Bianca Maria Sforza

Bianca Maria Sforza
Bernhard Strigel 009.jpg
Portrait by Bernhard Strigel, ca. 1505/1510
Queen consort of Germany and Italy
Archduchess consort of Austria
Tenure 16 March 1494 – 31 December 1510
Holy Roman Empress
Tenure 4 February 1508 – 31 December 1510
Born 5 April 1472
Died 31 December 1510(1510-12-31) (aged 38)
House Sforza
Father Galeazzo Maria Sforza
Mother Bona of Savoy
Religion Roman Catholicism

Bianca Maria Sforza (5 April 1472 – 31 December 1510) was the queen of Germany and Italy, and empress of the Holy Roman Empire as the third spouse of Maximilian I. She was the eldest legitimate daughter of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan by his second wife, Bona of Savoy.

Early life

Bianca was born in Pavia as the eldest daughter of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan, by his second wife, Bona of Savoy. She was named after her paternal grandmother, Bianca Maria Visconti.[1] When Bianca was not yet five years old, her father was assassinated inside the Church of Santo Stefano in Milan on 26 December 1476, which was the Feast Day of St. Stephen. He was stabbed to death by three high-ranking officials of the Milanese court.[1]

On 6 January 1474[2] the 21-month-old Bianca married her first cousin Duke Philibert I of Savoy, the son of her uncle Amadeus IX of Savoy, and Yolande of France.[3] Duke Philibert I died in the spring of 1482, leaving Bianca a widow at the age of ten. She returned to Milan, under the tutelage of her uncle Ludovico Il Moro, who cared little about her education and allowed her to indulge her own interests, mainly needlework.

On 31 July 1485, the engagement between Bianca and John Corvinus, the only (though illegitimate) son of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, was formally announced. With this marriage, the Hungarian ruler wanted to secure his son's future inheritance of Hungary and Bohemia and to make him Duke of Austria. The marriage by proxy was signed on 25 November 1487, and according to the terms of the contract, Bianca received several Hungarian counties. However, due to the opposition and intrigues of Queen Beatrix, wife of King Matthias, the formal marriage never took place. In March 1492 a marriage between Bianca and King James IV of Scotland was considered, but the idea was soon abandoned.[1]

Queen and empress

On 16 March 1494[4] in Hall, Tyrol, Bianca married her second husband, the widowed King Maximilian I of Germany. Bianca's second marriage was arranged by her uncle, who wanted recognition and the title of duke confirmed by Maximilian; in exchange, Maximilian received a large dowry along with Bianca, 400,000 ducats.[5] Her magnificent retinue on her way to her wedding aroused much attention. At her wedding, Bianca wore a bodice "with eighty pieces of the jeweler's art pinned thereon, with each piece consisting of one ruby and four pearls".[5] Maximilian's claim to overlordship of Milan angered Anne of France, regent for her brother King Charles VIII of France, and brought about French intervention in Italy, thus inaugurating the lengthy Italian Wars.

The union was unhappy: shortly after the consummation of the marriage, Maximilian complained that Bianca may have been more beautiful than his first wife, Duchess Mary of Burgundy, but was not as wise. It was impossible for the young bride to win the affection of her husband, who considered her too uneducated, talkative, naive, wasteful with money, and careless. He did wish to have children with her, but all their attempts failed: despite Bianca's several pregnancies, none produced a living child. She very much liked her stepchildren Philip the Handsome and Margaret, but was criticized for forgetting her dignity when she sat on the floor with them to play.[1]

After 1500, Maximilian lost all interest in Bianca. She lived with her own court of Milanese people in various castles in Tyrol. On several occasions he left her behind as security when he could not pay for his rooms on trips (This is disputed by historian Sabine Weiss, according to whom she was only left behind if it was related to her own debt[6]). Maximilian took the title of emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire in 1508, making Bianca empress. Empress Bianca died at Innsbruck on 31 December 1510. She was buried at Stams. Her husband did not attend her funeral or even dedicate a gravestone to her.[7]

Recent research though indicates that Bianca was an educated woman who had a political role as a mediator for different kinds of agenda both involving Ludovico Sforza and Maximilian.[8]

In 1503, Bianca was persuaded by the pseudo-mystic of Augsburg, Anna Laminit (who claimed to be a "hunger saint" and had managed to dupe even her husband Maximilian), to lead a penitent procession with the city's leading officials – probably the largest one the city had ever seen. Later Laminit's fraud would be exposed by Maximilian's younger sister Kunigunde in October 1512. In 1514, Maximilian expelled Laminit from Augsburg. After continuing to engage in fraudulent behaviours, she was condemned as a witch and executed by drowning.[9][10]

According to Nicole Riegel, after Bianca's death in 1510, building activities for Maximilian's imperial residence project (which had been ongoing for almost two decades) in Innsbruck completely ceased, suggesting that the project was tied to their marriage. Only after 1506, when the Hungarian double wedding happened with the appearance of the two brides Mary and Anne, new reparations began again.[11]

In arts and media

  • La Bella Principessa is attributed by several scholars to be a portrait of Bianca Maria by Leonardo da Vinci.[12][13]
  • Bianca Maria is the main character of the 2019 musical Schattenkaiserin (The shadow empress) by Jürgen Tauber und Oliver Ostermann. The musical received three nominations for the German Musical Theater Price 2020/2021 (due to the coronavirus crisis, the price covers both the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 seasons) for composition, stage design and costume and won the prize for stage design.[14]