She was born in Milan; the Visconti household were the rulers of Milan from 1277 to 1447. As a result of this, she grew up extremely wealthy. Lucia Visconti was part of a line that includes other powerful Visconti women, such as Isabeau of Bavaria, Valentina Visconti and Caterina Visconti. As a noblewoman in a powerful family, she like her nine sisters was expected to enter into marriage to form or strengthen alliances. The Visconti daughters were all involved in Bernabò's dynastic policy, as he married them off into many different ruling houses across Europe.
She herself was connected to various potential marriage partners, including both Fredrick of Thuringia (the future Elector of Saxony) and Henry Bolingbroke (the future King of England). Eventually, she married Edmund Holland, 4th Earl of Kent. The marriage was complicated and short-lived, as Edmund died less than two years after the wedding. From January 1407 until her death, she was the Countess of Kent, and never returned to Milan. Her relationship with King Henry allowed her to avoid obstacles which would have impeded most widows. A dowry that was owed by her family upon her marriage was never paid, and this became the source of conflict between England and Milan for decades after her death.
Visconti family history
The Visconti family acquired the signoria of Milan in 1277, when Archbishop Ottone Visconti defeated the Guelfs at Desio, usurping their power. Ottone took the title of signore from Martino della Torre. Prior to this, the family had been growing ever more powerful. By the early 12th century, the Visconti family had extended their control over two-thirds of the island of Sardinia, though the family is most commonly known for its dominance in the Italian city of Milan. The Visconti family was expelled by their rivals in 1302, the della Torres, but was restored to power in 1311 by Matteo, Ottone's successor, and Henry VII, Holy Roman Emperor, who also made Matteo the military vicar of Lombardy at this time. Following Matteo, there was a long line of powerful successors in the Visconti family, including Bernabò (1354–1385), who was the father of Lucia, and who ruled the city jointly with his brother Galeazzo II.
Over the years, the Lords of Milan were able to expand their territory through shrewd politics as well as conquest, acquiring such cities as Parma, Pisa, and Bologna. Bernabò in particular was in constant conflict with Pope Urban V, the Florentines, Venice and Savoy. He was known to be very harsh and cruel in his rule, and was not a popular ruler due to his policies such as heavy taxation to pay for his wars. Bernabò made alliances with other powerful families in Europe by arranging marriages for his children. Notably, four of them were with the members of the House of Wittelsbach, rulers of Bavaria, one of which produced Isabeau, future Queen of France with King Charles VI. It is suggested that her ties to her immediate Visconti family were strong and was a prominent figure in the Armagnac-Burgundian feud.
Louis II of Anjou
Between 1382 and 1384, Bernabò actively sought marriage negotiations for his infant daughter with Louis II, the Duke of Anjou and the future King of Naples, via Louis's mother, Marie of Blois. A marriage would have cemented Lucia Visconti's future as Queen of Sicily. Bernabò remained in close contact with Marie attempting to come to terms on a marriage contract. At the time, there was discord in the Visconti family. Bernabò's nephew Gian Galeazzo (son of Galeazzo II, who succeeded his father in 1378) saw the impending marriage as a threat – an alliance which would enhance his uncle's position in the family at the expense of his own. In the spring of 1385, Bernabò was deposed and taken prisoner by his nephew. The marriage contract between Louis II and Lucia Visconti was cancelled and upon Bernabò's death in December 1385, Gian Galeazzo became the sole ruler of Milan, giving him the authority to determine whom his cousin was to wed.
Henry IV of England
The most notable potential suitor lined up for Visconti was Henry, the Duke of Lancaster and the future King Henry IV of England, who visited Milan in 1393 and had captured her imagination. In 1399, when arrangements between the two of them were being discussed, Henry – whose first wife died in 1394 – was banished to France for ten years by King Richard II and had his lands taken. For Gian Galeazzo, political security came first and foremost and as such, he put the negotiations on hold, insisting that Henry return to favour at court before any further talks could proceed. Visconti told her sister Caterina, that if she could be sure of marrying him, she would wait for Henry "to the very end of her life, even if she knew that she would die three days after the marriage".
Later that year, Henry returned to England overthrew Richard with the help of the King of France, but the marriage negotiations never resumed.
Frederick of Thuringia
Instead, Gian Galeazzo offered Visconti to Frederick of Thuringia, the future Elector of Saxony, and they were married in 1399, but the marriage was never consummated and she was able to obtain an annulment on the grounds that she was forced into it. A musical piece entitled Più chiar che’l sol by Antonello da Caserta is believed to have been written for the wedding.
Gian Galeazzo's death in 1402 eliminated the possibility of any future political marriage for Visconti. Meanwhile, Henry remarried in 1403, but had not forgotten about the teenage girl from Milan who had been infatuated with him. He arranged for her to marry Edmund Holland, 4th Earl of Kent, a favourite soldier of his who had fought at the Battle of Shrewsbury. In 1405, Edmund had defended Henry's son in battle which helped solidify his exemplary prominence. In May 1406, a marriage contract was drawn up for the two of them, which called for a dowry of 70,000 florins of which 12,000 were to be paid on consummation of the marriage, which was likely an attraction for Holland as he had great debts resulting from the military support expected of him by Henry and having to support several dowager countesses.
The wedding took place on 24 January 1407 at St. Mary Overy in Southwark. The record of their marriage was reported in Sir Nicholas Harris's A Chronicle of London, 1089–1483. At the wedding ceremony, it was Henry who gave Visconti away. However, the marriage between the newlywed couple was off to a rocky start. To preface, in 1406, Edmund had had a liaison with Constance of York and the following year, Constance gave birth to Edmund's illegitimate daughter, Eleanor. There is no surviving correspondence or other documentation that indicates Visconti's reaction to either of them, but Edmund's sisters noted that Constance was not an obstacle in their brother's marriage. In September 1408, Visconti was widowed when Edmund was killed in Brittany. The couple did not have any children.
Pension and debts
Unlike other widows of her time period, Visconti was not made to return to her family's home, but was rather able to make a life out of what she had. More specifically, she used her title as the Countess of Kent to her benefit. Since her husband left her with little money (the dowry had not yet been paid), she was to deal with his major debt. She decided to follow in the footsteps of her sister Donnina (who had married John Hawkwood, an English soldier) by planning to approach Henry for financial aid. Henry granted her one-third of the income of her late husband's land, with the remainder used to pay his creditors. This was not enough to balance the accounts, and Visconti petitioned Parliament for letters of marque that would compel Milan to pay the dowry. However, Milan had its own financial problems after Gian Galeazzo's death and payment never came.[b] She petitioned Parliament a second time for debt relief, promising a portion of the dowry to Edmund's creditors.
Holy Trinity Minories
By July 1421, Visconti was residing at the medieval Holy Trinity Minories (she may have been there as early as September 1411), which was similar to a nunnery but was also known as a place where women of high status and money would live together. It is believed that she lived in a townhouse built in 1352 by Elizabeth de Burgh, which had a reputation for housing women who were in tenuous political circumstances. Here, she lived a comfortable and well-kept life, but she was also engaged in business, being listed as an exporter of goods to Italy in 1423.
Death and will
Visconti's will bequeathed a portion of her unpaid dowry to various English nobles and other Italian immigrants, with the remainder (along with personal items) going to her steward, some ladies-in-waiting, her fool, and various religious institutions in Milan and England, including St. Mary Overy, Bourne Abbey in Lincolnshire (where Edmund was buried), and the Minoresses from Holy Trinity, but all of the recipients were equally unable to obtain the money from Milan. The bequests to religious recipients came with conditions to pray for herself and Edmund's souls.
She died on 14 April 1424 and was buried in Austin Friars, which was a popular resting place for London's Italian immigrants. Her epitaph focuses on her charm and beauty, her family and Milanese heritage, and does not mention her husband at all.
As her dowry was never paid, the claims against it continued long after her death. Reprisals taken against Milanese merchants in London in 1464 to recover this sum were probably related to the dowry, and these grew to be so debilitating that the merchants were forced to stop trading with England in 1471, prompting Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan, to ask his envoy in England to plead for relief. In 1486, a letter to the new Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Sforza, demanded payment of the dowry. The Duke claimed to be unaware of such a debt at first, and three years later, ultimately declined the request as no documentation had been provided. Further reprisals took place in England in 1489, but the Duke was able to convince Henry to put a stop to them. However, Emperor Frederick III issued separate letters of marque in 1490, which enabled English agents to detain Milanese traders on the Rhine. Even though Visconti's will was finally produced, the Duke declared it to be a fraud. Eventually, efforts to recover the dowry were dropped.
- Her death date is sometimes recorded as 4 April, but that cannot be possible as she signed her will on 11 April 1424.
- In a similar situation in 1423, Milan rescinded the dowry owed for the marriage of Valentina Visconti to Peter II of Cyprus, which had ended in 1393 upon Valentina's death and was likewise childless.
- Bradley (1994), p. 78 "[Henry] had been in Milan in 1393, when she had been thirteen years old."
- Richardson, Douglas (2011). Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families. 2 (2nd ed.). p. 500. ISBN 9781461045205.
- Tait (1895), p. 791.
- Hinds (1912), pp. 253–276 (document 431) "...the said Lucia, who survived him, made her will on the 11th April, 1424."
- Bjork, Robert E., ed. (2010). "Milan". The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780198662624.001.0001/acref-9780198662624-e-3984. ISBN 9780198662624. Retrieved 3 January 2017. (subscription required)
- Bjork, Robert E., ed. (2010). "Sardinia". The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780198662624.001.0001/acref-9780198662624-e-5207. ISBN 9780198662624. Retrieved 3 January 2017. (subscription required)
- Bjork, Robert E., ed. (2010). "Visconti family". The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780198662624.001.0001/acref-9780198662624-e-5947. ISBN 9780198662624. Retrieved 3 January 2017.(subscription required)
- Vauchez, André, ed. (2002). "Visconti family". Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. James Clarke & Co. doi:10.1093/acref/9780227679319.001.0001/acref-9780227679319-e-2989. ISBN 9780227679319. Retrieved 3 January 2017. (subscription required)
- Campbell, Gordon, ed. (2003). "Visconti, Bernabò". The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780198601753.001.0001/acref-9780198601753-e-3691. ISBN 9780198601753. Retrieved 3 January 2017. (subscription required)
- Bueno de Mesquita (2011), p. 25.
- Tuchman, Barbara (1978). A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Alfred A. Knopf. p. 416. ISBN 9780394400266.
- Adams, Tracy (2010). The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria. Rethinking Theory. The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. xx. ISBN 9780801896255.
- Bueno de Mesquita (2011), pp. 30–37.
- Gian Galeazzo Visconti at the Encyclopædia Britannica
- "King Henry IV Timeline". medieval-life-and-times.info. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- Hinds (1912), pp. 1–2.
- Stoessel, Jason. "The Angevin Struggle for the Kingdom of Naples (c. 1378–1411) and the Politics of Repertoire in Mod A" (PDF). Journal of Music Research Online. Music Council of Australia: 3.
- Bradley (1994), pp. 78–79.
- Hinds (1912), pp. v–lix.
- Bradley (1994), p. 79.
- Harris, Nicholas; Tyrrell, Edward (1827). A Chronicle of London, from 1089 to 1483. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green. p. 90.
In this yere, the xvij day of Juyll, the erle of Kent wedded the dukes doughter of Melane, at seynt Marie Overey
- Bradley (1994), pp. 79–80.
- Bradley (1994), p. 81.
- Bradley (1994), pp. 81–82.
- Mackman, Jonathan (October 2013). "Lucia Visconti, Countess of Kent". England's Immigrants 1330–1550. Arts and Humanities Research Council. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
- Bradley (1994), p. 84.
- Hinds (1912), pp. 145–162 (documents 202 and 203).
- Hinds (1912), pp. 247–248 (documents 377, 378, 380, and 381).
- Hinds (1912), pp. 253–276 (documents 413, 421, 422).
- Bradley, Helen (1 January 1994). "Lucia Visconti, Countess of Kent (d. 1424)". In Barron, Caroline; Sutton, Anne F. (eds.). Medieval London Widows, 1300–1500. London ; Rio Grande, OH, US: Hambledon Press. pp. 77–84. ISBN 9781852850852. OCLC 741690179, 939702568.
- Bueno de Mesquita, D. M. (2011) . Giangaleazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan (1351–1402): A Study in the Political Career of an Italian Despot. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521234559. OCLC 941946696.
- Hinds, Allen B., ed. (1912). Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in the Archives and Collections of Milan 1385-1618. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office. OCLC 847534039, 502583712, 314981305.
- Tait, James (1895). "Eine mailändisch-thüringische Heiratsgeschichte aus der Zeit König Wenzels". In Creighton, Mandell (ed.). The English Historical Review. Volume X. London and New York: Longmans, Green, & Co. p. 791. ISSN 0013-8266. OCLC 754650998.