Who’s the daddy?

As usual, it’s all very busy here at Musica Secreta central, what with performances and workshops being planned, oh and books being published… Well, one book in particular, Women and Music in Sixteenth-Century Ferrara, which is finally out and available from Cambridge University Press, or Hive (other online retailers are available).

While I was putting together all the final materials for the online resources, I had the idea to expand the Este genealogy backwards into the fifteenth century. I had heard that Niccolò III d’Este had hundreds of children, and I just wanted to see a) if it was true, and b) what that might have meant for family relations in Ferrara. So, I did, and… oh boy.

You can see the fruits of my labours here – with an interactive family tree that will take you to articles (some in Italian) about many of the people on the chart. I tracked fifteen of his children, and the tree shows that through even a small number of those Niccolò was the common ancestor of most of the ruling/noble families in northeastern Italy in the sixteenth century.

The chart also reveals some interesting bloodlines further down the tree. Particularly poignant/surprising is the relationship between Ercole Contrari, Count of Vignola, great-great-grandson of Niccolò, and Ercole’s own great-nephew, Ercole Pepoli.

Ercole Contrari was the ill-fated lover of Princess Lucrezia d’Este, Duchess of Urbino, great-great granddaughter of Niccolò. Contrari was murdered in August 1575 by Duke Alfonso II (great-great-grandson) and Don Alfonso d’Este (great-grandson) because of his indiscretion with the princess. This act set in train a bitter enmity that ended only in 1598, when Lucrezia scuppered the claims of Cesare d’Este (Don Alfonso’s son) to Ferrara, and caused the city to cede to the Papal States – bringing an end to the duchy forever.

Ercole Pepoli (great-great-great-great-grandson) was married to Princess Vittoria Cybo (great-great-grandaughter) – a precocious musician and the ageing Duchess of Urbino’s favourite. Pepoli was murdered by Alfonso III d’Este (great-great-great-grandson) on Christmas Day, 1617, because of his public and private abuse of his wife.

Both murders might be said to have been in defence of Este princesses, but the victims were also Este blood. When we hear the astonishing music of the Ferrarese court, we might not be aware of the heights – and depths – of passion that coloured the lives of its protagonists. I hope the book will shed some light and add some perspective, maybe enriching the experience of the music in surprising ways.

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