Recommendation: ‘The Black Prince of Florence’ by Catherine Fletcher

One of my favourite book shops is the Minster Gate Bookshop in York. It’s the stuff a booklover’s dreams are made off! It’s about 3 stories plus a basement and has lots of little rooms each covering different genres. As you can probably guess my favourite room is the history room, and that’s where I uncovered this gem which is Catherine Fletcher’s biography on Alessandro de’ Medici. 

Now I’ve had a huge interest in Catherine de’ Medici since university (she featured in my dissertation) so when I learnt she had an illegitimate half-brother I was immediately intrigued. This biography allowed me to learn more and get the full low-down on the life of Alessandro, who was Duke of Florence from 1529 until his assassination at the hands of Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1537 aged 26. 

Now this biography sat on my bookshelf for a while prior to reading (I buy books faster than I read them!) but once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. Fletcher does a great job of balancing the narrative of Alessandro’s life whilst explaining the historical sources which provide us with the information to form his story. Sometimes historical biographies can get a bit bogged down in these details and jar the narrative, as Fletcher explains in her introduction “to make this book readable I have avoided interrupting the narrative too often with caveats and qualifications, and I encourage readers who are interested in the detail of the historical sources to consult the notes”. This works really well and allows the story to flow.

So who was Alessandro? Well he was the illegitimate son of Lorenzo the Duke of Urbino and a woman commonly known as Simunetta. She is a mysterious figure. A servant? A noblewoman? We’re not really sure. What historians do believe though, is that she was a black woman which made Alessandro mixed race. Fletcher does a great job in exploring Alessandro’s racial identity, especially in the context of Renaissance Italy. When Alessandro was born it was unlikely any of the Medici clan originally thought he was going to play a significant role in forwarding the ambitions of the House. Yet a lot of significant Medici family members (including Alessandro’s father) died in quick succession, turning Alessandro into a more significant player and eventually Duke of Florence. Fletcher takes us on a journey from Alessandro’s illegitimate beginnings to his brutal end, creating a balanced perspective from sources both pro and anti Alessandro. 

I’d highly recommend reading Fletcher’s book to uncover this forgotten, fascinating Florentine figure. You can buy a copy at Waterstones here.

Have you read it already? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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