I’m watching Tom Fontana’s series Borgia: Faith and Fear, and can’t help but wish they’d get around to the Sforza family. I know they must, sooner or later, but I’m impatient. Ever since I finished Showtime’s The Borgias, I’m on a major Sforza kick. So when I saw that there was a biography about Caterina Sforza, I didn’t hesitate to download Elizabeth Lev’s The Tigress of Forli.
Gina McKee played Caterine Sforza on the Showtime series, and I fell in love with her character. She was strong and passionate, but to a fault. She was portrayed as the enemy (the show focuses on the Borgias, after all), but also with sympathy. I was looking forward to reading her biography to see how the writing of her character stacked up. The answer: for what they covered, it was pretty good.
Caterina Sforza was a strong, independent woman in a time where women were rarely strong and independent (sort of like The Widow Clicquot, I must have a thing for ladies-before-their-time). While, throughout her life, her family used her as a political pawn, she was determined to create her own destiny, and that’s the theme that runs through The Tigress of Forli.
Lev may emphasize her strength and skills, but she doesn’t shy away from her faults either: extensive parts are devoted to her shortsightedness, and the consequences of following her heart rather than her head. For this reason in particular, the biography seems pretty objective. Unlike Clicquot, whose early life is almost a mystery, Caterina Sforza was a force to be reckoned with from an early age; her correspondence, movements and relationships are well documented and Lev is generous with the source material.
Before reading The Tigress of Forli, I didn’t know much about Sforza except for her brush with Pope Alexander. After? Gosh, I think I appreciate her even more. Sure, she made some mistakes, but her strength, wit, intelligence and horseback-riding skills make her pretty admirable. Even though Lev doesn’t necessarily aim to make her a sympathetic heroine, Sforza’s actions are enough to speak on their own.
It’s not a long read, and it moves fairly quickly as Sforza’s life rarely provided dull moments to trudge through. If you enjoy biographies, the Renaissance, or plain old-fashioned girl-power, it’s worth checking out.
All those pertinent details:
- Title: The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici
- Author: Elizabeth Lev
- Length: 349 pages (Kindle, including endnotes)
- Genre: nonfiction, biography, historical
- Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Buy it on Amazon here.