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The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de' Mediciby Elizabeth Lev: A BookReview

The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici
Author: Elizabeth Le
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Mariner Books
Release Date: 2012
Pages: 352
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: A strategist to match Machiavelli; a warrior who stood toe to toe with the Borgias; a wife whose three marriages would end in bloodshed and heartbreak; and a mother determined to maintain her family’s honor, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici was a true Renaissance celebrity, beloved and vilified in equal measure. In this dazzling biography, Elizabeth Lev illuminates her extraordinary life and accomplishments.

     Raised in the court of Milan and wed at age ten to the pope’s corrupt nephew, Caterina was ensnared in Italy’s political intrigues early in life. After turbulent years in Rome’s papal court, she moved to the Romagnol province of Forli. Following her husband’s assassination, she ruled Italy’s crossroads with iron will, martial strength, political savvy, and an icon’s fashion sense. In finally losing her lands to the Borgia family, she put up a resistance that inspired all of Europe and set the stage for her progeny—including Cosimo de’ Medici—to follow her example to greatness.

     A rich evocation of Renaissance life, The Tigress of Forli reveals Caterina Riario Sforza as a brilliant and fearless ruler, and a tragic but unbowed figure.

     My Review: Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici once said, "If I tell you my story, it would shock the whole world." Indeed, her story is truly shocking, especially for a Renaissance noblewoman. Caterina had all the qualities that Machiavelli described that a Renaissance prince should have. However, since she was a woman she was scorned by many of her contemporaries. In a patriarchal society, Caterina was a formidable woman who outwitted many great men. She was a fearless warrior that was ultimately defeated at the battle of Forli by Cesare Borgia. This biography accounts Caterina's fascinating story, focusing on her accomplishments and disappointments as she faced her obstacles head on without fear.

     Caterina's life is often filled with tragedy. She was the illegitimate daughter of Duke Galeazzo of Milan. She was raised alongside her father's legitimate children and was treated with the same respect. She was educated, and she loved hunting. At ten years old, she was married off to Girolamo, Pope Sixtus's IV nephew and Count of Forli and Imola. Later her beloved father was assassinated, which was devastating to Caterina. After her father's death, Caterina went to live with her husband in Rome. Girolamo turned out to be ruthless. He was the originator of the famous Pazzi conspiracy that murdered Lorenzo de' Medici's brother, Giuliano, and caused instability in the city of Florence.

     After the death of Pope Sixtus IV, Girolamo's ruthless ways caught up with him. With the pope no longer there to protect them, rebellions rose and their palace was sacked. To help her husband and to protect her family rights, Caterina - now seven months pregnant - made her way on horseback to the Castel Sant' Angelo, where she could keep a close eye on the Vatican and to control the decision on who would be the next pope. During this, chaos increased and the cardinals had to hire a militia to protect them as they went into the conclave to choose the pope. However, with Caterina being in the fortress and afraid of her artillery, they could not get to the conclave. In order to choose a new pope and to restore order to Rome, they had to get the Countess out of the fortress. Caterina was obstinate. She said the only way she would leave was if the new pope ordered her to. Caterina was able to hold the fort for eleven days, which was as long as her husband got what he wanted and then go back home to his castle in Forli. Her strength at holding the fort at seven months pregnant had made her into a legend.

     A few years later her husband was assassinated by the Orsis and to protect her family and children, Caterina took possession of her fortress at Ravaldino and refused to surrender. The Orsis, desperate for her surrender, threatened to kill her children on the spot, hoping that it would weaken her resolve. Caterina, who saw through their ploy,  stood at the top of the fortress, lifted up her skirts and said  her famous line which shocked her enemies, "Do it then, you fools! I am already pregnant with another child by Count Riario and I have the means to make more!" This line showed her contemporaries that she was willing to sacrifice her children to save her pride. However, the biographer argues that Caterina loved her children. The reason why she gambled her children was because she knew that the assassinators would not kill them for Caterina had powerful connections who would avenge her if they truly did the deed. Caterina eventually won. Her nine year old son became the count, and she ruled as regent.

     Caterina then married her stable boy, Giacomo Feo. The marriage was short-lived for he too was assassinated. Caterina then had another short-lived marriage with Giovanni de' Medici who died of fever. Her rule ended when she met her match, Cesare Borgia.

     Caterina was a spirited woman. She was known as a loving mother. Caterina was very bold, and she lived her life as she pleased. While she did not get to choose her first husband, she did choose her other two husbands. She was very intelligent and a great political strategist. Caterina did have her flaws and sometimes committed ruthless deeds to protect her county, yet she was human. She was not afraid to take up arms and fight like a man to save her family. If it was not for her strength and determination, her county would fall into the hands of her enemies, and she and her family would be dead long before Cesare would try to stake his claim to the counties of Forli and Imola.

     Overall, this is a fascinating story of a fearless woman who was not afraid to do what was necessary to protect her family rights. This biography is very well-written and meticulously researched. It will draw the attention of the reader from the very first page. Throughout reading this biography, I was very captivated by Caterina's story. She was a very admirable woman, and I could not help wondering why she was not as popular in Hollywood and literature. Caterina ranks along the leads of many great women such as Hatshepsut, Cleopatra, Zenobia, Boudicca, Emperor Wu, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc, Queen Isabella of Spain, Elizabeth, Catherine the Great,  Empress Dowager Cixi, and many others. I recommend you to read it and enjoy the intriguing story of Caterina. I promise you will not be disappointed, for Caterina's life is full of drama, treachery, scandal, and intrigue. You will admire her intelligence as she outfoxes her enemies. After reading this biography, you definitely want to learn more about her. This biography is an excellent tribute to a woman who was larger than life and whose incredible story continues to shock the world.

Rating: 5 out 5 stars 

This is the official book trailer for The Tigress of Forli:


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