Rome, August 1484
In the night between August 12 and 13 Pope Sixtus IV died. Following the news of the Pope’s death, the streets of Rome were invaded by riots and terror from those who had suffered injustices during his pontificate. The Riario palace itself, the residence of Caterina and her husband Girolamo, was almost destroyed, while the Riario Sforza were engaged in the siege of Paliano at the behest of the pope.
On the evening of August 14, Caterina, twenty years old and pregnant with her fourth child, learned the news of the pontiff’s death, and rode to Castel Sant’Angelo occupying it in the name of her husband. She took command of the fortress, she arranged to fortify the entrances and to turn the cannons against the Vatican. All the attempts to persuade her to leave the castle were in vain, her control in fact guaranteed the control of the city itself and therefore the possibility of putting pressure to the College to elect a pope well disposed towards the Riario.
The solution came when the Sacred College proposed to Girolamo Riario to abandon Rome in exchange for 8000 ducats, compensation for the damage suffered to his properties and the confirmation of his dominion over the cities of Imola and Forlì, as well as the position of captain general of the Church. Girolamo accepted the offer, however Catherine heard the news and responded by bringing another 150 warriors to Castel Sant’Angelo and preparing for resistance. It stimulated the pressure from the Sacred College towards Girolamo, to persuade his wife to leave the fortress and accept the compromise. On the evening of August 25, Caterina received eight cardinals, including her uncle Ascanio Sforza, and after long negotiations she resolved to leave the fortress and follow her family to the lands of Romagna.
Thanks to the resolute action of Caterina, the Riario Sforza family retained part of the privileges, they left Rome and moved to Forlì. In Romagna, however, Girolamo was not welcomed either by the population or by the nobles and became the object of continuous attacks against his person.
After initially abolishing many taxes, Riario was forced to reintroduce them to feed the coffers of the now empty lordship. The circumstances worsened when Girolamo started the construction of a Monte di Pietà, which should have been financed entirely by the Forlì nobility. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and started a further series of attacks on Girolamo. The last of these attacks scored on the evening of April 14, 1488, that was organized by the Orsi brothers, landowners. Girolamo was killed and thrown from the window of the Sala delle Ninfe in the Town Hall. After the murder of her husband, Caterina with a stratagem managed to lock herself up with her soldiers in the Rocca di Ravaldino. With the excuse of negotiating the surrender directly with his loyalists, who otherwise would not have given up the fortress, the symbol of the city, he asked for permission to enter, leaving his children in enemy hands, as a pledge of his good intentions. In reality Caterina was sure that no one would ever have the courage to twist a hair to her children who were the grandchildren of Ludovico il Moro and the late Pope Sixtus IV, took advantage of the situation, and from inside the fortress began the resistance, planning the attack to regain power.