“If I were to write the story of my life, I would shock the world.” —Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici
About a year ago, I read a book called The Borgia Bride, written by Jeanne Kalogridis. A (no doubt highly) fictionalized account of life with the Borgias, it was told from the point of view of Sancha of Aragon, wife to the youngest Borgia. I didn’t like it very much, but one part stood out for me. When Sancha is imprisoned in the Castel Sant’Angelo (history, not much of a spoiler), she meets an extraordinary woman. Caterina Sforza is a warrior countess and fellow prisoner. Beautiful and brave, she led her army against Cesare Borgia and lost. I’d never heard of her before, and was interested in knowing more.
The Tigress of Forlí is the biography of Caterina Sforza de’ Medici.
Lady of Imola and Countess of Forlí, Caterina was born the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan, and raised to understand her family’s place in the world. Married at age 10 to the corrupt Girolamo Riario (the nephew of the pope), she spends many years in Rome watching the power brokers at work. She bears him 6 children, and they eventually settle in Romagna to rule over Forlí. After her obnoxious husband is murdered, Caterina takes control of this small but important territory on behalf of her children. She takes charge of her lands and her destiny, and makes choices that at this point in history are considered.
Over many years (and 2 more husbands), Caterina becomes a celebrity, shocking and fascinating those around her. She’s crafty, strong, loyal to her family and ruthless with her enemies. I enjoyed this book, but found it a bit of a slog at times. With a cast of thousands, it was at times rather hard to remember who was who. Perhaps if I had better understanding of the political climate of 15th Century Italy, keeping the power shifts (and changing allegiances) straight wouldn’t have been such a chore. And although the book does a pretty good job of bringing Caterina to life, there are times when she gets lost, her motivations unclear. But these are relatively minor quibbles. I hate to use the word “important” when describing a book – it sounds pompous. But a biography of this woman who actually wielded power as opposed to working behind the scenes is something not to be missed.