Written by Marisa Garreffa
I’m not the only person who loves to walk past the beautiful patterned Palazzo on Via Maggio, tucked between old buildings like a glimpse of embroidered skirts on a woman sweeping by, oblivious to you. It is the Palazzo di Bianca Cappello, and I love it all the more now I know the story. Bianca Cappello! Her face may not have launched a thousand ships, but her lips created chaos and murder – including her own.
She was Venetian nobility and ran away at the tender age of 15 to marry her lover, a Florentine named Pietro Buonaventuri. His very surname means “good adventures”, so things were bound to get exciting. While they got busy making a child, the Venetian government got busy trying to drag her back home. They didn’t succeed. Cosimo I intervened on her behalf and she stayed put – much to the delight of Cosimo’s son, Francesco I, who would soon fall in love with her. Thanks, Dad!
Bianca was famously beautiful, and before long she became bored with her marriage and her poor husband. But no matter, Francesco I launched a seduction of jewels and gifts, and she became his mistress. An affair on the side was all the rage for noble people of the time so the situation wasn’t unusual. She was released from her love triangle with Pietro’s death, allegedly caused during an “amorous intrigue” that saw him murdered on the streets. Some say it was orchestrated by Bianca and Francesco themselves… (cue murder mystery music).
The palazzo was a gift from Francesco to Bianca, given when he succeeded his father and became Grand Duke. It served a useful purpose, keeping her in easy reach of his home in Palazzo Pitti. They had a child, but they kept it all very hush until Francesco’s wife died, and then the boy was acknowledged as his heir. After his wife’s death, Bianca and Francesco were married, but they kept that very hush as well, waiting a year to tell the public. When it was finally announced, Bianca was crowned Grand Duchess of Tuscany. The Venetian government decided to set aside their grievances and sent official representatives to celebrate the wedding. Funny how almost anything can be forgiven when a person becomes politically useful!
However, Bianca hadn’t stopped upsetting people. She got on the wrong side of Cardinal Ferdinando I, Francesco’s brother, who couldn’t stand her and was in competition with her son for the succession. He got his way. Bianca and Francesco died on the same day after 11 days of extreme illness, and Ferdinando made a great show of handling the burials. He made his distaste for Bianca clear when he refused to have her buried beside Francesco, who was instead laid to rest beside his first wife. Bianca ended up in an unmarked grave somewhere, no one is quite sure where, but her intestines were found in the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta a Bonistallo. Recent examinations of Francesco’s body and Bianca’s jar of belly bits have proven that it wasn’t malaria that killed them, (as claimed at the time), but acute arsenic poisoning, most likely from the spiteful hand of Ferdinando. So Catherine de’ Medici wasn’t the only one in the family going around poisoning people!
The rest of Bianca’s body has never been found, but her pretty patterned palace stands to this day.
Written by Marisa Garreffa