THE CARDINAL’S HAT by Mary Hollingsworth


Memoir of a Family
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Ippolito D’Este (1509–72), the second son of Lucretia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara, learns how to succeed in the business of ecclesiastical advancement by really trying.

In 1999, the author, an authority on Renaissance architecture (Patronage in Renaissance Italy: From 1400 to the Early Sixteenth Century, 1994, etc.), discovered in Modena a rich archive comprising more than 2,000 letters and 200 account books relating to the career of Ippolito, who lived a lavish life as a prince while he and his family negotiated with a reluctant, simoniacal Pope Paul III for Ippolito’s appointment as a cardinal. With these documents, Hollingsworth reconstructs in minute detail the comings and goings of Ippolito: what he ate, what he wore, how he succeeded (or failed) at cards and tennis, how he tipped, whom he bribed, how he decorated his residences and on and on. Hollingsworth organizes this impressively illustrated volume in traditional chronological fashion (our hero is born on page 15), pausing occasionally to describe such things as Renaissance banquets, the massive renovations at Ippolito’s Palazzo San Francesco (his only extant residence), the wardrobe of the prince (including 468 shoe laces!). Of greater interest are the political maneuverings. Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor) and Francis I of France were competing for European dominance—along with the pope—and Ercole II (the Duke of Ferrara, Ippolito’s older brother) sided with the French. Ippolito became a favorite of Francis and lived in his court for some years, but when it looked as if Francis couldn’t assure Ippolito of his cardinal’s hat, Charles V offered his patronage, an offer Ippolito declined to take. It wasn’t until 1539 that the pope was sufficiently persuaded to appoint Ippolito (power, patronage and money were the sticking points). Hollingsworth ends her account as Ippolito consolidates his authority—and begins to count his cash.

A plethora of detail threatens to overpower this nonetheless fascinating and intimate view of a powerful, appealing man. (4 maps; 35 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: June 16th, 2005
ISBN: 1-58567-680-2
Page count: 308pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2005