The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice Della Rovere
Isabella, Beatrice and their mother Eleonora di Aragona – are extolled for their multiple virtues. Yet again, the story of Felice’s journey and her brave resolution confirms how unusual she was in Renaissance Italy.
    Undoubtedly Castiglione had heard this story about Felice’s adventures from Felice herself. In January 1505 he arrived on secondment in Rome to discuss the matter of who would inherit the Urbino dukedom with Pope Julius II. There he met Felice, currently in the throes of arguing with her father about Roberto di Sanseverino. For Felice, winning Castiglione’s confidence was a strategic move. The diplomat held sway and influence at two important Italian courts, Urbino and Mantua. His good opinion of her could prove invaluable political cachet.
    There is no doubt that Castiglione was intrigued by Felice della Rovere. While the Duke he served found her ‘unstable’, for Castiglione she was lively and intelligent. Their friendship lasted several decades. Castiglione exhibited some contradictions between his prescriptions for ideal female behaviour and the actual women whose company he enjoyed. The female courtier of his book is supposed to be endowed with modesty and a good degree of subservience; in real life Castiglione admired intelligent, lively and outspoken women who could ‘entertain all kinds of men with talk worth the hearing’. 8 The most engaging participant in Il Cortegiano is the feisty Emilia Pia, who is always ready to mock her male companions. Described by Castiglione as ‘endowed with so lively a wit and judgement that she seemed the mistress and kingleader of all the company’, she was likely to have been the model for Shakespeare’s own most lively heroine, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing . 9 Felice’s reputation as headstrong and self-assertive and her own ‘ready liveliness of wit’, undoubtedly appealed to Castiglione before he had even met her.
    The tale recounted in Il Cortegiano of Felice at sea, fleeing from the Borgia ships, reveals a great deal not only about her personality but about how she wished to be perceived. Certainly her declaration that she would rather throw herself in the sea than be taken alive by Borgia sailors is in keeping with that same strength of character that flouted her father’s wish for her to marry the Sanseverino Prince. At the same time, there was also a level of calculation to Felice’s retelling this event to a man with a good classical education. It casts her in the guise of an ancient Roman heroine, Lucrezia, Sofonisba or Artemisia, who all chose death rather than relinquish their virtue. Julius’s Vatican court was one obsessed by the recovery of ancient Rome. It was appropriate that the spirit of such women should be found in the daughter of the Pope who had named himself for a hero of the ancient world. At the same time, the story also allows Felice to make reference to her della Rovere roots. Not only was she travelling to Savona, her ancestral home, but she was at sea, which played an important part in della Rovere mythology. The Miracle of Savona , one element of the autobiographical fresco cycle commissioned by Sixtus IV at the Roman church of Santo Spirito in Sassia in 1476 , depicts a legendary event from the Pope’s life. As a young boy, he fell into the sea but was rescued from drowning by St Francis and St Anthony of Padua. Felice, recognizing that her place in the della Rovere family had been marginalized, was anxious to affirm her standing within the family in the public sphere by identifying herself with the sea, a distinct della Rovere emblem. Metaphorically, to throw herself into the sea rather than be taken by her father’s enemies was to return to the bosom of the family.
    Felice’s tale also suggests that the relationship between herself and Julius was closer than it might have appeared to those at the Vatican witnessing the sometimes awkward father–daughter dynamic. The event at sea took place when Julius was

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