Order was at last restored, and the Bailie of Dijon was compelled to surrender back the countess to Cesare. But their departure was postponed until the morrow. On that day, January 23, after receiving the oath of fealty from the Anziani in the Church of San Mercuriale, the duke marched his army out of Forli and took the road to Pesaro.
Caterina Sforza Riario went with him. Dressed in black and mounted upon a white horse, the handsome amazon rode between Cesare Borgia and Yves d'Allegre.
At Cesena the duke made a halt, and there he left the countess in the charge of d'Allegre whilst he himself rode forward to overtake the main body of his army, which was already as far south as Cattolica.
As for Giovanni Sforza, despite the fact that the Duke of Urbino had sent some foot to support him, he was far more likely to run than to fight, and in fact he had already taken the precaution of placing his money and valuables in safety and was disposing, himself, to follow them. But it happened that there was not yet the need. Fate in the shape of his cousin Lodovico of Milan postponed the occasion.
On the 26th Cesare lay at Montefiori, and there he was reached by couriers sent at all speed from Milan by Trivulzio. Lodovico Sforza had raised an army of Swiss and German mercenaries to reconquer his dominions, and the Milanese were opening their arms to receive him back, having already discovered that, in exchanging his rule for that of the French, they had but exchanged King Log for King Stork. Trivulzio begged for the instant return of the French troops serving under Cesare, and Cesare, naturally compelled to accede, was forced to postpone the continuance of his campaign, a matter which must have been not a little vexatious at such a moment.
He returned to Cesena, where, on the 27th, he dismissed Yves d'Allegre and his men, who made all haste back to Milan, so that Cesare was left with a force of not more than a thousand foot and five hundred horse. These, no doubt, would have sufficed him for the conquest of Pesaro, but Giovanni Sforza, encouraged by his cousin's return, and hopeful now of assistance, would certainly entrench himself and submit to a siege which must of necessity be long drawn, since the departure of the French had deprived Cesare of his artillery.
Therefore the duke disposed matters for his return to Rome instead, and, leaving Ercole Bentivogli with five hundred horse and Gonsalvo de Mirafuente with three hundred foot to garrison Forli, he left Cesena with the remainder of his forces, including Vitelli's horse, on January 30. With him went Caterina Sforza-Riario, and of course there were not wanting those who alleged that, during the few days at Cesena he had carred his conquest of her further than the matter of her territories1 a rumour whose parent was, no doubt, the ribald jest made in Milan by Trivulzio when he heard of her capture.
He conducted her to Rome in golden chains, " like another Palmyra," it is said and there she was given the beautiful Belvedere for her prison until she attempted an escape in the following June ; whereupon, for greater safety, she was transferred to the Castle of Sant' Angelo. There she remained until May of 1501, when, by the intervention of the King of France, she was set at liberty and permitted to withdraw to Florence to rejoin her children. In the city of the lilies she abode, devoting herself to good works until she ended her turbulent, unhappy life in 1509.
The circumstance that she was not made to pay with her life for her attempt to poison the Pope is surely something in favour of the Borgias, and it goes some way towards refuting the endless statements of their fierce and vindictive cruelty. Of course, it has been urged that they spared her from fear of France; but, if that is admitted, what then becomes of the theory of that secret poison which might so well have been employed in such a case as this ?
1 " Teneva detta Madona (la qual e belissima dona, fiola del Ducha Galeazo di Milan) di zorno e di note in la sua camera, con la quale judicio omnium si deva piacer" (Sanuto's Diarii).