Julia Mary Cartwright Ady.

Isabella d'Este, marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539; a study of the renaissance (Volume 2) online

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by the thick white fog which clung to the banks of
the river. But a heavy fire from Renzo da Ceri's
men on the walls and from the guns of Sant' Angelo
thinned their ranks. For a moment the result
seemed doubtful. Then Bourbon, a splendid figure
in his silver armour, sprang from his horse, seized
a ladder, and, calling on his men to follow him,
began to scale the wall near the Campo Santo. But
hardly had he set foot upon it than he fell back,
struck by a musket-ball in the groin, crying, " Ha^
Notre Dame^je suis mort."^ The Prince of Orange
threw his mantle over him, and his attendants bore


him into the neighbouring chapel, where he breathed
his last half an hour later, still repeating the words,
** A Rome! a Rome!"^ Benvenuto Cellini, it is
well known, claimed to have fired the shot which
took such fatal effect, and his boast receives some
support from the statement of an eye-witness, that
Bourbon was shot by one of the Pope's goldsmiths,
who stood on the waU and singled him out as a
person of importance.

The Spanish troops, maddened at seeing their
leader fall, returned to the attack with fresh courage ;
a breach was made in the walls near Santo Spirito,
and the wild hordes of soldiery burst upon the ill-
fated city. The Pope was in St. Peter's kneeling
before the altar, when the news reached him that the
foes were in the Borgo. He saw the Swiss guards
flying before the landsknechte, and heard the cries of
" Spagna ! Impero ! " which rang through the streets,
as his attendants hurried him along the passage to
the Castello. Thirteen Cardinals followed in his
steps, and Paolo Giovio threw his purple mantle over
the Pope, lest his white robes should attract attention
as he crossed the wooden bridge into Sant' Angelo.^
One old Cardinal, Armellini, was drawn up ""in a
basket after the portculhs had been let down.
Another, the aged Cardinal Pucci, was dragged
half dead with fright and exhaustion, through a
window.^ The English and French envoys, Gregory
Casale and Alberto Pio of Carpi, had already taken
refuge there, and were joined later in the afternoon
by Renzo da Ceri, who, after a vain attempt to defend

^ Gregorovius, Rom, viii. 526.
' P. Giovio, Vita P. Colonna.
8 Gregorovius, op. cit, viii. 526.


Trastevere, gave up all for lost and galloped over
the Ponte Sisto to the Castello. Luigi Rodomonte,
the gallant young Gonzaga captain, led the Italian
contingent of the Imperialist force over the Montorio
and across the Ponte Sisto into the heart of the city.
By half-past five the fighting was over, and the
Germans encamped on the Campo di Fiore, while
the Spaniards occupied Piazza Navona, and Ferrante
Gonzaga guarded the bridge of Sant' Angelo and the
approach to the Castello. Then these savage hordes
of soldiery were let loose. Thousands of rude Ger-
mans and fierce Spaniards rushed upon the defenceless
citizens, hurled women and children out of the win-
dows, and tortured their innocent victims to discover
hidden booty. In their wild frenzy these ruffians
showed neither pity nor reverence. Churches and
convents were robbed and burnt, altars stripped of
their sacred vessels, nuns outraged, and Cardinals
dragged naked through the streets. The Prince of
Orange took up his quarters in the Vatican, and
thus succeeded in saving the papal library and art
treasures ; but the Flemish tapestries, executed from
Raphael's cartoons, were stolen, and the landsknechte
stabled their horses in the Stanze adorned by the
great master of Urbino. The archives of the Capitol
perished, and countless family records and manuscripts
of priceless value were lost. The great gold Cross of
Constantine was carried off from the gates of St.
Peter's, and the graves of Pope Julius II. and of
the Prince of the Apostles himself were rifled. The
unspeakable horrors of the next three days are best
described by the Imperial Commissioner, Gattinara, in
the letter which he addressed to his imperial master :
" All the church ornaments were stolen, all the sacred


relics destroyed. Even the Sancta Sanctorum in the
Lateran, that most ancient and hoHest shrine, was
sacked, and the Volto Santo, or veil of Veronica, was
passed from hand to hand in the taverns of Lungara.
The Church of St. Peter and the Pope's palace, from
top to bottom, were turned into stables. There was
no leader to control our soldiers, and no discipline
anywhere. The Prince of Orange and our other
captains did what they could, but to little purpose.
The landsknechte behaved like true Lutherans, the
rest like brutes. No one of any age or sex escaped.
All alike were tortured and plundered." ^

From the windows of the Palazzo Colonna, Isa-
bella d'Este and her ladies looked down on these
awful scenes. They heard the agonising shrieks of
the women and the groans of the dying, and, over all,
the sullen booming of the guns of Sant' Angelo. As
they waited in terrible suspense through the long
hours, many among them thought that their last
moment had come. At length, as it was growing
dusk, a captain, wearing the black, red, and white
imperial colours in his helmet, was seen running
across the piazza. Camilla Gonzaga looked out
and joyfully recognised her brother Alessandro, who
was making his way on foot to the palace gates.
Immediately ropes were let down from the lofty
battlements, and the gallant Count was drawn up
to the windows. Then Isabella learnt from her kins-
man's lips all that had happened. He told her how
the city had been stormed, and her nephew Bourbon
slain in the act of scaling the walls, and how his
body was now lying in state in the Sistine Chapel,
while the Pope and Cardinals had fled to the Cas-

^ Dennistoun, " Dukes of Urbino," vol. iii. App.


tello. Before his tale was ended, a Spanish cavalier,
Don Alonzo da Cordova, arrived, and told the
Marchesa that the evening before, he had received
orders from the dead Duke to take her house under
his protection. Finally, about ten o'clock at night,
Ferrante himself arrived in hot haste, having been
unable to leave his post at the bridge of Sant' Angelo
until this instant. Isabella, who had not seen her
son since he started for Spain three years before,
welcomed him with tears of joy, and Ferrante, on
his part, was greatly relieved to find his mother and
her friends unhurt. Her house was the only one in
Rome that escaped, excepting the Cancellaria, which
was occupied by Cardinal Colonna. The palaces
of the Cardinals who belonged to the Imperialist
party, and had, therefore, thought themselves safe,
were stormed and plundered, and the house of the
Portuguese ambassador, the Emperor's own nephew,
was ruthlessly sacked. Even Ferrante Gonzaga's
presence could not save the distinguished person-
ages who had found shelter in the Marchesa's palace
from paying a heavy ransom. " It was hard work
for me to save Madama," wrote Ferrante to his
brother the Marquis, "for a report had been spread
abroad in the camp that she had more than two
millions of treasure in her palace, and this was en-
tirely due to her compassion, which made her receive
more than 1200 ladies and 1000 citizens within its
walls." In the end it was decided that the Marchesa
and her household should be exempted from ransom,
but that all the other refugees in the palace should
pay down a sum of 60,000 ducats, of which Ferrante
told his brother he did not receive a single farthing.^

^ Gregorovius, Rom, viii. 540.


" Signor Ferrante and Signor Luigi [Rodomonte]
have gained little or nothing in the sack of Rome,"
wrote a Venetian from the camp of the League, after
conversing with some of the fugitives who had been
released by these captains. " Rather, to their credit
be it said, they have lost and spent their own fortunes
in saving their personal friends who were unable to
pay the ransom which the landsknechte and Spaniards
exacted from their victims. People cannot say too
much of Signor Luigi, whose generosity and liberahty
are beyond all praise." ^

The Venetian ambassador, Domenico Venier, was
claimed by Alessandro Gonzaga as his prisoner, the
Count gallantly desiring Madama to fix the price
of his ransom. Even then he had no easy task
to save the envoy from being massacred or carried
off to Spain by Don Alonzo, who offered to pay
Alessandro 5000 ducats, if he would give up his
captive. As the ambassador told the Doge, he owed
his life solely to the intercession of Signor Ferrante
and his illustrious mother, who promised to be re-
sponsible for their kinsman's prisoner. Finally he wias
allowed to remain with Madama, on condition that
she would deliver him into the Count's hands at
Mantua, or pay the ransom which had been agreed
upon. The poor Venetian afterwards addressed a
pitiful appeal to the Doge from Civitavecchia, implor-
ing His Serenity to intercede with the Marquis on
his behalf, since he had lost everything in the siege,
and if he went to prison at Novellara he would
certainly die. As it was, his secretaries had to pay a
ransom of 150 ducats each, and Don Alonzo de-
manded 10,000 ducats from the Magnifico Marc-

1 M, Sanuto, Dia?ii, xlv. 206.


antonio Giustiniani, because he heard that this
wealthy prelate had offered the Pope 40,000 ducats
to be made a Cardinal. Another Venetian patrician,
Marco Grimani, was more fortunate, and left Rome
disguised as a muleteer in the Marchesa's suite.^
Even when this bargain had been concluded with
the Spanish captain, the landsknechte threatened to
storm the palace, complaining that they had been
deprived of their share of the ransom, and were only
prevented from carrying out their intention by the
Prince of Orange, who left a stout German captain,
Johann by name, with a strong garrison to defend
the house.

On the 9th, the Prince issued a decree forbidding
all plundering, and summoning the troops to arms ;
but the demoralised soldiers paid no heed to his
orders, and during a whole week the same scenes
of violence and carnage were repeated. The palaces
of the Cardinals Delia Valle, Siena, Cesarini, and
Enckefort, who had paid a heavy ransom to the
Spaniards, were afterwards sacked by the Germans,
and these prelates were only saved by taking refuge
in the Cancellaria. When Cardinal Colonna returned
to Rome on the 10th of May, he burst into tears
at the scene that met his eyes. Paolo Giovio hailed
the coming of this prelate, who had been the Pope's
most bitter enemy, as that of an angel from heaven,
and tells us that during the next few days he rescued
no less than 500 unhappy nuns, as well as countless
other victims of every age and sex, from the hands of
the cruel Germans and still more cruel Spaniards.

"And all this miseiy has been caused by the
Duke of Urbino. Either this man has not the

^ M, Sanuto, Diarii, xlv. 214.


courage to face the enemy, or else he rejoices in the
Pope's ruin." So wrote Guicciardini, the Floren-
tine commissioner, from the camp of the League at
Isola, nine miles from Rome. Francesco Maria's
conduct was indeed inexplicable. He was either,
as the historian suggests, indifferent to the deliver-
ance of Rome, or else the most incapable of generals.
On the 3rd of May, he set out with his army from
Florence. On the 6th, Federico of Bozzolo pushed
forward with 800 horse, but was delayed by an un-
lucky accident. His horse fell, and the brave captain
broke his arm and leg, and had to be left at Viterbo.
His lieutenant, Pepoli, arrived at Ponte Molle, only
to find that he was too late. The enemy were already
in the Borgo, and with his small force he could do
nothing. The bulk of the army did not reach Isola
till the 22nd. Even then the Duke declared that
he could do nothing to help the Pope until he had
received reinforcements.

" The end of it all is," Guicciardini writes, " that
the Pope has been left to his fate. I need not say
whose the fault is. ... I am no general, and do not
understand the art of war, but I may tell you what
all the world is saying, that if, when the news of the
capture of Rome reached us, we had pressed on to
the relief of the Castello, we should have released
the Pope and Cardinals, and might have crushed the
enemy and saved the unhappy city. But all the
world knows what our haste has been ! . . . You
would really think that we had to do, not with the
deliverance of this unhappy Pope, on whom we all
depend, or with the rescue of this great city in its
death-agony, but with some trifling matter. So the
poor Pope remains in the Castello, begging for help


so earnestly that his entreaties would melt the very
stones, and in so abject a state of misery that even
the Turks are filled with pity I " '

The Pope's condition was indeed pitiable, and he
had many months of cruel indignities to bear before
an agreement with the Emperor was finally signed
on the 9th of December. Even then his terror was
so great that he preferred to escape by night with
the help of an Imperialist captain. Leaving the
Castello by a secret door, disguised as a pedlar, he
mounted a horse which was waiting for him in the
Vatican gardens, and rode to Orvieto under the escort
of the gallant Luigi Rodomonte.

Long before this, Isabella d'Este had left Rome.^
As soon as some degree of order had been restored,
on the 13th of May, her son Ferrante, with a strong
body of Spanish and Italian guards, escorted the
Marchesa and her suite, together with the three
ambassadors, to the shore of the Tiber, where galleys
were waiting to take them to Ostia.^ There they
were detained six days by rough weather, and when
Isabella, impatient to proceed on her journey, set
sail in one of Andrea Doria's ships, a terrific storm
suddenly arose. After escaping from this peril, the
travellers sailed into smooth water and reached
Civitavecchia on the morning of the 23rd of May
in beautiful weather.* The next day they took
horse and rode overland by Corneto, Toscanella,
and Pesaro to Ravenna, leaving the treasures
of antique marbles, pictures, and gems which the
Marchesa had collected in Rome to go by sea to
Leghorn. Wherever Isabella and her companions

^ Guicciardini, Op. Inedite, vol. ix. ^ A. Reumont, Rom., iii. 220.
' M. Sanuto, op. cit. xlv. 216, &c. * M. Sanuto, op. cit. xlv. 220.


came, they were greeted with breathless inquiries as
to the fate of Rome, and told the same terrible tale
of the awful disasters which had befallen the once
glorious city.

Isabella s own family had been full of anxiety on
her account. When the first news of the death of
Bourbon and the sack of Rome reached the camp
of the League, it was feared that she had perished
in the general ruin. On the 14th of May, the Duke
of Urbino's secretary, writing from Orvieto to Leo-
nora, who was at Venice with her children, said
that the Portuguese ambassador's house had been
sacked by the brutal soldiery, greedy for gold, and
that the same was reported of Madama's house,
which God forbid I It was known, however, that the
ambassador of Urbino and many illustrious person-
ages had found shelter under the Marchesa's roof,
and that, alone among the Roman palaces, the house
had been strongly fortified. The Marquis Federico
heard from Florence that only the Castello Sant'
Angelo and a palace which held a Marchesa and
many nobles had escaped the fury of the destroyers ;
but it was not till a servant of the Venetian ambas-
sador reached Mantua, on the 16th of May, that
Isabella was known to be safe under her son's pro-
tection. A few days later, Ferrante himself wrote to
relieve his brother's mind, and by the 9th of June
the Marchesa herself reached Ferrara. After a brief
interval of sorely-needed repose, Isabella once more
resumed her journey, and sailed up the Po, in the ducal
barge, to Governolo. Here Ercole Gonzaga came to
meet her, and received the Cardinal's hat from his
mother's own hands.^ The next day they sailed up

* G. Daino, Cronaca ; D'Arco, Notizie, 237.


the Mincio to Mantua, where the Marquis and a
brilliant train of knights and ladies were awaiting their
arrival, and the whole city poured out to welcome
the beloved Marchesa, and escort her with shouts of
triumph and tears of joy to the palace gates. Leonora
was at Venice, where the Signory practically detained
her as a hostage for the Duke's fidelity, but her two
little girls went to Mantua to receive their grand-
mother. ** I have not yet taken the children to visit
Madama," wrote their tutor on the 15th of June,
"because she only arrived yesterday, and is very
much occupied, but we hope to see her soon."^

The Venetian ambassador, Domenico Venier,
reached Mantua on the same lovely June evening
as the Marchesa, and remained there as the prisoner
of Alessandro da Novellara until the end of October.
His wife came to meet him, and spoke warmly of
Federico's kindness, and of the pleasures which he
was enjoying after the cruel hardships which he had
endured. None the less the envoy took the first
opportunity of escaping from Mantua without paying
the ransom which had been agreed upon, and on the
evening of the 17th of October, sent the Signory
word that he had reached Verona safely. The
Marchesa, justly indignant at this breach of faith,
addressed a letter of remonstrance to the Doge, which
was read to the Senate and pronounced to be very
wise by all who were present. But we are not told
if Count Alessandro ever received his promised
ransom, and the Mantuan ambassador who dehvered
Isabella's letter was careful to inform the prince that
the Signor Marchese rejoiced with His Serenity on
the Venetian envoy's escape.^

^ Luzio e Renier, Mantova, &c., p. 279-
2 M. Sanuto, op. cit., xlvi.


Meanwhile, Ferrante Gonzaga, who had with-
drawn to Velletri on the 17th of June with the
Imperialist horse, wrote to congratulate his mother
on her escape from the horrors of the ruined city,
and safe return to Mantua. " I can no longer delay
to kiss your hand, and rejoice with you that you
were so fortunate as to leave that most miser-
able and unhappy city of Rome, which, after the
utter ruin brought upon her by the soldiers, is
now scourged by God with famine and plague. —
From your son and servant, Ferrante Gonzaga." ^
Velletri, June 23, 1527.

The landsknechte, who remained in Rome, were
dying by thousands, and the plague had even pene-
trated into the precincts of Sant' Angelo. But still
the German soldiers refused to leave Rome until they
had received their arrears of pay, and anarchy reigned
supreme. When at length the last foreign troops
left Rome, and the Pope returned after an exile of
ten months, he found a ruined and depopulated city.
It was reckoned that as many as 30,000 of the in-
habitants had perished by the sword of the invaders
or died of plague and famine, while another 20,000
had sought refuge in flight.^ So deeply was the
memory of those days of horror engraved in the
hearts of succeeding generations, that to this day
Roman mothers hush their children to sleep with the
words, " Go to sleep, httle one ; Borbone is gone I " ^

From all parts of the civihsed world a wail went
up to heaven over this awful catastrophe. Isabella's
friends sighed over the terrible ruin which had over-

^ Gregorovius, Rom., p. 540.

' M. Alberino.

' R. Lanciani, " Destruction of Rome," p. 226.


whelmed this great and beautiful city, once the place
of all dehghts. Bembo wept in the lovely gardens
of his Paduan villa, when he heard the heart-rending
details told by the poet Molza, who had escaped with
his hfe, as it were by miracle. ** Come here, I im-
plore you," wrote Pietro to his old friend Tebaldeo,
" and leave the miserable corpse of our once beautiful
Rome." ^

The poor poet had lost everything in the sack, and
owed his life to Cardinal Colonna, on whose charity
he lived until a timely loan from Bembo reached
him. Paolo Giovio lost his precious manuscripts,
and Colocci saw his priceless collection of antiques
destroyed by the savage soldiery, and was himself
exposed to their brutal insults. " Fortunate indeed,"
said Molza, " are those who were spared the sight of
these awful horrors, and did not have to witness
the funeral of the city of Romulus." Sadoleto, in
the peaceful haven of his bishopric at Carpentras,
heard with anguish of the misery which his friends had
suffered, and saw in these terrible events the long-
delayed judgment of God. Yet the Roman scholar
could not repress a sigh for those joyous days of yore,
and in a touching letter to his old friend Colocci, he
recalls those pleasant evenings in the Quirinal gardens
when Bembo and Castiglione, Pheedra and Nava-
gero, and the brilliant Marchesa herself, spent happy
hours together in gay or serious, in witty or thought-
ful discourse. " Alas ! those days are for ever gone,
and the cruel fate of Rome has darkened all our
joy."^ As Erasmus wrote to Sadoleto: "Rome was
not alone the slirine of the Christian faith, the nurse of

^ Lettere, iii. 34.

2 Sadoleto, Ep., p. 106.


noble souls and the abode of the Muses, but the
mother of the nations. To how many was she not
dearer and sweeter, more precious than their own
native land I ... In truth, this is not the ruin of one
city, but of the whole world." ^

There was another of Isabella's friends on whom
the blow fell with even greater severity. This was
CastigHone, who, as nuncio at the court of Madrid,
had done his utmost to appease the Emperor's v^rath
and save the unhappy Pope. His efforts were doomed
to failure. Charles V. himself could hardly be held re-
ponsible for the sudden turn which events had taken.
But the bitter reproaches which Clement VII. ad-
dressed to his envoy were keenly felt by the Count.
He was already ill, and never recovered from the
shock. Even the Emperor's favour could not console
him, and, after lingering on through the next summer,
he died at Toledo on the 7th of February 1529.

Charles V. heard the news with genuine regret,
and, turning to his courtiers, said : "We have lost one
of the greatest cavaliers in the world." In his home
at Mantua, Castiglione's death was the cause of bitter
sorrow, ahke to his aged mother, who alone remained
to watch over her orphan grandchildren, and to the
friends whom he had loved so well. The coming of
his footsteps was vainly awaited in his favourite
loggia, and the Marchesa's reunions lacked the pre-
sence of her most brilliant guest. Giuho Romano
was employed to raise a noble monument to his old
patron's memory in the sanctuary of S. Maria delle
Grazie, and Isabella lamented in him the most
accomplished of her courtiers and the most faithful
of her friends.

1 Erasmus, Ep., p. 988.



Misery of Italy — Pkgue in Mantua — Federico's buildings — Isa-
bella's Roman antiquities lost on the voyage — Her correspond-
ence with the Roman dealer, Raphael of Urbino — Sebastiano
del Piombo — Cardinal Ercole's love of art and letters — Death
of Emilia Pia — Veronica Gambara and Correggio's Magdalen
— The Allegories painted by Correggio for Isabella's Studio —
Titian visits Mantua and paints Isabella's portrait — Copy by
Rubens at Vienna.

Isabella found her faithful Mantuans in a melan-
choly condition on her return from Rome. During
the two years that she had been absent, war had
raged unceasingly in Lombardy. The unfortunate
Francesco Sforza, ill in body and exposed to attacks
on all sides, vainly tried to maintain himself against
the Imperialists, and the Spanish general, Leyva,
had the greatest difficulty in feeding his army. The
desolation of the country and the misery of its few
remaining inhabitants made a deep impression on
the English ambassadors who were sent by Henry
VIII. to the Congress of Bologna in 1529. There
were no labourers at work in the fields, no dwellers
in the villages, and in the once flourishing cities of
Lombardy, whole families might be seen begging
their bread. " It is, sir," wrote Nicolas Carew to
the King, " the most pity to see this country, as we
suppose, that ever was in Christendom. . . . Betwixt
VercelU and Pavia the whole country has been


^ ooaf^f^U-. iyn.. (^ j


wasted. We found no man or woman labouring in
the fields, and all the way we saw only three women
gathering wild grapes. The people and children are

Online LibraryJulia Mary Cartwright AdyIsabella d'Este, marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539; a study of the renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 19 of 32)