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Over the Rainbow (2)

With the ratification of the League of Cambrai, Pope Julius knew there was going to be an awful, bloody war against Venice. He also knew he could not just sit idly by in Rome and allow the others to claim the glory of victory. If soldiers were going to fight for him, he wanted to lead them, dressed in a full suit of armor, ready to wield God’s sword and ready to die if need be.

While Julius was unafraid to give his life, he worried a great deal about what would happen to his only daughter, Felice, if he were killed in battle.

Felice della Rovere by Raphael

Felice della Rovere by Raphael

When Felice was 14 Julius had married her off to protect her while he was a cardinal exiled in France during the rule of Pope Alexander. But by age 20 Felice had been widowed. As was her right, she kept the rich dowry her father had paid, which gave her the independence to determine her own fate — much to the chagrin of Julius.

Six times while he was pope, Julius tried and failed to broker a marriage for Felice as a way to gain political favor. She rejected the first offer, to the Lord of Piombino, holding out for something better. Julius then offered her to the Duke of Lorraine, hoping to gain a French liaison. Felice said no again, angering her father. Next came Marcantonio Colonna, a member of one of the great baron families of Rome, followed by either of two sons of the Duke of Ferrara, and then a Neapolitan prince. Each time Felice said no.

Finally, on his seventh attempt, Julius strong-armed Felice into marrying Gian Giordano Orsini, the head of the powerful Orsini clan of Rome. Gian Giordano was greatly indebted to Julius. After Pope Alexander murdered Gian Giordano’s father and confiscated his land, Julius disposed of Alexander’s son Cesare Borgia and returned the land to the Orsini family. For that favor Gian Giordano accepted a much lower dowry.

It was clearly a political marriage to bind two families, not one of love. Julius was so angry at Felice’s previous refusals he didn’t attend the wedding. Gian Giordano didn’t bother to hide his own businesslike attitude. As soon as the priest pronounced them man and wife, Felice’s new husband gave her a French kiss, embarrassing her and amusing their guests. Then he yanked her into an adjoining room where, within earshot, he consummated the marriage in less than 15 minutes.

Two and a half years later, as the League of Cambrai took shape, Julius hoped to make amends with his daughter and be assured she would be well taken care of if anything should happen to him.

He gave Felice 9,000 ducats for her own account — nearly as much as Michelangelo was being paid to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Felice used the money to buy a castle in her own name in Palo, on the coast. The castle was surrounded by fertile fields of wheat that could make her rich in her own right.

Felice della Rovere castle in Palo

Felice della Rovere castle in Palo

Felice was well-educated and a bit of an entrepreneur, with her own dreams of power and fame. She also inherited her father’s grit. While she was grateful for his generous gift, she demanded one more thing before she was ready to forgive him.

She had heard that Michelangelo was painting in the Sistine Chapel. Felice wanted her father to take her there so she could meet Michelangelo and see what he was doing on the ceiling.

Next: Over the Rainbow (3)


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