Partner Laudomia Forteguerri

Queer Places:
Church of San Francesco, Via di San Francesco, 64, 02016 Leonessa RI
Villa Madama, Via di Villa Madama, 250, 00135 Roma RM
00024 Castel Madama, Metropolitan City of Rome
Musei Civici di Palazzo Farnese, Piazza della Cittadella, 29, 29121 Piacenza PC
Palazzo Mancini Riccardi, Piazza S. Tommaso, 17, 66026 Ortona CH
Chiesa di San Sisto Piacenza, Provincia di Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Portrait of Margaret aged 40Margaret of Parma (July 5, 1522 – January 18, 1586) was an Italian noblewoman. Margaret's mother, Johanna Maria van der Gheynst, a servant of Count Charles de Lalaing, Seigneur de Montigny, was a Fleming. The illegitimate daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Margherita was born in Oudenaarde and grew up in Brussels under the care of her aunt Margaret of Habsburg; from Belgium, she took her taste for Flemish art to the court of Parma. She was first married, in 1536, to Duke Alessandro de’ Médici; soon widowed, two years later she wed Ottavio Farnese, the nephew of Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese), who at 14 was two years younger than Margherita. Already during her first marriage, rumours of Margherita's aversion for men spread through Florence, and she wanted nothing to do with her second husband, whose approaches she rejected, in whose face she literally slammed her door, and whom she refused to see. The scandal quickly made the rounds of the Italian and other European courts and, until 1540, there was talk of the marriage being annulled since it had not yet been ‘consummated’. Margherita explained her refusal to have sexual relations with her husband by saying that the Emperor had not ordered her to do so, nor had she promised it, having agreed only to share a bed with her husband. Ottavio rapidly became the butt of unkind ridicule; Pasquino, for instance, made up jokes about possible sexual combinations for the couple, including the scenario of Pope Paul entering their bedchamber to sodomise both of them.

Margherita's love for a noble lady of Siena, Laudomia Forteguerri, was remarked upon by her contemporaries. Agnolo Firenzuola, in his ‘Dialogue on the Beauty of Women’, explicitly referred to the relationship as an example of ‘chaste and pure’ love between women, but Pierre de Bourdelle did not hesitate to speak of the ‘dissolute and lascivious’ passion between Margherita and Laudomia. Margherita has a robust figure, wore ‘masculine’ fashion and liked hunting; Laudomia had participated actively in the defence of Siena when the city was besieged by the grand duke of Tuscany.

In 1543, for the sake of the dynasty, Margherita gave in to pressure and was officially reconciled with her husband; two years later she gave birth to twins, Alessandro and Carlo (the latter of whom died prematurely in 1549). Her social duties fulfilled, she afterwards again reduced contacts with her husband to a minimum and lived on various domains in the Abruzzi; for example, the city of Leonessa already by 1537 had become her personal fief. However, she did not withdraw from public life: in 1558 she began building the Farnese palace in Piacenza, and the following year she was named regent of The Netherlands; in 1567 she became protector of the Aquila and in 1580 she once again served in the Low Countries. Only two years later did she retire to private life and settled in Ortona, a city in the Abruzzi which she purchased for 54,000 ducats. She devoted herself to wine-growing, and her wines were esteemed by all the principal European courts. One of the wines produced in Ortona is still called ‘Farnese’ in her honour, and all of the numerous places where she lived retain traces of ‘Madama’ Margherita, such as the Villa Madama, today the seat of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome. The town of Castel Madama in the Roman hinterland, where Margherita made lengthy visits to the Castello Orisno, each July hosts the ‘Madama Margherita’ palio (horse race). Margherita died in 1586 in Ortona and was buried in the church of S. Sisto in Piacenza, as she had requested.

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