Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Like most powerful men of his time, Lorenzo de' Medici’s love life followed the typical path: he married the woman who would bring not only wealth but power, yet his heart and his passion belonged, in truth, to another. In the case of Il Magnifico, his women were anything but typical.

The Orsini family possessed all the characteristics of prime in-law candidates, not only wealthy, they were members of the nobility of the papal court. Clarice, born c. 1453, was the daughter of the Lord of Monterotondo and Bracciano, Jacopo (Giacomo) Orsini and his wife and cousin, Maddalena Orsini.

Lucrezia Tornabuoni de Medici
Lucrezia Tornabuoni, wife to the sickly Piero de' Medici, was a formidable matriarch of great fortitude and influence. With the assistance of her brother, Giovanni Tornabuoni, the director of the Medici bank in Rome, Lurcrezia made a special visit—some have suggested she did so under the guise of a simple family visit—to Rome and used the occasion to further inspect the girl that had gone to the top of her list of possible spouses for her son Lorenzo, a young man with great promise and potential. His future mate could be no less. Lucrezia’s ‘inspection’ borders on intrusive by the standards of modern sensibilities, but were, in fact quite normal for the time.

The first letter sent back to her husband in Florence, bound there by his gout, Lucrezia wrote of Clarice:
Clarice Orsini
’She is fairly tall, and fair, and has a nice manner, though she is not as sweet as our girls. She is very modest and will soon learn our customs. Her face is round, but it does not displease me. We could not see her bosom as it is the custom here to wear it completely covered up, but it seems promising.’ She further reported of Clarice’s red hair and narrow hips.

As Lucrezia became more and more inclined toward the Orsini girl, Lorenzo made his own visit to Rome, where the two met in person. His approval confirmed the coupling and though marriage was agreed upon, negotiations of the marriage contract was a protracted affair spanning almost the full length of a year, long after the Medici had returned to Florence. Among other details, a dowry of 6,000 florins was agreed upon.

Lorenzo de' Medici married Clarice Orsini by proxy on 7 February 1469, much to the displeasure of the Florentines. Not only was Clarice a very religious and introverted woman—antithetical to the Humanist movement obsessing most Florentines of the time, especially Lorenzo himself—they felt Lorenzo’s choice of a woman of Rome was a condemnation of Florence’s own young women of noble standing. If the Medici were to take this major step—for the first time marrying into a class above their own—should it not be to one of their own?

To pacify the fiorentinos, Lorenzo arranged a grand festival to celebrate the betrothal and to share the good fortune of the family with the people. As his father was too ill to plan the event, Lorenzo took charge. A young, virile man, Lorenzo’s idea of a grand festival was a joust, an opulent affair, one to mirror the coming ostentation of Lorenzo’s unofficial ‘reign’ over Florence. In March of 1469, the Piazza Santa Croce was paved with sand and surrounded with seating stands for a large audience. Eighteen knights in full regalia paraded past the Queen of the Tournament, but none so magnificent as Lorenzo himself. And though he had been unseated by one of his opponents, Lorenzo took first prize. The people of Florence were appeased and Lorenzo was happy, even though the affair cost 2,000 more florins than the dowry he would receive.

While Lorenzo partied, Clarice set herself to becoming a Florentine…learning the ways of her new land, the customs, the dances. On the 4th of June, 1469, Clarice, resplendent in garb more appropriate to Florence styling, rode into the city on horseback, accompanied by Lorenzo’s brother, Giuliano, as well as a retinue of fifty knights. The streets teemed with the people of the city, people of every rank and title, on every street, in every piazza. Windows and doorways were festooned with olive branches, a sign of joy, as the people welcomed Clarice to their fair city.

Basilica of San Lorenzo
In the grand Basilica of San Lorenzo, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and funded by Lorenzo’s grandfather Cosimo, the wedding ceremony took place. The reception (a word far too small for what followed) took place in the garden and courtyard of the Medici palazzo, lasted three days, and included no less than five banquets; 4,000 capons were consumed, as were 300 barrels of wine, and 17 tons of sweatmeats and sugared almonds. Copper goblets filled with wine surrounded Donatello’s David as along the streets allegorical floats, decorated with drapery and flowers, were paraded through the city. A battle was staged in the piazza in front of the palazzo and a play was performed in the garden.

And yet, for all this opulence and festivity, all this celebration, this was a marriage doomed for the start. Was it Lorenzo’s virility against Clarice’s piety? Such would seem the most reasonable answer, but it was not the truth. The truth was that Lorenzo was in love, had been since before he laid eyes on Clarice…to Lucrezia Donati.

While notions abound and debate as to whether their relationship was one of courtly love or true marital infidelity, Lorenzo’s devotion was not only intense, but lifelong, as evidenced by the many poems and verses written to her and about her.
Lucrezia Donati

The most prevalent theory of their meeting comes at the wedding of one of Lorenzo’s brigata, a close dear friend. There, it is said, Lucrezia wove a garland of flowers for Lorenzo and asked that he wear them in a joust, out of love for her, though by this time, she had been married to Niccolo Ardinghelli for three years. Not only did he wear it, the banner he carried held her image, one crafted by Verrocchio. Lucrezia was a great beauty, and a muse to many of the greatest artists of the age, including Sandro Botticelli. Letters abound, especially those written by his friends while Lorenzo was in Milan, telling him of Lucrezia’s activities in his absence. One such letter urged Lorenzo’s return, so that, in the absence of her husband as well, ‘sweet terrain (would remain) unplowed.’

The truth has died with them, all that remains are these letters and Lorenzo’s own words…words of a deep and abiding love.

What should the smitten godling do, now that 
He can no longer catch the comely nymph?
The more she is denied to him, the more
Desire inflames and stings his smitten heart.
The nymph’s already close to where my Arno
Receives Ombron, whose waves he joins with his;
Seeing the Arno cheers Ombrone so,
His ruined hopes begin to rise.

I’ve learned just how to please the one I loved,
And how to win her love, this woman who,
The more she’s loved, the more she is displeased.
Oh icy Boreas, freeze my current, turn
My coursing waters into solid ice,
That, petrified, I can attend the nymph.
And may the sun with shining golden shafts
Nevermore melt my hardened, crystal waves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


As a writer of fiction, I enjoy writing my blog posts, factual--but hopefully still entertaining--articles about the topics covered in my books, the historically accurate subjects that ignite the stories. In light of this, I could not let my 100th post go by without honoring it with a special edition.

As a writer of historical fiction which endeavors, first and foremost, to shed light on the lives of women, it seems only proper to dedicate this post to those very women. Though some of the women listed are still living, they are or have been enormously important, influential, notable, or all me! To me...this is vital to keep in mind while perusing my list, my celebration. But please join in...let me know who you think might be on YOUR list!

Barbara DiMauro Russo--b1933; my mother; a vibrant woman about to turn 81 and still living life enthusiastically. She has seen me through the very worst of times without hesitation (and they have been some of life's worst events). I'd be lost without her.

Jennie 'Vincenza' DeRobbio Russo--1908-1995; my paternal grandmother; could cook exquisitely and command unquestionably.

Gertrude Petrini DiMauro Lambert--1911-2011; my maternal grandmother; raised two children by herself through the Great Depression and raised outstanding adults; spoke her mind without equivocation or apology.

Abigail Adams--1744-1818; former First Lady of the United States; her educated opinions
did much to guide her husband during his tenure.

Agatha Christie--1890-1976; award-winning, prolific author of mysteries that kept me
reading long into the night, a true and gifted story-teller.

Amelia Earhart--1897-1937; first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; a
gutsy women to be greatly esteemed.

Ann Boleyn--1501-1536; second wife to Henry VIII; I see her as a victim to her
circumstances, doing her best in a bad situation.

Anne Frank--1929-1945; her courage, her life, and her book have never left my consciousness.

Audrey Hepburn--1929-1993; talented, beautiful, philanthropic and elegance personified.

Barbara Streisand--b1942; that astonishing voice, her demand for excellence, both profound.

Barbara Walters--b1929; ground-breaking in so many different ways, upon her shoulders so many stand.

Betsy Ross--1752-1836; did she or didn't she, no one truly knows, but a she is a legend as a
woman of the Revolution nonetheless.

Betty Friedan--1921-2006; if you haven't read The Feminine Mystique, whether woman or man…
read it.

Betty White--b1922; who doesn't love this women who proves age IS just a number.

Billie Holiday--1915-1959; hers was the voice of inspiration in so many ways.

Billie Jean King--b1943; I will NEVER forget the day she beat Bobby Riggs…I saw all my beliefs
taking form.

Bonnie Parker--1910-1934; strange choice some might say, but there are lessons to be
learned from her about what NOT to do for the love of a man.

Calamity Jane--1852-1903; one of the first female explorers, daring to go where few other women

Catherine the Great--1729-1796; ruled Russia for 34 years and did so scandalously.

Charlotte Bronte--1816-1855; talent and devotion so demanding to be heard she gave up her name
to do it.

Chelsea Handler--b1975; first woman to break into late night tv; what you see is what you
get…a powerful women refusing to apologize for it.

Cher--b1946; voice, fashion, beauty, guts and a major influence on my childhood.

Clara Barton--1821-1912; founder of the American Red Cross; a true nurturing soul.

Cleopatra--69BC-30BC; perhaps first woman feminist; knew her power and how to use it.

Coco Chanel--1883-1971; breaking boundaries with timeless sophistication and taste;
revolutionized women's fashion.

Diana, Princess of Wales--1961-1997; so much respect for what she endured and what she accomplished.

Eleanor Roosevelt--1884-1962; unfettered wisdom.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton--1815-1902; daring to be a female activitist.

Emily Bronte--1818-1848; like her sister, talent and a love of craft, in a word…Heathcliff.

Emily Dickinson--1830-1886; a reclusive poet with the depth of soul and emotion.

Erma Bombeck--1927-1996; spot-on humorisst about the state of motherhood; her wit
really helped through the hard times.

Estee Lauder--1908-2004; an unstoppable businesswoman who founded a beauty empire.

Florence Nightingale--1820-1910; war nurse, founder of modern nursing; such dedication
is so impressive.

Georgia O’Keefe--1887-1986; inspiration that magnificent art can triumph over personal challenges.

Gloria Steinheim--b1934; helped mold the minds of so many women, women who now
always demand equality and justice.

Golda Meir--1898-1978; a political powerhouse when women as such were an anomaly.

Goldie Hawn--b1945; simply adorable as well as talented; loved watching her on Laugh In
while growing up.

Harriet Tubman--b1822-1913; at great personal risk led hundreds of slaves to freedom
along the Underground Railroad.

Helen Keller--1880-1968; from blind and deaf mute to author and political activist; simply amazing.

Helen Mirren--b1945; astoundingly talented actress that is showing just how beautiful aging can be.

Hypatia--350AD-415AD; Greek philosopher who furthered the teachings of Aristotle, vital teachings.

Indira Ghandi--1917-1984; first female Prime Minister of India; ground-breaker.

Isadora Duncan--1877-1927; American born dancer; amazing talent taken tragically too soon.

J. K. Rowling--b1965; came from nothing but never gave up; I'll treasure her stories always.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis--1929-1994; her elegance and grace never wavered. 

Jane Austen--1775-1817; for Mr. Darcy alone, PLUS six astounding works. 

Janice Joplin--1943-1970; definitively unique; a talent gone too soon.

Joan Didion--b1934; her works are devoted to the exploration of the disintegration of
American morals and cultural chaos. 

Joan of Arc--1412-1431; her passion, her belief, her determination take my breath away.

Josephine Baker--1906-1975; another in my list of ground-breaking women…the 'Bronze Venus.'

Joyce Brothers--1927-2013; yes, people, we can talk and enjoy sex!

Judy Garland--1922-1969; tortured torch singer; her 'Dorothy' will live forever in my heart.

Lady Godiva--980-1067; well…that took guts.

Lizzie Borden--1860-1927; guilty or not, her tale transfixes.

Louisa May Alcott--1832-1888; where would we be without her 'Little Women?'

Lucille Ball--1911-1989; you can be beautiful and funny; adored her.

Madeleine Albright--b1937-first women to become the United States Secretary of State.

Mary, mother of Jesus Christ--18BC-41AD; I cannot imagine her pain.

Madonna--b1958; born one month after me, she had me dancing and singing; she wrought
changes for better or worse.

Margaret Atwood--b1939; phenomenal writer, environmental activist…my kind of woman.

Margaret Chase Smith--1897-1995; first US women to served as a US Representative and US Senator.

Margaret Mitchell--1900-1949; for an amazing story, for Rhett Butler, for helping this writer find her 'voice.'

Margaret Sanger--1879-1966; one of the first American birth control activists.

Margaret Thatcher--1925-2013; first female Prime Minister of the UK; may not have agreed
with her politics…admire her fortitude.

Marie Antoinette--1755-1793; as Queen to Louis XVI in this volatile period, she didn't stand a chance.

Marie Curie--1867-1924; the world needs more scientists of this caliber with a feminine sensibility.

Marilyn Monroe--1926-1962; a real woman, a beauty, a tortured soul.

Martha Washington--1731-1802; the first First Lady of the United States.

Mary Cassatt--1844-1926; a woman impressionist among the men and holding her own.

Mary Magdalene--dates unknown; never a prostitute, I love to think that Jesus was so

Mary Shelley--1797-1851; how wonderful to think that such a 'monster' was created by a woman.

Mary Todd Lincoln--1818-1882; so much to have lived through.

Mary Wollstonecraft--1759-1797; author and 18th century advocate of women's rights.

Maya Angelou--1928-2014; author, poet, dancer, actress, singer…truth teller most of all.

Melinda Gates--b1964; a philanthropist of an astounding scale; all that money and she's still so very

Meryl Streep--b1949; one of the greatest American actresses…period.

Michelle Obama--b1964; smart, dedicated, sophisticated….a real woman.

Mother Theresa--1910-1997; her contributions were not only her actions but what she inspired others to do.

Mrs. Alfonso-my sixth grade teacher. She, more than anyone, allowed me to see that I was a writer.

Nellie Bly--1864-1922; ground-breaking reporter famous for record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days.

Oprah Winfrey--b1954; rising above traumas most could not
begin to handle to become one of the most powerful

Pearl S. Buck--1892-1973; author, Pulitzer AND Nobel Prize winner.

Pocahontas--1595-1617; it often takes a woman to bring two worlds together.

Queen Elizabeth I--1533-1603; a life like little others, a powerful woman in a man's world…
and kicked ass.

Queen Elizabeth II--b1926; Queen at 16, she's had some missteps along the way but there is strength to be admire here.

Queen Isabella I--1451-1504; struggled to gain her throne and then did remarkable things once upon it.

Queen Victoria--1819-1901; Queen of UK during a great age; a wife and mother who
showed just how much we women can do.

Rosa Parks--1913-2005; Called 'The First Lady of Civil Rights' her courage on that day is
almost beyond comprehension.

Sacagawea--b1788-d unconfirmed; helped forge this land I call home.

Sally Ride--1951-2012; truly going where no WOMAN had gone before.

Sandra Day O’Connor--b1930; first woman appointed to the Supreme Court.

Simone de Beauvoir--1908-1986; author, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist.

Sofonisiba Anguissola--1532-1625; one of the first women 'accepted' as an artist, paving
the way for women artists.

Sojourner Truth--b unknown-1883; abolitionist and women's right activist.

Sophia Loren--b1934; Italy's most famous and honored actress;
she showed me that big lips and a Roman nose can be beautiful.

Susan B. Anthony--1820-1906; absolutely essential women in the women's suffrage movement.

Susan Sarandon--b1946; admire her talent and her commitment.

Unsinkable Molly Brown--1867-1932; philanthropist and activist who survived the sinking of the Titantic.

Victoria Woodhull--1838-1927; American leader in the women's suffrage movement; first
female candidate for US President.

Virgina Woolf--1882-1941; foremost modernists of 20th century; in her work all women
can find a piece of themselves.

Yoko Ono--b1933; artist and activist and wife to my first love, John Lennon.

And to all my devoted readers--women and men--thank inspire me to work better, write better, every day.