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236 ISABELLAS FEARS
the scene. "This inscrutable Duke," as Machiavelli calls him, "who hardly ever speaks, but always acts," left his victorious army in Umbria, and after paying a flying visit to his sister Lucrezia, who had given birth to a dead child and was lying dangerously ill at Ferrara, reached Milan on the 7th of August. His coming changed the face of affairs and destroyed Elisabetta Gonzaga's last hopes. He accompanied the king to Genoa on the 26th, and did not take leave of him until Louis had promised him his support in completing the conquest of Central Italy in return for his help against the Spaniards in Naples.
All this while Isabella was going through agonies of fear and suspense. The imprudent words which her husband had spoken in public against Valentino had filled her with alarm for his safety, and she implored him repeatedly in her letters to be more careful in future, and, above all, to take every precaution against poison, knowing the unscrupulous nature of the Duke and the crimes which he had already committed.
"I cannot conceal my fears for your person and State," she writes on the 23rd of July, only the day after she had received Borgia's gift of the Venus and Cupid. "It is generally believed that His Most Christian Majesty has some understanding with Valentino, so I beg of you to be careful not to use words which may be repeated to him, because in these days we do not know who is to be trusted.1 . . . There is a report here—whether it has come from Milan by letter or word of mouth, I do not know—that Your Excellency has spoken angry words against Valentino before the Most Christian Bang FOR HER LORD'S SAFETY 237
1 D'Arco, Notizie d'Isabella, p. 59.
and the Pope's servants, and whether this is true or not, they will doubtless reach the ears of Valentino, who, having already shown that he does not scruple to conspire against those of his own blood, will, I am certain, not hesitate to plot against your person. And being jealous for your life, which I count dearer than my own, and knowing how your natural goodness leads you to take no precautions for your safety, I have made inquiries of Antonio da Bologna and others, and hear from them that you allow all manner of persons to serve you at table, and that Alessandro da Baesso eats with you, leaving grooms and pages to do the offices of carvers and cupbearers. So that I see it would be perfectly easy for any one to poison Your Excellency, since you have neither guards nor proper servants. I pray and implore you therefore, if you will not take care for your own sake, to be more careful for my sake and that of our little son, and I hope that you will in future order Alessandro to discharge his office of carver with the greatest caution. If he cannot do this, I will send Antonio or some other trustworthy servant, because I had rather run the risk of making you angry than that both I and our little one should be left to weep for you."
She added the following postscript in her own writing: "My dearest lord, do not laugh at my fears and say that women are cowards and always afraid, because their malignity is far greater than my fears and your own courage. I would have written all this letter with my own hand, but the heat is so great we are nearly dead. The boy is very well and sends you a kiss.—Isabella, who longs to see Your Highness."1
1 Luzio e Renier, Mantova e Urbino, p. 137.
238 CAESAR BORGIA AT MILAN
At the same time Isabella wrote to her old friend, Niccolo da Correggio, who had also gone to meet King Louis, begging him to acquaint her with all that was happening at Milan.
On the 8th of August, Niccolo, ever loyal to her wishes, wrote to tell her of Caesar Borgia's unexpected arrival, and of the affectionate way in which the King had welcomed him:—
"To obey your orders I must tell you that last night Duke Valentino arrived here on horseback. I cannot tell you with what warm demonstrations of friendship His Christian Majesty welcomed him. He was returning from the house of Messer Trivulzio, when he met the Lord Duke arriving from the Porta Romana, and, embracing him with great joy, he led him to the Castello, and lodged him in the room nearest to his own. He himself ordered the Duke's supper, choosing certain favourite dishes, and he visited him three or four times in the course of the evening, even when he had put on his night-shirt and was about to go to bed! He ordered seneschals and servants for the said Duke, and begged him to wear his own shirts and clothes, saying that he is not to ask any one else for what he needs, but make use of the king's wardrobe, carriages and horses, as if they were his own. Only think, His Majesty went so far as to propose that a Utter for the camp, to suit the Duke's taste, should be provided. In fact, he could not do more for a son or brother. Yesterday, being Sunday, His Christian Majesty went to mass at San Stefano, where Duke Galeazzo was murdered, and afterwards dined in the house of your illustrious father, the Duke of Ferrara, which is now occupied by Messer Teodoro di Trivulzio, and FAVOUR OF LOUIS XIT. 239
went to a dance at the house of Francesco Bernardino Visconti, and after supper he went to see some more dancing in the house of Bishop Pallavicini outside the Porta Lenza, and the Lord Duke accompanied His Majesty on horseback, and did not return to the Castello until past nine. I did not go to the festa, but hear that Ippolito was at the Bishop's house. This morning the king is gone to dine at Binasco, where he remains to-night, and goes on to supper at Pavia to-morrow. The illustrious Lord Duke, your father, will also go to Pavia, starting three or four hours earlier. His Christian Majesty goes on to Genoa, not, as was said at first, to Parma, since he is returning to France sooner than was expected. I do not know what else to tell Your Highness of public matters, for it is rash to pronounce any judgment in these times. But the Signor Marchese will soon return, and will tell you more of these caresses between the Duke and the king."»
This letter confirmed Isabella's worst fears. She used all her influence to induce her husband to pay court to the dreaded Valentino. As a further precaution, she induced him to write a letter expressing his friendly sentiments for the Duke, which she could show to the chamberlain who had just presented her with the two antiques. Her fears, as it turned out, were not unfounded, for Sanuto reports that Francesco publicly denounced Caesar Borgia as a bastard and a priest's son, and that Valentino, on arriving at Milan, openly challenged him to fight. During mass the next day the Marquis told the Venetian envoy that he would fight the Duke single-handed with sword 1 Luzio, "Niccolo da Correggio," in Giorn. St. d. Lett., xxi. p. 240. 240 THE EXILED PRINCES
and dagger, and boasted that he would deliver Italy. King Louis, however, succeeded in reconciling the two princes, and when he returned to France they parted good friends. In a conversation which Borgia had at Genoa with the Mantuan treasurer, Ghivizzano, he laid stress on his friendly feelings for his lord, and on the Pope's esteem for both Francesco and his wife, but insisted that if the Marquis wished to remain his ally, he must not keep the exiled Duke at his court. Accordingly, on the 9th of September, both the Duke and Duchess of Urbino left Mantua, Elisabetta declaring that her husband would be exposed to greater peril without her, and that she would never leave him, were they to die in an hospital. Fortunately they found shelter at Venice, which, Sanuto remarks, became the refuge and resort of all the princes whom Duke Valentino had expelled, and were hospitably received by the Signory, who gave them a pension and a house at Canareggio.1 But poor Elisabetta was reduced to the greatest straits for want of money. At one time she even entertained the idea of entering the service of the Queen of France, Anne de Bretagne, who, in the kindness of her heart, had sent the unhappy Duchess generous offers of help. But she could not make up her mind to leave her husband, while no power on earth would induce her to accept Valentino's offer of a liberal pension if she would consent to the dissolution of her marriage, and Guidobaldo would agree to renounce his patrimony and become a priest.
In these melancholy circumstances Isabella showed the same tender affection and sympathy for her unfortunate relatives. She ventured to ask Duke
1 Diarii, iv. 329, 701.