Renaissance Women

Isabella d'Este

"First Lady of the Renaissance"


In the Renaissance times a Renaissance Woman was supposed to marry well, be loyal to her husband and give birth to boys. A Renaissance Man, on the other hand, had to be well-educated, have cultural grace, be a gentleman and understand the arts and sciences. He also had to have refinement, be of noble birth and have courage. Many women did not fit the mold of what they called a "Renaissance Woman." Many of them would fit in as more of a "Renaissance Man" or what we would call a "Renaissance Woman" in our day and age.

A prime example of this exception is Isabella d'Este.


Isabella d'Este was born in 1474 into the ruling family of Ferra. At the age of sixteen Isabella married Francesco Gonzaga. She then became the Marchioness of Mantua because Francesco was the Prince.

After the death of her husband, Isabella ruled Mantua alone. Isabella's father believed in the equality of men and women and so Isabella and her siblings were very well-educated. Isabella died at the age of sixty-four in 1539.


At the age of sixteen, Isabella d'Este was able to speak Greek and Latin as well as play the lute, sing, dance and debate with people much older than her. She was very well-educated and her political talent benefited Mantua while she was ruling. When her husband left, Isabella governed the city on her own, and after he died she took over his whole job. She showed great leadership skills in 1509 when she became Chief of State in Mantua.

At this time she also founded a school for young women where they had to observe a strict code of morals. She was a patron of the Arts and she also set artistic fashions and standards. Isabella collected many paintings and statues. She also wrote over two thousand letters and in these she commented on everything from politics to war. That was the closest that any woman at that time ever got to writing history.


Isabella patronized and promoted the arts. She allowed writers, artists and poets to exchange their ideas in her home. While she was ruling, she set an example for women to break away from the traditional role of what women were supposed to be like. By doing this and many other things she was known as the "First Lady of the Renaissance."

Another exception to this rule was Catherine de Medici.

Catherine de Medici



Catherine de Medici was born in Florence, Italy, 1519. She had a very troubled childhood. At only the young age of one, both of Catherine's parents died from a disease. The nuns where she lived, trained and disciplined her and as she grew older she became very well-educated. Catherine filled her library with numerous rare manuscripts. In 1533 her uncle, the Pope, arranged her marriage. For the first ten years of her marriage, Catherine was unable to produce children but finally she was able to. At the age of ten, one of her children became the King of France so she became the King's Regent, which enabled her to be Queen Regent. In January of the year,1589, Catherine died at the age of seventy.


Catherine de Medici was a major force in French politics, especially during the thirty years of the Roman Catholic-Huguenot wars. She ruled as a regent to her son and when he reached majority in 1563, Catherine dominated him.

Catherine was a Roman Catholic but when trying to create a balance with religions she sometimes agreed with the Huguenots. By doing this she created a policy of peace between the Catholics and the Protestants.

Under her influence, three of Catherine's sons became kings and she also arranged for her daughter to be married to the King of Spain in 1560.

Catherine had a great interest in architecture and she demonstrated this with her authority over the building of the new wing of the Louvre Museum, the construction of the Tuilleries Gardens, and the building of the Chateau Monceau.


Catherine de Medici was a great patron of the arts. In being this she helped the Renaissance flourish.

Isabella d'Este and Catherine de Medici had some female qualities that people of that era believed were necessary, but are also examples of what we call true "Renaissance Women."


1. "Catherine de Medici." Encarta 1996 Encyclopedia CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1995.

2. []. "Catherine de Medici." 1997.

3. Swanson, Charles. "Catherine de Medici." Encyclopedia Britannica, 1768, vol. 2, pp. 954-955.

4. Trager, James. The Women's Chronology. New York, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1994, pp. 115.

5. Yoder, Carolyn. Introducton To The Renaissance. Peterborough, Cobblestone Pub. Inc., 1994, pp. 16-17.

This page was prepared by Brianne and Jessica, Grade 8, Riverdale Junior Secondary School.