not have an heir even though his wife Giovanna gave him a son. Sadly, he died in his youth, and Bianca was very anxious to present Francesco I with an heir; otherwise, her position remained very precarious.
In 1576, she gave birth to Don Antonio dei Medici, but he was not openly acknowledged as Francesco’s heir until after Giovanna’s death in 1578, when the boy was about three years old. It is thought that perhaps Antonio was born out of an illegitimate relationship between Francesco and one of his servants. The true genealogy of Antonio has never been clarified.
A few months after the death of Giovanna, Francesco secretly married Bianca, and on June 10, 1579, the marriage was publicly announced. Two days later, Bianca was crowned the Grand Duchess of Tuscany at Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
The Venetian government finally put aside its resentment and was officially represented at the magnificent wedding festivities, for it came to see Bianca as an instrument for cementing good relations with Tuscany.
Bianca’s conduct and machinations aroused much enmity at the Florentine court, especially among the powerful Cardinal Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Francesco’s brother.
In October, 1587, at the Villa Medici in Poggio a Caiano, near Florence, Francesco and Bianca died on the same day, after eleven days of agony, possibly poisoned by the consent of Ferdinando or, as some historians believe, from malarial fever.
Ferdinando I dei Medici did not permit his brother’s wife to be interred in the Medici Chapels in Florence with Francesco I, who was burried next to his first wife. Bianca Cappello’s place of burial remains unknown because Ferdinand denied her a state funeral.
Picture by wikipedia.org