Bona Sforza of Aragon was queen consort of Poland, grand duchess consort of Lithuania from 1518 and duchess sovereign of Bari, from 1524.
The daughter of the Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo and Isabella of Aragon, was the second wife of King Sigismund I (1518) and thus became Queen Consort of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania.
Bona was the nephew of Bianca Maria Sforza, who in 1493 had married Emperor Maximilian I. At the death of his mother Isabella in 1524, Bona succeeded her in the titles of Duchess of Bari and Princess of Rossano, and also became a suitor in the name of the Brienne family to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Bona had not yet turned a year when he was an orphan of the young father, perhaps poisoned by his uncle Ludovico il Moro, who, already his regent during his minority, took power assuming the title of duke of Milan. His wife Beatrice d'Este assumed the title of Duchess of Milan by transferring her title of Duchess of Bari to the widow Isabella of Aragon. Isabella, together with her four children, moved away from the Milanese court in 1500, when she realized that her attempts to recognize the rights of his son Francesco Maria Sforza were in vain.
In Naples, Bona received an accurate and versatile education, as it was used in the Renaissance courts. His chief preceptor was a humanist and poet, Crisostomo Colonna, a member of the Pontanian Academy, who was inspired by the works of Petrarch in the literary field. But the formation of his personality was cared especially by his mother, who also took care of getting a marriage advantageous for her daughter and useful for the interests of the dynasty: in 1518, at twenty-four, witnessed his cousin Vittoria Colonna, Bona married in Naples the King of Poland Sigismondo I, a three-year-old widower of fifty-one by Barbara Zápolya.
Upon reaching Poland, Bona was crowned in Krakow, where the court resided in which spread the Italian Renaissance culture. In foreign policy he pursued a policy of prestige: in 1525 Poland succeeded in making Prussia its own tax, in 1533 it entered into a peace treaty with Turkey, it maintained friendly relations with Lithuania, which in 1569 will unify with Poland, and with France, in an anti-imperial function, to guard against possible expansionist policies of the Habsburgs and, at the same time, in 1543 he married his son Sigismondo Augusto with Princess Elisabeth of Habsburg. He also maintained friendly relations with Spain, due to his interests in the Duchy of Bari.
Inside Bona strives to strengthen real power, organizing a party to the court as well as accumulating a considerable amount of estates. He fought the power of the nobles in order to make Poland a modern absolutist state, following the example of France, Spain and England: since the nobles were entrusted with the task of electing the new king, in 1530, when he was still alive. Father Sigismondo had his only son, Sigismondo Augusto, crowned just ten years, without requiring the approval of the nobility, so as to make her understand that the succession to the throne had to follow the dynastic line. The nobles only got the promise that in the future no coronation would take place during the life of the king and without approval of the Diet of the nobles, the Sejm Walny.
Having obtained the necessary papal dispensations and with the consent of Sigismondo, it was she who chose the bishops, drawn from the nobility, provided they served the sovereign with fidelity. It was a way of securing the services of bishops less faithful to the directives of Rome and more devoted to the cause of the Polish state, as well as a system to subtract power from the nobility, who tried to divide against the small nobility that controlled the Diet the great aristocracy of Senate.
In Poland the population did not follow a single religious confession: in addition to a Catholic majority, there were Orthodox, Armenian Christians and Muslims in the East, Lutherans in the North, Jews, and small groups of Calvinists and antitrinitaries, the latter coming mainly from the Italy to escape persecution. Formally, Bona was Catholic but it is not certain whether she was really devoted to this confession as to any other: to her confessor, the Franciscan Francesco Lismanini, donated the sermons by Bernardino Ochino, the general of the Capuchins who had fled Italy earlier in Switzerland and then in Germany, and Lismanini, preceptor of his son Sigismondo Augusto, taught the Institutions of Calvin and ended up openly adhering to Calvinism. The doctor of Bona Sforza was then that Giorgio Biandrata who at the time was, at least apparently, Catholic, but became an open antitrinitario.
Józef Simmler: The death of Barbara Radziwiłł
After the death of Elizabeth, which took place in 1545, in 1547 his son Sigismondo married, without his knowledge and the Polish diet, Barbara Radziwiłł, belonging to a family of Lithuanian nobility, which evidently had no political weight in the European scene. A marriage which, viewed from the point of view of dynastic and national interests, seemed to demonstrate the political immaturity of the young king. Bona was instead planning her marriage with Anna d'Este, daughter of Duke Ercole and especially of Renata, closely related to the French royal family to be the daughter of Louis XII, a marriage that could encourage her efforts to settle on the throne of Hungary daughter Isabella and who would have strengthened her interests in Italy.
It is however possible that Sigismondo intentionally avoided a marriage of interest, consistent with his moral principles: we know that in his library there were books by Calvin and Erasmus of Rotterdam. The latter possessed in particular the Institutio principis christiani in which, among other things, the Dutch humanist condemned marriages stipulated by rulers to pursue their political interests: "The princes should shy away from foreign alliances and especially from contracting marriages out from their borders. What sense can an agreement have for which a marriage suddenly changes an Irishman to a ruler of the Indies or makes a Syrian a king of Italy? Above all, royal weddings do not guarantee peace. England had concluded a matrimonial alliance with Scotland and yet James V invaded England ".
Not even the Diet of the nobles approved the marriage, and tried to make Sigismund recede from the step taken, through repudiation or, alternatively, abdicating, or even depriving the wife of her queen's rights. Everything was useless, and Barbara Radziwiłł was crowned, without Bona Sforza attending the ceremony.
However Barbara became very ill soon, without hope of recovery and at that point Bona wanted to be reconciled with her daughter-in-law: in one of her letters, she declared "to recognize and honor your Serene Highness as her daughter and beloved daughter-in-law [...] pray and hope may the Lord God heal you soon. " There was no cure and Barbara Radziwiłł died in Krakow at the age of thirty on May 8, 1551, not before she had prepared to be buried in her homeland in Vilnius. Sigismondo remarried two years later with Catherine of Austria, sister of his first wife Elizabeth, but also this time he could not have children, thus bringing the House of Jagelloni to extinction.
Barbara's untimely death turned suspects on Bona: in many cases, failing to establish the real cause of death led to believe in the intervention of potions given in food and drink and the fame of "poisoners" that surrounded the sixteenth century the Italian princes magnified the conjectures. Moreover, the government activity exercised by her aroused the discontent of the noble state, which saw a threat to her power, all the more inadmissible and humiliating, since she was a woman who appeared to be authoritarian and frantic. After thirty years of reign, in 1556 the same Bona decided to leave Poland. At that point his son Sigismondo, feeling his own inadequacy, tried to restrain her but the decision was made: after the marriage of his daughter Sofia, Bona returned to Italy and settled in Bari.
The last Polish period of Bona Sforza was marked by his aspiration - then disappointed - to be named Viceroy of Naples by the Habsburgs: this ambition is today documented by the correspondence exchanged between her and her diplomatic agent Pompeo Lanza, who up to the whole 1554 he represented it, together with the Orator Pappacoda, in Brussels at Charles V and later until 1556 in London at Maria Tudor, the so-called Sanguinaria.
His old duchy had been impoverished by the wars waged by the Spaniards against France: to this Philip II had not hesitated to seize his possessions. It was for this reason - and for the traditional legend of poisons that would circulate in the Italian courts - that at his death, in 1557, was born the rumor of poisoning perpetrated by his secretary Gian Lorenzo Pappacoda, which would have acted in the interest of the Spanish king Filippo.
His coffin, carried in the Basilica of St. Nicholas, remained unattended for many hours, was set on fire by candles and its charred remains were buried in a chapel without special decorations. Later the sons Sigismondo and Anna arranged for a sumptuous sepulcher to be built, located behind the main altar of the Basilica, which is still one of the major attractions for visitors to Bari.