The Deadly Sisterhood
Harper, 2013 (2013)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
aving very much enjoyed
TV series, I appreciated the historical background to the era that Leonie Frieda's
The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427-1527
fills in. Kipling certainly got it right when he informed us that '
the female of the species is more deadly than the male
his fascinating non-fiction account opens on a map of late fifteenth century Italy and family trees of all the great houses - Medici, Sforza, della Rovere, Gonzaga, Este, Borgia and Aragona. In her Introduction the author reminds us that '
Even after the passage of more than five hundred years, fifteenth-century Italy, that dangerous and exhilarating place, still glitters. Its power to dazzle remains undimmed.
' She tells us that conflict was endemic and '
grizzled patrician condottieri casually asked for, and received, extortionate sums for their services.
' And potentates' lives were committed to '
survival, expansion and self-glorification
'; hence the Renaissance.
rieda tells us of Renaissance princesses who '
were great in their lifetimes, and proved greater still in their bloodlines. Their descendants still occupy the few thrones that remain.
' Who are these women? The
includes (my favorite) Caterina Sforza ('
She-wolf of the Romagna
' and '
the most fearless woman in the Italian peninsula
'); Lucrezia Tornabuoni, a Medici matriarch; her daughter-in-law Clarice Orsini; Isabella and Beatrice d'Este, sisters and rivals; and of course Lucrezia Borgia, oft wed and widowed to support her family's goals.
he author tells us that '
The Italian Renaissance was as much an age of culture and learning as of violence and deceit ... it was also a time that allowed for female greatness.
' She gives them their due in
The Deadly Sisterhood
. If you're as intrigued by the era as I am (ever since reading Rafael Sabatini's novels), you'll appreciate it along with
series, and Sarah Dunant's wonderful historical novel,
Blood & Beauty
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