Francesco I Sforza

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Francesco I Sforza : biography

July 23, 1401 – March 8, 1466

Under his rule (which was moderate and skillful), Sforza modernised the city and duchy. He created an efficient system of taxation that generated enormous revenues for the government, his court became a center of Renaissance learning and culture, and the people of Milan grew to love him. In Milan, he founded the Ospedale Maggiore, restored the Palazzo dell’Arengo, and had the Naviglio d’Adda, a channel connecting with the Adda River, built.

During Sforza’s reign, Florence was under the command of Cosimo de’ Medici and the two rulers became close friends. This friendship eventually manifested in first the Peace of Lodi and then the Italian League, a multi-polar defensive alliance of Italian states that succeeded in stabilising almost all of Italy for its duration. After the peace, Sforza renounced part of the conquests in eastern Lombardy obtained by his condottieri Bartolomeo Colleoni, Ludovico Gonzaga, and Roberto Sanseverino after 1451. As King Alfonso of Naples was among the signatories of the treaty, Sforza also abandoned his long support of the Angevin pretenders to Naples. He also aimed to conquer Genoa, then an Angevin possession; when a revolt broke out there in 1461, he had Spinetta Campofregoso elected as Doge, as his puppet. Sforza occupied Genoa and Savona in 1464.

Sforza was the first European ruler to follow a foreign policy based on the concept of the balance of power, and the first native Italian ruler to conduct extensive diplomacy outside the peninsula to counter the power of threatening states such as France. Sforza’s policies succeeded in keeping foreign powers from dominating Italian politics for the rest of the century.

Sforza suffered from hydropsy and gout. In 1462, rumours spread that he was dead and a riot exploded in Milan. He however survived for four more years, finally dying in March 1466. He was succeeded as duke by his son, Galeazzo Maria Sforza.

Francesco’s successor Ludovico commissioned Leonardo Da Vinci to design an equestrian statue as part of a monument to Francesco I Sforza. A clay model of a horse which was to be used as part of the design was completed by Leonardo in 1492 — but the statue was never built. In 1999 the horse alone was cast from Leonardo’s original designs in bronze and placed in Milan outside the racetrack of Ippodromo del Galoppo.

Culture

Francesco Sforza is mentioned several times in Niccolò Machiavelli’s book The Prince; he is generally praised in that work for his ability to hold his country and as a warning to a prince not to use mercenary troops.

He was a moderate patron of the arts. The main humanist of his court was the writer Francesco Filelfo. His best works were mentioned in chapters 7,12, and 14.