Virginia de' Medici

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Duchess of Modena and Reggio
Agnolo Bronzino - Maria (di Cosimo I) de' Medici.jpg
Art critic Maike Vogt-Lüerssen believes this portrait by Bronzino, usually identified as Maria de' Medici, is actually of Virginia de' Medici.[1]
Born (1568-05-29)29 May 1568
Florence, Grand Duchy of Tuscany
Died 15 January 1615(1615-01-15) (aged 46)
Modena, Duchy of Modena
Spouse Cesare d'Este, Duke of Modena
Issue Giulia d'Este
Alfonso III, Duke of Modena
Laura, Duchess of Mirandola
Luigi d'Este, Lord of Montecchio and Scandiano
Caterina d'Este
Ippolito d'Este
Niccolo d'Este
Borso d'Este
Foresto d'Este
Angela Caterina d'Este
Full name
Virginia de' Medici
House Medici
Father Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany
Mother Camilla Martelli

Virginia de' Medici (29 May 1568 – 15 January 1615), was an Italian princess member of the House of Medici and by marriage Duchess of Modena and Reggio.

Regent of the Duchy of Modena and Reggio during the absence of her husband, she was able to protect the autonomy of the city of Modena from the attacks of the local Podestà and Judge. Her husband's infidelities increased her already erratic behavior and led to a permament mental illness, who lasted until her death. She was the protagonist of the novel Io, Virginia from the writer Chiara Guidarini.


Early Years[edit]

Born in Florence on 29 May 1568, Virginia was the illegitimate daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and his mistress Camilla Martelli. Her paternal grandparenta were the famous condottiere Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and his wife Maria Salviati (in turn the granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent) and her maternal grandparents were Antonio Martelli and Fiammetta Soderini, both members of the most important families among the Florentine patricians.

Virginia was born after the formal resignation of her father of the government on behalf of her half-brother Francesco. Cosimo I contracted a morganatic marriage with Camilla Martelli on 29 March 1570 on the advice of Pope Pius V, and this allowed him to legitimize their daughter on the principle of per subsequens. Since that time, she lived with her parents at the Villa di Castello during the summer and in Pisa in winter. Cosimo I's older children resented their father's second marriage, and after the death of the Grand Duke in 1574, they imprisoned Camilla in the Florentine convent of Murate.

Despite the controversy about her illegitimate birth and ambiguous position in the Grand Ducal house, Virginia's older brothers began negotiations with the House of Sforza of a marriage between her and one of his members. In 1581 she was betrothed to Francesco Sforza, Count of Santa Fiora, but the wedding didn't take place because the groom chose the ecclesiastical career and became a Cardinal. After this, it was decided to arrange her marriage with a member of the House of Este with the purpose to improve the relations between both families and break the isolation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany from the other Italian states. Virginia's half-brother Cardinal Ferdinando has agreed with Cardinal Luigi d'Este for the marriage of his nephew and Virginia. In addition, the second wife of Grand Duke Francesco I, Bianca Cappello, also played a big role in the conclusion of this alliance.

Marriage and Issue[edit]

In Florence on 6 February 1586 Virginia married Cesare d'Este, son of Alfonso, Lord of Montecchio, in turn the illegitimate (but later legitimized) son of Alfonso I, Duke of Ferrara. To celebrate this event was represented the comedy "l’Amico Fido", wrote by Giovanni de' Bardi and with the lyrics of Alessandro Striggio and Cristofano Malvezzi, and in Ferrara the poet Torquato Tasso dedicated a Cantata to the newlyweds.

The union produced ten children, six sons and four daughters:

  • Giulia d'Este (1588–1645); died unmarried.
  • Alfonso III d'Este, Duke of Modena (1591–1644), Duke of Modena from 1628; married Princess Isabella of Savoy and had issue.
  • Laura d'Este (1594–1630;) married Alessandro I Pico, Duke of Mirandola and had issue, ancestress of Maria Teresa Cybo-Malaspina, Duchess of Modena.
  • Luigi d'Este, Lord of Montecchio and Scandiano (1593/1594–1664), had issue.
  • Caterina d'Este (1595–1618); died unmarried.
  • Ippolito d'Este (1599–1647); died unmarried.
  • Niccolo d'Este (1601–1640); married Sveva d'Avalos, no issue.
  • Borso d'Este (1605–1657); married Ippolita d'Este (daughter of his brother Luigi) and had issue.
  • Foresto d'Este (1606–1639/1640); died unmarried.
  • Angela Caterina d'Este (died 1651); died unmarried, a nun.


See also[edit]

This portrait is often identified as Marie de' Medici, queen of France, though art critic Maike Vogt-Lüerssen believes it is actually an adult portrait of Virginia de' Medici.
This portrait is often identified as Virginia de' Medici, though art critic Maike Vogt-Lüerssen believes it is actually a portrait of Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria-Tyrol (1656-1669).
Virginia de' Medici
Born: 29 May 1568 Died: 15 January 1615
Royal titles
Preceded by
Margherita Gonzaga
Duchess consort of Ferrara
27 October 1597 – 1598
To the Papal State
Duchess consort of Modena and Reggio
27 October 1597 – 15 January 1615
Title next held by
Maria Caterina Farnese