Your RDA of Irony

On This Day in 1503

November 23rd

If you were reading the death notices in 1503, you would have been intrigued by Bona of Savoy’s obituary: she was almost Queen of England and sorta Duchess of Milan. Perhaps Bona (1449-1503) was born to be an underachiever and runner-up. She did have the abysmal timing to be a younger child in the Ducal House of Savoy. The older siblings got the properties and the better marriages. For instance, her older sister Charlotte was married to the King of France. True, he was old (20 years Charlotte’s senior), creepy and cheap; but he still had a status job. (He was also a superb king, but that would be of interest only to his subjects and historians.)

But then Prince Charming–or at least his ambassador–promised to rescue Bona. In 1464 the precariously throned Edward IV of England needed a wife, preferably one who could include a powerful ally in her dowry. The French had been lending support to Edward’s Lancastrian rivals, but a marriage to Bona might alter the Gallic bias. Edward’s chief advisors were encouraging the match, especially the Earl of Warwick. In fact, Warwick was in Paris to negotiate the marriage. Bona should have been enthusiastic about the prospective union. She would not only get a throne but a chance to finally outdo Charlotte. King Edward was young and said to be the most handsome man in England. Warwick, Bona and the French Court thought they had reached an agreement when some contradictory news arrived from London. The most handsome man in England had just married the most beautiful woman in England. Edward had affronted Bona, sabotaged a French alliance and betrayed the Earl of Warwick–and all for a penniless widow with a large, ravenous family.

France would continue to support the Lancastrians, and the Earl of Warrick was about to change sides. The next round in the Wars of the Roses was ready to begin.

However, our concern is Bona. Whether as compensation for the aggrieved or banishment of an embarrassment, the French Court now eagerly sought some acceptable marriage for her. The ruling family in Milan was receptive; the Sforza welcomed any class and legitimacy they could get. Francesco Sforza, a successful mercenary commander, had taken control of Lombardy in 1447. While his power could not be disputed, he was not acknowledged as the rightful Duke of Milan. (Of course, people addressed him as Duke to his face; if Al Capone demanded to be called Mayor of Chicago, would you have argued with him?) Francisco was illegitimate as was his wife; so the status-craving Sforza were eager to have an aristocrat–with royal connections–for a daughter-in-law.

Nonetheless, the negotiations took four years; the Sforza knew how to bargain. But in 1468 Bona became the wife of Galeazzo Sforza. He succeeded his father as the self-proclaimed Duke of Milan and showed himself to be a patron of art and torture. His assassination in 1476 may have been a surprise only to him. Galeazzo’s body was treated as a pinata, but the Sforza family was still in control. (They apparently did not miss him, either.) During the marriage, Bona had produced the prerequisite son, and the 7 year-old was now the sorta Duke of Milan. Bona was supposed to be Regent, but her brother-in-law Ludovico Sforza really was not one for formalities. After a short civil war, Bona was exiled and Uncle Ludovico established himself as regent for his nephew.

Would you be surprised that Uncle Ludovico outlived his nephew? Actually, to Uncle Lud’s credit, the young “Duke” lived for 18 years in comfortable confinement; those comforts included considerable latitude because the young man apparently died of syphilis in 1494.

As for Bona, she was a has-been at 31. Since she did not possess a conspiratorial nature, she was never involve in any political intrigues and so she also never had to hire a foodtaster. In the remaining two decades of her life, she was content to be a patron of the arts. And today’s museums would indicate that she had good taste.

p.s. What happened to the most beautiful woman in England? Her name was Elizabeth Woodville–England’s first queen Elizabeth–and in 1483 she found herself in a similar plight to Bona’s. Edward IV had died, leaving a young son as his heir and a fight-to-the-death over who would be the regent. Elizabeth also had a hostile brother-in-law; and her sons would not live long enough to get syphilis.

  1. JC Kreidel says:

    Eugenio –
    How is it you’re not the most popular history teacher at the University of Chicago? If I’d have professors like you, I’d have been a history major. Mine always sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Opportunities missed … now I’m but a lowly proposal writer. Still your groupie, though!

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Dear JC,

      You speak of the mystery of history. By its very nature, history has to be interesting. If it lacked significance and consequence, it simply wouldn’t be history. Yet, why are such fascinating and important stories taught by such boring people. One might presume that these droning pedants like history, but they certainly can’t communicate their interest. On the contrary, their dulled students only remember the boredom rather than the history itself.

      Now, if you happen to be in Highland Park, Illinois sometime this winter, I know of an erudite satirist who will be conducting a series of lectures on Jewish history. It will be held at Congregation Solel. You won’t even have to convert. People will just assume that you are the shiksa trophy wife of one of the members.

      In the meantime, you will always have your RDA of Irony.

      Your Pedantic Jester,


  1. There are no trackbacks for this post yet.

Leave a Reply