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Description of Bianca Sforza’s wedding

Description of Bianca Sforza’s wedding

Beatrice d’Este, who was the wife of the Duke of Milan, wrote to her sister Isabella a few weeks after the wedding of her niece, Bianca Maria Sforza, to Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, which took place on November 30, 1493.

Very illustrious Lady and my dear sister,

I told you some time ago that I would relate to you in detail the triumphal ceremony that took place at Milan for the marriage of the Most Serene Queen of the Romans. Although I certainly gave orders to my secretary to send you this account, yet since you write me that it has never reached you, the blame must be laid on the Secretary and you must excuse me for my apparent negligence.

The marriage took place on the last day of last month, and in preparation for the solemnization, a porch had been erected before the principal church in the city of Milan, with columns on each side bearing a violet canopy embroidered with doves. Inside the Church, the aisles were draped with brocade as far as the choir, in front of which had been erected a triumphal arch on massive pillars. This was painted all over, and in the centre could be seen a figure of the Duke Francesco on horseback, with the ducal arms above and those of the King of the Romans [Maximilian]. This triumphal arch was square in shape and decorated with pictures of old-time ceremonies. The imperial insignia and my husband’s coat of arms were placed on the side facing the High Altar. On the further side of the arch were steps leading to a big stand erected in front of the High Altar. On the left was a small stand decked with gold brocade, where were the Embassies and on the right, a stand decked with silver brocade, and behind these stands, seats draped and arranged in tiers for the Councilors and other noblemen and gentlemen. At the ends of the choirs were two raised platforms, one for the singers, and the other for the trumpeters and musicians, and between the two were seated the Doctors of Law and Medicine, with their caps and cloaks fringed with fur, each placed according to his degree. The Altar itself was sumptuously decorated with silver vases and with images of the saints in silver, which you must have seen at the Rocchetta [a courtyard within the castle] when you were at Milan.

The street leading to the Cathedral was magnificently decorated. There was a series of columns garlanded with ivy the whole distance from the ramparts of the Castello [castle] to the end of the place, and between these columns garlands of branches bore cartouches with ancient emblems, and round shields with the imperial arms and those of our house. Above the street from the Castello to the Cathedral were stretched flags of the Sforza colors. In front of many doors, the flagstaffs were decked with creepers and green foliage, in such wise that one seemed to be in the month of May. On both sides of the street the houses were decked with satin, with the exception of those houses that have recently been decorated with the frescoes that are now being made on the dwellings of Milan, and which are no less handsome than tapestries.

At about half-past nine on the morning of that day, the reverend and magnificent Ambassadors of the King of the Romans rode to the church, escorted by the Marquis Ermes, the Count of Caiazzo, the Count Francesco Sforza, the Count da Melzo and Messer Ludovico de Fojano, and took their seats on the grandstand, in the little box on your left as you enter, this being considered as the place of greatest honour, being on the same side as the pulpit. At ten o’clock, Her Most Serene Highness mounted into the triumphal chariot, which our most dear Mother of revered memory gave me when I was at Ferrara, and that was drawn by four white horses.

The Queen wore a toilette of crimson satin embroidered with stripes of gold and covered with precious stones. Her train was of immense length, as also her hanging sleeves whose shape made them appear like two wings, and these produced a splendid effect. Her headdress was composed of magnificent diamonds and pearls, and to add to the impressiveness of the occasion, her train was carried by Messer Galeazzo Pallavicino, and the Counts Conrado de Lando and Manfredo Torriello each carried one of her sleeves. Before the bride walked all the chamberlains, courtiers, “officers”, gentlemen, feudatories, and last of all the councilors. The Queen was seated in the middle of the chariot, with the Duchess Isabella on her right, and with me on her left. The said Duchess wore a camora [dress] of crimson satin, with gold cords, worked on it, just the same as on my camora of grey material that you must remember having seen in my wardrobe. And as for me, I wore a camora of violet velvet with a cape, and embroidered on it interlaced chains in massive enameled gold, the background in white and the chains in green so as to create the right effect—which chains were half an arm high from the ground. Likewise there were chains on the bodice in front and behind, and the sleeves were attached with the same chains. The camora had several linings of cloth of gold, and over all the collar of Saint Francis made of big pearls, and at the end instead of the ornament, a fine balas ruby without leaves.

On the other side of the chariot were Madonna Fiordelise (a natural daughter of the Duke Francesco Sforza), Madonna Bianca (the natural daughter of Ludovico the Moor), wife of Messer Galeazzo, and the wife of the Count Francesco Sforza. Behind followed the Ambassadors sent by His Most Christian Majesty the King of France to do honour to the wedding. Then came the envoys of the different Italian States, according to their rank, with the Lord Duke and my husband on horseback. Behind followed about twelve chariots bearing the most noble damsels of Milan specially selected and invited to assist at the ceremony, and the Queen’s ladies all wearing the same uniform costume, that is to say, camoras of tan satin and cloaks of pale green satin. The Duchess Isabella’s ladies and my own were likewise in chariots, and when we reached the Cathedral in that order, the shops and windows all along the way were decked with satin draperies, and so packed with men and women that it would have been impossible to gauge the crowds who gathered at every corner of the streets.

When we had arrived at the door of the Cathedral, we got down out of the chariots and advanced to the steps of the stand where the Ambassadors of the King of the Romans came forward to meet the Queen and lead her to her place on the stand in front of the high altar. Then we occupied all the seats which had been reserved for us; that is to say, that the Ambassadors mounted into the stand decked with cloth of gold, the queen was conducted to the stand decked with cloth of silver between the French Ambassadors, whilst behind them were seated the envoys of the other powers, the Duke and my husband, the Duchess and I. The other relatives of the bride occupied a row of seats further down, and the center of the stand was filled with a great concourse of ladies. Beside the Queen, councilors, feudatories, and other courtiers, officers and chamberlains occupied the rest of the seats. As for the crowds, the Church, despite its dimension, could not hold them all.

When we were all in our places, the very reverend Archbishop of Milan made his entry in full dress with his priests in their usual vestments and commenced the celebration of the Mass with the most solemn ceremonial, to the sound of trumpets, flutes and organs, joined to the voices of the choir of the chapel who regulated their singing from the time of Monsignor. Hard by the pulpit, two of the priests of the ordinary of the Cathedral offered incense, one to the Ambassadors of King Maximilian, and the other to the Queen, the Duke and Duchess, and to my husband and me, who were sitting on the opposite side. When the time for it came, the Blessing was given by the Bishop of Piacenza to the representatives of the King and by the Bishop of Como to us others who were in the other stand. After mass had been celebrated with the greatest solemnity, the Queen rose from her seat between the Ambassadors of His Most Christian Majesty and accompanied by the Duke and my husband, the Duchess Isabella and me, and followed by all the Princes of the Blood, advance towards the Altar.

The Ambassadors of King Maximilian came forward in their turn, and we all stood before the Altar where Monsignor the Archbishop celebrated the marriage, and the Bishop of Brixen first handed the ring to the Queen and then, assisted by the Archbishop, placed the crown on her head, which act was heralded by great fanfares of trumpets, ringing of bells, and firing of cannon. The said crown was of gold encrusted with rubies, pearls and diamonds, and constructed in the shape of small arches intercrossing. On the top was an image of the terrestrial globe, surmounted with a little Imperial Cross, after the model given by the Ambassadors, according to their Sovereign’s instructions.

After this, each of us went in procession to the door of the Cathedral, the Feudatories mentioned above bearing trains and sleeves. There the women as well as the men mounted on horseback, and an awning of white edged with ermine was made ready, under which the Queen rode, preceded by the Ambassadors and all the Court, headed by the Duke and my husband.

At the side of the Queen rode the Ambassadors of the King, her husband, the Bishop of Brixen being on her left outside the canopy; and in this order the long procession started back to the Castello. The canopy was carried the whole of the distance by Doctors in their robes, as has been mentioned above, and behind the Queen rode the Duchess and myself, followed by relatives, courtiers and guests, all on horseback. Then came the Queen’s Ladies, the duchess’ and mine, all sumptuously dressed and giving a splendid effect, but the fairest of all was the Queen with the Imperial crown on her head. Nothing but cloth of gold or silver was to be seen and the people of less estate wore crimson velvet, so that the toilettes were a wonderful sight, without mentioning the countless chains of gold worn by the cavaliers and others. All those who were present agreed that they had never seen so magnificent a spectacle, and the Ambassador of Russia, who was numbered amongst them, declared that he had never witnessed such an extraordinary display of pomp. The Nuncio of his Holiness the Pope said the same thing, as well as the Ambassador of France, who declared that, although he had been present at the Coronations of the Pope and of his own King and Queen, he had never seen anything more splendid. Your Excellency may judge from that what a wonderfully pleasant and glorious wedding this was. Everyone in the crowd was shouting with joy, and continued until we reached the Castello of Milan, where the procession broke up and the crowd dispersed. Many times during the ceremony I regretted your absence, and since my desire could not be satisfied, I thought it would be an excellent plan if I wrote to you the description of it all by my own hand.

As ever, I commend myself to your  Highness,

Your sister, Beatrix Sfortia Vicemoes Estensis Duchissa Bri.

Viglevani, XXVIIII Decem. 1493


Robert de La Sizeranne, Beatrice d’Este and Her Court, trans. N. Fleming (London: Brentano’s, 1924), pp. 208–12.