Bianca Maria Visconti

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Bianca Maria Visconti : biography

31 March 1425 – 28 October 1468

First years after the marriage

On 7 November 1441, Filippo Maria issued a decree reducing the rights of his vassals, Francesco included. The latter preferred to establish himself in the safer territory of Venetia, in the hamlet of Sanguinetto. In the same years Francesco and Bianca Maria were invited to Venice by the doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari. Shortly thereafter, news that Piccinino was menacing Sforza’s possessions in the Marche reached the city. Bianca Maria then accompanied her husband to Rimini, where they were guests of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, in Gradara and then in Jesi. Here she remained in the castle while Francesco led the military operations against Piccinino. In 1442 Bianca Maria (then 17 years old) was named regent of the Marche. This choice may seem surprising, but numerous contemporary chronicles state that Bianca Maria had repeatedly proven her skills in administration and diplomacy. As for the ducal couple’s personal relationship, if it is certain that Francesco had strongs feelings towards Bianca Maria, it is also true that he was frequently unfaithful to her. Bianca Maria usually reacted with nonchalance. On one occasion, however, in 1443, one of her husband’s mistresses disappeared and was killed in dubious circumstances

In 1442 Francesco was excommunicated. Four years later, ill and declining, Filippo Maria Visconti approached Francesco for a reconciliation. The latter, however, remained distrustful, and, despite Bianca Maria’s pleading, preferred to concentrate on the defense of his territories, menaced by Papal troops. In 1447 Sforza, feeling more confident, accepted the position of lieutenant of the Duchy of Milan, but Visconti, jealous and suspicious after the popularity of Sforza in Milan, soon changed his mind. At the same time the new Pope, Nicholas V, demanded the restitution of Jesi. It was a very difficult time for Francesco and Bianca Maria.

Francesco Sforza gave back to the pope the town of Jesi in exchange for 35,000 florins, and moved towards Milan along with his wife. News of the death of Filippo Maria Visconti, who died in the night between 13 and 14 August 1447, reached Francesco in Cotignola. Bianca Maria was very angry when she heard about the depredations suffered by the Visconti properties in Milan after Filippo’s death. Bianca Maria and Francesco were marching toward Milan, with 4,000 knights and 2,000 infantry, when the new-born Ambrosian Republic, under the menace of a Venetian invasion, offered Francesco the title of Captain General. Bianca Maria favored refusing, but Francesco accepted, starting three years in which he strove to reconquer the cities that had declared independence from the Duchy after Filippo Visconti’s death.

In May 1448, when Sforza was in Pavia, the Venetians attacked Cremona. According to the chronicles, Bianca Maria donned a suit of parade armor and, along with some troops and the populace, hurried towards the bridge that connected the city to Pavia. She fought in the battle that ensued for the whole day. This episode gained her fame as a "warrior woman".

After the Venetian danger had been repulsed, Bianca Maria settled in the Visconti Castle of Pavia, together with a large court. Her good relationships with her Visconti relatives gained popular support, as well as loans and funds, for the fragile new state created by her husband. On 24 February 1450, a revolt broke out in Milan. The Venetian ambassador was killed, as the Venetian Republic was deemed responsible for the famine that had struck Milan. A meeting of nobles and citizens recognized Francesco as lord.

Duchess of Milan

The date of the entrance of the new duke and duchess in Milan is disputed: 22 March or 25 March. Francesco and Bianca Maria refused the triumphal wagon (they called it superstizione da re, "kings’ superstition"), instead reaching the Duomo riding on a couple of horses. It was the first time that a duke’s title had been awarded by the citizens of the city.

During the first years of their reign, Bianca collaborated with her husband in recovering her father’s assets and restoring the Ducal Palace. Francesco was again entangled in a war against Venice. Remaining alone in Milan, Bianca Maria devoted herself to the administration of the Duchy, as attested by the correspondence with her husband, which gives precious insights on the education of their Children, state affairs, the financial difficulties, and details of her daily life. The letters also show the assertive character of Bianca Maria, who did not hesitate to express her opinions even when they differed from her husband’s. The letters include also accusations of his extramarital adventures.