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The Tigress of Forlì: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici
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The Tigress of Forlì: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici

4.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,026 Ratings  ·  145 Reviews

The astonishing life of a long-misunderstood Renaissance virago.

Wife, mother, leader, warrior. Caterina Riario Sforza was one of the most prominent women in Renaissance Italy—and one of the most vilified. In this glittering biography, Elizabeth Lev reexamines her extraordinary life and accomplishments.

Raised in the court of Milan and wed at age ten to the pope’s corrupt ne

Hardcover, 316 pages
Published October 18th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2011)
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Kate Quinn
Dec 31, 2011 Kate Quinn rated it it was amazing
A fascinating biography of the woman who went toe to toe against Cesare Borgia, and nearly won. Caterina Sforza isn't as well known a figure of the Renaissance as Lucrezia Borgia or Isabella d'Este, but she should be: a blond beauty who mothered a brood of eight, wore out three husbands, killed countless enemies, defended her battlements by sword and word, and survived war and prison to fame and peace. Savage, intelligent, and loving by turns, her character can be summed up by the probably-apocr ...more
Dec 13, 2015 Jeanette rated it really liked it
Highly researched biography of Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici. I wish I would have read this before I read Scarlet City by Haasse. Because I would have understood the Italian city state wars (lasting for literally centuries) coupled with France or Holy Roman Empire alliances in a more complete "location" and economic sense. This book also taught me many practical reality facts upon clothing, manners, choir music, art in fresco and much more for this Renaissance cauldron as lived in Milan and F ...more
Rio (Lynne)
Apr 24, 2012 Rio (Lynne) rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Caterina Sforza went down in European History as the women who defied The Borgias, but this book spans her whole remarkable life. Married at ten years old to Pope Sixtus IV's nephew, her life was constant battle and she constantly had to defy other ruthless families to fight for her and her children's legacy. Besides her war side, Caterina saw some of Renaissance Italy's most famous pieces of art come together. Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo and was even added herself to some of the famous a ...more
Nov 23, 2011 Elena rated it it was amazing
"If I were to write the story of my life, I would shock the world."

~Caterina Sforza

"The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici" by art historian Elizabeth Lev is a biography which paints a portrait not only of one of the most colorful characters of the Renaissance but of the Renaissance itself. If ever I thought that the films and novels I have seen and read about Renaissance Italy were exaggerated in either the violence
The story of Caterina Sforza is a story worth telling, and Elizabeth Lev tells it well.

It is the story of a feisty, formidable woman, a woman who often outwitted her male counterparts. She for example bested and humiliated both Macchiavelli and the fearsome Cesare Borgia on various occasions. She seemed to be quite fearless, was a good strategist and dressed in armour, led in battle. She defended her stronghold against enormous odds even after the townspeople had abandoned and betrayed her. She
Jo Walton
Apr 28, 2015 Jo Walton rated it it was amazing
Lucid, fascinating, and full of well-observed detail, this is an excellent biography of an outstanding woman. I mean that literally. Caterina Sforza was more than she needed to be, more than anyone expected her to be, and yet in the end she put in so much effort to achieve so little. I can't accept "oh and her grandson became Duke of Tuscany" as a happy ending, hard as Lev tries to make it one.

But if you want a biography as an introduction to the Renaissance, or if you know a lot about Florence
Dec 02, 2012 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, italy
She was brave, strong and beautiful. Her life is dizzying. She did amazing things for a woman (or even a man) of her times. Her biography shows the paradox of the Italian Renaissance. The era's artistic achievements reflect its strong religious mores while a culture of war and terror destroys unnamed and uncounted people. This dual morality is not just among nobles like Caterina Riario Sforza de'Medici; it extends to the church and is fully embodied in her contemporary Pope Alexander VI Borgia.

Apr 30, 2013 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici was a fascinating woman: beautiful and accomplished in the things people expected of a woman; a fertile and involved mother; a military tactician as capable of fighting as any of her men; an indomitable spirit who rightly captured the hearts and imaginations of many of her time. She had formidable enemies and allies who let her down all too often: she, perhaps, deserved the former, but not the latter.

"Feminism gone wild", one of the reviewers quoted on the cover
Lolly's Library (Dork Kettle)
How is it possible that most of the world has forgotten such a dynamic, complex, amazing woman? A woman who, at seventh months pregnant, took control of the papal fort of Castel Sant'Angelo and held it, with some skillfully smuggled-in soldiers, for eleven days in order to defend her family's rights. A woman who went toe to toe, figuratively speaking, with one of the most brilliant wits of the Renaissance, Niccolo Machiavelli, and not only won but made Machiavelli look like an incompetent fool. ...more
Before picking this up, all I knew about Caterina Sforza was that she was Cosimo de' Medici's grandmother, she was obviously related to the Sforzas in some nebulous way, and she may or may not have flashed her privates at an invading army from the battlements of her fortress. Basically, I just had a dim notion she was some Medici ancestor with a potentially scandalous history.

The truth is far better. Yes, she was a Sforza, the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan, brought up a
Sarah u
4.5 stars.

“Caterina was a firsthand witness to the corruption in the [Borgia] family; if she chose to recount her story, she warned that she would ‘shock the world’.” (Lev, p.247)

In recent months (time of writing: August 2013) I have been increasingly interested in the history of the Italian Renaissance. This was one of the reasons I decided to buy this biography of Caterina Sforza by art historian Elizabeth Lev. In short: I'm so glad I did, because this book was fascinating and, after finishin
Apr 21, 2016 Kiwi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A somewhat novelized biography of a fascinating and lesser-known figure of Reinassance Italy. It’s lovely to see a book that looks outside Rome and Florence to the smaller cities and other important families of the period, e.g. the Visconti, Sforza, Gonzaga, Este and even the Manfredi and Ordelaffi for a change (I don’t share the obsession with the Borgia and Medici :).
Entertaining and informative read (with a few mistakes) and with an emphasis on the costumes and arts of the period (probably d
My knowledge of Renaissance Italy is about as minimal as it can be and still have studied Western history. That is, I know a number of very famous names associated with some artwork just as famous; I know of a little of the politics... and that's nearly it. It's a lack that some of my reading has been filling in the edges of. ( The Fourth Part of the World had a good section on the early Humanists.)

Elizabeth Lev's biography of Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici is about some of the details of tha
Margaret Sankey
The story in which Caterina Sforza defies a besieging enemy who holds her children hostage by announcing that she can always have more is one of my favorites. Most accounts of Caterina have been hatchet jobs by men who despised her (or based on them), or too fawning accounts by her own political flunkies and subsequent myth makers attached to grandson Cosimo d'Medici. Italian art historian Elizabeth Lev attempts to find a middle way of plausible narrative in a life that is more interesting than ...more
May 09, 2015 Christopher rated it it was amazing
(Note: Customer review from the Amazon Vine Program)
I must confess, I was first attracted to this biography because I knew of Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici through the video game "Assassin's Creed II" and I wanted to learn her full story. Having read Mrs. Lev's first work, I am very glad that I did. In a little less than 300 pages, Mrs. Lev recounts the life of one of the most amazing women in Renaissance history, if not in all of history. Caterina was stubborn, brave, and passionate through
Karin Gastreich
May 15, 2013 Karin Gastreich rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Caterina Sforza is best remembered for her show down with Cesare Borgia at Forli, a military confrontation that humiliated Cesare and converted Caterina into legend. Despite her eventual defeat and imprisonment at the hands of the notorious son of Pope Alexander VI, Caterina Sforza was one of the very few of her time who bested Cesare at his own game and lived to tell about it.

Elizabeth Lev paints Caterina Sforza's story with the expertise of a Renaissance master. We are given the rich tapestry
Sep 13, 2012 David rated it it was ok
I am left feeling underwhelmed by this book, despite its competence. I rarely venture into the world of non-fiction but I have been curious about Caterina Sforza ever since reading anecdotes about her in Magnifico, the biography of Lorenzo Medici. Unfortunately, I was far more entranced by Magnifico than The Tigress of Forli.

The story of Caterina Sforza is certainly worth telling. Whether you interpret her as admirable or cold-hearted, there is no denying she was a strong, driven woman who playe
Greg Wolfson
Feb 10, 2012 Greg Wolfson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome! This is a fantastic bio of a heroine I have longed to know more about. Lev writes her bio as if it is a novel, and it is supremely entertaining and accessible! Brava!
"The Tigress of Forlì" is a biography of Caterina Sforza, one of the most remarkable women of the Renaissance. The title fits her well: Caterina was fiery, bold, proud and brave. She had many strenghts which made her more like a warrior than a woman (she even fought alongside her soldiers!), but she was also considered one of the most beautiful women of her period. She won the admiration and the hearts of many of her contemporaries, and for her whole life she received love letters from smitten a ...more
Robin Mathews
Jul 26, 2012 Robin Mathews rated it liked it
Wow……I’m really not sure what to say about this book. It was very hard for me to digest as I have a science background so didn’t know much of the history involved in Caterina’s life. However I love learning history this way and am currently watching the HBO series, The Borgias, so knew some of the key players in her life already. The history that HBO portrays is a bit different from the actual history in this biography but still it set the stage for me and gave me a context to put the characters ...more
Dana Smith
Jul 28, 2012 Dana Smith rated it it was amazing
Well, if there is one thing that I learned from this book, is that it was very bad luck to be a noble person in Italy during the Renaissance. If you weren’t being poisoned, stabbed or having your house torn down, you were involved in a plot to poison, stab or tear down the house of someone else. Popes, Cardinals, and Archbishops were corrupt. Landowners spent money raised from taxing peasants to purchase clothing laden with gens and pearls to impress those same peasants that their little duchy w ...more
Mar 19, 2016 Melissa rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebay
I can see why this book was a suggestion from goodreads after reading about Olimpia Maidalchini. Caterina was an amazing woman in the time when Men were the dominating sex. She has a Joan of Arc warrior spirit. A warrior, a mother, a ruler. She balances all of her roles in society. She meets her fair share of sorrows but always seems to come out on top until the very end. I was on her team throughout the whole book. Very captivating story I wish I could read more stories like this! Love hearing ...more
Feb 26, 2016 James rated it really liked it
A light and engaging read about a singularly amazing and formidable person. She fought against overwhelming odds at all turns in her life and succeeded.
Aug 13, 2015 Deb rated it liked it
This is a serious biography of Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici. Daughter of the Duke of Milan, she went to war with Cesare Borgia, was widowed three times, ran her city with an iron hand and was ferociously smart. Why she is not as famous as Lucretzia Borgia is beyond me. She is beloved in the city of Forli, was vilified and celebrated by her contemporaries in equal measure and lived a very full life in all ways. Parent, fashion maven, ruler, warrior, proto feminist...I found her story fascina ...more
I have always loved and been fascinated by powerful women, both in history and in fiction. I'm especially fascinated by these sorts of women who lived in eras where their lives were highly circumscribed. As the saying goes "well behaved women seldom make history". It's a shame because history is filled with great women of strength, resilience and resourcefulness and their names need to be better known.

To be honest, I actually came across the amazing and wily Catarina Sforza while watching Showti
Catherine Meyer
Sep 11, 2011 Catherine Meyer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley, arc
An amateur in this era of history, I approached THE TIGRESS OF FORLI with excitement but hesitation. However, the way that Lev writes about Italy and surrounding nations during the Renaissance is extremely easy to follow. The story of Caterina is engaging and interesting, full of wonderful facts about her life. I was thrilled to learn about this incredible woman and enjoyed this biography thoroughly. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in women in history or the renaissance.
Aug 14, 2015 Lauralee rated it it was amazing
Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici once said, "If I tell you my story, it would shock the whole world." Indeed, her story is truly shocking, especially for a Renaissance noblewoman. Caterina had all the qualities that Machiavelli described that a Renaissance prince should have. However, since she was a woman she was scorned by many of her contemporaries. In a patriarchal society, Caterina was a formidable woman who outwitted many great men. She was a fearless warrior that was ultimately defeated ...more
Apr 06, 2014 Zoe rated it really liked it
I decided to read this biography as an antidote to the alternative history projected in The (admittedly entertaining) Borgias TV show.
Caterina Sforza would be considered an extraordinary woman in any age but at a time when women were usually under the thumb of their father/husband/brother/uncle/son (delete as appropriate) she was especially outstanding.

She wasn't perfect, she made mistakes and committed crimes against her people that can't really be condoned even though she was grief-stricken
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Jun 03, 2012 Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides marked it as decided-not-to-read
Shelves: biography
I just couldn't keep going. :( Sure, it wasn't uncommon to marry off children ... but consummation was generally deferred until all parties were mature. The first husband of the subject of this biography? Nope. She was 10. Disgusting. Not the author's fault; she didn't write about it approvingly or anything, but still — too much for me.
Bonnie Luckey
A very intimate look at the life of a Rennaisance woman. She was bound by the laws of men but took feminism to new heights; even by today's standards. She was engaged at age 10 and married at 11; to a man who had little talent and few scruples. She was adored by one Pope for her piety, her wit and her wisdom but was betrayed by another Pope and by both family and "friends". She was exposed to some of the most incredible art and artists of all time and she influenced the artists as much as they i ...more
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“In the Renaissance world of arranged marriages, there were no romantic proposals on bended knee—only notaries and contracts.” 1 likes
“Stung by his misreading of the situation, he showed his shock and hurt through both his words and gestures, betraying his inexperience. Only later would Machiavelli learn to conceal his true thoughts behind a mask of wit and irony.” 0 likes
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