Federico da Montefeltro shone brightly as the "Light of Italy," one of many torches that helped light the flame of Renaissance. He made his name as a wily yet honest mercenary captain, but he also ruled as prince of the small, remote town of Urbino. There, he and his wife built an illustrious court that celebrated creativity, knowledge, and justice.
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Born an illegitimate son, Federico da Montefeltro became the heir of Urbino when his family got the Pope to legitimize him. As a child, he was sent to Venice to serve as a hostage for his family's part in the wars of Lombardy, and by 15 he had turned his fate around to become knighted by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. At 16, he became a condotierre, a mercenary. Although he was technically prince of Urbino, his land was isolated and poor, so mercenary service allowed him to make money. He excelled at it: he never lost and never broke a contract. Cities began paying him NOT to fight against them, and he channeled their riches into his hometown. He looked after his soldiers families in Urbino, walked the markets every day, and held court in his garden where all citizens were treated equally under the law. Since he loved history and philosophy, he built one of the greatest libraries in all of Italy, hiring scribes to find and copy classical works that might have been lost if not for him. He also built a palace where he fostered art of all kinds, and young people from noble houses across the continent flocked to his court. His wife, especially his second wife Battista Sforza, built Urbino alongside him. She'd received the same liberal education he had and often counseled him on politics When he was away, she held court in his stead. Sadly, she died of complications while bearing Federico's only son, whom he named Guidobaldo. Guidobaldo was intelligent and well read, but he was sickly and could never be his father's equal in war. After Federico died, the Borgia came and seized Urbino from Guidobaldo, but although his family lost its holdings, his legacy lived on as the ideas and attitudes he'd nurtured in his court survived and spread far enough to help spur the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy.
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