Caterina Sforza was born in 1463 in Milan, daughter of Lucrezia Landriani, lover of the Duke of Milan Galeazzo Maria Sforza, and wife of the courtier Gian Piero Landriani. She was a lady of Imola and countess of Forlì, first with her husband Girolamo Riario, then as regent of her eldest son Ottaviano.
Raised for the first few years of her childhood with her mother Lucrezia's family, Caterina moved to the Sforza court in 1466, the year in which Galeazzo Maria became duke (following the death of her father Francesco). With her there are also the brothers Alessandro, Chiara and Carlo, entrusted to the grandmother Bianca Maria. Caterina Sforza and her brothers, at the refined Sforza court have the opportunity to receive a humanistic education. On the other hand, it could only be this way, in a context widely frequented by artists and writers and in an environment of considerable cultural openness.
Caterina, therefore, begins to study the Latin language, having - so - how to appreciate the numerous classical works that are part of the ducal library. In 1473 - when Caterina was only ten years old - Girolamo Riario, lord of Imola was given in marriage to the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (later he would also become lord of Forlì). For this marriage replaces Costanza Fogliani, her eleven-year-old cousin, rejected by Girolamo because Costanza's mother, Gabriella Gonzaga, required that the marriage be consummated only at the age of fourteen.
After the wedding, Caterina joins her husband, who has since moved to Rome because of his uncle's service to the pontiff. The cultural environment that it finds there is particularly lively, and facilitates its easy and quick insertion. Thanks to her amiable ways of doing things and her casual attitude, the girl manages to fit into the aristocratic life of Rome, to which musicians, poets, philosophers and artists from every corner of Europe take part.
Feeling important, both for her beauty and for her marriage, Caterina Sforza becomes an intermediary appreciated and sought after by the Roman and Milanese courts.
Meanwhile, her husband conquered more and more power, not giving up the cruelty towards his enemies: in 1480 he was assigned the lordship of Forlì, which had remained vacant, to the detriment of the Ordelaffi. For Caterina and Girolamo, however, things get complicated when Sixtus IV dies. Those who had suffered injustices during the pontificate rebelled, and the Riario family's residence was practically put to fire and fire.
Caterina, on the run, decides to take refuge at the fortress of Castel Sant'Angelo with the intention of occupying her on behalf of the governor, her husband. He commands the soldiers from here and even threatens the Vatican, forcing the cardinals to come to terms with her.
So as a young man then - Caterina is in her twenties - she shows a distinctly energetic character. On the death of her husband she closes herself within the walls of the Ravaldino fortress. He holds on while the city surrenders to the Pope. Until the moment when the Sforza army gave her back the lordship of Forlì, which she maintained as regent before handing it over to her son Ottaviano. In reality, together with Iacopo Feo, his lover (who secretly marries), governs and manages power to the point of assuming a role of significant importance in the context of Italian politics until the fall of Charles VIII.
Following the death of Feo, in 1495, Caterina Sforza married Giovanni de 'Medici, in great secrecy, in a third marriage. A few years later the two will become parents of Ludovico, who as an adult will be famous with the name of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere. Giovanni de 'Medici, known as il Popolano, had come to Caterina's court in 1496 as ambassador of the Republic of Florence and had been lodged in the fortress of Ravaldino.
The marriage, although initially opposed by Caterina's uncle Ludovico Sforza, had finally received his approval and that of Caterina's sons. After the birth of the little Ludovico Medici, Caterina had to deal with the worsening of the situation between Venice and Florence, since the territories on which she governs are on the passageways of the two armies. For this reason, think of the defense and decide to send a contingent of knights to Florence.
Suddenly Giovanni de' Medici became so seriously ill that he had to leave the battlefield to go to Forlì. Here, despite the care, his condition continues to deteriorate and he is transferred to Santa Maria in Bagno (now part of Bagno di Romagna), where he hoped for the miraculous action of the local waters. On 14 September 1498 Giovanni de' Medici died. Caterina is in his presence, called by him to be with him in the last hours.
The union between Giovanni de 'Medici and Caterina Sforza is at the origin of the Medici grand-ducal dynastic line. From the marriage of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere with Maria Salviati (daughter of Lucrezia de 'Medici, of the main Medici branch) was born Cosimo I de' Medici, second duke of Florence and first Grand Duke of Tuscany. The line of Medici succession will last over two centuries, until 1743, becoming extinct with Anna Maria Luisa de 'Medici.
Immediately after the death of her beloved Giovanni, Caterina returns to Forlì to take care of the defense of her States. She directs military maneuvers, managing the supply of soldiers, weapons and horses. She is the one who is in charge of training the militias. To find money and reinforcements, he never tires of writing to his uncle Ludovico, the Republic of Florence and the neighboring allied states. But only the Duke of Milan and Mantua send a small contingent of soldiers.
A first attack by the Venice army inflicts serious damage on the territories occupied by Caterina. But Caterina's army still manages to win over the Venetians. Among these there are also Antonio Ordelaffi and Taddeo Manfredi, descendants of the houses that had governed Forlì and Imola respectively before the Riario. Meanwhile, the war continues with small battles, until the Venetians manage to bypass Forlì and reach Florence from another way.
In the meantime, the French throne is succeeded by Louis XII, who has rights to the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. Before starting his campaign in Italy, he secured the alliance of the Savoys, the Republic of Venice and Pope Alexander VI. In 1499 he entered Italy occupying Piedmont without having to fight, Genoa and Cremona. Then he settled in Milan, abandoned by Duke Ludovico who took refuge in the territories of the Tyrol. Pope Alexander VI allies with the King of France to have his backing in the establishment of a Kingdom for his (illegitimate) son Cesare Borgia in the land of Romagna. With this purpose it issues a papal bull to void the investitures of all the feudal lords of those lands, including Caterina Sforza.
The French army leaves Milan for the conquest of Romagna under the guidance of Duke Valentino. Meanwhile Ludovico Sforza reconquered the Duchy with the help of the Austrians. Catherine is alone in opposing the Duke's army. Enlist and train as many soldiers as possible. Store weapons, ammunition and food. He strengthens the defenses of his fortresses with important works, especially that of Ravaldino, his residence, already considered impregnable. It also makes the children leave because they are safe in Florence.
Cesare Borgia arrives at Imola and takes possession of it. After what happened in her minor city, Caterina expressly asks the people of Forlì if she wants to surrender as Imola did or if she wants to endure a siege. The people hesitated to respond, so Caterina made the decision to concentrate all her efforts in defending her residence, leaving Forlì to her fate.
The Duke Valentino took possession of Forlì and laid siege to the fortress of Ravaldino. Caterina's opponents try to convince her to surrender with diplomacy. But in response she puts a bounty on Cesare Borgia, just like the one the Duke put on her: (10,000 ducats, alive or dead).
This leads to bombings that continue for many days. The forces of Catherine inflict numerous losses on the French army. What destroys the French by day is rebuilt during the night. Caterina's solitary resistance soon became a piece of news circulating throughout Italy. Admiration for Catherine is great. Niccolò Machiavelli also reports how numerous were the songs and epigrams composed in his honor.
When the Valentino changes tactics, starting to bombard the walls even at night, he reaches victory. It is 12 January 1500 when the French enter the walls. Caterina continues to resist fighting in first person with the weapons in hand, until she was taken prisoner. Immediately Caterina declares herself a prisoner of the French, knowing that there is a law in France that prevents women from being held as prisoners of war.
Cesare Borgia obtains custody of Caterina and takes her to Rome from the Pope, where she is imprisoned. To justify his imprisonment, the pontiff accuses her (perhaps falsely) of having tried to poison him with letters sent in response to the papal bull, with which the countess had been deposed by her fief.
Therefore, a process is held, which nevertheless does not reach a conclusion. For this Caterina Sforza remains imprisoned in the fortress until June 30th 1501, when she manages to be freed thanks to the intervention of France and, in particular, of Yves d'Allègre, who arrived in Rome with the aim of conquering the Kingdom of Naples with the army of Louis XII.
Catherine was obliged by Alexander VI to sign documents which definitively renounced his States. At that point, after having stayed for a short period in the residence of Cardinal Raffaele Riario, he retired to Tuscany, first to Livorno and then to Florence, where his children are waiting for her.
In the last years of his life he spends his time in the Medici Villa of Castello and in the other residences owned by her husband Giovanni, complaining about financial hardship and claiming to be abused. Finally, he died of a severe pneumonia on May 28, 1509 in Florence, at the age of forty-six. Is buried in the monastery of Murate in Florence, in front of the main altar. Later his nephew Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, had a tombstone affixed, but today there is no trace of the tomb.