Here is what I wrote of the first chapter of my projected biography. I show that we must see Vittoria as someone badly served by her family and her husband. I am aware that a number of my statements and quotations are taken from scandal chronicles and romances, and that it may be said the result reads like a romance. Some of the patterns of behavior of both Colonna and d'Avalos resemble those of oppressed heroines and villainous or (if the reader is so disposed to feel) admirable heroes of romance. However, these are the only documents for the private lives of these two people that we have, and I suggest that contained in the over-the-top bitterness and hurt, there is much truth here, or as much truth as we are ever going to get about the childhood bethrothal, marriage and emotional relationship of Vittoria Colonna and Ferrante Francesco d'Avalos.
The betrothal between May 20th and September 7th of 1495 of Vittoria Colonna, age 3 to Francesco Ferrante D'Avalos, age 5, was the result of one of those necessarily temporary deals. Fabrizio and his cousin and companion in arms, Prospero Colonna had publicly changed sides. They had abandoned the French King Charles VIII, then, with the support of some Neapolitan Anjou nobles, in command of the city of Naples; and they entered the service of Ferrantino II, who had taken refuge in Ischia, and they joined his Neapolitan Aragonese allies, at the head of whom was one Alfonso d'Avalos, the then Marchese of Pescara, Ferrantino's closest chief man, who was holding Castelnuovo, the fortress hard by Naples. The problem with holding on to the Colonna brother, as Ferrantino saw it, was the stipend he secured to Prospero would only go so far; a hostage both men would value, even if only a symbolic one, would be longer-lasting, especially if you could make the exchange permanent and real. So when in July Ferrantino reentered Naples, welcomed--for the moment--by the exclamations of the apparently joyous inhabitants, he engineered a contract between Fabrizio Colonna, the man his Pescara had gotten along with so well, and Pescara. The oldest son of latter, and the only daughter and at the time only legitimate child of the former will marry. And although on September 7th of this year Alfonso d'Avalos was murdered (it was said treacherously ambushed by the walls of his palace, Pizzofalcone), the business was not given up. The Colonna were just too effective as leaders who control large groups of men, and could bring with them other similar men.
So the young Vittoria Colonna was taken south, to live apart from her mother, Agnesina Montefeltro Colonna, who (the document on her death tells us) chose always to live at Marino, the chief Colonna Roman fortress. Thus in 1497 while Agnesina was at Marino, pregnant and giving birth to Fabrizio's first legitimate son, Federigo, her daughter Vittoria was on the island of Ischia where she witnessed Ferrantino's successor, Federigo d'Aragona, rewarding some humble followers--Vittoria remembered this in a letter she wrote in 1528 where she remembered seeing Federigo once in a kind of haze of nostalgic idealism. In a number of her poems Vittoria also tells us that when a very young child she was brought into close contact with the young d'Avalos, and taught to believe he would be the man she would marry.
But the reality of Vittoria's childhood was not (as some have supposed) some romantic Daphnis and Chloe on the island of Ischia; it was a one episode in the life of an impressionable and alert female child; that is, while she was temporarily handed over to her father's "friends," there is evidence to suggest she was returned to that father's family at Marino when alliances shifted once again, and none to prove otherwise. For a start it is simply asserted that both Ferrante and Vittoria were cared for by Ferrante's father's sister, his aunt Costanza d'Avalos de Balzo, Duchess of Francavilla, and educated by one or a group of the same tutors; but the record only says Federigo d'Aragona immediately certified the lands belonging to the Francavilla family as hers when in 1501 she came to live on the island when her brother, Inigo d'Avalos, Marchese del Vasto, was made Constable. This is five years after Vittoria remembered being on the island.
And when other various records are carefully sifted we find the two children had different tutors in different places. Ferrante's tutor was the Giovan Battista Musefilo who signed the final marriage contract between them in 1509 on the island of Ischia: Ferrante's contemporary biographer, Paolo Giovio (a scholar from the court of Leo X, hired by Vittoria to write the life), gives this name and says Musefilo had a hard time trying to tutor a young boy who preferred horses and "games of war" to reading; and when made to read, Spanish romances, to learning Latin. It is to this Musefilo Vittoria alludes in a late poem (under the name of Chiron) as continuing to be her husband's faithful guide after he reached maturity. Musefilo was paid by Ferrante's father's mother, his paternal grandmother, Antonella di Aquino, when in March 1495 she gave him the rights to certain rents in payment for his services to a group of children under her care and her residence was far from Ischia; she lived on the southwestern coast of Italy, in Abruzzi on the properties of the d'Avalos. The custom in Italy as elsewhere was for the nearest living female relative of an orphan to take him; the nearest relative was understood to be first a grandmother; Ferrante had been born in Spain; his mother, Diana or Ippolita di Cardona was dead; the maternal family was far away, if a maternal grandmother was still living; at any rate, the child in Italy belonged to the man's family.
Vittoria's tutor was also called Chiron in a series of love poems to Vittoria by Girolamo Britonio (on whom more anon), but Britonio, who is said to have fought with Ferrante on all his military expeditions, names this "Chiron" as "mio Fonteio." Vittoria's tutor was Giovanni Battista Fontei da Gubbio, a tutor paid by the Colonna and living at Marino, the man who signed an earlier nuptial pact at Marino in 1507. Now Gubbio is an area just by Urbino, where Vittoria's maternal relatives, the Montrefeltro lived; the Montefeltro were highly cultivated people who valued learning, and it would have been through them that his services were secured for the children of a daughter of their house, Agnesina, Vittoria's mother (see Genealogical Table 2). In other words, Ferrante was brought up in southwestern Italy under the tutelage of Musefilo as paid for and supervised by his grandmother and father's family; and while Vittoria was brought to Naples, she was educated by Fontei at Marino under the supervision of her mother.
The first meeting between the two children was a fleeting episode in their early lives, as the alliances of their respective families shifted several times before twice, first in 1507, and a second time, in 1509, it was in the interest of Fabrizio Colonna to secure the d'Avalos boy for his daughter and himself. The causal chain is circuitous, but the marriage of Vittoria Colonna to Ferrante Francesco d'Avalos, then Marchese de Pescara was not (as also has been supposed) a love match or the result of a long-standing union between two families. It came about because: one, on November 11, 1500, the French King who had taken over from Charles VIII, Louis XII, signed a secret treaty with an Aragonese king today known as Ferdinand the Catholic (the husband of that Isabella d'Aragona who grudgingly funded the Genovese Columbus's wild scheme); they would defeat and exile Federigo d'Aragona, Ferdinand the Catholic's cousin and divide up southern Italy between them; and two, Fabrizio and Prospero lacked a fully-adult warrior son at a critical moment.
First the secret treaty. We must go back in time to see why Vittoria was moved back to Marino and how this treaty led to the second nuptial deal at Marino on June 6, 1507. It all hinges on the defeat of Federigo d'Aragona whom, to his credit it should be said, Fabrizio Colonna did not simply desert for another Aragonese, but whom he reluctantly left when, after fighting for and nearly dying in Federigo's service, Federigo's army had been destroyed. Federigo had done all he could to secure Fabrizio and Prospero's loyalty: in 1497 he "granted" Fabrizio at last 36 estates (huge holdings across the campagna as well as Naples) and a pension of 6000 ducats for the rest of his natural life; in 1498 he arbitrated a peace between the Colonna and their traditional Roman enemies, the Orsini; and in 1499 he made Prospero, Great Constable of Naples, and gave Fabrizio the fancy title, "Condottiero d'armi" for the Crown of Naples; they then are said to have returned from Marino with a young nephew, Pompeo Colonna (Vittoria is not named in any of the many documents), and begun work on making a properly magnificent setting for the Colonna down south, the palace of Mezzocannone.
What happened then was what the history books call "the great betrayal." Federigo had made the mistake of trusting one man too much. The extraordinary Spanish captain, Gonsalvo di Cordova--always called "the great Captain"--had been given Calabria to protect, and Cordova handed it over to Ferdinand the Catholic, and at the head of Ferdinand's forces proceeded to demolish and bring over to his side what was left of the loyal remnants of Federigo's. Naples had become a dangerous place for anyone perceived as loyal to the old house of d'Aragona and Federigo fled to Ischia. The people who were on the island at the time (1501) have been listed, and they contain no mention of Vittoria Colonna or any other children; and while this doesn't mean she wasn't there, it doesn't mean she was, and her single memory of Federigo is of an incident that occurred several years earlier. She had been sent home to safety.
A rare autograph letter dated August 9, 1501, in the hand of Fabrizio tells how he first came to join Ferdinand. By the spring of 1501 the army of the then Spanish Pope, Alexander VI (Roderigo Borgia) had joined those of the French and Spanish kings, and in July the pope's notorious son, Cesare Borgia, had offered an enormous sum to anyone who would kill Fabrizio; and it was in August 1501 at Capua, the city guarding the way to Naples, that Federigo's forces under the leadership of Fabrizio failed against the combined armies of the French and now mighty Spanish king; between August 4th and 9th, Fabrizio's cousin, Prospero, was taken prisoner and placed in Castelnuovo; Fabrizio was then himself taken prisoner. The letter, to one Antonio Rota, a Northern Italian (father of Berardino, later a friend and fellow poet to Vittoria), shows that Fabrizio had felt an unusual terror or failure of nerve; the opening phrase of the note "in this my calamity" conveys his sense that he had felt some ultimate event which had been awaiting him--death--had come too near; he says "when I was abandoned, and forsaken by everyone" Antonio Rota had saved him, for which he, Fabrizio, promised Rota "one or two castles, or 100 ducats of gold each year" for the rest of Rota's life. In September Federigo d'Aragona was exiled from Ischia to France, Fabrizio switched Aragonese kings and, his cousin now with him, they both joined Cordova.
Then occurred the enactment of "trust"--albeit in slow motion: it was first in 1502 that Ferdinand acknowledged the alliance; and it was only in November 1504 that Ferdinand restored to Fabrizio Colonna all the lands given him by Federigo d'Aragona. It took two years of hard loyal fighting for Ferdinand to convince him Fabrizio was an ally worth keeping (which two years included Cerignola in 1503, where Fabrizio distinguished himself as a strategian on behalf of Ferdinand, and secured southern Italy for Ferdinand). It also took the death of Inigo d'Avalos in December 1503; this d'Avalos had switched sides too and defended Ischia on behalf of Ferdinand and replaced his dead brother as the local right-hand man of the current Spanish king. There was an opening for Fabrizio, and in the following year he came to Naples to live in splendor at the palace of Mezzacannone, a trusted captain of Ferdinand. Reciprocation was due, and so between 1504 and 1506 Vittoria is recorded as again pledged to become the bride of the d'Avalos boy, Ferrante, and on her way south.
Even now we cannot place her in Ischia adoring her coming groom; chroniclers report a visit to Barletta. She was between 14 and 16 years old, and rumor has it she intervened in a quarrel between her father and his cousin, Prospero, over some French or Italian court women; she also involved herself in smoothing out some "relationship" between Cesare Borgia (no less) and an adhoc mistress (so to speak), Ginevra di Monreale. This was the first of many imbroglios resulting from some temporary sexual liaison or permanently unhappy marriage into which Vittoria would be drawn throughout her life, usually as peace-maker, but sometimes as facilitator. What was she doing here? Well, Barletta is an Apulian port city next to Abruzzi, and also during this period of 1504 to 1506 in nearby Abruzzi, the d'Avalos grandmother, Antonella d'Aquino was working to maintain and secure to her grandson, that Ferrante to whom Vittoria was again pledged, the rights to the d'Avalos lands and rents in both regions. He was made the heir, to signal which we will now call him the Marchese de Pescara, and the girl and boy met again.
But no deal was hatched. The nuptial pact of 1507 was signed by Vittoria's tutor (and others) up at Marino; and yet another two and one-half years passed before the firm contract is signed on December 27, 1509. Why? Why did they not marry immediately, but instead only after yet another and this time a family need forced Vittoria's father's hand. The explanation is not political, but personal.
These two young people were anything but made for one another. She was plain, a Leah, not a Rachel (as she was later taunted by one of Ferrante's mistresses); she was small (her maternal grandmother, Battista Sforza Monetefeltro, had been tiny), sallow-skinned, and physically dumpy (she looks very awkward in her later portrait in a dark-green velvet gown); her nose was straight, very thin, and pointed down over a small thin mouth between two closely-set large eyes; her cheeks were flat. Every portrait of him emphasizes how handsome he was in his early years; he too was not tall, but, always dressed in the latest military Spanish fashion, he was agile ("distinguished in grace"), had an attractively colored skin, a sharply muscled face, a reddish beard; when he was just a bit older, women said they found him irresistible, particularly, so they said, when wounded. And while she was indifferent to clothes (an indifference which came out as soon as she was widowed--at Ferrara in 1537 she was remarked upon as almost in rags), he was again and again described by contemporaries as a kind of peacock, now in silver-trimmed yellow, now white satin, and always embroidered all over with mottoes (witty sayings).
Their minds were also highly dissimilar. She was complicated in her responses to the world; the sort of person who "gets" everything, she was easily hurt, but, such hurt when accompanied by a mind like hers--for she foreseaw consequences, and could identify with or understand a hurt she could inflict on others--makes for a character stymied from action. She read a great deal, wrote, was skilled in her use of language and--as revealed by the one prose letters we have which she wrote to him--was not only aggressive, but as a Colonna assertive, filled with a sense of her own worth and value to him, her prestige, and possessed and was willing to use a sardonic orator's tongue against him (see her letter to him in Appendix to this section). He too had a real cunning, but it was the cunning born of an instinct to win out, to dominate in an immediate situation, which served him well as captain, because he was, most unlike her, unable to hesitate in his responses to the actions and words of others. He never took the long view. He had a conscience but it was one based on simple loyalty to family and compatriots--which to him were the Spanish neapolitans whom he grew up among. His few extant letters and recorded comments show him to have been a compound of muddled irritability and easily wounded pride, yet at the same time willing to flatter and appear in need of an individual who has something he wants, be it a position in the gift of a man or the sexual favors of a woman; there is not a shred of evidence he ever took up a book willingly.
Was there anyone else during these two and one-half years leading up to the marriage? Yes. The name of her admirer is not known, but he gave her three touching poems which she saved and placed among her own poetry (these were printed as hers in the early editions of her poetry). But fortune, as she says many times in her poems, was not on her side, and, if the courtship of this unknown man was at all countenanced, it was ended, and at long last. as suggested above, family loyalty drove Fabrizio to give his pawn away.
In 1508 Fabrizio was at least 56, and he badly wanted one of his legitimate sons or at least a dependably pro-Colonna male to inherit the lands he had striven all his life to gain. But his own eldest legitimate son, Federigo, was eleven and the second, Ascanio, was eight. (He had an illegitimate son, Sciarra, of whom what little is known is disputed.) And the problem was not so much that his only-fully grown child, Vittoria, was a girl, as that the adult legitimate heirs of the Colonna lands were also girls (see Genealogical Table 1). Lorenzo Onofrio had been the first Colonna male to gain a enormous amount of land and therefore power during the time of a Colonna Pope (Oddone Colonna called Martin V); Lorenzo's eldest son, was an Antonio--alas Fabrizio was the younger son of a younger son, his father, Odoardo, had been Antonio's youngest surviving brother, and Fabrizio had had two older brothers. Now Antonio's eldest son, Pietrantonio, had had a son, Marcantonio I, but Marcantonio I had had only girls. Antonio's second son was one Giovanni who became a cardinal; there could be no legitimate heirs there. Prospero, Fabrizio's close cousin, was Antonio's third son, and Prospero had had a surviving son, Vespasiano, but Vespasiano was lame and sick, and he had had but one daughter, Isabella Colonna.
Nonetheless in 1508 Fabrizio tried to insure that his and his cousin Prospero's hard-won and precarious lands, spread now over a vast area, would not go to Isabella or Marcantonio's daughters, which would be to give them to their husband's families, as he saw it; he wanted these lands to stay in the control of the Colonna family, i.e., in male hands. So Fabrizio and Prospero signed papers, also signed by Marcantonio I Colonna, designating Fabrizio's young legitimate sons as the legitimate heirs (from which deliberate attempt to sidestep her claim would arise Isabella Colonna's long lawsuit against Ascanio decades later).
Now when in early 1509 a dangerous peninsula-wide war (the War of the League of Cambrai as it's called) broke out, Fabrizio felt the precariousness of this deal, and, as a result, in this year (according to Giovio) he allied himself with two of the young Pescara's Cardona uncles, who themselves as been acting as mentors to Pescara, now a young captain and close companion at arms to them; the aim of all three men was, in Giovio's words, to make Pescara "a courageous leader, prompt, vigilant." How better to secure for the Colonna an effective loyal adult son? Also how better to solidify his position among the Aragonese, to do what he had been promising to do for years. And thus on December 27, 1509 the contract was signed, the 17 year old girl brought in pompous parade from Marino, and put to bed with the 19 year old boy.
I will spare my reader the usual lengthy description of the "gifts of jewels and other objects" cited in the marriage contract, as well as of their gorgeous marital bed. The dowry was not unusual for the time and class of people involved: 14,000 ducats. What was unusual was the oddity in the list, the one thing that is neither a jewel or fancy article of clothing: "uno desciorgh de oro de valore docati 100." Perhaps Pescara gave Vittoria this gift suited to her character, a stand to place a reading or writing table upon. The young couple moved into and for a year lived together in a villa belonging to the d'Avalos clan, Pietralba. Vittoria found herself in a beautiful landscape under a high hill on which was perched an old Carthusian monastery.
What happened in this first year between these two left an indelible mark on them both, and set a pattern of behavior for the next eight years of their lives which has puzzled commentators at least to the extent that they have felt a need to explain why the couple lived apart for most of their married life. In the poems in this section she tells us that in their earliest sexual encounters she responded with such utter sexual abandon to his physical love-making that for a long time after his death she felt she could never go to bed with another man. She tells us she found in his simplicity and quick willingness to act and then not worry about what he had done or was to come, a strength, a bulwark against anxiety and stress. She tells us she found to be his wife was to be protected against unpleasant demands and people; as the Marchesa de Pescara she was left alone. She also tells us, albeit indirectly, that she failed in the one demand he made of her: she had no children. He tells us nothing, but from his leaving her and never again living continually with her for any length of time after 1511, even after he returned in 1519 to be nursed by her when he became seriously ill; and from some of his striking overreactions in public to some of his mistresses, we see the urgent need she felt for him in his presence was not only not reciprocated--he felt a strong need to escape from her influence, openly to break from her. Others tell us that they quarrelled, and the quarrels were wrenching for them both.
Some details from other sources corroborating their first year together and the private misery of the next eight: a man who in 1528 reappears in Vittoria's life as a servant of Pompeo Colonna and a recipient of a letter, a "Messer Vashes" or Vazquez (also Velasquiz di Avila) wrote in 1510 a section of poetry interwoven with prose called The Dechado de amor. This miscellany, a roman à clef, tells us a Donna Porfida (porphyry, a beautiful yet hard rock made of red and white crystals), identified as the lady of the Marchese de Pescara (our Vittoria) continually appeared in aristocratic Neapolitan society with Pescara. Vazquez also tells us Vittoria had a "cavalier servente" who wrote poetry to her, a Marchese di Bitonto, identified as Giovan Francesco Acquaviva, a Spaniard whose father, a learned noble minor poet in Latin, and a patron of poets, Andrea Matteo Acquaviva was present at Pescara and Vittoria's first spousals in 1507. Vazquez's book includes a poem attributed to Acquaviva, but by himself to Vittoria, the first of many to her:
Of yellow and garnet red silk
you make a paint-brush, dear Lady,
so that those who see you so proud
see that with it God has painted you
and made a column
between the two extremes with which
we can consider your name,
for you also, in yourself,
between these extremes, are unique.
The colors are those of Rome, and the word "column" alludes to the Colonna; Vittoria is complimented as a Roman, member of the Colonna family, and as unique. So for a year she and Pescara were able to play the part of a sort of pair in the public Naples scene.
But in the spring of 1511 the Marchese departed, not to return until February 1512. We now turn back to his biographer, Giovio, who tells us in 1511 Pescara accompanied his father-in-law, Fabrizio Colonna, and two Cardona uncles on a campaign in Northern Italy. They trained him well, and in the first battle of the following fall (under the walls of Bologna) he far exceeded his male relatives' fondest expectations by riding his horse right up to the walls, throwing himself among mines, gunfire, and performing every task given him with alacrity.
When he returned, something occurred which suggests he and Vittoria had stopped expecting she would produce the necessary male heir. It was now that she began to live or regularly visit for extended periods of time the island of Ischiato live with that aunt whom people have wanted to believed brought up Pescara and Vittoria, Costanza d'Avalos di Balzo, Duchess of Francavilla who still lived in the island of Ischia. Costanza was Del Vasto's nearest living femlae relative; and Vittoria joined the two there to help educate a younger fraternal cousin of Pescara.
I remind my reader that Pescara's father had had a brother, Inigo d'Avalos, Marchese Del Vasto, and that both men were dead by 1503. In January 1512 Inigo's wife, Laura Sanseverina, died too, and left a 10 year old son, Alfonso d'Avalos, who had taken his father's title, Marchese del Vasto. Costantino Castriota (aka Filonico Alicarnasseo who became a servant to Del Vasto and whose sister or female relative, Giovanna Castriota, is in Dechado d'amor named as a close associate to Vittoria-Porfida), Vittoria's earliest biographer tells us that after January 1512 Vittoria's became a sort of female tutor to this heir apparent she had failed to produce biologically. A kind of rivalry did develop between her Costanza d'Avalos di Balzo--in a letter to Alfonso later in life by this Costanza in which she refers to Vittoria's desire to restore some lands Pescara had upon his deathbed felt guilty about appropriating the rents for and had asked her to give back to the rightful owners; Costanza is very much against this, urges the heir not to listen to Vittoria, and signs herself "your true unhappy mother." Perhaps the aunt took care of supervising feeding and dressing, and herself played with the boy affectionately; Castriota describes Vittoria as disciplining Alfonso (like his cousin by nature a soldier) in his studies, as alternately coercing and coaxing him into becoming a learned and eventually religious man. Vittoria's later statements about her relationship to Pescara's younger cousin, suggest she felt most people, were continually reproaching her (even if they didn't explicitly say so) for not having produced an heir for Pescara, and, for failing in what they they thought the female's central task in life, that of giving birth to a child and turning it into a respected adult. She would look at the adult Del Vasto, and say: "I cannot be sterile as I am called when I have brought forth this man with my genius." Or: "I am not truly as sterile as you believe because I gave birth to that man with my intellect."
It was also at this time that her and Pescara's troubled marriage and perhaps partly defunct sexual relationship spilled into public view. Yes she wrote an ecstatic poem upon first seeing him again after a year and one half, but when he left almost immediately, to join his father-in-law to fight near Ravenna, she wrote a long verse epistle to express a tormented jealousy over unnamed women, and a seething scorn at his shallow arrogance; a disillusionment with her father and his soldier's life and ideals; and most of all, her sense that Pescara was relieved to abandon her bed, using Ravenna and his fighting career as an excuse to desert her (abandon and desert are her Italian words Englished); she says he could have taken her north with him; she implies he was determined to live apart from her.
He managed it for seven months. In April 1512 at Ravenna, partly because of the Spanish strategy that day of waiting rather than assaulting when under fire, Fabrizio Colonna and Pescara ended up on the losing side; Fabrizio was taken prisoner; Pescara, badly wounded, and bleeding profusely, was captured. Both were first taken to Ferrara, and then to Milan where his gallant--or so Isabella d'Aragona Sforza, Duchess of Milan said--appearance allured women. He was ransomed but did not return south, but lived in Milan at the house of a paternal aunt, Beatrice d'Avalos (wife to Gian Trivulzio, Marshall of France).
In October 1512 he did return, but then, according to Castriota, he proceeded to impregnate a servant living in Vittoria's house, and to steal some jewelry he had given Vittoria in order to give it to a woman he had for some time past been openly wooing, the wife of the Viceroy of Naples, Raimondo di Cardona, Isabella de Requescens di Cardona.
We may now turn to another roman à clef attributed to Vazquez; published in 1513, The Question de amor provides a another picture of the aristocratic culture in which Vittoria and Pescara acted out their lives in public. In this book Vittoria is given her real name; many people who turn up in various documents as relatives and associates are also named; her father appears with her as Il Fabricano. Everyone goes to festivals, balls, and tournaments; the men show off weapons; there is a poetry contest in whch eclogues are recited in an open space between a house and the sea; gallant captains, cardinals, and ladies all dressed in pomp and behaving with an idealized Hispanic chivalry abound, and Pescara appears in an exquisite outfit as a member of two teams of four contenders for prizes which include a large silver cloth tent, eight dogs dressed in crimson silk, and two splendidly outfitted horses; his motto: "one cannot endure so intense a passion as his to be put into words." According to the narrator of the romance, Pescara is wildly in love with the Sicilian-Spanish wife of the Viceroy, who nonetheless takes him and all the other "knights" north to war once again when the romance closes.
Vazquez also details some incidents which occurred between Pescara, Vittoria, and this Isabella, and which are corroborated by contemporary chroniclers and diarists. Pescara did indeed take a necklace and some of the other jewelry he had given Vittoria to wear as part of her wedding present without telling her; then one day he "slipped" over Isabella's breast a pearl necklace, which she seemed to accept. Vazquez then adds, and Castriota agrees, Isabella almost immediately returned the necklace with an insinuating and spiteful note to Vittoria, pretending to warn her "friend" "to watch out for this sort of thing in future so no domestic thief can snatch such things;" Isabella also repeats what she says were Pescara's words when she asked, Would not Vittoria miss the jewels? "I am persuaded my dear wife's studies have taught her to flee such vile interested objects." Let us hope Isabella was not shown the pathetic note Castriota says Vittoria then wrote Pescara: "I could better support your having scattered our things to satisfy your heart if you were not so distant from me."
It is not known what Vittoria did about the pregnant servant; she did nothing about Isabella di Resquesdens. No-one says this Isabella was literally sexually unfaithful; the Viceroy's presence and continual friendship with Pescara suggests the relationship remained what is called platonic. In fact, she clearly disdained and laughed at Pescara. She sent the necklace back in order to reject his "service." Castriota says Pescara then wrote Vittoria telling her "pay no attention to such low maneuvres of this sort which were not worthy of her;" Vazquez says Pescara also wrote Isabella some very muddled verses: "Love forbid me ingress/to the door at the best time;" Castriota says they were sent to Vittoria. At any rate, as Vazquez says, Pescara and an army under the Viceroy left in the next month--but only after Pescara startled everyone by kissing Isabella in public at a ball.
And indeed Pescara was back in Milan by spring of 1513, and writing love verses, perhaps to yet another woman, perhaps still to Isabella di Requescens, perhaps to that Isabella d'Aragona Sforza, Duchess of Milan who had so admired his wounds, which verses he also made public by placing them on a musician's drum in the Duchess's house. The Milan Duchess became so enraged she broke the drum and, for having taken some bribe from Pescara, drove the musician from her house. While it is true that while in Ferrara Vittoria's father, Fabrizio Colonna also appears to have had a liaison at this time (with Nicolina Trotti, one of the ladies-in-waiting of Isabella d'Este Gonzaga, of the d'Este of Ferrara, but by marriage Duchess of Mantua), Fabrizio's affair was carried on discreetly; it was clearly nothing Vittoria's mother, Agnesina at Marino, need worry about. Castriota excuses Pescara as one "who had served Vittoria Colonna without producing any fruit" (she had not become pregnant), but he also says that by 1514 Vittoria and Pescara were living apart because their anger had grown to a malicious hatred ("maligno odio").
If this story has been fictionalized in some of its details, something very like it did happen; it is repeated in several places, albeit in different versions; it fits all the known dates; and it fills out or deepens the characters of Vittoria and Pescara in ways that fit what we know of them from elsewhere. We see that while her studies and unworldly indifference to material things irritated him, his determination to prove his masculinity made him behave ridiculously. We see that his continual distancing of himself from her made her wretched and vulnerable to public sneers. We also see he had a certain respect for her as above the usual sleaze.
There is no record of any contact between Vittoria and Pescara from 1513 until November-December 1515 (a separation of a year and one half) when as a captain at the head of a Neapolitan Spanish infantry, he returned to Naples to parade by his father-in-law's side, and Fabrizio held a sumptuous dinner-party at Mezzacannone. Of course, Pescara was now a trained mercenary soldier, and he and his father-in-law fought for a living and as a way of life, and in 1513 the war for the control of Italy between the French, Anjou Neapolitans, Genoese, and Venetians, on the one side; and the Spanish, Aragonese Neapolitans, and Papal armies, now serving a new Medici Pope, Leo X, under the command of Emperor Maximilian I, on the other, had resumed.
So between 1513 and 1517 Pescara's public life is a record of battles, some lost, some won, many of which devastated the varied regions and towns in which they took place. After he left Naples in 1513 in that Spanish army led the Viceroy Cardona, he was by July of that year in charge of 3000 infantry and 400 horse before Genoa, attempting to take Genoa from the French in the name of Leo X. Together with one of Vittoria's maternal cousins, Ottaviano Fregoso (son of Vittoria's mother's sister, Gentile Montefeltro who married Agostino da Campfregoso), Pescara burned a fortress down, and kicked the French out. In August 1513 with Cardona he held Padua against a French army. In September 1513 he fought with his father-in-law, Fabrizio, and the Viceroy Cardona and took Vicenza. And so it goes. In vindication of Vittoria's belief Pescara could have taken her, Cardona's wife, Isabella di Requescens, lived in Verona during these months; and Isabella d'Este Gonzaga and her ladies-in-waiting travelled to a castle in the vicinity of Vicenza "in three heavy bullock carts" to see their personal favorites pass by.
1514 was a quiet year; a temporary peace was signed by Leo X and Louis XII; it was only temporary though, for Maximilian continued to beseige various cities up north; all the biographers of Pescara and Vittoria have assumed he stayed up north doing what fighting was available. I can add to this an incident which seems to have occurred either in late 1514 or early January 1515 in the presence of that peripatetic Mantuan Duchess, Isabella d'Este Gonazaga--now in Rome. Mario Equicola, Isabella's secretary (some said pander) wrote Isabella's son, Federigo, about two of Isabella's ladies, one La Tortorina, and the other, a Delia, a relative of Equicola's; Equicola is much amused because during a dramatized masque Delia recited an eclogue in which she wore a motto Alessandro Luzio has argued alludes to Pescara. It read: "I am Leah's slave not Rachel's." The inference is that Pescara was courting or bedding Delia, and Delia found some release for her jealousy of the wife by hurling a challenge at the foolish husband and taunting the faithful wife from far off: she asks Pescara to disprove her charge Vittoria is the plain wife whose slave Pescara is, rather than that of his alluring mistress. We will return to Delia at Fabrizio's December 1515 dinner and again when Pescara is in Naples in late 1517.
Mid-1515 the war resumed. Louis XII had died; Francois I, had inherited the throne; in August 1515 Francois and his army crossed the Alps, a spectacular acrobatic feat which roused the admiration of those who wrote about it; surprizing Prospero Colonna then with his army at the mouth of the Po, Francois took Prospero prisoner, and commenced war with the aim of garnering the wealth of Milan for the French court. Thus between September 13, and 15, 1515 Pescara fought at Marignano, a slogging match, which because it went on for nearly three days, and included several large armies and effective long-range guns, as well as the usual cross-bows, axes, swords, pikes, and halberds, was unusually bloody: Francois wrote to his mother: "There has not been seen so fierce and cruel a battle these last 2,000 years." It was, as we shall see, a kind of wet-run for the great public success of Pescara's life: 1525 Pavia. In 1515 Francois I won out over the Swiss; in 1525, and in charge of the Spanish army, Pescara would beat Francois. Well, after this 1515 battering Cardona at first withdrew the Spanish forces into the surrounding countryside (Romagna), but they were driven south to the town of Modena (at the foot of the Appenines); and finally back into Naples where, as we have seen, in November 1515, Pescara and his father-in-law, Fabrizio, are recorded parading in Naples. Hardly a triumph.
As I have said, the now 25-year old mercenary soldier stayed in the south for four months, where it is not clear. This time there is no record of him participating in the Neapolitan social scene. I believe he went to Rocca Secca, a d'Avalos fortress in the Abruzzi area which, Giovio tells us, was his resting place during those periods he was not fighting and was in the south. Giovio says Pescara was by nature "an enemy to rest," and Pescara's time here was spent among male companions in the castle or, with them, hunting birds or training falcons, which Giovio regrets because Pescara did not "guard himself from heavy and marshy, swampy places," and thus caught, as we would call it, malaria. Vittoria is not mentioned as living at Rocca Secca with Pescara; no court-life is described.
What record there is, is of an extravaganza of a dinner in December 1515, given by Fabrizio Colonna for Isabella de'Este Gonzaga of Ferrara and Mantua (as I say, she got around), in which, as Mario Equicola writes, "all the fishes of all the seas, lakes, and rivers" were laid "by magical art" before her. Equicola describes it as very much a Colonna event. All of them were there (except, of course, the wise Agnesina at Marino), including Fabrizio's eldest legitimate son, Federigo, now old enough to fight by his father's side. Luzio thinks Isabella's Delia was there; if so, we may suppose she refrained from wearing any further mottoes in front of her host's daughter, Vittoria, even if tempted by the presence of Pescara.
This appearance of Federigo Colonna and Pescara's longevity and successes on the battlefield produced what changes there would be in the next year and a half up north. Federigo Colonna was made Chief of the Cavalry riding by Fabrizio, and Fabrizio and his son-in-law began to part company. Fabrizio's first loyalty was clearly due Ferdinand the Catholic, and when, in February 1516, this Ferdinand died, Fabrizio, with the help of Pescara, moved to force the Aragonese adherents to declare their loyalty to Ferdinand's grandson, Charles V, Fabrizio went north to fight for Charles V against the French king; that is, in March 1516 the Viceroy Cardona placed Fabrizio at the head of the Neapolitan Spanish army, and they moved north to Milan to meet up with Fabrizio's cousin, Marcantonio I Colonna, and they proceeded Milan (they left without wresting the city back from French control).
On the other hand, in 1516 Pescara offered his services to the Medici Pope, Leo X, who aimed to wrest Urbino from the present occupier, Francesco Maria Rovere, in order to hand it over to his nephew, Lorenzo Medici. In April Pescara was fighting at Urbino (actually against his Vittoria's maternal relatives, for Francesco Maria Rovere was the son of a sister of Vittoria's mother, one Giovanna Montefelto). It was at this time he grabbed the Duchy of Sora, a vast piece of land in the northern part of the campagna which he felt some previous history of his family gave him some right to; no-one agreed, and he didn't hold on to it for long--there are no records of any rents collected. It would be one of those things which in 1525, after Pavia, Pescara would ask Charles V to give him.
Nearly three and a half years is a long time in a marriage; but it was this amount of time that had passed between October-November 1513 when Pescara left, and, when, in the spring of 1517, there was an attempt on the part of both Pescara and Vittoria to renew the emotional and sexual basis of their marriage. First shortly after Sora, the war was momentarily concluded by a treaty signed in August 1516; generally speaking, Francois I was to control Milan and all its outskirts in Northern Italy; Charles V was to control southern Italy. Fighting did not cease altogether; different leading individuals were still determined to hold onto what they could for themselves; for example, in October 1516 Marcantonio I Colonna is still holding Verona against the French. But by the spring of 1517 an agreement had been reached between between Francois I and Charles V to restore to the Anjou some of the property they had lost in previous wars. This brought Pescara south. Records show that in April 1517 he appeared in the church of Sant'Anna dei Lombardi (today the church of Monteoliveto), politicked among his Neapolitan Aragonese friends, and was appointed to act as ambassador on their behalf in Brussel against the Anjou claim. This appointment reveals he had gained much respect and prestige among the Spanish Neapolitans; added to his early reputation for physical courage, he was now known for stubborn, clever, and effective strategian. It was at this time a temporary reconciliation with Vittoria took place.
We return to the island of Ischia. On February 2, 1517, the sister of Del Vasto, a young Costanza d'Avalos, was married to a wealthy ally of Pescara, Alfonso Piccolomini, Duke of Amalfi. The wedding was celebrated with much pomp on the island of Ischia and Vittoria's dress was remarked upon as standing out as "magnficient." The words used by her contemporaries suggest they were as much struck that she had sewn her outfit herself as by its intricate needlework which "few could equal, none surpass." Until very recently sewing was how most women spent their days, woman's work, and she meant to attract Pescara at a wedding he would be expected to attend on all the grounds he valued. That he was expected is suggested by the dedication to him of an early play in Italian performed at the time of the young Costanza d'Avalos's wedding by Bartolommeo Torres Naharro, a member of Fabrizio Colonna's court at Mezzacannone. I hope he arrived in time and saw her.
But in March the now 15 year old Del Vasto was taken to Pozzuoli, a town on a gulf near the bay of Naples, actually on the edge of a chain of extinct craters, and thus a place where the sick came to drink and bathe in hot steamy waters. The boy is said to have had "a grave nervous complaint." It is a strikingly beautiful place still used for summering in the country and for holidays. It was in the very early spring of 1517 that Vittoria and Pescara officially adopted Del Vasto as their heir. The extraordinarily beautiful, highly emotional, and more than slightly fantastical sonnets some have supposed were written on the volcanic island of Ischia to commemorate Pescara's victories could just as easily been written on the promontary of Pozzuoli (on which airy and fiery coast Virgil had Aeneas bury one of the Trojan heroes)
No less than three sources (a letter, a diary, and Castriota) tell us that Pescara accompanied Vittoria to Ischia in April and stayed until the 20th when he left for Flanders by boat. People had noticed the unusual total separation. Castriota suggests Vittoria experienced an intense happiness at this time, and we have a fragment of verse which suggests she wrote a gently tender poem wishing Pescara a safe voyage and success.
Alas, when he left Brussels on September 21, 1517, with an agreement in hand which put off returning the various properties regarded by the Anjou as stolen from them by the Aragonese, he did not return to Ischia, and he wrote a letter in which he said when he left for Flanders he was deeply in love with another woman--"Delya" (his spelling). He was in Naples in October, but returned to Rocca Secca to live. There is a record of a an extravagant display for the wedding of a Sforza daughter (Bona, Duchess of Bari) to the then King of Poland; the usual parade included Fabrizio, now Grand Constable of Naples; riding by his side we find Vittoria whose dress and entourage seems to have startled contemporaries and was clearly meant to call attention to herself:
Then came [after Fabrizio Colonna] the most illustrious Marchesa de Pescara, on a black and white horse, with crimson velvet trappings fringed with gold and silver. Around her were six footmen, dressed in capes and jackets of yellow and dark blue satin. She wore a gown of crimson brocade and velvet on which were strewn designs made with beaten gold in the forms of vast tree branches. On her head she wore a coif of gold with a peak [or cap] of crimson satin with the same gold-worked design. She wore a necklace of hammered gold, and her companions, six ladies, her waiting women, were dressed in blue damask and encircled her.
Pescara was not at the parade; he arrived late, seemed in a hurry, accompanied the bride to the ship which was to take her to her husband's home, and then slipped off elsewhere.
The letter is one of the very few private letters by Pescara which have survived (included in Appendix to this section). On October 1, 1517, from Naples, he wrote Mario Equicola, home in Mantua, telling Equicola that the only reason he, Pescara, went to Flanders, was to set up a meeting with one "Delya;" he is overcome with misery and anguish because he missed her; he had gone to Florence and to Milan to seek out her, but she refused either to see or go to bed with him, accusing him of infidelity. He only continued on his way to Brussels because he was in ill-health; on his way back he stopped off in Milan again searching for Delia, but again he was frustrated and this time very sick. His life is not worth living. Could Equicola talk to Delia on his behalf and tell her "how badly needed is the remedy she who caused the pain carries within herself." In reply, Equicola sent Pescara a group of letters, perhaps from Delia, telling Pescara he is "dear to her," and on December 13, 1517, Pescara responded to Equicola from Rocca Secca to say Pescara cannot believe Delia unless she allows him to do an unspecified something for her. He insists he never thought of anything but her from the time she gave him her hand; he loves her intensely, asks her pardon for some wrong he did her, and concludes "I want to set it down here to Delya that I live for and through her." He encloses a present for Delia "out of my love for her."
This, of course, is the Delia from Isabella d'Este Gonzaga's court bevy whose relationship with Pescara we have traced back to November 1515, and may well have begun shortly after Ravenna when in sometime between March and October 1512 Pescara visited Ferrara. Although there are no further explicit records of Pescara and Delia's relationship, they met, she was kind, and he, grateful, and showed it. In May 1518 Mario Equicola obtained from Raimondo da Cardona, still Viceroy of Naples, a confirmation that Equicola possessed a piece of land in Naples consisting of an estate and olive grove called la Palombara. While Equicola was originally from Abruzzi (in fact from Arpino where an important d'Avalos property lay), grew up in Naples, and was from a Spanish Aragonese family, Equicola's 20th-century biographer, Domenico Santoro, believes this land was given Equicola by Pescara.
To conclude this love affair here, in the following year there are two notes which refer to Delia's needs by stealth. First, on May 18, 1519, in Naples, Equicola's servant, a J. Perillo, writes Equicola to tell Equicola that Perillo has tried but failed to talk to Pescara about some important matter, as Pescara is about to set off for Ischia and Perillo has not been able to intercept him; and on June 11, 1519, again in Naples, Perillo writes to say he has travelled to and from Ischia to try to resolve the matter, and obtained Pescara's promise to do all that Equicola wants done for Equicola's "amici," a word which in this period referred to family members, and which Luzio thinks refers to Delia.
But the relationship did not end in 1519. Three years later, on February 22, 1522, during a momentary lull of yet another war, at Rocheta, a town set on the steep hill between Verona and Brescia on Lake Gardo, near Mantua, Pescara writes Equicola at Mantua that he intensely desires to kiss the hand of "your lady and mine." He desires advice and help on the matter about which the messenger who is carrying the letter will speak. On May 31, 1522, from Genoa, just before he participated in another seige of this city, Pescara writes Equicola at Mantua to thank Equicola for sending him a letter which an unnamed other writer has promised to give Pescara something "in the future" for which Pescara hopes to be "grateful," although "expectation" of future happiness is "a feeling the present never lives up to." He then names "Delya" and says he will say nothing specific about her, but only of himself that his soul has been faithful to her ("if she knows the truth in my soul, she will dare to say that during this time it has known no shame").
There is even the possibility of an illegitimate child or children. Eleven days after Equicola's death on July 25, 1525, and five months before his own, Pescara wrote a letter to Isabella d'Este in which he promises to provide for Equicola's "nephews" which to "fail to do" would be "to fail in my duty to my own relatives"--there is no evidence Equicola and Pescara were related. Pescara tells Isabella he is even now writing a letter to Vittoria telling his wife of his wishes in this matter, and he promises Isabella Vittoria will execute all his promises. She may not have. On May 2, 1526 Isabella's son, Federigo Gonzaga, now Duke of Ferrara, wrote to his ambassadar at Milan to intercede with either Vittoria Colonna or Alfonso d'Avalos, Marchese del Vasto, who have apparently not been acting as expected on behalf of a nephew of the dead Mario Equicola.
We have left Vittoria riding by her father's side in Naples in September 1517. To tell us what Pescara was doing in 1518 we have only his gift of a piece of land to Equicola; from Vittoria's private life in 1518 there is left a less enigmatic document. We are come to her second admirer, and the first in a series of male poets who published erotic poetry in which they declared their love for her, or told of an intense friendship with her. In 1519 in Naples Girolamo Britonio published a book of mostly sonnets, Gelosia del Sole, which contains a Petrarchan sequence of poems dedicated to and punningly expressing his love and at times sexual attraction to, among other women, Vittoria Colonna. The details of Vittoria and Britonio's relationship belong to the next section of Vittoria's poems; suffice it here to remind my reader that Britonio was that Spanish soldier in Pescara's army who knew the name of Vittoria's tutor as a child; and to add that the poems show a subtle and sympathetic appreciation of Vittoria's character; and that in a statement late in life he said he loved Vittoria Colonna for fourteen years.
In the second half of 1519 though Vittoria and Pescara's marriage entered a new phase. He had long suffered from the recurrent fevers of malaria (the sickness he refers to in his October 1517 letter to Equicola); these fevers worsened, and added to his exhaustion from nearly of decade of fighting and hard living, of wounds not properly treated, and of either stomach ulcers or dysentery or both, he grew, as Giovio says, "gravely ill." At first he tried to treat himself at Rocca Secca; Giovio says he "changed his way of life," by which Giovio means Pescara stopped abusing his physical strength beyond its limits: he rested and stayed indoors frequently to avoid the malarial countryside around the castle. He also "changed his medicines and from then on refused not remedies, and cured himself with his own salubrious refreshment of milk and light food" (literally he ate salad). But it was no good; he left Rocca Secca and went to live with Vittoria and his aunt and cousin Del Vasto on the dry and hot volcanic island of Ischia.
We are indebted to J. Perillo for our record of Pescara's first new attempt at a reconciliation with Vittoria. On May 18, 1519, Pescara had, Perillo says, determined to stay eight days "unless he left immediately." Perillo thinks Pescara will be treated by those on the island with "great solicitude." He may have been because he remained until June 11th, when a quarrel erupted. According to "gossip" on the island, Vittoria had become so disgusted or troubled and annoyed ("indisposta")--we would say angry and upset to the point of making herself sick--that Pescara was driven to return to Rocca Secca on that day. But he quickly returned, and according to Giovio, spent the whole of 1520 with Vittoria on Ischia while she nursed him back to a precarious health. A letter from one Giovan Tommaso Tucca to Isabella d'Este Gonzaga at Mantua (we might regard him as a part-time mole, both a servant of the d'Avalos family and a paid informer to Isabella) tells us that Pescara almost died late in 1520 ("people had thought the Marchese would not live"); a Jewish physician was called, and whatever this physician did was thought to have "returned him to the living." Pescara was not cured, but "everyone is hopeful." Isabella would, of course, pass the information on to Equicola and Delia then in Mantua.
The marriage was revived, and as Pescara's 1522 letters suggest, if in 1518 he had lived with Delia, when he returned north this love affair became intermittent--with suspicion on Delya's and disillusionment on Pescara's side. Pescara and Vittoria's relationship had changed. If he sought her advice, help, or companionship between 1513 and 1519, we have no evidence for it; on the last what we have suggests quite the contrary; but from 1521 until his death in late 1525, although they still did not live together for any extended period of time, she became an advisor and a kind of junior partner in the firm (so to speak). From the last four years of their marriage, we have one letter by her to him and the record of a few others; and the record of several by him to her, and extant numbers by both of them to other people which show they wrote often enough to tell each other of even the more trival annoyances of their lives; e.g., on August 13, 1524 she writes "I try and try to forget how few and how late are the provisions [food and blankets] sent the Marchese so as not to hurt myself and so as to obey him;" this same letter shows he knows a doctor has been to see her about her ailments (on which see Introduction to Part 3). She sells properties, collects debts, moves near him. There is also in her letters evidence of physical longing for him. e.g,. again on August 13, 1524 she writes that she loses emotional control over herself because just now she physically is separated from Pescara: "non fossemo doi in carne una" (literally we are not two people in one flesh). The original sexual basis on which they had come together at Pietralba had reasserted itself.
Of course, time tames passion and habit enforces acceptance. But there are individual factors worth our attention. First, Pescara was no longer handsome: Giovio says throughout 1519 "a small fever assailed him with slow burning, and his body became thin and easily burnt by this fire; it even corrupted the features of his face, and weakened his body." At the same time, a woman of twenty-seven was no longer expected to be beautiful (and in Vittoria's time most women this age weren't); if she made a pleasant appearance, it was enough. And in Del Vasto she (and the aunt) had created a son Pescara was proud of; famously, she had to plead with Pescara to take Del Vasto with him when in late May or early June 1521 Pescara was well enough to travel and fight again. The first clause of Vittoria's often-quoted argument to Pescara on the boy's behalf (Del Vasto certainly wanted to be off), "If we lose him, we lose but a single man, and a lineage" acknowledges Pescara had argued the boy was so precious he didn't want to risk him.
Further Vittoria was increasingly respected by others, not just as a daughter of the Colonna, but for herself; she had begun to be known and respected as an individual by people outside her small circle. For example, in August 1515 Andrea Torresiani of Asola and Aldus Manutius, two wary and successful businessmen, dedicated their edition of Dante's Divina Comedia to her in which a long dedicatory letter to her, which on the one hand shows they never met her (the description of her shows they haven't the slightest idea what she looks like), and on the other assumes she will support their contention that the "vulgar" classics be taken as seriously as the Latin and Greek ones, particularly when they are religious. They expect a gift and think their book will sell better if her name is on the front page. By 1519 all sorts of minor poets begin to address individual poems to her, including once well-known but now minor Italian poets (e.g., Jacopo Bonfadio, remembered by Croce) who formed a group around (or imitated) Jacopo Sannazaro, Benedetto Gareth (called Il Cariteo) and Serafino de' Ciminelli dall'Acquila (called Aquilano). Naturally her value, if only as an object which brought prestige, increased in Pescara's eyes; better yet, by 1521 she also could call on intellectual types who could help him.
In the 1520's we also find her first letters to learned men who if not themselves rich or well-connected worked for rich and powerful men. Her letters to Gian Matteo Gibert, the trusted secretary and adviser to Clement VII (another Medici Pope) are often been criticized because she is not frank with him; it is forgotten that they do not write just as friends; she also writes Giberti because he can help Pescara. She apologizes for this motive very early in the correspondence (January 24, 1524): "I really regret bothering you in this way, and believe me, can receive no benefit greater than the pain I feel at having to ask for this. But at present I cannot refuse to write this letter since it is my duty to follow the commands of the Marchese, my lord, which are to entreat..." But after Giberti gives Pescara what he wants, and she thanks him-- profusely (January 26, 1524)--she's soon at it again. If in a typical letter of hers to Giberti during the first half of the 1520's, her phrasing is awkward in the extreme, and her words enigmatic, disguised, this is due to her embarrassment at having to ask for whatever it is. These letters are touching if we keep in mind how uncomfortable and coerced she seems to feel, and especially when she adds, as she does more than once, how important it is to her to be useful to someone: "I prize, above all else, and it is important to me, as one who can have no other end." Again and again she wants him to believe she is really (as she supposes he thinks she is not) "not wholly ungrateful (May 3, 1524)." These letters are in fact filled with guarded references to Pescara, to his indifference to her, his bad health, and her need to help him; they are as much letters for Pescara as they are letters to Giberti.
Finally, the death of Fabrizio Colonna on March 18, 1520, removed a psychological barrier between the two: Pescara was almost immediately made Grand Constable of Naples in his formidable father-in-law's place; Fabrizio's death also freed his daughter to reveal the force of her character. For example, before Fabrizio had died, he had tried to engineer a match between his now only living legitimate son, Ascanio (Federigo had died in battle soon after beginning his career), and a woman related to the Cardona and the exiled d'Aragona family, Giovanna d'Aragona (she was a daughter of an illegimate son of Ferrrantino II's father); when this had gotten nowhere, he had written a will which disinherited Ascanio if he did not marry this Giovanna his father had chosen for him. Although, as her portrait shows, she was strikingly beautiful in the conventional way, Ascanio seems to have disliked her on sight, a dislike she reciprocated, and which eventually turned into mutual hatred. Now when we recall the earlier life Vittoria led as Pescara's wife which she called wretched, the anguish she daily experienced in the 1510's which she explictly complained bitterly of to Pescara, we may have a hard time understanding her behavior in persuading Pescara to argue and force upon Ascanio her father's game plan. We may find repugnant the resulting quarrels between Pescara and Ascanio, which Vittoria engineered and for which she demanded and awaited a conventional submission on the part of Ascanio at Marino, as reported by the Mantuan faithful mole, Tucca: e.g., on February 20, 1521 Pescara has been sent by Vittora to Aquila to bring Ascanio back to Naples to be married to Giovanna d'Aragona; and, at long last, on April 28, "Signor Ascanio is expected at court and it is thought he will in the end bring his bethrothed (though he will not make a sign about his nuptials). The Signora Marchesa de Pescara is at Marino where she awaits the conclusion of these silent and dangerous fraternal quarrels;" but when in early Mary 1525 she donned another one of her much-commented upon sartorial creations and participated in the usual parade at her brother's nuptials, she gained Pescara's and her world's respect.
The road together after he has recovered begins when he took Del Vasto with him to fight in the north once again in summer 1521. We can now trace her movements and practical concerns by her letters to others and theirs to and about her. She left Ischia with the two men, and in May 1521 was living in Naples; towards the end of this year she wrote Pescara a letter about how he should behave in Milan towards his superiors in rank, which shows he had written her a very detailed account or she had been up north; the first letter in the nineteenth century collected edition, dated May 8, 1523, in which she tries to collect a debt shows she knows the members of the Mantuan court very well, though she's now living in Arpino (a d'Avalos property in Abruzzi); by November 21, 1523, she had moved back to Naples; the next month, December she had moved northwest to Aquino (another d'Avalos property in Abruzzi) until February 1524, when she went to live near Rome, in the Colonna family fortress, Marino. There she lived for slightly more than a year when she went crossed the campagna, and by May 1525 was living in Ischia, where she lived until sometime in early or middle-November 1525 when suddenly Pescara realized he was near death and sent her a message to come to him; then it was that she took her frantic horseride north to see and speak to him once more, which ride ended in her emotional collapse when on December 1st near Viterbo, she was told, she was too late, he had died in Milan.
Pescara died on either November 25 or 30, 1525 (the exact date is disputed, some scholars have opted for December 2 or 3), a death in which tuberculosis is now thought to have played a final decisive role.
This is, as far as it can be briefly told, a frank and unsentimental account of what is known of the story of Vittoria Colonna during the time Ferrante Francesco d'Avalos was alive.