The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici by Catherine Fletcher
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|The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici by Catherine Fletcher|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: In fifteenth century Italy, most of the ruling Medici family led colourful and violent lives, but few more so than Alessandro, Duke of Florence, whose short life of political drama, intrigue and family rivalry encompassed everything. This biography is in part a good look at the historical, political and artistic Renaissance world as well as the life of a man whose reputation has suffered through out the ages, so all credit to an author whose research and well-bnalanced account demonstrates conclusively that he was no more a villain than many of his contemporaries.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: April 2017|
|External links: Author's website|
Most of the Medicis, who had ruled Florence for much of the fifteenth century, led colourful and violent lives, but few more so than Alessandro, Duke of Florence. In a world of political drama and intrigue, disputed parentage, family rivalry and violent death at an early age, his short life encompassed everything.
Born in about 1511 or 1512, he was the son of Lorenzo II, Duke of Urbino, the last legitimate heir to the main branch of the Medici family, and a servantwoman who may have been a Moorish slave. It was rumoured that his real father may have been Lorenzo's cousin Giulio de' Medici, later Pope Clement VII. Ms Fletcher accepts the more probable theory that he was genuinely Lorenzo's son; if not, he would have almost certainly been unique in history in being born to a Pope and an African slave. He and his elder cousin Ippolito were friendly as children, but as grown men they became bitter enemies. A jealous Ippolito felt hard done by when he had to accept the lesser dignity of Cardinal, while Alessandro became Duke in 1532. With the title he inherited a palace, a future bride, a circle of courtiers and a mistress. History suggests that he may have sought to strengthen his none too secure position by killing his mother and hated cousin, although proof is lacking.
Those who live by the sword (or by administering poison, if such tales are true) often die by the sword. A wife and a mistress were insufficient for the Duke's needs, and in the course of an assignation with a married lady, arranged for him by a trusted cousin, while her husband was away, the trap was set. Alessandro never came away from his little dalliance alive.
He may have been an unscrupulous rogue, but as the author reminds us, Renaissance princes were not renowned for being virtuous. It was indeed his misfortune to be assassinated 'first with a sword, then with a pen' by historians over the centuries. He may have been a tyrant and a murderer, but only the strong survive – for a while, at least – and he undoubtedly had his redeeming features. Like several of his contemporaries he was a great patron of the arts, well known for his political skills, and for his good works in providing dowries for poor families in Florence.
The book is not just a biography, but also in part a colourful look at the Renaissance world (not least thanks to two sections of colour plates, the majority of them portraits), Florentine history and the cut, thrust, plotting and savagery of Italian politics and the power struggle in the early sixteenth century. Like so many men of the age, Alessandro left no personal papers, and other accounts of his life were based mostly on hearsay. His mixed race parentage also meant that judgment of him was sometimes tainted, even if subconsciously, by an element of racism. In short, he was by no means all bad, and this well-balanced account does him full justice.
For further reading about survival and skullduggery in the Italian Renaissance era, we also recommend The Artist, The Philosopher and The Warrior by Paul Strathern. Machiavelli: A Life Beyond Ideology by Paul Oppenheimer is a sound biography about one of the period's most iconic personalities.
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