The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427-1527

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In this epic drama of love, death, and betrayal, Leonie Frieda charts the rise and fall of the Italian Renaissance through the lives of the princesses who helped shape it.

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In this epic drama of love, death, and betrayal, Leonie Frieda charts the rise and fall of the Italian Renaissance through the lives of the princesses who helped shape it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Frieda (Catherine de Medici) recreates the glittering, turbulent, and densely entwined lives of eight intrepid, highly intelligent Italian Renaissance “consorts and ducal daughters,” who greatly influenced the fates of the men who ruled their milieu. Among them were Lucrezia Tornabuoni, a “trusted emissary” for her husband—Florentine leader Piero Medici—and later a “principal adviser” to their son, the famous statesman and patron of the arts Lorenzo the Magnificent. With Lucrezia’s death, her overshadowed daughter-in-law, Clarice Orsini, took “a more prominent role as Lorenzo’s proxy,” helping him expand Medici alliances with Naples, Rome, and the papacy, “while securing a consistent power base within Florence.” Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forlì, was a beautiful virago who “led troops into battle,” commandeering Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo and threatening the city’s “great men” to protect her family’s interests. Lucrezia Borgia’s three marriages into the powerful Sforza, Aragona, and Este clans furthered the political ambitions of her father, Pope Alexander VI, and brothers, but she was reviled for rumors of having an incestuous relationship with her father and blamed for a husband’s murder. Although too much information is crammed into one book (though, thankfully, there are detailed family trees), this is still an alluring and worthy study of the powerful matriarchs at the helm of Italy’s great Renaissance-era dynasties. 24 pages of color illus. Agent: George Capel, Capel & Land, U.K. (Apr.)
Library Journal
In this fast-paced, vivid book, Frieda (Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France) examines what she describes as the "hidden histories" of eight noblewomen of the later Italian Renaissance: Caterina Sforza, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Clarice Orsini, Isabella d'Aragona, Lucrezia Borgia, Giulia Farnese, and Isabella and Beatrice d'Este. While the political activities of these (and many other) women have traditionally been concealed beneath those of their husbands, Frieda relies on diaries and personal correspondence to reveal less sanitized accounts of events. The reliability of her accounts is somewhat undermined by a lack of notes and a bibliography that lists only the locations of source material, with no discussion or identification of specific documents. Additionally, the author's admiration of her subjects occasionally leads her to employ a near-hagiographic tone when describing them. VERDICT Although the book's multiple interwined threads and nonlinear chronology can occasionally lead to confusion, Frieda's lively, intimate descriptions are exciting and informative. Any reader interested in the Renaissance will find something to enjoy here, although the author's casual use of sources will limit the book's usefulness for scholars.—Fred Poling, Long Beach City Coll. Lib., CA
Kirkus Reviews
A biographer delivers the scholarly yet very human story of some talented women who held surprising sway in the incredible clutter of city-states that composed Renaissance Italy. Noting that Italy comprised some 250 individual states, Frieda (Catherine de Medici, 2005) focuses on three powerful families--Sforza, Este, Gonzaga--though others rise and fall throughout her tale, as well, principally the Borgias and the Medici. The stories (and families) are interconnected and extremely complex--witness the 10 pages of family trees preceding the text. (Assiduous readers will want to keep a finger among those pages.) The author follows the fortunes of such women as Caterina Sforza, her husband brutally murdered and mutilated, who flashed traitors in a crowd. Frieda also shows us the vilely corrupt papacy of the time. Greed, violence, sexual depravity, incompetence--all flourished. Throughout, the author wields a sharp rhetorical razor, too. Of Duchess Bona, she writes: "it would have been hard to find a stupider woman," and Angela Borgia was a "brainless beauty." Frieda does some restoration on the reputations of the Borgias, particularly Lucrezia, calling much of what had circulated at the time (and later) as "a heap of fantastical stories and lies." Among the most compelling of her accounts: the papacy of Rodrigo Borgia (Alexander VI) and the quest for power that consumed his son Cesare, who became a Spanish prisoner. Frieda also follows the international politics and military maneuvers of Italy, especially the incursions of France. Shifting alliances, deceptions and lies, the struggle for wealth and power--all are revealed in the stories of women who held (or manipulated) the reins of power when men were incompetent or away battling one another. Richly researched and deeply complex--at times sufficient to bemuse as much as inform.
“Leonie Frieda presents Renaissance history in a fresh, new light…recounting the exploits of eight women whose actions and experiences often rocked the Italian Renaissance world.”
“A fresh look at eight fascinating women and their far-reaching impact…Their stories take readers through the lifespan of the Renaissance from an eye-opening new perspective in the compulsively readable, intellectually rigorous account of an extraordinary century.”
Daily Mail (London)
“Spirited…action-packed…full of bright, brash women…the contessas of Venice, Naples, Florence and Rome were more than happy to liquidate their rivals, command armies and do whatever it took to keep power firmly in their silk-gloved grasp.”
Sunday Times (London)
“A torrent of poisoned daggers, ruthless politics and sexual intrigue…An interesting introduction to the turbulent back story to all those serenely smiling portraits”
The Spectator
“A wide-ranging historical narrative about the women and power struggles that dominated Italy in the late 15th and early 16th centuries”
Daily Beast
“Leonie Frieda has created a web of Renaissance women bound together by blood, politics, and a gift for ruling on a level before their time.”
Providence Journal
“A more inclusive history that points to the talents and strengths of women...Riveting.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061563089
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/2/2013
  • Pages: 403
  • Sales rank: 605,056
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Leonie Frieda is the author of Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, which was a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic and was translated into eight languages. She lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 18, 2013

    The Deadly Sisterhood is a great history!

    The Deadly Sisterhood tells the story of the women behind the men in Renaissance Italy. It covers a period of about a hundred years, and the women who actually, in many respects, ruled. There are the familar, like Lucrezia Borgia and Isabelle d'Este and the not so well known, like Caterina Sforza. A well written and very readable book. I recommend it highly. Good for Book Clubs.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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