The House of Sforza

SEE ALSO :Borgias Home I Powerful Renaissance Families IThe Borgias Historical Profiles I The Duchy of Milan



House of Sforza
During the Period 1369 - 1535



Sforza is the name of an historical Italian family who ruled Milan and parts of the northern Italian region of Lombardy.

Rising from a non-noble but wealthy landowning family from Cotignola in the Romagna, the Sforza became condottieri and successfully used this military position to become rulers in Milan. The family governed by force, ruse, and power politics. Under their rule the city-state/duchy of Milan ("the dominion") flourished and expanded. Similar to the Medici in their use of personal power, the Sforzas differed in that they were warriors, not bankers.

The dynasty was founded by Muzio Attendolo Sforza (1369-1424), called Sforza (from sforzare, to exert or force), a condottiero from Romagna serving the Angevin kings of Naples. His became the most successful dynasty of the condottieri. His son Francesco I Sforza ruled Milan for the first half of the Renaissance era, acquiring the title of Duke of Milan from the extinct Visconti family (imperial vassals of Milan), in 1447, through his marriage to the only heir to the ducal throne, the illegitimate daughter of duke Filippon Maria - Bianca Maria Visconti.

"In Francesco was no trace of his father's rustic bearing; he had already won twenty-two battles, his achievements were as famous as those of his father before him, and no ambition was disproportionate to his merit. His constant aim was as his father's - a crown - and he pursued it by like means and with the same capacity. Matrimony was to complete what what had been begun with valour and the fortune of arms. Bianca Maria daughter of Philip, last of the Visconti by his mistress Agnese del Maino, conferred on him the rights and privileges of an old and princely name" (Pier Desiderio Pasolini, Catherine Sforza, p. 11).

Castello Visconti, Pavia (just south of Milan in Lombardy)
Visconti castle, Pavia
Pavia was the ancient seat of the Lombard kings 568-774 AD.

Francesco's son and heir Galeazzo Maria Sforza was born 24 January 1444 and was assassinated on 26 December 1476. He was duke of Milan from 1466 until his death. Though he was a typical Renaissance prince and lavished wealth on the arts and building projects, he was mostly famous for being lustful, cruel and tyrannical. Galeazzo already had at least two illegitimate children (including the formidable Caterina Sforza) by his mistress Lucrezia Landriani when he married Bona of Savoy in 1468.

The family also held the seigniory of Pesaro, the lordship was held by Muzio Attendolo's second son, Alessandro (illegitimate1409-1473). Alessandro had an illegitimate daughter, Ginevra (1452–1507), who was married to Sante Bentivoglio and, after the latter's death, Govanni II Bentivoglio, Lord of Bologna. The Sforza held Pesaro until 1519, with the death of Galeazzo. Muzio's third son, Bosio (1411-1476), founded the Sforza branch of Santa Flora.

Sforza Castle,  Milan
Sforza Castle, Milan (in the 15th century it was callled Porta Giovia)


The Sforza would later join with the Borgias, through the marriage of Lucrezia Borgia to Giovanni Sforza (the illegitimate son of Costanzo I of Pesaro). Ludovico Maria Sforza (also known as Ludovico "il Moro," famous also for taking Leonardo da Vinci as court painter and commissioning il Cenacolo (Last Supper) was one of the most powerful rulers during the period of the Borgia ascendancy. According to Papal Master of Ceremonies Johann Burchard, "in 1496 he boasted that the Pope Alexander was his chaplain, the Emperor Maximilian his condotierre, Venice his chamberlain, and the King of France his courier, who must come and go at his bidding." (Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, p. 44)


Last Suuper - small

He was defeated in 1500 by the French army of Louis XII of France during the brutal second French invasion of the Italian Wars. After the French were driven out by Imperial troops, Maximillian Sforza, the eldest son of Ludovico and Beatrice, became Duke of Milan, until the French returned under Francis I of France and imprisoned him.

Map - Duchy of Milan

Francesco II Sforza (February 4, 1495 – October 24, 1535), also known as Francesco Maria Sforza, was the last Duke of Milan from 1521 until his death. When Charles V re-conquered Milan from the French (1525), Francesco was appointed its duke, the last of the family to hold that title. He returned to his state, depleted by twenty years of combat, promoting a cultural and economic recovery. In 1526 he adhered to the second Holy League with Francis I, Pope Clement VII and the Republic of Florence, and was besieged in the Castello Sforzesco. On May 4, 1534 he married Christina of Denmark, daughter of Christian II of Denmark and Isabella of Burgundy.




  • Milan
  • The Italian City-States
  • Ludovico Maria Sforza Historical Profile
  • Giovanni Sforza Historical Profile
  • Caterina Sforza Historical Profile


    Ludovico Sforza, Historical Figure by George Stuart

    Ludovico Sforza
    Quarter life-size sculpture

    by George Stuart


























  • Visconti-Sforza Coat of Arms



    House of Visconti-Sforza Coat of Arms


    Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan (Bonifacio Bembo, c. 1460)


    Francesco Sforza. Portrait by Bonifacio Bembo, 1460



    Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan


    Galeazzo Maria Sforza.
    Portrait by Piero Pollaiuolo, 1471



    Gian Galeazzo II, 6th Duke of Milan reign 1476-1494


    Bas-relief sculpture profile of Gian Galeazzo II Maria Sforza, 6th Duke of Milan (reign 1476-1494)



    Ludovico Maria Sforza "il Moro", Duke of Milan


    Ludovico Maria Sforza.
    Detail, Altarpiece of the Pala Sforzesca c. 1495



    Caterina Sforza, Countess of Imola, Lady of Forlì


    Caterina Sforza, Lady of Forlì. Portrait by Lorenzo di Credi, c. 1481-83


    Maximilian Sforza (born 1493 died 1530) minitaure



    Maximilian Sforza. Miniature portrait by Ambrogio de Predis c. 1515




    Francesco II Sforza



    Francesco II Sforza. Miniature portrait by Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis, 1521