Bianca Maria Visconti : biography
In 1453 in Pavia, Bianca Maria hosted René I of Naples, who was asked to go to Cremona with his army to fight alongside Sforza. She later showed him the construction site of the large new Castello Sforzesco in Milan.
After the Peace of Lodi in 1454, Bianca Maria devoted herself not only to diplomacy and the restoration and embellishment of the several Ducal residences, but also to public works. The ducal couple had a large hospital built in Milan, the Ospedale Maggiore, and often Bianca Maria offered direct help to numerous poor women. In 1459 Pope Pius II summoned a council in Mantua to prepare a crusade against the Ottoman Turks. Bianca Maria offered 300 knights, and Francesco was proposed as military leader of the expedition. The crusade never materialized, but Francesco and Bianca Maria’s support of the papacy gained them bulls of indulgence for the Duomo and the Ospedale Maggiore of Milan.
In 1462 Francesco Sforza, who suffered from gout and dropsy, fell ill. During his absence from the government, Bianca Maria’s political and administrative capabilities prevented the state from crumbling after some rebellions spurred by Venice. She acted effectively as co-regent of the Duchy. Bianca Maria also promoted a marriage between Jacopo Piccinino, the son of Niccolò, and Drusiana, Francesco’s illegitimate daughter. The main problems for Bianca Maria in this period came from their eldest son, Galeazzo Maria, whose unstable and treacherous character created numerous troubles for her. On 13 December 1465, her mother, Agnese del Maino, died. Shortly afterward, on 8 March 1466, Duke Francesco Sforza died also. Bianca Maria quickly took the reins of the duchy and called back Galeazzo Maria, who was fighting alongside the king of France, to succeed as duke. The latter’s behavior was initially one of gratitude and deference towards his mother, but soon greed and ruthlessness led him to act independently against Bianca Maria’s advice. As time passed, the Duke relegated his mother to an increasingly secondary role and in the end forced her to leave Milan. She then moved to Cremona, her dowry city. According to some sources, she was thinking of giving the control of the city to Venice, and she had frequent contacts with Ferdinand I of Naples, who was aiming to overthrow Galeazzo.
Against the advice of all her counsellors, Bianca Maria decided to take part in Galeazzo’s marriage on 9 May 1468. At the end of the feasts she accompanied her daughter Ippolita to Serravalle, whence she set off to Cremona. However, when midway, in Melegnano, she fell ill. A high fever obliged her to stay in bed until August, but she kept up an intense correspondence. At the beginning of October, her condition worsened further. She died on 28 October of that year, after having recommended her younger children, Elisabetta and Ottaviano, to their brother Galeazzo. She was buried in the Duomo of Milan, next to her husband. The funeral oration, commissioned by Galeazzo, was written by the humanist Francesco Filelfo.
Her death raised suspicions; Galeazzo Maria Visconti was accused by various men, including Bartolomeo Colleoni, of having poisoned her. It is certain that during her illness, there were in Melegnano certain men close to Galeazzo, some of whom were later involved in other cases of poisoning.One of the most intimate of the Ducal emissaries was one Ambrogio of the Grifi, podestà of Sartirana, who was later accused of having poisoned Ludovico il Moro. According to Bernardino Corio, Bianca "died of natural ungratefulness more than poison".
Bianca Maria bore Francesco Sforza eight children, six sons and two daughters:
- Galeazzo, Duke of Milan from 1466 to 1476 (when he was assassinated);
- Ippolita Maria, wife of King Alphonse II of Naples and mother of Isabella of Aragon, who was to marry Galeazzo’s heir;
- Filippo Maria, Count of Corsica;
- Sforza Maria, Duke of Bari from 1464 to 1479;
- Lodovico, Duke of Bari from 1479 to 1494 and Duke of Milan from 1494 to 1499;
- Ascanio, Abbot of Chiaraville, Bishop of Pavia, Cremona, Pesaro, and Novara and Cardinal;
- Elisabetta, wife of Guglielmo VIII Paleologo, Margrave of Montferrat; and
- Ottaviano, Count of Lugano, who drowned while escaping arrest.
Bianca Maria Visconti’s numerous descendants include Caterina Sforza, Marie de Medici, King Louis XIV of France, King Charles II of England, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Princess Michael of Kent.
There is a tradition that the "Visconti di Madrone" Tarot cards, one of the oldest decks in existence, was commissioned by her father in 1441 as a wedding present to Bianca Maria and Francesco. On account of this, she is sometimes referred to as"Lady Tarot".