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Customer Review

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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