Ferrante d’Este, born in Naples in 1477, son of Ercole d’Este and brother to Alfonso d’Este, was a man largely forgotten to Italian history and nearly completely forgotten to the English version of Italian history. He has no Wikipedia page, only the Italian one, and when people remember he existed at all, it’s usually as a footnote in the conspiracy he and Giulio planned against their brother in 1506. To put things in perspective, Giulio, who was Ercole’s bastard, was remembered by history more, mostly for his feud with his brother Ippolito over Angela Borgia.
Despite all that, he is one of my favorite historical characters to work with. In fact, I have at least five books planned that involve him. Granted, most of that is due to my love of the Italian Renaissance, but there is also a completely different book with a slightly different reincarnation of him. Because while history may have forgotten about him, I haven’t.
He was named after his maternal grandfather and was raised in the court of Aragon. In 1493, he was sent by his father to serve Charles VIII in the French army. When the French Army rode into Florence, the handsome youth evoked comparisons to St. George, a far cry from the forgotten man he would become. After the French army moved from Rome towards Naples, he remained behind in Rome, squandering the money his father sent him. After a time, he was persuaded by his father to rejoin the French army, and he fought for the French during the battle of Fornovo.
He did not return to Italy until 1497, and less than a year later, he was serving Venice in a fight with Florence over Pisa. The war, however, turned out to be a complete disaster. He had little control over his troops, poor funding, and his cavalry was ill-equipped for the light skirmishes that comprised the battles. He frequently wrote to his father of his ill-treatment, and when the French returned, Venice withdrew from Tuscany and Ferrante was sent back to Ferrara.
In 1499, he went with his older brother to Milan to visit Louis XII, but he found no favor with Charles’ successor, due to his incurred French debts.
In 1502, Alfonso married Lucrezia Borgia and as part of the wedding dowry, Ferrante was given Cento. Ferrante stood in as proxy for his brother during the ceremony of the ring. He escorted Lucrezia back to Ferrara, where he reported on her dress and demeanor to his older sister, Isabella. He and Lucrezia seem to have been good friends, with her showing him favor during dances.
In 1506, he joined forces with his half-brother Giulio in an attempt to kill their brother Alfonso and take the duchy. The plan was ultimately found out, and both brothers were sentenced to be executed. Just before the sentence was to be carried out, Alfonso, at the persuasion of Lucrezia and Francesco, reduced the sentence to life imprisonment in the Tower of Lions. He died in prison 34 years later without having received a single visit from a family member.
While his youth had started so promising, he was reportedly described quite frequently as lazy and frivolous until he ultimately faded into obscurity.
Ferrante in Popular Media
Lucrezia Borgia and the Mother of Poisons: Taking place during Lucrezia’s 3rd marriage, this book features Ferrante in a supporting role, as conduit for Lucrezia into the world of men and to flirt with one of her ladies in waiting. For more details on my thoughts on Ferrante in this book, my review can be found here.
Sins of the House of Borgia: This book remains my favorite portrayal of Ferrante. Clearly Sarah Bower and I have similar feelings on the man. Also set during Lucrezia’s third marriage, this book covers Ferrante in a much more prominent light. It even seeks to explain his part in the conspiracy against his brother.
The Borgias: Ha! I wish. As the show progresses and historical accuracy falls further behind, I find it difficult to believe he is even going to be in the show. Which is sad, to me, as I was really hoping he and Lucrezia would get to be BFFs. I maintained a glimmer of hope he would eventually come in if only to satisfy Neil Jordan’s gay quota, but with recent Micheletto developments, I find that to be quite unlikely as well.