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Francesco I Sforza (San Miniato, Tuscany, July 23, 1401 – March 8, 1466) was an Italian condottiere, founder of the Sforza dynasty in Milan.
Francesco was one of the seven illegitimate children of the condottiere Muzio Attendolo Sforza with Lucía da Torsano. He spent his childhood in Tricarico, in the current region of Basilicata, marquisate that was granted in 1412 by King Ladislaus I of Naples. In 1418 he married Polissena Ruffo, a Calabrian noblewoman.
Since 1419, he fought alongside his father, earning fast fame for his ability to bend metal bars with his hands. Later, he proved to be an expert strategist and a well-prepared field commander. After the death of his father, he fought initially for the Neapolitan army and then for Martin V and for Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. After some military successes he fell into disgrace and was sent prisoner to the castle of Mortara. He regained his freedom after a successful expedition against Lucca.
In 1431, after a period in which he fought again for the papal states, he led the Milanese army against Venice. The following year his engagement with the daughter of the Duke, Bianca Maria, took place. However, the duke did not agree with such a commitment. Obviously, the alliance of mercenary leaders depended on payment for their trade. Between 1433 and 1435 Sforza led the Milanese attacks against the Papal States, but when he conquered Ancona, he changed sides, obtaining the title of vicar of the city directly from Pope Eugenio IV. Between 1436 and 1439 he served alternately for Florence and Venice.
In 1440 his fiefs in the kingdom of Naples were occupied by King Alfonso I, and -to recover them- Sforza reconciled with Filippo Visconti. On October 25, 1441, he was finally able to marry Bianca Maria in Cremona. The following year he was allied with Renato de Anjou, pretender to the throne of Naples, and marched against southern Italy. After some initial defeats, he beat the Neapolitan commander Niccolò Piccinino thanks to the help of Segismundo Malatesta and the Venetians, and he was able to return triumphantly to Milan.
Sforza then found himself fighting his son Francesco, whom he defeated at the battle of Montolmo in 1444, and then against the alliance between the Visconti, Eugenio IV and Malatesta, who had allegedly murdered Polissena. With the support of Venice, Sforza won again, and in compensation for leaving the Venetians received the title of General Captain of the army of Milan.
At the death of the Duke in 1447 without leaving male heirs, a struggle broke out to restore the so-called Ambrosian Republic. Sforza received the signoria of many cities of the dukedom, including Pavia and Lodi, and began to make careful plans to conquer the ephemeral republic, allied with William VIII of Montferrato and – again – Venice. In 1450, after years of famine, riots broke out in the streets of Milan that led the city Senate to offer Sforza the dukedom. It was the first time that a noble title was granted by a democratic institution. The following year Sforza obtained the ordination of the Emperor of Germany, Frederick III.
During his government, which was moderate and capable, Sforza modernized the city and the dukedom. He created an efficient tax system that generated huge revenues for the government. Its court became a cultural center of the Renaissance, and the population of Milan had much appreciation. In the city he founded the Hospital Mayor, restored the Palazzo di Arengo and built the Naviglio d’Adda, a canal that connected with the Adda river.
At this time, Florence was under the government of Cosme de Medici, and the two rulers became friends. The friendship was manifested in the Peace of Lodi, an alliance between Florence and Milan that achieved the stability of northern Italy for several years. After the treaty, Sforza renounced part of the conquests in the east of Lombardy obtained by his condiotiero Bartolomeo Colleoni.
As among the signatories of the treaty was King Alfonso of Naples, Sforza also abandoned his support to the pretender Renato de Anjou. He also proposed to conquer Genoa, possession of the Anjou: when a revolt took them out of power in 1451, he made his pupil choose Spinetta Campofregoso as a doge of Genoa. Sforza occupied Genoa and Savona until 1464.
Sforza suffered from dropsy and dropsy. In 1462 rumors about his death spread and riots broke out in Milan.
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