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The Cardinal's Hat: Money, Ambition and Everyday Life in the Court of a Borgia Prince: Money, Ambition and Housekeeping in a Renaissance Court [Paperback]

Mary Hollingsworth
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 April 2005
An extraordinarily detailed account of the daily life and political ambitions of a Renaissance potentate, drawn from a hitherto unpublished archive of original documents. A tale of gambling, hunting, family feuds, power agendas and private conflict in Renaissance Italy. Son of Lucretia Borgia and brother of the Duke of Ferrara, Ippolito d'Este became Archbishop of Milan at the age of 9 but had to wait another twenty years before he acquired his coveted cardinal's hat. This honour was the route to power and wealth in sixteenth-century Europe - it had little to do with piety. Ippolito was no devout cleric: he enjoyed gambling, hunting, tennis and women. This is the story of the five years it took to achieve his ambition, a story involving family squabbles and private feuds, and the political agendas of the Pope, the Emperor and the King of France. Ippolito spent much of this period at the French court, sampling the sophistication of Paris, the luxuries of Fontainebleau, the pleasures of hunting in the Loire valley, the excitement of battle in Picardy, the glamour of an international peace conference at Nice, and the extreme discomforts of mountain travel. The Cardinal's Hat is based entirely on the account books and letters preserved in the archives at Modena, through which Ippolito emerges across the centuries with remarkable clarity. The documents also provide glimpses into the lives of ordinary people, not just his cooks and stable boys, but shopkeepers, builders, bargemen, peasants and even beggars. Above all, they provide a unique insight into life in sixteenth-century Europe.

Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; New edition edition (28 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861977700
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861977700
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 892,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'this exceptionally interesting book . . . is the result of scrupulous research . . . Hollingsworth's narrative is seamless' -- Washington Post Book World, June 26, 2005

A book as rich and quirky as the Renaissance itself -- David Starkey

A brilliant piece of historical detective work -- The Guardian

About the Author

Dr Mary Hollingsworth is the author of Patronage in Renaissance Italy and Patronage in Sixteenth-century Italy. She is an academic and was until recently, lecturer in Art History at UEA. Alongside Professors from Universities of Sussex, Warwick, Venice, Edinburgh and Manchester she is currently working on the Material Renaissance Research Project funded by the Getty Grant Programme.

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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By Gail Cooke TOP 500 REVIEWER
Few historical periods are as intriguing as the Renaissance; few families fascinate as much as the Borgias. However, we've not been privy to many firsthand accounts of daily life among the powerful in 16th century Italy. Now, thanks to a bit of luck and assiduous research, art historian Mary Hollingsworth presents a detailed picture of Ippolito d'Este, the second son of Lucretia Borgia who later became Archbishop of Milan.
In Modena, Italy, Hollingsworth came upon a treasure - over 2,00 letters and 200 account books pertaining to the days of Ippolito. The ledgers contain such minute details as the items in his wardrobe, what he ate. He wasn't timid about keeping a log of his women right along with his horses, dogs, falcons, peacocks, and a plethora of servants. Nor, was he embarrassed to note how much was spent on bribes and to whom he paid them. Thus, readers have the unparalleled experience of seeing courtly life on a daily basis, even to Ippolito's visit to the mistress of the King of France while she was in her bath.
Ippolito reached the ripe old age of 29 before he received the cardinal's red hat, which at that time was a guarantee of wealth and power. He was a man who enjoyed women thoroughly and often, gambled frequently, and spent time hunting rather than in prayer. Thus, his elevation to such a lofty position had naught to do with religiosity, much to do with politics.
Mary Hollingsworth has created an amazing view of everyday life among the rich and powerful in Renaissance Italy. Highly recommended.
- Gail Cooke
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable piece of work 29 Oct 2007
By Liam
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Cardinal's Hat in the title refers to obtaining the post of Cardinal in the Catholic Church. In the 16th century this post offered not just prestige but enormous wealth and power. Ippolito d'Este became Archbishop of Milan at the incredibly young age of 9. The fact that he was an Archbishop did not prevent him from indulging to excess in wine, women and gambling. However, what he really craved was a Cardinal's hat, and with the help of his older brother he courted the people who could help him achieve this goal.

Ippolito's life was a continuos round of feasting, drinking, hunting, buying lavish gifts and flattering inflated egos. But it is the detail of Ippolito's circle and its everyday needs that truly fascinates. The amount of wine everybody would drink each day, the logistics of having enough hard currency of various types to keep his travelling court operational, the numerous jobs that needed to be undertaken every day: buying fresh food and wine, looking after hounds, horses and hawks. This is not just a story of one man of noble birth, it is a story that covers a wide range of social classes and contrasts the lives and hopes of each. Mary Hollingworth has produced a remarkable work that is well worth the attention of anybody seeking a book that is entertaining, educational and fascinating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyday life of 16-th century noble 6 Mar 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Book provides great feeling of life of Renessainse noble and his preoccupations - almsgiving, organising feasts, showing off, falling ill, traveling, etc.
Although the book is basically based around bookkeeping records of nobles stewards, author has masterfully translated the lists of bookkeeper's entries into a great story.
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