Caterina Sforza

Caterina Sforza (1463-1509) was born the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan Galeazzo Maria Sforza. Raised at the Milanese Court, she received a humanist education; later in life compiling a book on pharmacology called the Experimenti. She grew into a young woman reputed for her beauty, skill at dancing, horseback riding, and her brilliant conversation. When she was fourteen, in 1477 Caterina Sforza was married to Girolamo Riario, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV and the couple ruled the territory of Forlì. In 1488 when her husband was murdered by their subjects, Caterina Sforza was taken prisoner along with her six children. Caterina escaped, and with her children held as hostages, steadfastly managed to hold possession of Forlì. With the French invasion of 1494, Sforza’s territories became of immense strategic importance to all the principal powers—France, Milan, Naples, the Papacy, Florence—and she shrewdly played them off against one another. In 1497 she married  Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, and despite being captured and imprisoned by Cesare Borgia in 1499, after she was released, Sforza went to live in Florence where she raised their son, Giovanni de’ Medici.

Caterina SforzaOctober 28, 1503 Letter of Caterina Sforza to her son Ottaviano Riario     Portrait medal of Caterina Sforza



Breisach, Ernst. Caterina Sforza, a Renaissance Virago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.

Hairston, Julia L. “Skirting the Issue: Machiavelli’s Caterina Sforza,” in Renaissance Quarterly 53, 3 (2000): 686–712.

Lev, Elizabeth. The Tigress of Forlì: Renaissance Italy’s most courageous and notorious countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

Pasolini, Pier Desiderio. Catherine Sforza, Translated and Prepared with the Assistance of the Author by Paul Sylvester, Chicago and New York: H. S. Stone and Co., 1898.

Ray, Meredith K. “Experiments with Alchemy: Caterina Sforza in Early Modern Scientific Culture,” in Gender and Scientific Discourse in Early Modern Culture 139 Ashgate, 2010.

Vries, Joyce de. Caterina Sforza and the Art of Appearances: Gender, Art, and Culture in Early Modern Italy, Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010.


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