Review: The Pope’s Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice Della Rovere

The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice Della Rovere
The Pope’s Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice Della Rovere by Caroline P. Murphy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are many things I could say about this book. Unfortunately, not all of them are good. Let’s start with the goods things. She is obviously very passionate about her subject matter, in this case Felice della Rovere. Another impressive aspect about this book is Caroline Murphy strives to bring to life an important Renaissance figure who has faded into obscurity despite being fairly prominent during her day. While she was not as infamous as Caterina Sforza or the other pope’s daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, Felice della Rovere accomplished the same things they did. She carved out a spot for herself in a man’s world; however, Felice went about it in a completely different manner. While Caterina Sforza strove to be mistress of her own estate, Felice did so mainly to ensure the future of her children, children who would ultimately let her down. She seemed to do whatever she could to distance herself from Lucrezia by acting in a supportive capacity for her father and future popes instead of drawing attention to herself. Because she did so much in the background, there are some points where the author has to use her imagination to fill in the gaps of her life. This would have worked extraordinarily well in a novel, but this was not a novel. Not to mention, I find it difficult to believe that had Felice been alive, she would have somehow been able to prevent the death of her daughter. They lived in southern Italy, far away from her mother, and her husband strangled her for being unable to bear him sons. I think it is a stretch to imagine that if he was driven by such passion to kill his wife that respect for her living mother would have stopped him.

Now, here’s the downside to this book. For an Oxford Press book, I was surprised to find it was riddled with errors, some editorial, but also some factual. When I first picked up the book, I flipped through the index out of curiosity to see if Ferrante d’Este was mentioned at all. He was, but the index also listed instances of Ferrante Gonzaga, and seemed to be confused as to which Ferrante the text was referring to. Pages marked for d’Este were actually about Gonzaga and vice-versa. That is the fault of whoever compiled the index, not the author, but I wish I could say that the errors ended there. At one point, her husband was stated as being born in 1560, despite the fact that she died in 1536. That was a relatively simple error that any editor should have been able to catch before it went to print. There was another typographical error later on that spelled ‘too’ as ‘ttoo.’ These errors, however, while mildly annoying, are forgivable.

The factual errors, or in this case the one that I found, make it difficult to trust the rest of her research. At one point, she talks about Felice’s marriage options into the Este family which apparently were being negotiated. At that time, she refers to Ferrante d’Este as Ercole’s youngest son. A simple google search will tell you that he was born in 1477, several years before some of his brothers, so unless she has access to some super secret birth records that completely change the birth order of the Este family… Another review on a different website remarked that Caroline Murphy’s Latin was frequently mistranslated, errors that I would not have been able to catch not knowing Latin myself. I just wonder how much of her research I can actually trust when she had something as simple as the Este birth order wrong.

The other problem I had with this book was that since so much of Felice’s life is a mystery, a lot of detail was presented on the histories of the families she interacted with and the places she frequented. About a fourth of the book could be trimmed if we decide to focus only on the information that was directly pertinent to Felice’s life.

Despite its flaws, I still need to give the author credit for focusing so intently on a project she was passionate about and bringing to life the other Pope’s daughter, the one who while intuitive and resourceful for her time, unfortunately faded into obscurity.

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