He provides the best example of an opportunist condottiere who became a respected prince (Duke of Milan 1450-66). When his father Muzio Attendolo was killed in battle in 1424, Francesco succeceded to his father's leadership and reputation for strict military discipline. Thereafter his principal employer was Duke Filippo Maria Visconti of Milan, whom he served in successive campaigns against Venice, and whose daughter Bianca Maria he marricd (1443). In thc early 1430s, taking advantage of papal weakness, Franccsco built up a large following and a sizeable territorial power in the Marches, with a base at Fermo, but these he sacrificed for his prospects in Lombardy. Having led Venetian forces against the short-lived Ambrosian Republic of Milan (1447-50), he received the city and dukedom in his own name. With the friendship and financial support of Cosimo de' Medici, he imposed the Peace of Lodi (1454) which was intendced to curb Venetian expansion and did stabilize Italy.
Though without Cosimo's learning and artistic interests, Franccsco provided humanists to educate his children (one, Filelfo, wrote the 'Sforziade' about Francesco's military deeds) and followed Cosimo's exatmple as a building patron, at least in founding the Ospedale Maggiore at Milan, designed by Filarete. Though favouring the castle of Pavia as his residence., Francesco restored the much damaged Visconti fortress of Porta Giovia in Milan, a decision to be criticized by Machiavelli in 'The prince' (because it was betrayed by its castellan in 1499), notwithstanding his respect for Francesco as a new prince who possessed 'virtů' and succceded in ruling a corrupted city. In government Francesco depended largely upon his secretary, Cicco Simonetta, and was less surcely in control of the duchy's subject citices. In the 1470s a monumental statue of him on horseback was projected, and later Leonardo da Vinci took over the commission, but none of his ambitious designs was finally cast in bronze; a colossal clay model decomposed without leaving a trace.
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