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CHARLES VIII. IN ITALY 113
secretly invited him to enter Charles the Eighth's service, offering him the title of Captain-General and Grand Chamberlain. These proposals, however, Francesco felt compelled to refuse, since he was already pledged to the Signory of Venice. In the same letter he informed Isabella that he had sent an envoy to visit the Grand Turk's ambassador at Venice, and had heard from him that the Sultan would gladly give him the relic of the Holy Shirt, worn by Our Lord Christ, as well as forty good horses, for which he was about to send to Constantinople.1
In September, the French king entered Italy, and was met at Asti by Lodovico Sforza and Duke Ercole of Ferrara, and sumptuously entertained at Vigevano by Duchess Beatrice. Isabella herself, whose sympathies, like those of all her family, were strongly on the side of France, went to Parma at her brother-in-law's request to see the first French cavalry pass through the town, and afterwards wrote to her brother Ferrante, congratulating him on his triumphal entry into Florence with the king, and expressing her regret that she had not witnessed this splendid sight. The presence of her sister-inlaw, Chiara Gonzaga, who came to Mantua in December, while her husband, Gilbert, Duke of Montpensier, was leading the French armies against Naples, helped to enlist Isabella's sympathies on the same side. But before long her feelings, in common with those of all true Italians, underwent a complete revulsion.
The stirring events which succeeded each other that autumn at Milan and Pavia—the death of the 114 ISABELLA AT MILAN
1 Luzio e Renier in Arch. St. Lomb,, xvii. p. 391. VOL. I. H
unhappy Duke Giangaleazzo, and the election and proclamation of Lodovico in his stead—were fully reported to Isabella by the Mantuan agent, Donato de' Preti. There had of late been some coolness between Francesco Gonzaga and Lodovico, who, not altogether without reason, suspected his brotherin-law of being in secret correspondence with his enemy, King Alfonso of Naples. But cordial congratulations were addressed by the Marquis to the new Duke and Duchess, and in January 1495, he allowed his wife to accept her sister's pressing invitation to visit Milan. Here Isabella was present at the birth of Beatrice's second son, Francesco Sforza, on the 4th of February, and held the child at the baptismal font. A succession of splendid fetes were given in her honour by Niccolo da Correggio and other Milanese courtiers, and her letters to Francesco and Giovanni Gonzaga dwell with enthusiasm on the magnificent banquets and pageants, and the wonders of painting and architecture that were displayed before her eyes in the Castello and city of Milan. On the other hand, her secretary, Capilupi, told his master how the Marchesa herself had won golden opinions on all sides. "I wish," he writes on the 28th of January, "that Your Excellency could have been in a corner of the room when my lady received the Venetian Ambassador, which she did with so much grace and gallantry, and with such alacrity in responding to his salutation, that he confessed himself her willing slave. In the same way she charms all who come to visit her, but above all, the Lord Duke, who calls her his dear daughter, and always makes her dine at his table. In short, she does the greatest honour CONQUEST OF NAPLES 115
both to Your Excellency and herself." And Isabella herself wrote to her sister-in-law, Chiara Gonzaga, that she was enjoying herself immensely, and was more honoured and feted by every one than she deserved. At Lodovico's urgent entreaty, her husband allowed her to spend the carnival at Milan, although, as he wrote, "all Mantua complains of your prolonged absence." 1
But the news of the conquest of Naples by the French threw a gloom over these gay fetes. Carnival amusements lost their brilliancy for Isabella when she thought of the desolation at Naples, and heard how her cousin, the young King Ferrante, and her mother's kinsfolk were driven into exile; and she was heartily glad when the time came to set out on her journey home. Lodovico loaded her with parting gifts, and two fat oxen, together with several lengths of gold brocade, exquisitely embroidered with doves, were among the presents which the Marchesa took back to Mantua. Beatrice was strangely moved at parting from her sister, but neither of the two dreamt they would never meet again, and Isabella little knew the altered circumstances under which she was to see the Moro's splendid home when she next came to Milan.
On the 14th of March, she reached Mantua, and before a month was over the new League was proclaimed between the Pope, the King of the Romans, the King and Queen of Spain, Henry VII. of England, the Signory of Venice, and the Duke of Milan. Francesco Gonzaga was appointed captain of the armies of the League, and, with twenty-five 116 SIGISMONDO'S CARDINALATE
1 Luzio e Renier in Arch. St. Lamb., xvii. 620.
thousand men under his command, prepared to cut off the retreat of the French king, who, on hearing of the coalition against him, left Naples hastily and marched northwards. On the Feast of St. George, Isabella paid a visit to her father at Ferrara, and while she was there, received an urgent summons from her lord to lend him some of her finest jewels, with which to adorn his person at the fetes about to be held at Milan, to celebrate the arrival of the Imperial Ambassador and the investiture of Lodovico Sforza with the ducal crown. Already, a year before, when the Marchesa was at Urbino, she had, at Francesco's desire, pledged many of her jewels in order to raise a sum of money with which to obtain his brother Sigismondo's advancement to the dignity of Cardinal. "One of the greatest wishes that I have in the world," she wrote, "is to see Monsignore a Cardinal, so I am much pleased to hear that this affair is about to be arranged. I send Alberto da Bologna with the keys of my jewel boxes, that he may give you whatever you wish, since I would not only give my treasure, but my blood, for your honour and that of your house." Now, like a good wife, she sent her most precious ornaments—her big diamonds and large rubies, and her collar of a hundred links—all but her golden girdle, which had been lately seen on her person at Milan, and which she had now lent one of her father's courtiers to wear at a masque. All her other jewels, as she gently reminded the Marquis, were in pawn at Venice.1
On her return to Mantua she took up the reins of government in her lord's absence, and adISABELLA GOVERNS MANTUA 117
1 Luzio, Lasso a"Isabella, in N. Antologia, 1896.
ministered affairs with a prudence and sagacity which excited the wonder of grey-headed councillors. On the vigil of the Ascension, while a procession was passing the house of Daniele Norsa, a Jewish banker who had lately settled in the Via San Simone, the attention of the crowd was attracted by a group of images, inscribed with profane verses, which some evil-disposed person had placed on a wall formerly decorated with a fresco of the Madonna. The cry of blasphemy was raised, stones were thrown by the mob, and the house was only saved from destruction by the prompt interference of a city magistrate. The poor Jew, who had previously obtained the Bishop's leave to remove the painting of the Madonna and had paid all the fees required, now wrote to implore the protection of the Marquis, and Francesco sent peremptory orders that he was not to be molested. But this small disturbance was so grossly exaggerated that Isabella felt it necessary to write to her lord on the subject, and assure him that no serious tumult had taken place in his absence. "The inventors of these malicious tales," she wrote on the 30th of June, "who have not scrupled to disturb your peace of mind when you are occupied with the defence of Italy, showed little regard for my honour, or for those of my councillors. Let Your Highness, I beg of you, keep a tranquil mind, and attend wholly to military affairs, for I intend to govern the State, with the help of these magnificent gentlemen and officials, in such a manner that you will suffer no wrong, and all that is possible will be done for the good of your subjects. And if any one should write or tell you of disorders of which you have not heard from me, you may be certain that it