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Posted June 19, 2005
It was Rome, 1483. If ever a baby was doomed by birth, it was Felice Della Rovere. The odds were stacked against her. She was female and illegitimate. Nonetheless she rose above the liabilities of birth to become the most powerful woman in Rome. The story of her life, as related by Harvard art historian Caroline P. Murphy is fascinating, as her achievements rival those of any contemporary woman. It was one thing to be born illegitimate during the Renaissance, quite another to be the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere who would become Pope Julius II. Not a gentle leader, Julius was known as 'The Warrior Pope,' one who despised and reviled the rather hedonistic lifestyles of the Borgias. Nonetheless, he was in some ways a helpful father, seeing to the advantageous marriage of his daughter to a member of the wealthy Orsini family, which gave Felice access to the means necessary to amass a personal estate. Felice had been married once before but left a young widow. (The name of her first husband could not be traced). She was raised in her mother's home and learned much of intrigue and manipulation during her formative years. When her father was elected to the papacy she became quite useful to him as a runner of errands. She was witness to the painting of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, and the laying of a foundation for a new St. Peter's. Felice may well have inherited her ambition from her father who sought greater Roman power. Upon the death of Julius II, Felice used the Orsini family influence to become a friend of cardinals. She understood politics well, and used this knowledge to great advantage. Even the sack of Rome in 1527 did not see her downfall, as she successfully arranged safe passage for herself and her offspring to Urbino. Murphy enriches Felice's story with myriad details regarding her daily life, whether it is the overseeing of servants, seeing to her gardens and wine cellars, cosseting the influential, bribing officials, or even arranging a murder, which we are told was commonplace in that day and time. Felice's story may have been lost to us for half a century, but after reading 'The Pope's Daughter' this incredible woman will not be forgotten again. - Gail Cooke
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Posted June 7, 2013
Posted July 28, 2014
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