Review: Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline P. Murphy

Italy, 1542. Isabella de Medici was born very shortly after the death of her father, Cosimo's, first daughter Bia. And subsequently was most cherished, cosseted and spoiled by her father . Her mother, Eleanora bore Cosimo seven sons and four daughters, with eight surviving til adulthood. They were all housed at the Palazzo Vecchio with the children's special apartments taking up several floors above Cosimo and Eleanora's chambers, which had private access to the children's rooms above.

In 1558 Isabella is wed to Paolo Giordano Orsini, member of the Roman Orsini family. Cosimo immediately sends the groom away to Spain to secure diplomatic commissions which allowed Isabella (and her dowry) to stay in Florence with her father. In Cosimo's opinion if Paolo wanted to see his wife he could come to her. Isabella and her father were very close...some wondered how close (although nothing was ever proven).

Isabella's husband, the Duke of Bracciano was a careless spendthrift, accruing enormous debt and living way beyond his means. Despite the letters that survived that time which Murphy quotes from, there was no love between Paolo and Isabella, just business. He saw her as a means of paying off his debts and she saw him as someone weak enough to use to her liking. Isabella did not want to leave her father in Florence and husband and wife did not spend a night alone until four years after their wedding. It's a wonder she had multiple miscarriages and bore two children. Although she had a lover, Troilo Orsini (her husband's cousin), are thus uncertain who the father is. Something Paolo would store away and use to his advantage later on.

Cosimo Medici
When Cosimo dies, Isabella's eldest brother, Francesco, becomes Grand Duke of Tuscany.  Her protector and provider is gone - suddenly Isabella is vulnerable and subject to her older brother. Francesco and Isabella have never been close; Francesco begrudging Isabella's freedoms and indiscretions, her "loose" ways. They begin a tug-of-war of wills in regards to Cosimo's will and providing for her children now that he was gone.

In the past, she used illness and deferment when dealing with Paolo's requests for her to come home to him to Bracciano. Her long-lasting affair with Troilo Orsini, Paolo's cousin, was a spurn in the side of her brother Francesco. Immediately after Cosimo's death, Francesco wasted no time, throwing his step-mother in a nunnery and he began proceedings on getting Isabella back to her husband.

Paolo had been humiliated and de-masculinated for years because of Isabella's disregard for his authority and her affair. Everyone knew he had no command over his own wife. Murphy's argument is that Francesco, disgusted with his sister's behavior and generally not liking her, gave permission to Paolo to murder her. At the same time it is said that he also gave permission to his brother, Pietro, to do away with his unfaithful wife, Leonora (friend to Isabella). The women died within a week of each other, both last seen in the company of their husbands. 

Isabella and Paolo (doesn't he look like Jon Lovitz with a lot of hair?)

I had been looking forward to this book - having a liking for historical fiction and murder. But I found myself scanning pages and skipping paragraphs, which is not something I make a habit of doing. It felt inundated with facts at times, although I did find some of it very interesting, such as, the day to day expenses of Paolo Giordano and Isabella's - the income that is needed to sustain a household the size of theirs was enormous. About three-quarters of the way through, I found myself wandering, actually anxiously awaiting her that point, I needed some action! And when the time did come for her demise it was...well...anti-climactic.

I think I would have been friends with Isabella de Medici - she was smart, had a great sense of humor, light of heart and at times could be a smart ass. She was unconventional in a time when women were not.

Murphy is one talented writer and it is obvious that a HUGE amount of research went into this book, but I wish it would have been focused more on just Isabella and less Cosimo's politics. Just my opinion. I found it well-written, not overly intellectual like some non-fiction can be. Nice reading flow.

Amy Says: eh. renter.


  1. Jon Lovitz *snort*!

    Actually I had never even heard of Isabella prior to this. I'm glad you gave the Reader's Digest Version here....very interesting life, eh?

    ps...Paolo seems like a putz. :)

  2. I really enjoyed this book but agree that the ending was a little anti-climatic.

  3. I just discovered your blog and I love it. Historical fiction (not romance) is about all I read.

  4. Michele - Paolo was most assuredly a putz!

    Daphne - You did a great review on this book. I agree with the sometime overwhleming cast of characters. Isabella sure had a great sense of humor didn't she, especially in her letters to Paolo.

    ABW - I'm blushing..thank you so much. Make sure to stop by again!

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