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Daughter to Pope Julius II

Daughter to Pope Julius II
19 October 2017 0 Comment

We paw over history, sometimes begrudgingly, in the hope that we might stumble across a truly remarkable person. So much has been written about Pope Julius II, the man who had emissaries of Europe’s most powerful monarchs, trembling in their breeches, awaiting their audience with Il Papa Terribile (The Fearsome Pope!). Much less is known or written about his illegitimate daughter, Felice della Rovere – a truly remarkable person, who like her father, demanded the respect of all that came into her circle.

This story begins with the unconditional love of a daughter for her father. The father is Pope, a warrior Pope who is rebuilding, city by sacked city, the power and wealth of Rome while keeping his daughter in the shadows. He refuses to be seen in public with her, arranging discreet meetings and rendezvous’ with her, like a stealthy lover, always protecting his indomitable public image. An image of her looking lovingly towards her father can be seen in Raphael’s fresco, “The Mass at Bolsena”, one of his magnificent frescoes in the Stanze di Raffaele in the Vatican. Only towards her father’s death did he allow himself to show the love, affection and satisfaction he obviously felt for his daughter; in many ways a reflection of his own indomitable will and she had certainly inherited his intelligence.

After refusing five suitors she finally married into one of Rome’s most powerful, wealthy and connected families, and although Gian Giordano Orsini was twenty three years her senior, there seemed to be real affection and respect between the two. The hand of Felice’s father the Pope was evident in this marriage and whilst always determined to create strategic alliances for the della Rovere family, he would have been happy with this union. His gift of 9,000 ducats to his daughter shortly before his death allowed her to begin a life of commerce, for which she excelled. She purchased a castle at Palo and with her marriage to Orsini became the matriarch of the Orsini castle that still sits grandly on the shores of Lake Bracciano today – the same castle where Tom Cruise and Katie Homes swapped vows in 2006!

Having made peace with her father she immersed herself into the complicated world of the Orsini, rubbing shoulders with many of the characters that make up the Renaissance world we read about today. She was known to be fearless, headstrong (her father’s daughter after all) and outspoken but she was also blessed with remarkable diplomatic skills that were used by the church, for the church. A friend to such towering historical figures as Michelangelo, the Queen of France, Anne of Brittany and Isabella d’Este, Felice was a friend to many Of Europe’s nobility and brokered numerous and important peace negotiations between warring factions in the 15th century.

Upon her husband’s death, her immediate enemies were many of the Orsini that by marriage were her family? They resented the fact that an outsider was now in control of the Orsini wealth and what made matters worse, was that now the head of this august household was a woman! She endured throughout her life the baseless criticisms and judgments of her male counterparts, many assuming that a woman had no place in leadership and commerce. She made a mockery of such sexist adjudications and through a mixture of determination and remarkable business acumen, became one of the wealthiest women of her time.

On September 27, 1536 she excited this world as the Orsini matriarch, with her immediate family well set-up and with her final request she gave thought to her servants and maidservants, asking that all be retained after her death. The Archbishop of Benevento upon hearing of her passing wrote in part, “I am certain that all of the other great men at court are deeply sad, for, for many decades the goodness and wisdom of her ladyship has been such that there have been none like her at this court.” And this said about a woman in the world of men in the Renaissance!

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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