Renaissance and Reformation Francesco Sforza
Christine Shaw
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0415


Francesco Sforza was a pivotal figure in the state system of Italy in the 15th century. The son of a prominent condottiere, Muzio Attendolo Sforza, he inherited his father’s company of soldiers in 1424 and became one of the foremost condottieri of his time in his own right. In 1434 he took over much of the province of the Marche in the Papal States and held on as lord there until he was finally driven out in 1447, shortly before the death of his father-in-law, Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. Although his relations with Visconti, before and after he married Visconti’s daughter, Bianca Maria, had often been bad, when Visconti died without legitimate heirs, Sforza claimed the dukedom. He had to conquer the duchy before he was accepted in Milan as duke in 1450. Despite the legitimacy of his rule continuing to be under question, Sforza became the most influential statesman in Italy, through the use of the impressive diplomatic network he built up rather than through military interventions. The records created and preserved by his efficient chancery constitute a major source for the history of Italy in the mid-15th century. References to him abound in the historiography of Renaissance Italy, but there are not a great many works focused on him, and only a few in English.

General Overviews

Since the 15th century, the basic biographical source for Sforza’s life and career has been Simonetta 1932–1959, with Minuti 1869 being the single best source of information on his early life. How these accounts came to be written is discussed in the introduction to Simonetta 1932–1959 and in Ianziti 1988 and Covini 2012. There is no modern biography covering all phases and aspects of his life. Santoro 1968 covers a wider range than Catalano 1983, which is concentrated on his foreign policy as duke; neither devotes much attention to his career as condottiere. Menniti Ippolito 1998 is the best summary account of his whole career.

  • Catalano, Franco. Francesco Sforza. Milan: Dall’Oglio, 1983.

    Little on his career before 1450, but the best general survey of his reign as duke, concentrating on his foreign policy.

  • Covini, Maria Nadia. “La fortuna e i fatti dei condottieri ‘con veritate, ordine e bono inchiostro narrato’: Antonio Minuti e Giovanni Simonetta.” In Medioevo dei poteri: Studi di storia per Giorgio Chittolini. Edited by Maria Nadia Covini, 215–244. Rome: Viella, 2012.

    Discussion of 15th-century lives of Sforza and other condottieri.

  • Ianziti, Gary. Humanistic Historiography under the Sforzas. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.

    Argues that there was a project in the Sforza chancery for an official history celebrating Francesco Sforza, as propaganda for the legitimacy of his regime. Discussion of the materials for this assembled in the chancery and how they were used.

  • Menniti Ippolito, Antonio. “Francesco I Sforza.” In Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani. Vol. 50. 1–15. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1998.

    Useful summary biography, with as much attention given to Sforza’s career as a condottiere as to his rule as Duke of Milan.

  • Minuti, Antonio. “Vita di Muzio Attendolo Sforza.” In Miscellanea di storia italiana. Vol. 7. Edited by G. Porro Lambertenghi, 97–365. Turin, Italy: Stamperia Reale, 1869.

    Life of Francesco Sforza’s father, written by a long-standing servant of both father and son, who kept materials on the history of the family.

  • Santoro, Caterina. Gli Sforza. Milan: Dall’Oglio, 1968.

    Includes sections on Sforza’s family (his father, wife, and children), and on the administration and economy of the duchy, as well as his role in Italian affairs.

  • Simonetta, Giovanni. Rerum gestarum Francisci Sfortiae Commentarii. Edited by Giovanni Soranzo. Rerum Italicarum Scriptores 21, Part 2. Bologna, Italy: N. Zanichelli, 1932–1959.

    Latin text with no historical footnotes, but with a very full index that helps orientation and a long preface that describes the circumstances in which Simonetta wrote his work. A précis of the history in Italian, by Simonetta himself, is given in an appendix, pp. 495–514.

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