International Women’s Day: Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter

by , under Composers

Lucrezia Borgia's Daughter CD

Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Princess, Nun and Musician is out now from Obsidian Records

It’s International Women’s Day! To celebrate, we’re featuring the latest release by our sister label, Obsidian Records. Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Princess, Nun and Musician features never-before-heard music which recent research suggests may have been composed by the daughter of Lucrezia Borgia.

This was music composed for and by women; Eleanora d’Este, a daughter of the famous Borgia dynasty, was the abbess of a convent in Ferrara, where she took an active part in the institution’s musical life. Although we tend to think of them as silent, contemplative places, Renaissance convents were among the most active musical institutions in Europe, with female musicians at their centre.

So who was Lucrezia Borgia?

Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1590) has been cast by popular history as a femme fatale, a power-hungry woman who was married to a succession of wealthy men. In truth, she seems more like a pawn in the plans of her male relatives, rather than an orchestrator of murder and seduction. She was used as a bargaining chip to form a series of alliances. When her husband became less useful to the family, the marriage was annulled or, in the case of Alfonso of Aragon, the inconvenient man was murdered. She became deeply religious in her later life, giving generously to the convent where her daughter would later become abbess.

Images of Lucrezia Borgia

Three paintings that might depict Lucrezia Borgia

What about her daughter?

When Eleanora d’Este was orphaned at the age of four, she was placed in the care of the convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara, Italy. It would have been dangerous for her to be raised in the household of her father, and she would almost certainly have been used as a political bargaining chip, as her mother had been. In the convent, however, she was safe from men and her talent as a musician was allowed to flourish.

As Laurie Stras, director of Musica Secreta, said in a recent interview, “it’s important to remember that nuns in the 16th century had more autonomy than women outside the cloister. Although they were contained in the convent, inside it they were doctors, they were writers, they were painters, they were musicians, they could do the sorts of things that women outside the convent couldn’t do.”

Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Princess, Nun and Musician is out now. It features music from Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens.
See more here