HISTORY OF THE MONTEFELTRO FAMILY
Federico di Montefeltro
Federico, natural son of Count Guidantonio di Montefeltro was born in Gubbio in 1422 and legitimised by Pope Martin V in 1424. On the birth of his half brother, Oddantonio (1427) he was removed from court and brought up by the Lady of Sant’Angelo in Vado and Mercatello, the cultured Giovanna Alidosi. Federico would then marry her daughter, Gentile in 1437.
In 1433 Federico was sent to Venice as a hostage in order to guarantee peace between Pope Eugene IV and the Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, an ally of Guidantonio. This removal from the circles of Urbino would benefit Federico, especially since, due to the arrival of the plague to Venice, he was moved to the Gonzaga court in Mantua, where he attended the Ca’ Zoiosa of Vittorino da Feltre. This was an avant-garde school where, taking great historical figures as examples, young men would learn the values of loyalty to which a prince must always be subject. Vittorino’s teachings focused on frugality, sobriety, self-discipline, social responsibility and physical exercise. Pupils were taught the subjects of the Trivium (Dialectics, Grammar, Rhetoric) and above all, those of the Quadrivium (Astronomy, Music, Arithmetic, and Geometry), essential to Federico’s intellectual training and for the direction his future court would take.
At 16, Federico began his military career at the head of his father’s company of mercenaries, going on to take the position of Commander of the Italic League. On 23 July 1444, after the assassination of Duke Oddantonio, Federico entered Urbino, where he was proclaimed Lord by the people. However, it was only in 1447 that Pope Nicholas V proclaimed him Vicar of the Church and granted him the Montefeltro territories. In 1474 Sixtus IV made Federico Duke and Gonfalonier of the Holy Roman Church, while the King of Naples, Ferdinand I of Aragon and the King of England, Edward IV, bestowed on him the honours of the Ermine Collar and the Order of the Garter, marks of the great respect he commanded both inside and outside Italy.
Federico, well aware of the precarious position of the Vicars of the Church operated a careful foreign policy, allying with other Italian states able to protect him against the centralising aims of the Church, and also against the small oligarchies in the vicinity. His internal policies followed the idea of “good government”, founded on a rapid administration of justice and above all, the possibility to give work to all, taxing the population as little as possible.
The income from Federico’s military campaigns in the service of popes and princes was the duchy’s main source of wealth and it was used to promote intellectual pursuits, including for the purposes of propaganda. Calling the most famous artists and intellectuals of the period to his court, extending and embellishing his home, commissioning paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and codices, and adding infrastructures and architecture to his state, Federico blatantly advertised his role as humanist prince.
Ottaviano Ubaldini, Battista Sforza, Guidubaldo di Montefeltro.
The cultural and political choices of Urbino’s court were made by Federico but they were also due to collaboration with exceptional figures, including Battista Sforza and Ottaviano Ubaldini della Carda.
This latter, son of Bernardino, mercenary captain in the service of Guidantonio di Montefeltro, and Aura, the natural daughter of Guidantonio himself, was born in Gubbio in around 1423.
Almost the same age and linked by blood, Federico and Ottaviano considered themselves and called each other “brothers”, spending time together from their boyhood and until 1432, when Ubaldini was sent to Milan as part of the reconciliation between his father and Duke Filippo Maria Visconti.
Ottaviano’s cultural education took place at the Milan court, where he learned astrology and alchemy, going on to become advisor to Filippo Maria. He left Milan in 1447 after the death of Visconti, moving to Urbino, where Federico had been ruling since 1444.
Their relationship was based on a complete collaboration that would last for the duke’s whole lifetime, founded on trust and a natural division of duties. In fact, Ottaviano and Federico would study and examine internal and external political problems together: Federico would make the decisions and Ottaviano would implement them. The main task was to organise government and administration; Ottaviano organised an efficient court, choosing persons according to their merits and skills.
On Federico’s death (1482), Ottaviano became regent of the Duchy of Urbino, acting as a father and educating the young Guidubaldo di Montefeltro, the heir born to Federico and his beloved second wife, Battista Sforza.
Battista, born in 1446, eldest child of the Lord of Pesaro Alessandro and Costanza Varano, lost her mother at the age of 18 months. Already at 3 years of age, she began learning Latin, which was taught as a living language at the Pesaro court. At the age of 4, she was sent to Milan, to the court of her uncle, Francesco Sforza and his consort, Bianca Maria Visconti. Battista returned to take her place as a Lady at the Pesaro court at the age of 12.
Her decisive temperament and excellent culture, learned under the guidance of humanist teacher, Martino Filetico, meant that she was well known and esteemed in all of Italy’s courts. In 1459, the marriage agreement was settled in Mantua between 37-year-old Federico and the 13-year-old Battista. They married on 8 February 1460. Their marriage was marked by Federico’s obligatory absences, during which Battista governed in his place, taking care of the cultural development of the court and the ongoing construction work of the palace.
The young Battista died in 1472, leaving Federico to mourn her deeply, with many daughters and a young heir, the newborn Guidubaldo.
Like his father, Guidubaldo was a man of arms, but even more than his father, he was an intellectual. His court, ruled together with his elegant wife, Elisabetta Gonzaga from Mantua, is described by Baldassare Castiglione in his Book of the Courtier, which also contains the perfect portrayal of the Montefeltro residence: “a city in the shape of a palace”. Health problems meant that Guidubaldo left no heirs, but instead he adopted the son of his sister, Giovanna: Francesco Maria I della Rovere, who would become the 4th Duke of Urbino.