Giovanni Sforza

Giovanni Sforza

Giovanni Sforza d'Aragona (1466 - July 27, 1510) was an Italian condottiero, lord of Pesaro and Gradara from 1483 until his death. He is best known as the first husband of Lucrezia Borgia. Their marriage was annulled on claims of his impotence in March 1497.

Life and marriage

The illegitimate son of Costanzo I Sforza, he was a member of powerful the House of Sforza, in the line of Pesaro and Gradara (the Milanese line held the Duchy of Milan at the time). At the death of his father in 1483 he inherited the lordship of Pesaro and Gradara.

In 1489 Giovanni had married to Maddalena Gonzaga, daughter of Francesco I of Mantua, but she died the following year. He was thus viewed as a valuable link to Milan by the Borgia family, who, with the help of his uncle, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, finalized marriage negotiations in February 1492 between Giovanni, then in his mid twenties, and Lucrezia, the thirteen-year-old illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI. A proxy marriage took place on June 12 that year, as the wedding contract stipulated that Lucrezia would stay in Rome and not consummate the marriage for a year. Her dowry was 31,000 ducats. The official marriage was celebrated in the Vatican in 1493, and reputedly was a lavish and decadent affair.

He and Lucrezia spent two years in Pesaro, during which his importance to the ambitious Borgia family dwindled. Sforza tried to wield his proximity to the Borgias to Milan's advantage by acting as a spy, and was found out by Alexander VI. Meanwhile, other political advantages (particularly with Naples) were formed, rendering the strategic marriage useless. Lucrezia, used to privileged life in the Papal court, did not adjust to the provincial atmosphere of Pesaro. By Christmas 1495, both Giovanni and Lucrezia were present again in the court at Rome.

By then, Sforza was aware that his fortune was precarious. He left Rome to continue with a military campaign, and upon his return in February 1497 quickly fled the city in disguise. The accepted reason for this is that the Pope and his son Cesare had contrived a plot to murder Giovanni, but Lucrezia was informed in advance by Cesare and warned her husband to leave. This has not been proven, but remains a popular explanation.

Annulment and late life

The Pope filed for divorce on Lucrezia's behalf in 1497. Ascanio Sforza was again called in to mediate between his nephew and the Borgia, and tried to persuade Giovanni into accepting the divorce. However, Giovanni refused to do so on at least two grounds: [first, he would have to return Lucrezia's sizeable dowry, and second, doing so would require signing a paper that stated he was impotent] . Some sources state that Giovanni had fathered illegitimate children and even married prior to his union with Lucrezia, which is not unreasonable given his age, and therefore genuine impotence on his part would be unlikely.

In response, Sforza accused Lucrezia of parental and fraternal incest. This claim, first made solely against the Pope and later extended to all of Lucrezia's brothers, still continues to shade the family's history. It became a popular example of the depravity later caused by the family, despite its lack of veritability.

The marriage was eventually annulled in 1497 on grounds of non-consummation. The Sforza family had by then threatened to withhold protection of Giovanni if he did not comply with the offer, which allowed him to keep the dowry but still required signing the confirmation of impotence. In [March or December] , Sforza agreed to the terms and six months later provided sworn testimony that Lucrezia was a virgin. Ironically, Lucrezia was then allegedly pregnant with the Roman Infante, whose parentage was cited by some as proof of incest between her and Cesare. It is certain that Sforza did not parent the child, but details beyond that are uncertain.

In 1500 Giovanni was excommunicated, and the citizens of one of his cities attempted to kill him. He was also attacked by Cesare Borgia, who aimed to gain his lands, and was forced to abandon Pesaro. He sued for help by all the powers of the time, France and Holy Roman Empire included, but in vain, and could return in Pesaro only after the death of Alexander VI and the illness of Cesare Borgia (1503). The following year the new Pope, Julius II, confirmed him the vicariate in Pesaro.

He remarried to Ginevra Tiepolo, who gave him an heir, Costanzo II (Giovanni Maria), who succeeded him in Pesaro and Gradara.

He died in Pesaro in 1510.


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