Isabella de Medici, a daughter of the most powerful family in 16th century Italy, was the sixteenth-century version of a socialite. Married to Paolo Giordano Orsini, she chose to live apart from him, holding parties at her home in Florence and taking on her husband’s cousin Troilo as her lover while her Paolo stayed in Rome. Isabella was also the favored daughter of Cosimo de Medici, one of the early modern period’s great social climbers. Later, in 1576, Paolo and Isabella’s older brother would conspire to have her murdered.
The book’s title is a bit misleading. The vast majority of the book is dedicated to Isabella’s life, as well as the fraught political situation in northern Italy at the time. Even so, there’s not much focus on what Isabella was like; yes, she loved parties and all of that, but we never see what Isabella was like as a person, really. However, she was known for having a sarcastic sense of humor. However, the author does a great job at describing 16th century life: what people ate, what they wore, and what they did for fun. It’s things like that that make history more interesting.
The murder, as such, disappointed me, however. Literally only 20 pages are devoted to the death of Isabella, and there’s not really much to go on here—how did Isabella really die? Who really killed her? The author doesn’t even try to hazard a guess here, so we’re left with more questions than answers; disappointing, in my opinion. I guess we’ll never know what truly happened at that remote country villa. In addition, the book is written in a very dry tone, and it doesn’t move at a smooth pace at times. Still, Isabella de Medici is an intriguing woman, unique in that she was able to make her own decisions in a world where women really didn’t have many options.