The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice Della Rovere
Caroline P. Murphy
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The illegitimate daughter of Pope Julius II, Felice della Rovere became one of the most powerful and accomplished women of the Italian Renaissance. Now, Caroline Murphy vividly captures the untold story of a rare woman who moved with confidence through a world of popes and princes.
Using a wide variety of sources, including Felice's personal correspondence, as well as diaries, account books, and chronicles of Renaissance Rome, Murphy skillfully weaves a compelling portrait of this remarkable woman. Felice della Rovere was to witness Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel, watch her father Pope Julius II lay the foundation stone for the new Saint Peter's, and saw herself immortalized by Raphael in his Vatican frescos. With her marriage to Gian Giordano Orsini—arranged, though not attended, by her father the Pope—she came to possess great wealth and power, assets which she used to her advantage. While her father lived, Felice exercised much influence in the affairs of Rome, even negotiating for peace with the Queen of France. After his death, Felice persevered, making allies of the cardinals and clerics of St. Peter's and maintaining her control of the Orsini land through tenacity, ingenuity, and carefully cultivated political savvy. She survived the Sack of Rome in 1527, but her greatest enemy proved to be her own stepson Napoleone, whose rivalry with his stepbrother Girolamo ended suddenly and violently, and brought her perilously close to losing everything she had spent her life acquiring.
With a marvelous cast of characters, The Pope's Daughter is a spellbinding biography set against the brilliant backdrop of Renaissance Rome.
Gian Giordano set alight an entire block of houses he owned near Monte Giordano. Small wonder then, that some, such as Felice’s younger cousin Francesco Maria della Rovere, would later describe him as ‘pubblico pazzo’ (‘plainly mad’).3 France, with its emphasis on the chivalric past, was perhaps a place more in keeping with the sympathies of this soldier for hire than his own native country. Francesco Sansovino describes how ‘in France, he was singled out at court. King Louis XII marvelled at the
were at least spared onlookers, as Paris de Grassis stresses that no guest was present. That did not prevent those outside the door speculating on what was going on behind it. Emilia Pia, in an account of the occasion which she sent to Isabella d’Este, states that ‘they lay together fifteen minutes. Many believed that they were performing other “secret” acts’ – a reference to the unexpected and exotic French kiss.3 Following this brief act of sexual union, the entire wedding party then proceeded
celebrate St Peter’s feast day in 1473, Pietro staged ‘a most noble representation of the Tribute that came to the Romans when they ruled the world, and there were sixty mules all harnessed and covered with cloths bearing his coat of arms, and they processed from the Popolo Gate to the Palace of Santi Apostoli [the home Pietro had built for himself]’.4 Pietro was a natural showman in a way that his cousin Giuliano was not, and was seen to be of greater value to Sixtus. Giuliano, as cardinal, had
remained from his work on the Sistine Chapel. This gesture by Michelangelo, arguably the most supremely arrogant figure of the Renaissance, who cared very little for the feelings and opinions of others, shows he did hold Felice in some esteem. Michelangelo sought to maintain tight control over everything he produced. He destroyed hundreds of drawings he felt might blemish his reputation for posterity. He was also notoriously mean. A miser, who wore clothes and boots until they were no more than
was selling a large portion of her grain reserves to the Pope.1 Felice even loaned money to Leo’s family, advancing 2000 ducats to his brother Giuliano, Duke of Nemours. For Leo, a woman granting him favours rather than expecting or demanding something of him was an anomaly. The Florentine Bartolomeo Cerretani commented on the nature of the women in Leo’s life at court: 154 the pope’s daughter becomes the pope’s friend ‘There were his three sisters with their children there, and his