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294 ARIOSTO AT MANTUA
and this, she wrote to the Cardinal, "made these hours in bed pass not only without weariness, but with the greatest possible pleasure." From the first Isabella showed the keenest interest in the Ferrara poet's verses, and encouraged him to continue his Orlando, and weave the scattered fragments into one great poem. He often came to visit her at Mantua, and listened attentively to her advice and criticism. When his poem was published in 1516, her husband allowed the paper on which it was printed to be sent from Venice to Ferrara free of duty, a privilege to which great importance was attached, and which was only granted to a few highly favoured scholars. As soon as the book appeared Ariosto came himself to Mantua, and presented a copy to Isabella herself, and another to her husband, while, in a later edition, he paid a magnificent tribute to her charms and virtues.
Louis XII. invites Francesco Gonzaga to help him in the siege of Genoa—Visit of Isabella to Milan—FStes in the Castello— Isabella's correspondence with Elisabetta Gonzaga—Her intended journey to France—Death and funeral of the Duke of Urbino—Visit of Duke Francesco Maria to Mantua—Birth of Isabella's youngest daughter—Murder of Ercole Strozzi, and death of Niccolo da Correggio—Rivalry of Isabella and Lucrezia Borgia.
Early in April 1507, Louis XII. entered Italy with a large army, and invited the Marquis of Mantua to help him in quelling a rebellion which had broken out in Genoa, and was secretly supported by Machiavelli and the Florentines. Francesco gladly accepted the king's proposal, and distinguished himself greatly in the siege of Genoa. After the surrender of that city he entered Milan in triumph with Louis, who appointed him Grand Master of the Order of St. Michel, and expressed so earnest a wish to make the Marchesa's acquaintance that Francesco sent an express courier to beg his wife to come to Milan at once. Isabella set out immediately with her little son Federico, now a child of seven, and travelled by Lodi to Milan. Once more she saw the beautiful city which she had known so well in the reign of her brother-in-law, the unhappy Duke who languished in the dungeon of Loches, and with that strange forgetfulness of the past which marked the 296 ISABELLA AT MILAN
men and women of her age, danced and supped with King Louis in these same halls of the Rocchetta where Beatrice had died. Great as were the changes and melancholy the scenes of destruction which met her eyes in this once splendid palace of the Sforzas, Isabella found many old friends and familiar faces in the brilliant crowd of courtiers. Galeazzo di San Severino was there, in close attendance on the king as Grand Ecuyer de France, and distinguished himself in the tournament given in the Marchesa's honour on the piazza in front of the Castello, which had been the scene of his prowess in old days. So, too, was the Moro's favourite painter, Leonardo the Florentine, who came to Milan at the French king's urgent entreaty to erect triumphal arches and arrange the court pageants held in honour of his victory. And before Isabella left, another old friend appeared on the scene in the person of Antonio Pallavicini, now Cardinal di S. Prassede, who arrived in great haste on the 7th of June as papal legate, and was received with the stately ceremonial due to the Pope's representative. But, melancholy as were the associations which these old scenes and well-known faces must have recalled, Isabella seems to have enjoyed herself exceedingly. Her brilliant charms made a profound impression on King Louis and all his courtiers, and the monkish chronicler, Jean d'Auton, singled her out among all the fair and high-born ladies who were present at the royal ball in the Castello as une belle dame qui danse a merveilles.' On her return to Mantua the Marchesa wrote in high spirits to tell her sister-in-law at Urbino all that she had seen and done in Milan. Her letter, breathing FETES IN THE CASTELLO 297
1 Chroniiptc de Lotus XII., publiee par R. de Maulde La Claviere.
as it does a gay spirit of fun and rivalry eminently characteristic of the writer, must be given in full:—
"Since Your Excellency went to Rome and Rome came to Urbino, I have never ventured to rival the grandeur of your court, nor to pretend that I have seen as many rare and excellent things as you have done, but have looked on in silence and not without hidden envy at Your Highness. But now that I have been to the first and noblest court in Christendom, I can boldly not only challenge you, but compel you to envy me. A few weeks ago, I was summoned by my illustrious lord to Milan to pay homage to His Most Christian Majesty, and arrived there on the vigil of Corpus Christi. After dinner, as I was about to go and pay my respects, I received a message from him, desiring me to go to the lists on the Piazza where the Giostra was being held. So I went there at the stated hour and found His Majesty, who came to meet me on the steps and received me with the greatest courtesy possible. All the Milanese ladies were present and the Princess of Bisignano, as well as all the barony and nobility of France and the great lords of Italy, the Duke of Savoy, the Marquises of Mantua and Montferrat, and all the castellans of the Milanese towns, and the ambassadors of every power in Italy. The French lords are so numerous that it would be impossible to name them all. But I must mention the Duc de Bourbon, our nephew, a tall youth of handsome and majestic appearance, who closely resembles his mother (Chiara de Montpensier) in complexion, eyes, and features. If the Roman Court is marvellous for its ceremonial and order, that of France is no less amazing and extraordinary 298 JOUSTS AND BANQUETS
for confusion and disorder—so much so that it is quite impossible to distinguish one man from another! It is also certainly remarkable for its freedom and absence of etiquette. In this court, for instance, cardinals are not treated with any greater honour than chaplains are in Rome. No one gives place to them or pays them any respect, from the king downwards. His Majesty, however, is always most courteous and respectful to all who presume to approach him, and above all to ladies, always rising from his seat and lifting his cap to show them honour. Thrice over he came to visit me in my lodgings. The first time, when I happened to be dining with Signor Zoanne Giacomo Trivulzio, he waited more than half-an-hour for my return, and each time he remained no less than two or three hours, conversing on different subjects with the greatest friendliness in the world, neither did he fail to speak honourably of Your Highness in the course of conversation. Madonna Margherita di San Severino (sister of Emilia Pia), the Contessa di Musocho, and sometimes the Princess of Bisignano, who are well versed in the French language, were our interpreters. In spite of repeated efforts, I never succeeded in finding His Majesty in the Castello, saving one day when he invited me to a public banquet in the Rocchetta, where the Princess of Bisignano and I had the honour of sitting at his table. We danced in an informal manner both before and after supper. His Majesty danced with me, and the Cardinals Narbonne, San Severino, Ferrara, and Finale, who were present at the banquet, were constrained by him to dance, much to our amusement and diversion. I will not write about