From Famous Castles & Palaces of Italy, Illustrated in Colour from Paintings, by Edmund B. d’Auvergne, London: T. Werner Laurie, [undated, 1911]; pp. 179-216.


Decorated Adorment from the spine of the book, of a gilt berry with leaves in black around it on a burgundy woven ground.




IN Tuscany tower went down before town, in Lombardy commune was crushed by the castle. Issuing from their hoary fortresses in the mountains, the barons followed the imperial eagle and, nominally invested with the lieutenancy of the conquered cities, soon became their dukes and despots. At Verona, the old ruinous palace of Theodoric was seized by the new lords and converted into a citadel to overawe the town. Everywhere, it seemed, the barons had brought their castles with them from the hills to rear them again in the heart of the cities.

Thus PAVIA, the old Lombard capital, whose liberties were in November 1359 crushed by Galeazzo Visconti of Milan, saw on 27th March 1360 the first foundations dug of her new master’s stronghold in her midst. An older citadel there was already, but Galeazzo would not trust to this alone, and desired moreover a fortress that should impress by its dignity as well as its strength. The country was desolated by civil war and pestilence, but the work went on with frenzied haste. A document is dated from the Castle of Pavia as early as 18th October 1361, and Petrarch, who did not disdain the patronage of princes, wrote from the court of Galeazzo, four years later, speaking of the building as if it were finished, and describing it 180 as the princeliest pile in Italy. As so often has happened with great monuments, the architect stamped the castle with his genius but not with his name. That we do not know; but it is not unlikely that it was Bartolino da Novara, who was at Pavia in Visconti’s service in 1387, and who built the not dissimilar castles of Mantua and Ferrara.

In accordance with those classic traditions which were cherished by Frederick II., and never died out in Italy, the castle was a perfect square in plan. Each side was 142 metres long and 30 metres high. The waters of the Carona fed a moat some 8 metres deep. At each angle was a right-angled tower, 43 metres tall, and diminishing in breadth upwards from 18 to 15 ½ metres. Two of these towers and the whole of the north-east side are gone. The rest is in excellent preservation, and is still surmounted by its forked merlons, each pierced with a slit loop, and its machicolated gallery with round-headed loops between the brackets. The bricks, according to Street, measure 10½ X 5 inches, and are 3 inches high; they “have all been dressed with a chisel” (continues that architect), “with which diagonal lines have been marked all over the face. I can only assume that this has been done to improve the texture of the bricks in appearance, and perhaps where two bricks are side by side on the same plane, to make a little distinction between them by tooling the bricks in opposite directions. Two other features of Pavian brickwork may also be here mentioned. One, that the depth of the arch-bricks is almost always increased from the springing line to the centre — the intrados and extrados not being concentric; the other, that the 181 arch-bricks do not radiate from a centre, but are arranged so as to obtain a vertical joint in the centre. The first is a very defensible practice; the second seems to me to be the contrary.”

The basement of the castle is lit by small, round-headed openings; the two storeys above and the four storeys of the towers by two-light windows with trefoil arches springing from the slender monials, and a round opening in the tracery above, all set within a label. The main entrance is in the middle of the south-west front. The skeleton remains of the outer gate of the drawbridge, which was double, consisting of a broad track for parties and vehicles, and a narrow gangway, parallel, for more general use. The former was received into two grooves, the latter into one groove. This arrangement had become general in Italy by the middle of the fourteenth century.

The spacious court, three hundred feet across, that occupies the interior of the edifice, is surrounded by an open arcade of pointed arches supporting a gallery, lit originally by beautiful openings of three-lights with traceries, which on all but the south side have since been replaced with fine two-light windows. “The lower arches are of stone, everything else of brick, and the details,” says Street, “everywhere are refined and delicate almost beyond those of any brickwork that I know elsewhere.”

The castle was designed, in fact, to be fortress without and palace within. And if the comparatively wide windows in the façade impaired the strength of the building they added to the glories of the magnificent interior. The arches and ceiling were painted 182 a deep blue set with gilt stars. The walls were adorned with historical scenes. Exceptionally splendid were the chambers in the towers, each of which had its particular use. On the third floor of the west tower was the library of Giovanni Dondi, the astrologer, whose famous clock stood in the council chamber of the south tower. In the north tower was a hall of mirrors, from which the sunlight was reflected on to the mosaic flooring. The fourth tower was the armoury. Other halls we hear of called the Sala dei Leoni, dei Leopardi, dei Tigri, no doubt after the predominant figures in their decorations; others are named by their distinguishing colors. There was a splendid chapel which the Visconti loved to enrich with relics and costly vessels. A whole army of artificers and craftsmen dwelt within the walls, for ever effecting improvements and repairs. And that nothing contributing to the dignity of the prince might be forgotten, the architect had contrived in the basement of the eastern tower a dungeon called the Long Dwelling-place, into which not a ray of the sun’s light could by any chance enter.

The division of the city of Milan between him and his brother, Bernabò, led Galeazzo to make the Castle of Pavia his principal abode. On the north side of the city he laid out a beautiful garden, in which he and his court might listen to the poets and the minstrels, and further on he planted a great park or chase — the New Forest of Lombardy. Philippe de Comines describes the castle as “le lieu du monde où le Duc de Milan se tient le plus et la plus belle demeure pour chasses et voleries, en toutes choses, que je sçache en nul lieu.” The marriage of Galeazzo’s son, Giovanni Galeazzo, 183 with Isabel of France in May 1366 served as a grand housewarming for the new stronghold. With bated breath the chroniclers tell us of the splendours of the festival, where among so many gallant knights the duke shone the handsomest, the courtliest of all; where the Green Count of Savoy met the Marquis of Este, where Bianca of Savoy, Isabel of France and Beatrice della Scala assisted at the jousts in the great courtyard. Not less brilliant was the wedding of the prince’s sister, Violante, with Lionel, Duke of Clarence, son of our Edward III. Most honoured of all the guests was Petrarch, whom the young prince had pointed to among a crowd of great and gorgeous persons as the greatest man there. His veneration of scholarship the youth had acquired at the university which his father had revived at Pavia. In 1373 he was solemnly declared of age and “prince general” of his father’s estates. The ceremony took place in the castle in presence of the Marquis of Este, of the podestà, the Bishop of Valenza, and the most learned doctors of the university. Three years after, Galeazzo II. died in the building he had raised to his own glory. The podestà and the magistrates suspended all civil business for ten days in token of mourning; they were clad in brown at the expense of the people; and with outward reverence, if with no sorrow in their hearts, a multitude followed the duke to his tomb in the Church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro.

He had not neglected to place under lock and key his half of the city of Milan. Bernabò, his gloomy, ferocious brother, having built himself a palace-fortress where the Ospedale Maggiore now stands, Galeazzo in the year 1368 erected a small castle, adjacent to the 184 old Roman gate called the Porta Giovia. The spot had already been fortified to some extent by Azzo Visconti thirty years before, and a hundred and fifty years earlier had been walled in and defended with towers by the people of Milan. The Porta Giovia was a citadel — an eye with which Galeazzo watched his brother — but Gian Galeazzo saw that it could be made a trap. He knew that his uncle believed him to be a weak, studious youth, and that he meditated some design against him. This he determined to anticipate. He sent word to Bernabò that his piety prompted him to visit the shrine of the Madonna del Monte near Varese, and that he would like to embrace him on the way at the gates of Milan. The old Visconte with two of his sons rode out of the postern of Sant’ Ambrogio, and Gian Galeazzo, leaving his escort at a distance, advanced to meet him. Suddenly the old man and his sons were surrounded by a party of men-at-arms and hurried into the castle of Porta Giovia. Soon after the young duke issued from the stronghold into the city, and with four hundred men surprised and took his kinsman’s castle. In the treasury he found seven hundred thousand gold florins and seven loads of wrought silver. Then he announced to the people the deposition of Bernabò. The downfall of that tyrant was received with wild delight, his house was razed to the ground, and Gian Galeazzo was solemnly and formally declared sole ruler of Milan. The old man was transported to the castle of Trezzo, where he died seven months later, probably of poison. Those of his sons who were not captured fled to distant courts, to prove thorns in their cousin’s side for many years after.


Pavia remained the permanent residence of Gian Galeazzo. He built the Certosa and the Duomo at Milan, the crowning glories of Lombardy. He sought and obtained for himself from the Emperor Wenceslaus the ducal bonnet, with which he was solemnly crowned by the imperial legate at Milan on 5th September 1395. This was the first hereditary dukedom erected in Italy. At the same time Pavia was created a countship, to be held by the heir-apparent to the duchy. In both cities the people affected to rejoice over what amounted to the formal extinction of their liberties. Over them the Visconti hoped to reach the crown of united Italy. His magnificence dazzled his contemporaries, his sagacity penetrated all their designs. In the Castle of Pavia he schemed, negotiated and counterplotted. Men of learning and genius extolled his liberality and purred contentedly under his caresses. He could be cruel or kind exactly as it suited his purpose, incapable of the senseless atrocities of his uncle, yet stirring up other princes to murder their wives that some end of state might be served thereby. Those stout castle walls might well have vibrated to the tremendous energy of the master mind within. He was much alone, the duke, and left his cabinet only to pace the garden and the chase in profound meditation. The golden prize would come into his net at the next throw; Florence alone resisted his power; but at the beginning of September 1402 the plague, hunting him from Pavia, overtook and killed him at Melegnano.

His heavy hand having been withdrawn, the towns-folk of Milan were soon to revolt against his widow Caterina, who acted as regent for his fourteen-year-old 186 son. They tore to pieces her faithful servant Giovannolo Casati. She escaped with her boy from the old palace, the Broletto Vecchio, and took refuge in the Castle of Porta Giovia. Luring inside the gates the ringleaders of the tumult, she had them beheaded in the first court of the castle, against the Chapel of San Donnato. The revolt was stayed, but the duchess was unable to preserve her authority. She entrusted the castle to Giacopo dal Verme, the last duke’s most trusty officer, and retired to Monza. There she was made prisoner by a hostile faction and perished, probably of poison. Her favourite, Manfredo Barbavara, was thrown into the dungeon of Pavia. Meanwhile, the young duke, Gian Maria, grew up to exhibit all the traits of a Domitian. He was as incapable as he was cruel. Factions fought for supremacy round his very throne. His half-brother, Gabriele, son of Gian Galeazzo and Agnese Mantegrazza, seized the Porta Giovia and during three days cannonaded the city. Four years later (in 1412) the tyrant fell beneath the knives of three nobles as he was passing from the Church of San Gottardo to his palace. His body lay untended except by his leman, who threw red roses on it. All men’s eyes were turned on the castle, which the sons of old Bernabò were attacking, to be repelled at last by the warden Vincenzo Marliano.

Meanwhile Filippo Maria, the duke’s younger brother, had a hard fight to maintain himself in his county of Pavia. A famous condottiero named Facino Cane, at the head of a band of exiles and Guelf partisans, laid waste the park, and in January 1411 burst into the city. They spared neither hearth nor altar, condemning 187 to sack and destruction the churches, convents, palaces and public offices. Filippo Maria threw himself into the castle; and, though it was held by a soldier afterwards famous as the Count of Carmagnola, he was obliged to open the gates to Facino. The brutal soldier of fortune treated the Visconti with every indignity, and kept him in close confinement in the magnificent home of his race. Two months after the assassination of Gian Maria, Facino died. His captive promptly married his widow, Beatrice Tenda, a woman twenty-two years older than he. In June he made his entrance into Milan amid the cries of “Viva il duca!” In the same year the children of Bernabò were finally expelled from the duchy.

The new duke was a cruel, morose prince, exhibiting that insanity which always lurks in the ferocious. His captivity had rendered Pavia hateful to him, and he fixed his residence at Porta Giovia, within whose walls he first saw the light. This castle he hardly ever quitted during the remaining thirty-five years of his life. To adopt it to his needs he enlisted the services of the great Brunelleschi, whom he specially summoned from Florence. Within these strong walls he trembled and paled at the approach of a stranger, while his captains made his name respected all over northern Italy. Like Louis XI., a man in many ways similar, he had great faith in his astrologers and was happiest in their company.

For his wife, the widow of his cruel gaoler, Facino, he had nothing but hatred. No doubt when he married her, to win the support of the condottieri, he resolved that she should repay him for his injuries with interest. 188 In vain did she humour him in his passion for Agnese del Maino; he had doomed her to death. Suddenly she was accused of misconduct with Michele Orombelle, a gentle-mannered youth, one of her servants. No proof was adduced against her; the accusation of her lord was enough. Both she and her supposed paramour protested their innocence under the torture, but on 13th September 1418 both were beheaded in the Castle of Binasco. Beatrice was forty-six years old — twice the age of her fellow-victim. The castle in which they perished still stands half-way on the road to Pavia — a dingy tumble-down pile in a dirty village, with towers at the angles and a squalid courtyard in the interior. The building is roofed with tiles and is devoted to various communal offices. An inscription where the drawbridge once stood commemorates the unmerited fate of Beatrice; but you are warned against troubling to visit the spot and wasting, as the writer did, half-a-day in the ugly, flat, treeless country.

Though such affection as he was capable of was bestowed on Agnese del Maino, Filippo Maria found it expedient to marry again. His second wife, Maria Allobroga, he kept secluded in apartments specially designed for the purpose by Brunelleschi, and suffered no man to appear before her. Both his marriages were barren. Though Agnese never wore the ducal coronet, it was plain that her daughter Bianca Maria would inherit her father’s throne. She became one of the most sought-after princesses in Italy. None seemed so worthy of her as the valiant soldier, Francesco Sforza, the duke’s ablest general, and the son of that peasant-born warrior who had been driven from Naples by 189 the Aragonese. In the hall of the Porto Giovia, to which Agnese was as jealously confined as the duchess, the duke betrothed her eight-year-old daughter to the soldier of fortune. The prospective son-in-law naturally believed himself to be the heir to the duchy, but for a time it looked as if his hopes would be disappointed. Alfonso of Aragon was taken prisoner by the fleet sent by Filippo Maria from Savona to help René of Anjou, and was lodged in the Castle of Milan. The strange savage Visconti treated his prisoner with elaborate courtesy, taking him to the chase in the park of Pavia, showering presents upon him, and treating him as an honoured guest. He made a powerful friend of Alfonso, but an even more formidable foe of Sforza. The general abandoned his colours and went over to his enemies. Beaten, at last, Filippo Maria was persuaded by his friend, the Marquis of Ferrara, to bestow his daughter on the redoubtable soldier. They were married at Cremona, but still the duke hesitated to acknowledge Sforza as his heir. Mankind he hated and he expressed the hope that after his death all things should go to ruin. He did his best to make them do so, for when he died in 1447 it was found that he had named Bianca Maria his heiress in particular and Alfonso of Aragon his heir-general.

The duke proposed, but for a while the people disposed. Raimondo Boilo declared for the King of Aragon, and held the castle in his name. Then uprose the citizens and proclaimed the Ambrosian republic. The garrison surrendered the castle to them for a sum of money, and the people thronged through the halls where their tyrants had brooded in solitary 190 state. The destruction of the castle was decreed. The materials were put up for auction, but, as they found no bidders, were offered free to anyone who would carry them away. Francesco Sforza heard of these doings with a gloomy brow. He was bribed by the republic with the promise of the lordship of Brescia and Verona to continue the war against the Venetians, but his successes soon alarmed his new masters, who made overtures of peace to the enemy behind his back. Sforza promptly came to terms with the Venetians himself, and marched upon Milan. He girdled the city with his troops and starved it into submission. On 25th February 1450 he was acknowledged as lord of Milan, and the next day made his triumphal entry, followed by carts full of provisions. At the Porta Nuova he signed the capitulations presented by Ambrogio Triulzi; then, having returned thanks to the Duomo, he dismounted at the house of the Marliani, and on the threshold ate a little bread and drank a measure of wine.

Contemptuous of the fooleries of royalty, this soldier-duke set much store by a fortress, and soon after his investiture he obtained leave from the people to rebuild the castle “for the adornment of the city and its protection against enemies from without.” The work was begun on 1st July 1450, under the supervision of Giovanni da Milano and Marcoleone da Nogarolo. A sum of thirty-six thousand ducats, corresponding to about two million francs, was devoted to the work, which was pushed on with all possible speed. The foundations of the old Viscontean castle were made use of, and within six months one of the 191 curtains was completed. In the following year the pest made great ravages in the city, and carried off numbers of the masons and the master of the works himself. Notwithstanding, by the end of the year 1451 it was necessary to appoint a warden to the castle; and we read that the ceremony of his installation was postponed twice over because the moon was in declination — a superstition which then determined the most important happenings. The next year the progress of the works was delayed by disputes between the architects. Il Filarete, a Roman sculptor in the duke’s service, wished to embellish the master-tower with a terra-cotta frieze with wreaths and other reliefs, a scheme most strongly opposed by his Lombard colleagues, who alleged that the terra-cotta would never stand the rigorous climate of Milan. Francesco decided, in the long run, in favour of Il Filarete, and allowed him to carry out most of his suggestions. The sum allowed for the work, large as it was, proved insufficient. The hungry workmen played havoc with the farmyards and orchards of the suburbs, and caused loud complaint. A scandal resulted: it was said that for every ducat spent on the castle the duke got only the value of a florin. Il Filarete threw up his share in the work in disgust; a commission was appointed; one of the architects was found guilty of malversation and imprisoned at Binasco; and new overseers were named. But they were not the men who had built the castle of Pavia, and it was only a few months before the death of Francesco Sforza, in 1466, that the Castle of Milan became a fit residence for the court.

The new duke, Galeazzo Maria, heard the news of 192 his accession while he was serving with the French army in Dauphiny. A sovereign prince in those days was a prize that would tempt the most loyal ally. The young prince took no risks. He crossed the Alps disguised as the servant of a merchant, and then only escaped capture by a robber baron by taking refuge in a sanctuary in the mountains. It was the romantic beginning of a picturesque reign. On reaching Milan, Galeazzo found that his mother, the able Bianca Maria, had taken up her quarters in the castle, which was formidable enough already as a fortress. But the new duke was a man of luxurious and extravagant tastes. He set to work to build a palace within the castle. Painters, sculptors and architects were summoned from all parts of Italy to aid in the glorification of the ducal residence. Upon his marriage with the Princess Bona of Savoy — la prima madonna d’ Italia — while the ducal apartments were being specially prepared for their reception, the newly wedded pair lived in a rustic pavilion in the garden attached to the castle. Gadio and Vincenzo Poppa were called in to outvie the glories of the court of Mantua, and so eager was Galeazzo to press on the work that he gave leave to the painters to enter the castle by night, provided that they carried with them only the implements of their art — a reminder of the danger that ever ran like a gleaming curve through the splendour of the despot’s life. He was fearful even of the physicians who attended on his natural children — who, by the way, were entrusted to the care of his duchess. Though the ambassadors of foreign states were from time to time permitted to inspect the beauties of the ducal 193 residence, only once were the people allowed to penetrate into the outer court; though in 1469 his Highness had to tolerate the presence of the nine hundred members of the general city council, who had come to swear fealty to him and his heir.

For all, too, that we hear of velvet hangings, gilded arches, painted walls and gorgeous liveries, comfort and decency seem to have been as absent as a sense of security from the castle of this magnificent prince. “That which chiefly impresses the visitor to-day,” remarked Signor Beltrami, “is the rudimentary arrangement of the apartments, their vastness, and the absence of everything that could make them habitable. The part of the castle particularly affected to the duke’s use, consists of a series of great rooms communicating with each other through low doors, and without any approach for the servants. To pass from the ground floor to the upper floor, it was necessary to go outside and up an external flight of stairs, or to use a narrow, steep stairway, excavated in the wall of one of the corner towers. The only advantage the rooms present to-day — that is, a view over the park, a part of which was then occupied by the garden — was then lacking; for the outer wall, called the ghirlanda, of which only a few traces now remain, completely shut off the ducal apartments from the prospect of the gardens and the distant Alps. When, too, we remember that the wide two-light windows were closed with panes of cloth, we at once realise how disagreeable must have been the sojourn in these halls, one of which, the Scarlioni, and that not the largest, was twenty-five metres long and had a capacity of five thousand cubic metres.” 194 When we think, too, of the stables lines with velvet, of the elaborate exclusion of air and water and the total absence of sanitary arrangements, we realise that the castle may have indeed resembled the palace of Circe after the banquet of the swine.

But it seemed a brave show to the men who lived there, and we know that the sober Florentines were corrupted by the sight of the duke and his glittering courtiers. The pageant of the Renaissance, like the transformation scene of a theatre, is not to be looked at in the cold light of morning. There were great doings at Pavia and Milan when Galeazzo gave his natural daughter, Caterina, in marriage to Girolamo Riario, nephew of Sixtus IV., and her sister Bianca Maria, was betrothed to Filiberto of Savoy. During the latter ceremony the vaulting of the chamber in the Porta Giovia gave way and everybody rushed down “in great fear and trembling” to the courtyard, where the ceremony was proceeded with.

In the same year the castle had a rather unlikely visitor. This was Christian I., King of Denmark, who, on his way back from Rome, paid a visit not only to the duke but to the old condottiere, Colleoni, then living at the castle of Malpaga. Then came Don Frederick, son of the King of Aragon, and the new hall of the Balla was made ready for his reception. As he neared middle age the suspicious duke laid aside his fears and grew more hospitable. He spent Christmas, 1476, at Milan. Clad in a long tunic of crimson damask, he assisted at the three Masses in the castle chapel. Thence he walked into the Salle delle Colombine, speaking of the glories of his house and 195 prophesying that they should never pass away. In the evening he amused himself with his falcons, and so saw his last sun go down.

Brutus in the person of Girolamo Oligiato awaited him. On St Stephen’s morning the duke was wont to hear Mass at the basilica of that saint. To-day he hesitated on account of the cold, but the bishop had already gone to the church. Galeazzo donned a cuirass, but took it off, saying it was too heavy. He embraced his sons and rode off. He passed up the nave between the envoys of Pisa and Ferrara. Suddenly knives flashed against his breast. He cried, “O nostra donna!” and fell. The crowd saw three men hurl themselves against them in their hurry to escape. One was torn to pieces; the others got away, to be reserved for a worse fate later. The duchess, hearing what had befallen, with strange attention to ceremony, sent a robe of cloth-of-gold to fling over the ducal corpse. At the bidding of her faithful minister, Simonetta, the drawbridges of the castle were raised, and Gian Galeazzo, Bona’s first-born son, was declared Duke of Milan under her regency.

The new ruler did not want for vigour. In expectation of troubled times, she dismissed all the artists and craftsmen and called in engineers and masons instead. She caused the tower that bears her name to be constructed to command the whole castle, and strengthened the rocchetta or keep. Thanks to these precautions, she and her little son were able to pass the next two years in safety and tranquillity. The foe she had most to fear was her dead husband’s brother, Lodovico, surnamed il Moro. Simonetta knew 196 that he coveted the regency and forbade him to enter the city. Unfortunately, however, the faithful, capable minister quarreled with Tassino, the duchess’s lover and secretary. This was a chance which Lodovico could not afford to neglect. He made an alliance with the favourite, who introduced him secretly into Bona’s presence. The rest was easy. The decree of banishment was revoked and Lodovico was received with open honour at court. “Madame,” said the minister grimly, “you have lost the duchy, and I have lost my head.” He spoke truly. On 11th September he and his brother were seized, hurried off to Pavia, and thrown into the castle dungeon. As he was really innocent of any offence, and his ungrateful mistress desired his death, she took care to have him tried by professional advocates. He was, of course, found guilty and sentenced to die. Lodovico intervened and offered to save his life if he would pay him five hundred thousand florins. The old man haughtily rejected the offer, declaring he desired nothing more than death. He was beheaded in the castle on 30th October, 1480.

Meanwhile, Tassino lorded it over the Castle of Milan, which he had garrisoned with Spanish mercenaries. Filippo degli Eustachi had sworn to the late duke to deliver the keep only to his son. Backed by Lodovico, he would not yield the threats and entreaties of the duchess and her favourite. By a bold stroke, the swarthy Sforza made himself master of the situation. Two of his attendants stole the boy-duke from his mother’s apartments while she was at table, and carried him swiftly across the court into the keep. Filippo was bound to admit his sovereign, and Lodovico, 197 already within the walls, found himself master of the duke and the citadel. Tassino, hearing what had been done, at once betook himself to his native city of Ferrara. In the end, Bona also gave way, and surrendered the regency into the hands of her brother-in-law. Gian Galeazzo was kept safely guarded in the keep, and every precaution was taken against his recapture. His mother, disgusted at the change in his position, vowed she would leave the duchy — even if she had to climb down the walls of the castle. Lodovico humoured her so far as to send her for a time to Abbiategrasso, but she returned at a later day to the Porta Giovia to watch over her children.

From the hour he was kidnapped at the age of twelve to the day of his death, the duke, Gian Galeazzo, remained a willing and loving puppet in the hands of his wily uncle. It was well for him. The times required a cunning brain and a clear head — called, in fact, for all the qualities which had made the Sforzas great and which seemed now to be monopolised by Lodovico. The new regent’s first step was to overhaul the defences of the castle and to make it proof against surprise from within or without. He completed the tower of Bona at the junction of the keep and the Corte Ducale, filled up the gaps in the keep wall, and repaired the bridges. But his tastes were not less luxurious than his brother’s, and the decoration of the interior, which had been suspended during Bona’s regency, was energetically resumed. Lodovico was so fortunate as to secure the services of Leonardo da Vinci, who resided at his court and was treated with all possible honour. He painted the ducal apartments 198 and the rooms which his patron built on the bridge crossing the moat at the northern angle of the castle. When Lodovico revived the project of a great equestrian state of the founder of the dynasty in front of the ducal residence, Leonardo proposed to increase the height of Filarete’s tower and build a loggia across the curtain as a background for the monument. The scheme was not adopted or any rate acted upon, but when in January 1491, Lodovico was married in the Salla della Balla to Beatrice of Este, the walls were seen to display the deeds and victories of Francesco Sforza, whose equestrian statue stood at the end of the hall under a triumphal arch.

The marriage of the young duke and Isabella, daughter of the duke of Calabria, had been celebrated two years before at the Duomo, and immediately afterwards they fixed their abode at the castle of Pavia. The young duchess had soon cause to resent Beatrice’s assumption of superiority, and complained that she was often left without the simplest comforts. Meanwhile, the dungeon in the eastern tower was seldom without its occupant — usually some over-zealous partisan of his legitimate prince. But Gian Galeazzo never wavered in his affection for his uncle, who kept him amused with feasts and hunting parties. When Lodovico sealed his own doom and Italy’s by inviting the aid of the French, the duke lay dying and could hear on his bed the sounds of the rejoicings at the coming of the invaders. King Charles VIII. passed from the banquet hall to pay him a visit of sympathy; and on the 21st October 1494 he died, at the age of twenty-five, after caressing the horses his uncle had given him.


That uncle now mounted the ducal throne, beneath which his own treachery to Italy had dug a fathomless pit. He seemed at the zenith of his power, and was at pains to express his dignity in pomp and display. Leonardo Bramante and Pietro Perugino exerted themselves to make the castle of Milan an impregnable citadel and a palace of enchantment; and when, on 26th May 1495, Lodovico received the ducal insignia from the hands of the emperor Maximilian, the splendour of his court was declared to surpass that of any other prince of his time.

And then, less than two years later, all the happiness went out of Lodovico’s life. His wife died in childbirth in an upper chamber of the keep on 29th January 1497. The duke was stunned by the blow. He sat for nine days alone in a darkened room hung with black cloths, speechless, haggard, tear-stained; then for a month he assisted at Masses, one hundred in number, for the soul of her who had been wrenched from him. With her he knew the glory had departed from his house, and the sceptre had passed from him.

Rousing himself from his lethargy, he ordered the castle to be put into a state of defence. The French were returning, wild with vengeance for the prince who had invoked their aid and then betrayed them. Their army was commanded by Giacomo Trivulzio, the duke’s deadly foe. The city was on the verge of revolt. Lodovico’s courage failed him. He resolved to seek the help of his suzerain the emperor. The castle seemed capable of resisting a siege by a legion of devils for years together. It mounted eighteen hundred pieces of artillery; it contained supplies enough 200 to last a city. The duke embraced the governor, Bernardino da Corte, and bade him hold the fortress as he would his own life. He promised to return within three months, and arranged an elaborate series of signals by means of which the governor would acquaint him with his smallest need. If cheese was lacking he should hoist a woman’s stays; if the infantry wanted shoes a green stocking was to be displayed twice.

Then Lodovico rode away towards Germany. Behind him the people, long intolerant of his yoke, sacked his palaces and derided his name. Trivulzio, at the head of his Gascon host, was received as a deliverer. The captains of the people sent Giovanni Morosini and Lodovico da Vimercate to the governor to persuade him to surrender the castle, and so spare the city the inconveniences of a siege. The envoys reported that they found Da Corte very tractable, and the magistrates assured Trivulzio that there would be no need to proceed to hostilities. There was not. On 17th September 1499 Filippino del Fresco and Cristoforo da Calabria lowered the outer drawbridges to receive the French army, which Bernardino da Corte admitted into the keep. The Castle of Milan, garrisoned by three thousand men, and mounting eighteen hundred guns, had surrendered without firing a shot.

“Since Judas Iscariot there never was a greater traitor than Bernardino da Corte,” said Lodovico on hearing of the deed. Certainly the governor’s treachery has never been surpassed, though it has been equalled in our own day in public and private life. As his reward the traitor was allowed to share the plunder of 201 the castle with Trivulzio. He slunk away from the city, and is said to have put an end to his own life. Many strange bargains were made that day. As the price of his treason Cristoforo da Calabria, for instance, claimed for his son the hand of the daughter of Lino da Imbersago, or of Bartolommeo de Magnago.

Louis XII. came riding into Milan, and occupied the rooms on which the Sforza had lavished their treasures. His stay was short, but, foreseeing the return of Il Moro, he strengthened the ravelin that covered the gate towards the city, and appointed the brave Trivulzio governor. In February 1500 Lodovico came back at the head of ten thousand Swiss and Germans. But the castle was now held by a governor more loyal than Bernardino da Corte. Having ordered the attack to be begun, the duke passed on to Pavia, where the people had already recovered the castle from the invaders. But the French were hurrying up on all sides to reassert their sway. All the nerve and energy of his race failed Il Moro now. He hesitated, he negotiated. At Mortara, on 4th April, he was brought to bay. The Swiss mercenaries deserted. The duke hastily donned a disguise and fled. He was betrayed by a Switzer named Turman, and handed over to Trivulzio. He was sent to France and died after ten years’ rigorous captivity at Loches — he who dreamed of the sovereignty of Italy.

Once more King Louis entered Milan as conqueror and liberator. In the twelve years of his reign the castle was often his resting place. Returning one day from a feast at the house of Erasmo Trivulzio, he met with Cæsar Borgia, who was passing through the city. 202 Embracing him with great warmth, he led him back to the castle and lodged him in the room next his own. Nay, more: his Majesty himself ordered his guest’s supper and made out the bill of fare. So pleased was he in the Borgia’s company that he went twice or thrice into his room to talk to him while undressing. He insisted on his wearing his shirts and slippers, and told him that he must ask nothing that he wanted from anyone but him. After dinner next day his Majesty took Cæsar to see some girls dance at Bernardino Visconti’s, and to a similar entertainment at Bishop Pallavicino’s; the distinguished friends not reaching home till one o’clock that night.

Now came some rapid turns of Fortune’s wheel. The crusade preached by Julius II. against the French, successful at first, seemed destined to collapse on the field of Ravenna; then, gathering strength, it rolled back the invaders over the Alps, and swept them out of all the fortresses except Milan and Cremona. Massimiliano, a son of Lodovico, was fetched from the imperial court and set on the throne of his ancestors. For eleven months his generals besieged the castle. It was strongly suspected that the besieged were supplied with provisions by the besiegers. When they surrendered, on 29th November 1513, they carried with them all their equipment and looked like “men with the dropsy.” It was this siege that demonstrated the need of reinforcing the north front with that outwork known as a tenaille which gave the name of Porta della Tenaglia to one of the old city gates.

The defeat of his troops at Melegnano (14th September 1515) and the approach of Francis I. drove the 203 incapable, ignorant young duke within the stronghold of his forefathers. The garrison was composed of fifteen hundred Swiss and five hundred Italians. The French bombarded the castle from the Carmine, opposite the eastern angle, and within fifteen days reduced the defences. The Swiss gunners returned their fire with interest, and killed among others that Filippino del Fiesco who had been partly instrumental in betraying the fortress in 1499. But when a breach had been made that admitted only of the passage of a single man, the degenerate Sforza lost heart. It is said, however, that he was persuaded to surrender by Girolamo Morone, who saw that, the only hope for Milan lay in his younger brother, Francesco. Massimiliano capitulated, and resigned the duchy to the French in exchange for a pension.

The downfall of the French power in Italy was presaged by the collapse of the tower of Filarete in June 1521. It was on a feast day. Crowds of people were walking on the piazza, and a religious procession was passing. Suddenly from a perfectly serene sky a flash of lightning (as some say) struck the tower, levelling it with the dust, and killing the governor and his deputy, one hundred and fifty soldiers, and many townsfolk. There was no time to rebuild the tower. A few months after the castle was besieged by an Italian army under Prospero Colonna. For fourteen months the lilies continued to float over Bona’s tower; but, cut off from all supplies by a ditch the besiegers had dug round the enceinte, the garrison capitulated on 14th April 1523. Two years later the power of France was crushed at Pavia, and Francesco II., the last of the 204 Sforza, was invested by Charles V. with the dukedom of Milan.

He was no unworthy descendant of Francesco I., but the emperor held him tightly on a tether. When summoned to hand over the castle to the imperial troops, the duke at first resisted. He was besieged by the Marchese di Pescara. Finding himself shut up in the castle with a horde of useless non-combatants he dressed them up, men, women and children, as arquebusiers, and sent them in a column of attack against the enemy. The Imperialists, thinking this was a sortie in force, drew back, and so enabled the mimic host to disperse under the cover of the darkness. For all his wiliness, the new duke had soon to come to terms. He dismissed his troops and, in modern political phrase, accepted an imperial protectorate. He continued to dwell in the castle, and, as far as his powers extended, showed himself a wise and beneficent ruler. At his marriage with the wife his protector had selected for him, there shone a faint brief ray of the splendour of the old days. But in 1535 the independence of Milan was buried in the tomb of the last Sforza.

Pavia had shared in all the calamities that had overwhelmed the duchy. Her castle had proved an asylum to the invaders rather than a protection against them. Cannonaded by the Swiss, dismantled by the retreating French, rifled and sacked by each in turn, it presented a piteous aspect of desolation and ruin. The noble library was carried off by Louis XII. to Blois. Paintings, statuary, fittings — all were destroyed. When Massimiliano came to stay there, during his brief tenancy of the duchy, beds and upholstery had to be brought from 205 Milan. For the discomforts of his stay the duke found some compensation in the opulent charms of a miller’s wife, through whom the Sforza breed was perpetuated no doubt in more vigorous form. To the castle were brought many of the captives from the field whereon Francis I. lost all but his honour. Of these, Réné of Savoy died within a few days of his wounds. Henri d’Albret, the King of Navarre, with the connivance of two gentlemen of Pavia, let himself down from the window of his prison into the muddy ditch, scaled the wall, and, mounting a horse that was in readiness, rode away into Piedmont and so across the Alps. Francis himself was confined in the Monastery of St Paul.

On the death of the last Duke of Milan, the Castle of Pavia was assigned as a residence to his widow, Cristina, till her second marriage with Francis of Lorraine. The duchy was annexed to the Spanish monarchy. Its castles by their new owners were looked upon not as palaces but as strongholds in a hostile country. Milan itself had long since grown far beyond the walls of Azzone Visconti, and the time had come to girdle it afresh with ramparts that could resist artillery. In the year 1549 the new fortifications were begun by Ferrante Gonzaga, the imperial governor, and to defray the cost a tax was immediately levied on all wine entering the city. The taxation under which the Milanese groaned was ruinous. It was chiefly to provide against a possible rising that the new defences were designed; but the Spanish governor need have been in no hurry. Milan was exhausted and had lost faith in herself. She was willing to pay a heavy price for peace.


An attempt was made by some French partisans, notwithstanding, to surprise the castle in the year 1552. The scaling ladders were found to be too short, and the discovery of the plot afforded an excellent excuse for modernising and strengthening the old citadel of the Sforzas. The plan was approved at Madrid, but money was wanting. The municipality was ordered to contribute sixty thousand ducats to the cost of a scheme which they had not hesitated to qualify as unnecessary and inopportune in view of the attachment of the people of Milan to his Catholic Majesty. Part of the money founds its way back into Milanese pockets, for the architect, Vincenzo Seregni, was a native of the city, and so, presumably, were the workmen employed. This contribution, however, was by no means the last exacted from the unfortunate city during the slow progress of the works; and when the vicar and the council of provision failed to furnish a further sum demanded by the governor within twenty-four hours, they were seized by the halberdiers and clapped into the castle prison. They signed a dignified and emphatic protest against such violence, and were set at liberty with profuse apologies by the governor next day; an instance of that almost superstitious regard for the fundamental principles of law — the rights of man — which is always so be found deep down in the Latin’s being.

The fortifications thus erected at such a cost to the people of Milan were of the bastioned pre-Vauban type. A drawing of the period shows the castle, little changed since the Sforza days, surrounded by a polygonal enceinte, forming a twelve-pointed star, 207 with six bastions named after Spanish governors, and separated from the counterscarp by a broad ditch. A movable bridge was afterwards replaced by a permanent target with a movable section; and, in the course of the seventeenth century, ravelins — detached triangular works — were thrown up in the ditch to defend the intervals between the bastions.

These defences were first tested in the autumn of 1706, when Prince Eugene, fresh from his victory before Turin, entered the city at the head of an allied army. The castle was held by a Spanish garrison of twenty-five hundred men, commanded by the Marquis de la Florida. Summoned to haul down his flag, the veteran replied that he had defended twenty-four places for his sovereign and did not propose to disgrace his grey hairs by surrendering the twenty-fifth. The prince was only able to leave a blockading force under General Königseck before the fortress. Florida maintained a brisk cannonade and notified the council of the city that he would bombard Milan if he were not kept supplied with provisions. On this being represented to the Sardinian commander, he humanely allowed the summons to be complied with, as he was not strong enough to protect the townsmen from the consequences of a refusal. When Florida renewed the requisition later on, the council replied that it should be addressed to Prince Eugene. The commander made answer that the city was subject to him and he could not recognise any intermediary. He made a sortie and took what provisions he required.

The prince protested. He represented to the opposing general the harshness of these threats against a 208 defenceless city. The Spaniard replied that he understood his duties as a general and a man of honour. He commenced to bombard the city. Königseck attacked the bastions of San Pietro and Padiglia on the south side, and so diverted the Spaniards’ fire. The assault was hotly pressed. Eugene arrived with a reinforcement of eight thousand men, carried the bastion of Padiglia, and swept the whole counterscarp clear of the defenders. Florida prepared to defend the inner works to the last ditch. But a messenger arrived with an order, signed by King Louis, ordering the French troops to withdraw. The old man capitulated on honourable terms, and on 20th March 1707 marched out at the head of the garrison, now reduced from twenty-five hundred to eight hundred men. With drums beating, flags flying and bayonets fixed they defiled between the lines of their adversaries, and took the road towards France. A generation of soldiers had grown up very different from that to which belonged Bernardino da Corte.

In 1733 the castle, now held by the Austrians, was besieged by their former allies, the Sardinians. This time the city was spared the horrors of a bombardment by the common consent of the belligerents, a rule which has not always been followed in these our own times. The attack, conducted by King Carlo Emanuele III., was most vigorously pressed, and the commandant asked for an eight days’ truce. The king, appearing before the castle, said he would grant no truce, but would agree, there and then, to an honourable capitulation. The Austrians accordingly abandoned the fortress after six weeks’ siege, leaving fifty-two 209 guns and forty mortars. In the following year the castle was restored to the Austrians, and was held by them even during the brief restoration of the Spanish dominion over Lombardy in 1745.

But Milan was, as we have seen, no impregnable fortress. During the fierce struggle between the French and the Imperialists for the possession of Italy it was taken and retaken, lost and won again. Pavia fared even worse. Lautrec, in the sixteenth century, had blown down the two northern towards, and the Spaniards incorporated the wall of the castle on that side into their bastioned front. The Long Dwelling in the basement of the eastern tower still remained, and in 1702, by permission of the governor, the son of one of the noblest families in the city was imprisoned therein at the request of his own father. During the famous revolt of Pavia the French were driven into the castle and compelled to surrender it to the mob, who wreaked their fury on the building itself. In 1796 the French commandant removed the pitched roof, and substituted a platform of solid earth which nearly overwhelmed the whole building. An ordinary flat roof was then substituted. After his victory at Marengo, Buonaparte decreed the destruction of the misérable forteresse of Milan, which had given him, as he considered, so much unnecessary trouble. The fortifications erected by the Spaniards and Austrians were levelled, and the old castle of Francesco Sforza stood out once more, bare and gray, against the sky. The space cleared was in a sense consecrated to the glories of Napoleon by the newly founded Cisalpine Republic, and it was proposed to erect a colossal 210 monument to him where the Arco della Pace now stands. The hero’s most lasting memorial was the idea of Italian nationality that he implanted in the people of Milan.

That idea, Field-Marshal Radetzky endeavoured in March 1848 to extinguish beneath a heavy fire from the towers of the dismantled castle, while the Italian tricolour — the old colours of Milan — floated over the city. At the end of the heroic five days the Austrians slowly and reluctantly evacuated the stronghold, which was at once occupied by the patriots and all the political prisoners in its dungeons set free. When the Austrians returned, in the next fatal year, they found the towers shorn down to the level of the curtains. They erected a new square tower in the west front, and threw up various works to defend the castle. Ten years later the Double Eagle took wing for ever from Milan. The castle of the Sforzas became, as Pavia still remains, a barracks for Italian troops, till in 25th October 1893 it was handed over to the city, and the last sentry was relieved by a post of the Municipal Fire Brigade.

In the same year the restoration of the castle was begun according to the plans of Luca Beltrami. The work reflects great credit on that eminent architect. The original plan of the Sforza’s palace has been so scrupulously adhered to, the remaining masonry of their period so religiously preserved and utilised, the excrescences of the sixteenth and subsequent centuries so skilfully removed, that more of the primitive structure has been brought to light by this wholesale restoration than would have been by the patching and piecing 211 extending over centuries to which many more ancient-looking piles have been subjected.

The castle thus reconstituted forms a quadrangle, surrounded by a moat, and divided into three clearly marked sections — the vast court or place of arms occupying the half of the area towards the city, the farther half being divided into the Corte Ducale or palace on the north-west and the Rochetta or keep on the south-west. The ditch dividing this second from the first half seems (according to Luca Beltrami) to have been the townward limit of the stronghold in early Visconti times, but the present limits were certainly reached in the time of Filippo Maria, and an examination of the masonry of the basement proves that Francesco Sforza’s castle covered almost exactly the same area as his predecessors. The wall towards the city was intended by him to offer purely passive resistance and present as few openings as possible. The towers at the angles on this side were made round instead of square, and projected outward rather than inward, so as to secure the greatest available amount of space inside. As reconstructed, these towers are 20·40 metres in diameter and 24·75 in height. The uppermost eighteen courses of masonry were removed in 1848. The towers are capped by a gallery with rectangular openings resting on a machicolation and supporting a pitched roof. This gallery runs all round the castle, and is almost the sole defence of the front towards the city which is pierced with only two apertures for guns. Each tower contained six chambers including the one in the basement which contained the well. They are now used as reservoirs for 212 drinking water, and their destiny is alluded to in the inscription on the parapet: “Civium terrori erecta, tranquillitati diminuta, usui instaurata, anno domini MDCCCLXXXXIV.”

The square gate-house on this side, in the middle of the curtain, is a reconstruction of the tower of Filarete. Above its machicolations runs a crenellated turret, and on this again a cupola in two stages, the total height being two hundred and thirty feet. It was formerly protected by a triangular battiponte or bridge-head, crenellated and machicolated.

Crossing the wide Piazza d’Armi, we see before us on the right the Gothic windows of the Corte Ducale, on the left the blank façade of the Rocchetta. In front of them runs the old ditch of the first Visconti. The castle now houses various archæological, artistic and historical collections, which seem to attract many people oblivious of the interest of the building itself. The Rocchetta is in origin and fact the oldest part of the fortress. It is quadrangular and has walls 2·65 metres thick and pierced with windows towards the outer ditch, four metres thick and windowless towards the interior of the castle. At the south-west angle is the square Torre del Tesoro; at the north-east is the tower of Bona of Savoy, at the junction of the three sections of the enceinte. The wall is pierced towards the Corte Ducale by two gates, which are approached by drawbridges, and there is another entrance and bridge from the Piazza d’Armi. The court in the interior is surrounded by a beautiful colonnade, part of which dates from the time of Lodovico il Moro, the south and west sides from the reigns of Francesco and 213 Galeazzo Maria. Over the portico on the west side runs the famous Sala della Balla, wherein Lodovico was married to Beatrice of Este. It is now divided into two rooms, and reaches to the ceiling of the storey overhead. In this part of the castle is the Museum of the Risorgimento, containing documents and memorials of the wars of independence. The vast vaulted chambers in the basement are lit by slits dating from the Visconti times. The imposing tower of Bona, bonnetted, one might say, with its heavy overhanging machicolated gallery and pitched roof, rises to a height of one hundred and forty feet. At the foot is the cell in which was confined Luciano Grimaldi, Lord of Monaco. Between the base of this tower and the north wall of the keep is the gate with a little drawbridge over which the boy-duke Gian Galeazzo was carried in the year 1480.

Over this we pass into the Corte Ducale, which is approached from the Piazza d’Armi by a gate-house with a double drawbridge. Over the entrance is the ducal escutcheon in marble; the gate, with its drawbridges, portcullises and T-shaped hinges, was originally made during the regency of Bona to cover the arched portal restored or built by the first Sforza. On the inside this arch was protected by a wooden gallery, which was supported on brackets still traceable in the wall. This elaborate entrance admits to the quadrangle occupying the interior of the Corte Ducale, and corresponds to the gates on the same axis leading into the city and the park behind the castle respectively. The innermost or south-east side of the palace contains two vaulted chambers with 214 seven windows looking on the moat and four towards the court; the floor above is occupied by a single hall. This wing was in ducal times occupied by the chancellor’s offices. Over the door leading into the court is an inscription of the time of Philip III. of Spain (1607). Across the north-east side of the court runs a portico of six arches, very similar in detail to the arcade on the opposite side of the castle, within the Rocchetta. It communicates on the east side with two small chambers with traces of the original decoration; behind it are two rooms, one of which is often alluded to in documents as the Sala Verde da Sotto; overhead is the spacious Sala delle Caccie, communicating with the first floor of the square north-west tower. From this point runs the ponticella across the moat, on which rooms were built by Lodovico il Moro.

The Sala delle Asse, occupying the ground floor of the north tower, has a richly decorated ceiling, said to have been designed by the great Leonardo. Standing in this wide room on a morning in April, we were at one with Signor Beltrami in admiring the ingenuity with which the founders of the castle excluded the light. The chambers extending hence, along the north-west side of the court, were the apartments of the duke. Traversing the Sala Celeste, we enter the room called, after the doves introduced into the decoration, the Sala delle Colombine, and remember that Galeazzo Maria paced its floor that last of his Christmas nights, meditating aloud on the greatness of his dynasty. The next room is called “of the Scarlioni,” after the red and black zigzags painted on the wall. Separating these rooms from the court ran 215 the Ducal Chapel, where the murdered duke breathed his last prayers. The long chamber above this was known as the Sala Verde Superiore.

In a line with the two other gates is the west gate. It is insulated by a ditch on its inner as well as its outer side, and is therefore furnished with two bridges worked from a chamber over the passage. A few chambers still exist in the counterscarp of the ditch — remains of the secret way which ran right round the enceinte and communicated by subterranean galleries with the towers.

In the ditch, on the south-west side of the Piazza d’Armi, stands the only one remaining of the two rivellini or cavaliers that guarded the secondary entrances into the Piazza d’Armi from the town. It is a square two-storeyed structure with machicolations and battlements. A bridge connects it with the enceinte, and two others with the counterscarp. A fourth bridge at a lower level puts it in communication with the secret way. The defences were completed by the ghirlanda, that portion of the city walls which enclosed the castle on the side of the country and of which a few fragments have been preserved.

It must be admitted that its conversion into a museum has very effectively disguised the old castle-palace of the dukes of Milan. It is difficult to re-people chambers filled with glass-cases and bespectacled tourists with the courtly and sombre occupants of other days, whose souls would no doubt be as well pleased with the artistic treasures here collected as they would be amazed at the memorials of Italy’s struggle for independence displayed in another part of the building.






Decorated Adorment from the spine of the book, of a tree with gilt leaves on a burgundy woven ground.