Your RDA of Irony

Eugene’s Travel and Adultery Tips

If, through some lapse in the space-time continuum, you find yourself in 16th century Florence, here are some recommendations for tourists.  First, congratulations on beating the waiting lines for the Uffizi Gallery.  Try not to bother the muncipal bureaucrats; you are in their offices (hence, Uffizi).  You have to admit that they really knew how to decorate their cubicles, hallways and employee lounges.  (“The men’s chamber pots?  Turn left at the Raphael, in between the Botticelli and the Titian.”)

You might also want some guidelines for adultery.  (What better way to  demonstrate your humanism!)

Men: do not have affairs with women of superior social standing.  Unless you are an emperor, king, duke or cardinal (it is Renaissance Italy), do not seduce a duchess.  You will only get yourself poisoned and her strangled.

Women:  only have affairs with men of superior social standing.  They can protect you from your outraged husband or buy him off.

Take for example the happy couple Francesco de Medici (1541-1587) and Bianca Capello.  He is the Grand Duke of Tuscany and she is the wife of a Florentine clerk.  Of course, the Duke also has a wife, Johanna the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor and the first cousin of Philip II of Spain.  (Johanna’s opportunities for “correct” adultery would have been very limited; the only men with superior social standing would have been her father or the Emperor of China.)  The cuckolded clerk is bought off with a few bureaucratic promotions, perhaps a bigger warren at the Uffizi.

So, in this domestic skein, three out of four people are happy.  The Duchess is consistently miserable; in so many ways Florence is just too hot for an Austrian girl.  Then in 1572 the clerk becomes unhappy; that would be a normal reaction to being stabbed to death in public.  Of course, the culprits were never found.  The Duke and his widowed mistress continued in their bliss.  In 1578 Duchess Johanna was found at the bottom of a stairwell; apparently she had fallen.  In all probability, the Duke wouldn’t have been that stupid; you don’t needlessly offend in-laws like the Hapsburgs.  But would Bianca have been so ruthless?  Well, she was Mrs. Medici and the Grand Duchess the following year.

And Francesco and Bianca lived happily ever after until the very same day in 1587.  The cause of their deaths was said to be malaria.  Of course, the official coroner’s report took awhile….

NEWS FLASH:  “Italian scientists believe they have uncovered a 400-year-old murder. Historians have long suspected that Francesco de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and his second wife Bianca Cappello did not die of malaria but were poisoned – probably by Francesco’s brother, Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, who was vying for the title.”

Under normal circumstances, the Italian Coroner’s Office would not be dealing with a case from 1587 so soon. The Office has a backlog of autopsies dating back to AD. 19. (The preliminary report on Germanicus is expected shortly; but he is definitely dead.) However, the death of Francesco de Medici did involve a malpractice suit against his physician. The doctor was being sued for using unclean leeches. His insurance company expedited the case.  Four centuries of free lunches will get things done in Italy.

It should be noted that Cardinal Ferdinando made a much better ruler than his conveniently late brother. Although he was a Prince of the Church, Ferdinando never took any holy orders, and so was free to marry.  He chose a French cousin–the granddaughter of Catherine de Medici; and with that lineage, he might have been too terrified to cheat on her.  In any case, when Grand Duke Ferdinando died in 1608, there were no rumors and a genuinely sad widow.

So why am I writing this.  It is the birthday of Ferdinando de Medici:  good husband, capable ruler, dubious cardinal and a bad–but tasteful-brother.

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