In 1494 Bianca Maria Sforza was 22 years old and single. She was a widow since she was 10 and her engagement to the son of the Hungarian king never worked out, but she was still a desirable partner, because the Sforza family happened to be ambitious and rich, very rich. They were not subtle about their wealth either. Her uncle made it quite clear that the right suitor could get a very nice dowry in exchange for helping to defend Milan against the French.
In 1493 Maximilian I of Austria and Bianca Maria’s uncle started negotiations to see if a marriage could work out. Maximilian I wanted paintings of Bianca Maria to decide if she would be a suitable partner for him.
The paintings clearly display the wealth of the Sforza family. The headdress Bianca Maria Sforza is wearing is estimated 600 ducats and its in the form of a small brush (scopetta) which was one of the emblems of the Sforza family. That would be 15600 USD in todays money. Her cloths are also very expensive looking and she wears a necklace with pearls and a jeweled belt.
Maximilian I of Austria decided to marry Bianca Maria Sforza. For doing so he received a cool 400,000 ducats of her uncle as a dowry. That would be around 10,4 million USD in today’s money. The reason was that her uncle needed someone to defend his position in Milan because the French were challenging him in Milan. With the marriage of Bianca Maria came the responsibility to defend the territory of her family. Maximilian I didn’t need that much encouragement though to fight with the French king that had dumped his daughter Margaret of Austria to marry his wife Anne of Brittany.
Bianca Maria Sforza’s uncle the duke of Milan threw an extremely over the top wedding in honor of the couple even though they married by proxy. Bianca Maria’s bodice was described as a bodice”with eighty pieces of the jeweler’s art pinned thereon, with each piece consisting of one ruby and four pearls”.
Beatrice d’este wrote to her sister about her wedding dress:
The Queen wore a toilette of crimson satin embroidered with stripes of gold and covered with precious stones. Her train was of immense length, as also her hanging sleeves whose shape made them appear like two wings, and these produced a splendid effect. Her headdress was composed of magnificent diamonds and pearls, and to add to the impressiveness of the occasion, her train was carried by Messer Galeazzo Pallavicino, and the Counts Conrado de Lando and Manfredo Torriello each carried one of her sleeves.
They had many famous wedding guests arriving in carriages and Milan was beautifully decorated with gold brocade and silver and satin and frescoes. Beatrice d’Este describes the wedding in detail to her sister: http://italianrenaissanceresources.com/units/unit-2/sub-page-03/description-of-bianca-sforzas-wedding/
Bianca Maria would have to wait 7 months before actually meeting her husband. How their marriage worked out I will write about some other time. Maximilian I did defend Bianca Maria I’s uncle Ludovico Il Moro the next year against the French. This led to a series of wars called the Italian Wars between 1494 and 1559 with the French on one side and “the League” consisting of the Holy Roman Empire, the Duchy of Milan, Spain, the Papal States, the Republic of Florence, the Duchy of Mantua and the Republic of Venice. I will write about the Italian Wars some other time as well.