On August 31st, 1542, Isabella de Medici was born to Cosimo de Medici and Eleonora di Toledo, the Duke and Duchess of Florence, Italy. Born the third of eleven children to this power couple she would be the undisputed apple of her father’s eye. For while he was a brutal and vicious politician he was also a devoted and loving husband and father. He would stop at nothing to ensure the relative happiness and advancement of his children and the Medici name.
As happens with all high ranking women of the time, she was married off to Paulo Giordano Orsini on September 3rd, 1558, a political move that would link the powerful, relatively new Medici to the old and established Orsini clan. Paulo was a spendthrift with cruel undertones and was more than happy to have the rich and powerful Duke Cosimo as his father-in-law. On Isabella’s part, she used her father’s control over Paulo to spend as much time away from her husband, ensconced in Rome, and with her beloved father and favored brother, Giovanni, in Florence. Paulo was left with little room to complain about the fact that he was not the ruler of his own wife. As long as he wished to receive benefits from Cosimo, he would have to deal with this stab at his manhood. This was, however, the seed of undoing for Isabella.
In 1562 Isabella’s mother and two of her brothers, Giovanni included, died in close succession. Devastated by her loss and without her constant companion to keep her wildness better contained, Isabella sought out the entertainments and intimacy she had had with Giovanni in other outlets. While she became the first lady of Florence upon the death of her mother, she also established herself as quite the party girl. She began an affair with Troilo Orsini, Paulo’s cousin, a brave, handsome cavalier much like the men from the tales she grew up loving. He was as different from the corpulent and cruel Paulo as can be, and they continued on as semi-secret lovers until her death.
Duke Cosimo de Medici died in 1574, leaving Isabella defenseless from the new Duke of Florence, her brother Francesco, and her own husband. With little love lost between the siblings, she could not count on her brother to support her wishes as her father had done. As she was raised to love life and pleasure and not to calculate for survival, she did not see how set her brother was on ending the scandal he believed she, and other female family members, brought to the Medici name. She did not see, when her husband convinced her to go on a hunting trip to the Tuscan countryside, the demise that awaited her. For the Duke had opened the door for Paulo to finally take his vengeance on Isabella, the woman he believed had made him look like a fool. He took her life on July 16th, 1576, by most accounts strangling her while her retinue was barred from the room.
Murder of a Medici Princess, while interesting, had some of the same downsides I have found in numerous works of nonfiction. It included information that I found unnecessary to the plot (such as the monetary amount of items, the distance between places, etc.) as well as a lot of information about the Medici that didn’t have anything to do with Isabella’s story. The political and historical accounts of Italy and its many families was, while intriguing in its own right, distracting from the main point of the story: Isabella and her eventual murder.
The actual moment of climax was quite disappointing as well, with the discovery of her murder being announced through a letter sent from Francesco to Paulo. All that being said the author’s style of writing was enjoyable and easy to follow which can be difficult with the onslaught of names, dates and locations inherent in nonfiction. If you like historical nonfiction, Murder of a Medici Princess is definitely worth reading. If you prefer the embellishment of fiction, you might skip this for a novel counterpart.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son and pet fish. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Oxford University Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.