Federico was born on 7 June 1422 in the castle of Petroia near Gubbio. The unborn child was the fruit of the adulterous relationship between Guidantonio da Montefeltro, lord of Urbino, Gubbio, Casteldurante and duke of Spoleto, and Elisabetta of the Accomandugi, lady of Countess Rengarda, Guidantonio's wife.
Until the age of 11 he remained in Mercatello sul Metauro, bred by Giovanna degli Alidosi at the Brancaleoni. Still a boy he was sent as a hostage to Venice and Mantua. In 1437 he was knighted by the emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg and married Gentile Brancaleoni in Gubbio. The marriage brought him as a dowry the territory of Mercatello, of which Frederick became count in 1443. He undertook the career of a condottiere and placed himself at the service of Niccolò Piccinino.
Combining the ability of a man of arms with diplomatic skill, Federico managed to broaden his dominions and to enter fully into the coeval political chess between the main Italian dominions. In particular, he exploited the traditional rivalries between the powerful of Romagna and the Marches and opposed the expansionist ambitions of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, lord of Rimini.
In 1441 Federico tore the fortress of San Leo from the Malatesta family, already belonging to the Montefeltro domains; later he also occupied Fossombrone and Fano. On 22 July 1444 Oddantonio II, his half-brother, died assassinated in a conspiracy. Federico succeeded him as lord of Urbino.
His fame as a condottiero made him very sought after by the troops of various Italian states: in fact, he was at the service of the Sforza, the pope, the Aragonese of Naples, the Florentines. In 1450 he entered the service of Pope Pius II.
In 1459 in Mantova he made his engagement with Battista Sforza, daughter of Alessandro, lord of Pesaro, and nephew of Francesco, duke of Milan. The pact was strongly supported by Pope Pius II, the king of Naples and Francesco Sforza himself. On February 10, 1460, the wedding in Pesaro was celebrated between great celebrations. From his father-in-law, Federico had the territory of Pesaro in exchange for Fossombrone. The Montefeltro became the lord of all the Marche.
In 1459 he fought in Romagna at the head of the papal army against Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, who defeated in 1462 at the river Cesano in Senigallia. To reward him, the Pope appointed him vicar and granted him control of Rimini.
During many battles, such as the one at San Fabiano d'Ascoli with Piccinino in 1460 and that of Molinella with Bartolomeo Colleoni in 1467, Federico demonstrated rare tactical and military skills. In 1466 he was appointed supreme commander of the Italic League, the diplomatic-military agreement between the Italian potentates aimed at guaranteeing the political and territorial order of the peninsula established for the peace of Lodi (1454).
Finally on January 24, 1472, Baptist gave birth to the male heir, Guidantonio, after eight females. Shortly after, on 6 July, Federico's wife died of pneumonia.
In 1474 Pope Sixtus IV invested Federico with the title of Duke of Urbino, an honor that had already been touched on his brother. The pontiff also married his nephew Giovanni della Rovere with the daughter of Montefeltro, Giovanna.
In support of the interests of Sixtus IV, Frederick was among the most authoritative proponents of the Pazzi conspiracy, perpetrated in Florence against the Medici in 1478, but without success.
Meanwhile Federico gathered around him one of the most cultured and refined Renaissance courts. The palace-fortress built for the Montefeltro by Luciano Laurana and Francesco di Giorgio Martini is one of the masterpieces of Renaissance architecture, emblematic of the intent of the duke. The duke called you artists and writers from various parts of Italy and Europe: Melozzo da Forlì, Piero della Francesca, Pedro Berruguete, Paolo Uccello, Luca Pacioli.
In this prestigious location Federico also assembled an extraordinary library, comparable only to the Vatican one and to the one in Oxford. The collection included several works of Latin and medieval Greek classics, as well as singular sections, as an interesting collection of medical treatises.
During a battle Federico was hit in the face and scarred to the point of losing his right eye. In fact, in the numerous portraits he commissioned he always portrayed in profile.
It is also said that he had a section of his own nose cut, exaggeratedly facing, because it restricted his field of vision.
Federico died in 1482 in the war of Ferrara, just as he defended the city from the ranks of Venice as head of the Italian league. He is buried in the church of San Bernardino in Urbino.