Bianca Maria Visconti : biography
Bianca Maria Visconti (31 March 1425 – 28 October 1468most of the sources report 23 October as the date of death. Here the version by Caterina Santoro (see References, who had access to original documents of the time in the Trivulzio Library in Milan, has been preferred.) was Duchess of Milan from 1450 to 1468.
Born near Settimo Pavese, Bianca Maria was the illegitimate daughter of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan and last of the Visconti rulers, and Agnese del Maino, the only person the shy, secluded Filippo ever loved. Agnese was the daughter of Ambrogio del Maino, a Milanese nobleman and ducal questore. Agnese served as Lady-in-Waiting to Filippo’s wife, Beatrice di Tenda. The couple had a second daughter, called Caterina Maria or Lucia Maria, also born in Settimo in 1426, but she died shortly after her birth.
Bianca’s paternal grandparents were Gian Galeazzo Visconti and Caterina Visconti.
When she was six months old, Bianca Maria and her mother were sent to a castle in Abbiate, where a rich residence had been established for the two of them. The Duke spent much of his time in Abbiategrasso, where he was impressed by Bianca Maria’s strong character.
Bianca Maria spent her childhood and adolescence in Abbiategrasso, where she received a humanist education. The Ducal library contained a wide variety of works: Latin classics, narrative texts in Provençal and French, scientific and didactical works, as well as texts in Italian and volgare, mainly by Tuscan authors. Both Bianca and her father were passionate hunters and lovers of horses.
In 1430, at the age of six, Bianca Maria was betrothed to the condottiero Francesco I Sforza, a man twenty-four years older than she was. In that year the condotta (contract) between Milan and Sforza came to an end, and the betrothal was a move to keep the powerful general tied with Milan. It has also been suggested that Visconti enticed Sforza with the promise of appointing him as legitimate heir to the duchy. Sforza probably also accepted because of the rich dowry, which included territories in the areas of Cremona, Castellazzo and Bosco Frugarolo. The contract was signed on February 23, 1432, in the castle of Porta Giovia, the Visconti residence in Milan. Bianca Maria’s official spokesperson was her godfather, Andrea Visconti, general of the Humiliates order. The presence of Bianca Maria and her mother at the ceremony is not certain; according to some sources, she visited Milan for the first time when she was already of marrying age.
In the following years, the suspicious Filippo Maria tried two times to dissolve the betrothal with the ambitious Sforza: in 1434, after the latter had sided with Pope Eugene IV, who sent him to fight Milan, Carlo Gonzaga, the son of the Marquis of Mantua, was contacted. The later project of betrothing Bianca Maria with Leonello d’Este, marquis of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, was only a political move to pressure Sforza to leave the alliance formed by the Republic of Venice against Milan. Bianca Maria’s trip to Ferrara at that time (September 1440) was also her first confirmed trip outside Abbiategrasso. The attempt to force Sforza to change alliances was fruitless, and Bianca Maria returned to her castle in April 1441.
In the same year Niccolò Piccinino, captain of the Milanese troops, created difficulties for Francesco; he asked Visconti for lordship of Piacenza in return for his capture of Sforza. Visconti then moved toward reconciling with Sforza, suspending hostilities and sending him peace proposals, together with the proxy for the marriage with Bianca Maria. On 24 October 1441 Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti were wed in the Abbey of San Sigismondo in Cremona, preferring that city’s Cathedral for security reasons.Marcantonio Sabellico, in his Historiae rerum venetarum ab urbe condita, states that before the marriage, Francesco Sforza assured Bianca Maria that his wars against her father had not reduced his love for her. In the typical Italian Renaissance manner, feasts lasted for several days and included a sumptuous banquet, tournaments, a palio, allegorical carts and a huge cake reproduction of the Torrazzo, the city’s main tower. It is probable that this cake is the origin of the torrone.Bernardino Corio, Mediolanensis Patria historia