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A MIRACLE-PLAY 251
Mantua for a single day, but in April 1503, she paid a short visit to her father, and spent St. George's day at Ferrara, where, as usual, she received a warm welcome. On the 24th, she wrote to her husband :—
"Yesterday, besides receiving visits from a large number of ladies and gentlemen, these Signors, my brothers, remained continually with me, and about four o'clock my sister-in-law (Lucrezia) came to my room, and after conversing very pleasantly for some time, took me in her chariot for a drive through Ferrara till late, when the said Signors returned with me to my lodgings. To-day the representation of the Annunciation has been given. I went to the Castello to fetch this lady, who continues to show me great honour and affection, and we went together to the Archbishop's house, where I found my lord father, and saw the wooden stage which had been erected and sumptuously adorned for the occasion. A young Angel spoke the argument of the play, quoting the words of the Prophets who foretold the Advent of Christ, and the said Prophets appeared, speaking their prophecies translated into Italian verse. Then Mary appeared, under a portico supported by eight pillars, and began to repeat some verses from the Prophets, and while she spoke, the sky opened, revealing a figure of God the Father, surrounded by a choir of angels. No support could be seen either for His feet or for those of the angels, and six other seraphs hovered in the air, suspended by chains. In the centre of the group was the Archangel Gabriel, to whom God the Father addressed His word, and after receiving his orders, Gabriel descended with admirable artifice, and stood, half-way in the air, at the same height as the organ. Then, all of a sudden, an 252 AT FERRARA
infinite number of lights broke out at the foot of the angel-choir, and hid them in a blaze of glory—which really was a thing worth seeing, and flooded all the sky with radiance. At that moment the Angel Gabriel alighted on the ground, and the iron chain which he held was not seen, so that he seemed to float down on a cloud, until his feet rested on the floor. After delivering his message he returned with the other angels to heaven, to the sound of singing and music and melody, and there were verses recited by spirits, holding lighted torches in their hands and waving them to and fro as they stood supported in the air, so that it frightened me to see them. When they had ascended into heaven, some scenes of the Visitation of St. Elizabeth and St. Joseph were given, in which the heavens opened again and an angel descended, with the same admirable contrivance, to manifest the Incarnation of Jesus to Joseph, and set his doubts at rest regarding the Conception of the Holy Virgin. So the festa ended. It lasted two and a half hours, and was very delightful to see, because of the fine machinery which I have described, as well as other things of the kind which I have left out. But the heat was great, because of the immense crowd of people. On Thursday I think we are to have a representation of the Magi and of the Innocents, of which I will inform Your Excellency, to whom I send by this courier a basket of fresh honeycomb.—You most devoted wife, Isabella."'
On the following day the spectacle of the Magi offering their gifts at the cradle of Bethlehem, with the guiding star in the sky above, and a fine display of opened heaven and angelic choirs, excited great DEATH OF ALEXANDER VI. 253
1 D'Arco, Xotizie d'Isabella.
admiration, while the Massacre of the Innocents moved the spectators to tears, and many women and children who were present cried aloud.1
A fresh sorrow awaited Isabella on her return home. This was the death of her sister-in-law, Chiara de Montpensier, whose troubled life ended at Mantua on the 2nd of June. The poor Duchess of Urbino, hiving as she was in penury and exile at Venice, felt this fresh blow keenly, and wrote to Isabella saying that after losing state, home, and fortune, she was now deprived of the sister who had been to her as a mother. Suddenly an unexpected event turned the tide of affairs and changed the whole political situation.
On the 18th of August, Pope Alexander VI. died in the Vatican. His illness had been very short. On the 5th of August, he and his son Caesar, who was on the point of starting to join his army at Perugia, and embark on a fresh series of conquests, dined with Cardinal Adriano da Corneto at his villa. The following day Caesar wrote a letter to Isabella d'Este, gratefully accepting an offer of a couple of her dogs, which belonged to a breed that he admired especially. A week afterwards both he and his father fell seriously ill of malarial fever, which attacked all the guests who had dined at the Cardinal's villa. The old Pope, who was seventy-three years of age, became rapidly worse, and on the afternoon of the 18th Costabili wrote to Duke Ercole,2 and Cattaneo sent word to the Marquis of Mantua, that His Holiness was sinking. He died that night, but Cattaneo, who informed the Marquis of the event 254 RETURN OF GUIDOBALDO
1 D'Ancona, Origini, vol. ii. * Archivio di Stato, Madam.
early the next morning, says expressly that there was no suspicion of poison, although both father and son were taken ill at the same time.1
The news spread like wildfire through the whole of Italy. It reached Francesco Gonzaga as he was marching south with the French army at Parma, and he sent it on by express courier to Mantua. It rejoiced the heart of Giovanni Sforza, who was ill in bed himself, but told his brother-in-law that the good news had nearly cured his malady, and that he only hoped soon to hear that Valentino was also dead! It reached the exiled Duke and Duchess in their sad retreat at Venice, and Guidobaldo started without delay for Urbino, where the people rose in arms and welcomed him with acclamation. Never was an exiled prince greeted with such passionate delight. The children poured out to meet him with olivebranches in their hands, and hailed his return with triumphal songs. Old men wept tears of joy, women and children thronged the streets, and mothers held up their little ones to see the Duke, and told them never to forget that day. "The very stones," wrote Castiglione, "seemed to rejoice, and to sing for gladness."* Emilia Pia's secretary, who described the scene to the Marchesa Isabella, told how high-born women danced with glee in the streets, and old blind men of eighty were led up to the Duke, and asked leave to touch him with their hands that they might be sure he was there again. "Some brought their children in arms to see him; others uttered words which would have moved the PAPAL CONCLAVE 255
1 Arckivio Gonzaga, quoted in Pastor, " History of the Popes," vi., App.
2 Serassi, Ixtterc di Castiglione.
stones to tears."1 Elisabetta herself wrote to tell Isabella the welcome which the Duke had received from his faithful people. She remembered how, in the darkest days of her distress at Mantua, the good Sister Osanna bade her dry her tears, since Borgia's dominion would prove as transitory as a blaze of straw, and thanked God that her words had proved true.2
Meanwhile all Rome was in a ferment. "The confusion," wrote Cardinal Egidio of Viterbo, "was such that it seemed as if everything were going to pieces." Caesar Borgia, after vainly trying to take possession of CastelT Sant' Angelo, was borne in a litter to Nepi, and placed himself under the protection of the French army, which had advanced to Viterbo. On the 16th of September, thirty-seven Cardinals met in conclave. At first the French candidate, George d'Amboise, was thought certain of success, but Giuliano della Rovere strongly opposed his election; and before the conclave met, the Mantuan agent, Ghivizzano, wrote to the Marquis, saying: "The Cardinals are buzzing about us like bees, and intriguing in all directions, but neither D'Amboise nor Giuliano will be Pope: it will be Siena or S. Prassede." The issue proved that he was right. On the 22nd the aged Cardinal Piccolomini of Siena was elected. "A good man," says Ghivizzano, "whose previous life and acts of charity make the people hope that as a Pope he will be the very reverse of Alexander VI. And so they are beside themselves with joy." * On the same day Francesco
1 Luzio e Renier, Mantova e Urbino, p. 1498 Donesmondi, Storia Eccl. di Mantova, ii.
8 Archivio Gonzaga; Pastor, "History of the Popes," vol. vi. p. 619.