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on 18 December 2012
Purchased on a whim, this has proved to be an absolutely excellent book and I am so glad I bought it. The lives of the Medici family and their centuries long relationship with their home town and fief, Florence, is fascinating stuff. This Tuscan city and its beautiful buildings almost become another character in the book as we trace the life of Isabella, beloved daughter of Cosimo de Medici, who had greatly increased the power and importance of the Medicis by becoming the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, and his Spanish wife Eleanora di Toledo, in the mid 16th century. One of 11 siblings, not all of whom lived long, Isabella was the absolute apple of her "Babbo's" eye from infancy onwards. She, in turn, adored him. This did not, however, stop him from marrying her strategically to the deeply unpleasant Paulo of the Orsini family in Rome. Thanks to their special relationship, however, her father left it to the husband to make the necessary trips back and forth to see his wife and she basked in the freedom both financial and (dangerously) romantic that such an arrangement permitted. After her mother's death, she became for a time the first lady of Florence with immense privilege and influence.

Such a charmed existence, full of the parties and hunting trips that she adored, could not be sustained after the death of her father, which occurred when she was in her early 30s and the fond mother of two children. The new Grand Duke was one of her more unpleasant brothers and as she came under increasing pressure to leave Florence and join the by now obese and debauched Paulo in Rome, she began to be a serious and expensive thorn in his side. Isabella had long been romantically involved with another member of the Orsini family, the handsome Troilo, who had acted as an ambassador for the Medici Dukes in France and elsewhere. This relationship had had the tacit approval of her father, who perhaps regretted saddling her with such a horrible husband. However, the new Grand Duke was not so forgiving and barely two years after Cosimo's death, during a trip to one of the family's many country villas, the news was broken that the Lady Isabella had passed away. In a horrible parallel another brother Pietro had disposed of his own troublesome young Spanish wife just a few weeks earlier. Contemporary accounts indicate that both women were brutally strangled. It was an absolutely gruesome ending for two beautiful women who had been married against their personal inclinations, and contrary to the hypocritical morality of the times, had consoled themselves with lovers. The husbands in question, of course, were free to indulge in every vice.

One imagines that Grand Duke Cosimo would have been absolutely horrified by the fate of his favourite daughter. Isabella herself is a vivid presence in the book, both through extensive quotations from her correspondence and in the stunning portraits which illustrate her story. No shrinking violet, she grasped the freedom and independence that came her way, but ultimately became a tragic victim of murder at the hands of the very men to whom she would have looked for protection. It was a superficially glamorous society in which endless plotting and murders became so commonplace that they barely raised eyebrows. This book throws open a window on that time, that place and these people truly drawing the reader in. I feel I know Isabella de Medici. which is the purpose of biography - of which this book is a first class example, with its echoes of the equally tragic Duchess of Malfi.
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VINE VOICEon 21 June 2008
Caroline P Murphy's follow up to the Pope's Daughter does not disappoint.
It is a first class exploration of the life of Isabella de Medici, Renaissance Florence, the Medici family,and the inevitable politics, of
a fascinating time in Italian history.
The book is full of intrigue, betrayal, clandestine affairs, and murder.
It is not without humour and stories of everyday events within the Medici court.
A life which began with promise, privilege and moved on with not a little passsion,to end in such a brutal manner.
The story of Isabella de Medici is a compelling, marvellous read.
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on 3 July 2010
This book was a gift from a friend and I was uncertain about it - I knew nothing about Isabella before I began it, and would probably not have chosen it myself. However I enjoyed it greatly and it is really well worth a read - one of a number of recent books about educated women in Renaissance Italy which show what fascinating and difficult lives they had. In particular in these days of regarding feminism as "over", it is useful to be reminded of how little real equality women once had - and how much we should value what we have gained!
Isabella (a kind of distant cousin of Catherine de Medici) descended from a slightly less well regarded branch of this distinguished family. Yet through various accidents of mortality her father Cosimo and her brother Francesco each in their turn became the Medici Grand Duke. Isabella and her brothers were brought up with this greatness (and that of her mother Eleanora of Toledo) very much in their minds; and educated for destinies of utility to the family. Thus Isabella, despite her father's considerable love for her, found herself bound to marry Piero Orsini (a thoroughly weak and bad man, judging by Murphy's account of him) and thus to an unhappy home life. Intelligent, educated and lively she appears to have seen no reason why she should not seek for happiness in distinction as a Duchess (her job, after all) and later in love (since no-one was expecting her husband to be faithful to her). The result in the end was tragic. Once her brother Franceso was in power and trying to maintain the dignity of his role he withdrew his protection from her, leaving her beastly husband, jealous of her success, popularity and her love affiar (OK maybe chosing to flaunt his own cousin as her lover was a little imprudent!) to arrange for her murder (a Renaissance honour killing, one might call it), and treat her body with contempt, while he and the rest of her relatives turned a blind eye.
Murphy sets the scene deftly, arranges and depicts her characters with care and skill, and uses her materials to excellent effect - and with an almost novelistic eye to suspense 9and I do mean that as a compliment!). I confess to shedding a tear over Isabella's fate!
One word of caution - I suspect (though I don't know) that this same book is out there under a number of different titles: Isabella de' MediciMurder of a Medici Princess for example ...
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on 13 February 2012
I have always loved the Medici family and history, having always focused on the peak of the the Medici empire the rest has not really been something I thought about. She is fascinating, independant and unique, it is worth a read and even if you have never read anything about the Medici, you will want to read this.
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on 30 January 2014
A very good read, and makes the situation of women of the time very clear. Portrays society thoroughly without being too academic. Recommended.
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on 11 September 2015
Great condition for an ex-library book. I managed to take the plastic cover off carefully, and it looks much better(:
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on 27 June 2014
Although she obviously knows her facts about the Renaissance in Italy it was slow going and a tedious in places
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on 26 April 2016
Caroline P Murphy brings these historical characters to life.
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