Forlì, May 1488
In the year of the murder of Girolamo Riario, for the first time the chronicles of the time speak about Matteo da Castelbolognese, better known as Babone.
The anger for the death of husband in fact pushed the Lady of Forlì and Imola to hire a terrible executioner, the Babone, to avenge the murder of Girolamo. He killed and tortured the rioters, while the houses of the Orsi family, the inspiring nucleus of the conspiracy, were razed to the ground giving rise to a toponym that still inspires fear today: the Guasto degli Orsi.
The chronicler Leone Cobelli, in his Cronache Forlivesi, describes the Babone as a man of great stature and with a cruel face. Cobelli himself adds that he never saw a more frightening thing, “struck in those eyes” and “that twisted, filthy, ugly, long hair.”
The chronicles continue narrating about the brutality of the work of the executioner, concluding as follows: “Reader, of course you would not believe it, but whoever called that square the bloody lake, did not lie. I tell you, that I saw it with my eyes, so much blood, so many hearts, so many pieces of flesh of those Christians, that you would be amazed … ».
Satisfied with the revenge, Caterina began to govern with great wisdom and prudence, remaining in a defensive position and never throwing herself into military adventures that could jeopardize the rights acquired by the family.
In this period of great serenity, in her new home called “Paradiso”, close to the fortress, where the love story with Giacomo Feo began. He was of humble origins and brother of the castellan of Ravaldino, the same person who had helped her to regain power after the death of her husband Girolamo. After having married Giacomo Feo in great secrecy, in order not to offend the sensibilities of his uncle Ludovico, he governed and managed power in a resolute manner, to the point of assuming an important role in the context of Italian politics.
The Feo from humble stable boy became the general governor. He was arrogant and to increase his vanity he was awarded with the title of baron by the king of France Charles VIII. There is no coincidence that Bernardino, the couple’s only son, was renamed Charles, to pay homage to the transalpine sovereign and to win his sympathies.
Giacomo Feo was an ambitious man and did not enjoy the consent of the people of Forlì, nor of Caterina’s children who saw him as a usurper of their power. Thus, it was that even the second husband of Caterina became the object of secret conspiracies that led to her death, in an attack planned on the evening of 27 August 1495 at the Ponte dei Morattini.
As in the past, in the months following the death of Giacomo Feo, Caterina carried out a series of personal revenge and retaliation against the families of her political rivals, even ordering the killing of women, old people and children belonging to the families, who had not been loyal to her.
“Caterina’s ferocity has exceeded all limits, it seems that all of Romagna raises its cries to heaven”
[Francesco Tranchedini, a letter to Ludovico il Moro]
In 1496 Giovanni de ‘Medici, known as il Popolano, arrived at the court of Caterina as ambassador of the Republic of Florence. The Florentine nobleman came personally to manage an agreement for the purchase of Romagna wheat. Il Popolano was hosted in the rooms of the “Paradiso” and there was a large number of opportunities to spend time with the landlady. In short, a great love blossomed between those two that led the lady from Forlì to her third marriage. On 6 April 1498 Ludovico was born in Ravaldino, who was named after his uncle from Milan, to try to calm Moro’s discontent towards this union. Ludovico will then go down in history with the name of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere.
After the birth of her eighth child, Caterina had to deal with the worsening of the situation between Venice and Florence, since the territories over which she ruled are located on the passageways of the two armies. Moreover, Giovanni de ‘Medici fell seriously ill and, when his conditions worsened, he was transferred to Santa Maria in Bagno (now a hamlet of Bagno di Romagna), in the hope that the thermal waters could heal him. On 14 September 1498, however, Giovanni died with Caterina at her bedside.
The union between the Medici and the Sforza gives origin to the Medici grand ducal dynastic line. In fact, from the marriage of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere with Maria Salviati (daughter of Lucrezia de ‘Medici, of the main Medici branch), Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, was born in 1519. The Medici line of succession lasted over two centuries, until 1743, extinguishing with Anna Maria Luisa de ‘Medici.
After the death of her third husband, Caterina returned to take care of the defense of the Lordship of Imola and Forlì. She personally directed the military maneuvers, training and procurement of soldiers, weapons and horses. A first attack by the army of Venice inflicted heavy losses on Caterina’s army, who still managed to get the better of the Venetians. Among these were also Antonio Ordelaffi and Taddeo Manfredi, descendants of the families that had governed Forlì and Imola respectively before the Riario.