Intrigues at Court

Written by  Luciano Chiappini
The sad story of don Julius, pleasure lover and conspirator.
When we stop in front of don Julius of the Este Family's palace, while we are walking along corso Ercole I d'Este, our gaze automatically rests on the Castle where the descendant of Ferrara dynasty was segregated for fifty years.

Julius' troubles increased with the passing of time culminating in tragedy, owing to his frivolous, proud and non conformist nature and his mocking and arrogant behaviour. He was the son of Hercules the First and Isabella Arduini, one of Eleanor's court damsels (even if it was rumoured that he was Alfonso Trotti's son), he was brought up at court like his legitimate brothers, with whom he shared love affairs, longing for unrestrained and refined pleasure, and coarse and vulgar language.

His brothers were: Alfonso the Second, the eldest son, who was destined to reign after his father, Ferrante, an handsome, extremely ambitious and selfish man and Hippolytus, who was destined to become a clergyman since he was young, an impulsive, frivolous, sensual and proud man.

When Hercules was alive, the inevitable contrasts between the three brothers, which arose owing to their different character and behaviour did not cause any damage, despite the inevitable tensions and the frequent fights between their servants and their soldiers.
When Hercules died, on January 25 1505, Alfonso proved to be equal to his task, taking all the steps and decisions which were necessary to face the precarious administrative and financial state of the dukedom, which has been seriously compromised.

He proved to be wise and firm when establishing relationships with the most famous and powerful families of the town and, above all, he was able to ward off quarrelsome and unfaithful feudatories coming from Modena and Reggio, no matter if they were called Pio, Pico or Boschetti.

He even tried to come to an agreement with his brothers, giving Hippolytus freedom of movement, owing to the position he held, while Julius and Ferrante could count on a financial source which allowed them to live an easy and happy life, as they wished. Alfonso and Hippolytus stipulated an agreement, according to which they chose different ways without bothering each other.

The other brothers were excluded: all this was tolerable for Julius, if he could live an happy and dissolute life, while Ferrante did not agree, as he thought he could govern Ferrara better than his brother. However, the three brothers, Julius, Ferrante and Hippolytus, owing to their impulsive and turbulent nature, often played with each other, insulted each other or boasted and all this led to resentment, retort and revenge.
Ferrante's intention of getting rid of Alfonso and Hippolytus seems to be confirmed by the plot which was hatched by Ferrante, Gerard Roberti of Reggio, the captain of duke's crossbowmen and Albert Boschetti, an old and arrogant man at arms, in Lame. The relations which were established between the brothers became tenser and tenser, foreboding a tragic end. Every single episode caused dangerous misunderstandings and compromising fights.

Hippolytus, the cardinal, decided to segregate don Julius' chaplain, Ronald of Sassuolo, in Boyard's castle, after having kidnapped him, but there was an immediate reaction: the chaplain was released by don Julius and some of his friends and replaced by the lord of the castle. The duke, exasperated, sent don Julius to Brescello. Thanks to the amnesty which was granted for the birth of duke's and Lucretia Borgia's son, this event was temporary forgotten.

But Hippolytus lost his temper. Everyone knows that women played a leading role in his life. Well, he fell in love with a court damsel and when he realised that she was reluctant as she liked don Julius, he flew into an uncontrollable fury and he ordered his servants to kill him. Julius, who was assailed while he was going for a ride on Palmirano's grass in front of Belriguardo's villa, on November 3 1505, tried to defend himself as he could, while the assailants were escaping.
Julius, with black and bleeding eyes, was immediately sent to Ferrara, at the castle, and entrusted to the care of famous physicians. And what about the cardinal? He left the town to go to Mantua, at the court of Gonzaga, staying with his sister, Isabella.
Alfonso was upset by this tragedy and he was worried for the inevitable repercussions on Italian political and diplomatic situation. He tried to take measures. In order to avoid bad consequences, he provided the least compromising version of the facts, laying the blame on Hippolytus' servants.

The reason of State did not allow the duke to punish Hippolytus. Alfonso was comforted when, during that year, at Christmas, the two brothers were formally reconciled. But it was not enough to appeal to the sacred family bonds to save a union which was already compromised. A plot was hatched by Ferrante and Julius, Albert Boschetti, San Cesario count, Gerard Roberti of Reggio, the captain of duke's crossbowmen, Francis of Rubiera, and John d'Artiganova, called Gian Cantore, a musician and singer, one of duke's closest friends.

The conspirators proved to be uncertain about time, ways and places, hesitating and delaying the event, without considering that the cardinal, who was wise and timely as usual, was alert, foreseeing suspicious movements. When his suspicions were confirmed, they were arrested and their conspiracies ended. They immediately collapsed and squealed and don Ferrante, whimpering, begged for forgiveness, accusing don Julius, who went to Mantua and stayed with his sister.
They were tried for high treason and they were sentenced to death. The Ferrarese wanted Julius to be immediately extradited from Mantua, but Isabella defended him until the end, delivering him to justice only when Alfonso promised Francis Gonzaga, his brother in law, to reprieve the conspiring brothers.
Then, Albert Boschetti and Gerard Roberti were publicly beheaded and murdered, in the presence of Julius and Ferrante, who were notified the same sentence, but, when they went to the scaffold, they heard that the duke spared their life, to be spent in prison in one of the Castle towers. Gian Cantore, who fled to Rome, was seized and taken to Ferrara. He was locked up in a jail which was located on one of the Castle towers and he committed suicide, hanging himself with a rag.

The two prisoners stayed in rooms with walled up doors which could only be reached letting oneself down with a rope from an open door on the wall. Two servants provided food and linen. After eighteen years, they could live together in a larger lit and ventilated room of the same tower, where they could see, beyond the grating and the glass, the Ferrarese walking along via della Giovecca.

Ferrante died after thirty seven years of detention, Julius left the prison after fifty three years, in 1559, owing to the pardon which was granted to him by the new duke, Alfonso the Second: he wore a long beard, his bleeding eye was covered with a blindfold, he wore old-fashioned clothes and he was surprised to see that people's style and customs were different than the ones of the people he left many years ago.