Felice della Rovere

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Felice della Rovere
Estancia de Heliodoro (Misa de Bolsena), detail.jpg
Felice della Rovere portrayed by Raphael in The Mass at Bolsena, as identified by Prof. Murphy[1]
Born ca. 1483
Died 1536 (aged 52–53)
Spouse(s) Unknown first husband
Gian Giordano Orsini
Parents Pope Julius II
Lucrezia Normanni

Felice della Rovere (c. 1483 – September 27, 1536), also known as Madonna Felice, was the illegitimate daughter of Pope Julius II and was one of the most powerful women of the Italian Renaissance. Through the influence of her father, including an arranged marriage to Gian Giordano Orsini, she wielded extraordinary wealth and influence both within and beyond the Roman Curia. In particular, she negotiated a peace between Julius II and the Queen of France.

Della Rovere's mother was Lucrezia Normanni, from an ancient Roman family, for whom Julius II had arranged a marriage to Bernardino de Cupis, a majordomo in the della Rovere household. Giovanni Domenico de Cupis, the son of Normanni and de Cupis, was elevated to a cardinal by Leo X.[2] There is limited documentary evidence that della Rovere was married at 14, and was widowed shortly afterward.[2] According to Murphy, della Rovere de facto filled "the role that she knew would have been hers had she been born a boy, that of cardinal nipote".[3]

Julius II, who had apparently previously attempted to arrange strategic marriages for his daughter, did not attend her nuptials when she finally consented to marry Gian Giordano Orsini (more than twenty years her senior) at the age of 23.[2] Subsequently, financial records, secondary sources, documents in the Orsini archives, and letters to and from Felice indicate that she exercised considerable influence over not only Julius II, but his Medici successors Pope Leo X and Pope Clement VII, although not the Dutch outsider Pope Adrian VI.[2]

At some point after her marriage, Felice apparently reconciled with her father and received a gift of 9,000 ducats. With these funds, she purchased a castle, Palo, from which she exported wheat with great financial success, often to the Vatican itself.[2]

After the death of Gian Giordano in 1517, Felice gained control of the extensive Orsini financial assets, as the terms of her marriage contract to Orsini had also provided for any future son of hers to take precedence over Napoleone and the other children from Orsini's previous marriage[2]).[3] Felice begot two sons, Francesco and Girolamo, choosing the second as the heir to the Orsini fortune (and thus ensuring a rivalry with Napoleone), as well as two daughters, Giulia and Clarice; another child died during infancy.[2] Following the Sack of Rome (1527), the long-running rivalry between her son Girolamo Orsini and her stepson, Napoleone Orsini, intensified.

Her descendants married into the Sforza, Borghese, and Boncompagni-Ludovisi families.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Contemporary Review. July 2005. "The Pope's Daughter".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Martin, Donna. 2005, October 7. "A Renaissance Woman Rescued from Obscurity". National Catholic Reporter.
  3. ^ a b Boucher, Bruce. 2005, September 5. "The Pope's Daughter". International Herald Tribune.
  4. ^ Williams, 2004, p. 154.


  • Murphy, Caroline P. 2005. The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice Della Rovere. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-518268-5.
  • Williams, George L. 2004. Papal Genealogy: The Families and Descendants of the Popes. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-2071-5.