She came down from the ramparts, and, ordering the lowering of the bridge, invited him to meet her upon it that there they might confer more at their ease, having, meanwhile, instructed her castellan to raise the bridge again the moment the duke should set foot upon it. The castellan took her instructions too literally, for even as the duke did set one foot upon it there was a grind and clank of machinery, and the great structure swung up and clattered into place. The duke remained outside, saved by a too great eagerness on the part of those who worked the winches, for had they waited but a second longer they must have trapped him.
Cesare returned angry to Forli, and set a price upon Caterina's head 20,000 ducats if taken alive, 10,000 if dead; and on the morrow he opened fire. For a fortnight this was continued without visible result, and daily the countess was to be seen upon the walls with her castellan, directing the defences. But on January 12, Cesare's cannon having been concentrated upon one point, a breach was opened at last. Instantly the waiting citizens, who had been recruited for the purpose, made forward with their faggots, heaping them up in the moat until a passage was practicable. Over this went Cesare's soldiers to force an entrance.
A stubborn fight ensued within the ravelin, where the duke's men were held in check by the defenders, and not until some four hundred corpses choked that narrow space did the besieged give ground before them.
Like most of the Italian fortresses of the period, the castle of Forli consisted of a citadel within a citadel. In the heart of the main fabric but cut off from it again by its own moat arose the great tower known as the Maschio. This was ever the last retreat of the besieged when the fortress itself had been carried by assault, and, in the case of the Maschio of the Citadel of Forli, so stout was its construction that it was held to be practically invulnerable.
Had the countess's soldiers made their retreat in good order to this tower, where all the munitions and provisions were stored, Cesare would have found the siege but in the beginning; but in the confusion of that grim hour, besieged and besiegers, Borgian and Riarian, swept forward interlocked, a writhing, hacking, bleeding mob of men at arms. Thus they flung themselves in a body across the bridge that spanned the inner moat, and so into the Maschio, whilst the stream of Cesare's soldiers that poured uninterruptedly across in the immediate wake of that battling mass rendered it impossible for the defenders to take up the bridge.
Within the tower the carnage went on, and the duke's men hacked their way through what remained of the Forlivese until they had made themselves masters of that inner stronghold whither Caterina had sought her last refuge.
A Burgundian serving under the Bailie of Dijon was the first to come upon her in the room to which she had fled with a few attendants and a handful of men, amongst whom were Alessandro Sforza, Paolo Riario, and Scipione Riario this last an illegitimate son of her first husband's, whom she had adopted. The Burgundian declared her his prisoner, and held her for the price that had been set upon her head until the arrival of Cesare, who entered the citadel with his officers a little while after the final assault had been delivered.
Cesare received and treated her with the greatest courtesy, and, seeing her for the moment destitute, he presented her with a purse containing two hundred ducats for her immediate needs. Under his escort she left the castle, and was conducted, with her few remaining servants, to the Nomaglie Palace to remain in the Duke's care, his prisoner. Her brother and the other members of her family found with her were similarly made prisoners.
After her departure the citadel was given over to pillage, and all hell must have raged in it if we may judge from an incident related by Bernardi in his chronicles. A young clerk, named Evangelista da Monsignane, being seized by a Burgundian soldier who asked him if he had any money, produced and surrendered a purse containing thirteen ducats, and so got out of the mercenaries' clutches, but only to fall into the hands of others, one of whom again declared him a prisoner. The poor youth, terrified at the violence about him, and eager to be gone from that shambles, cried out that, if they would let him go, he would pay them a ransom of a hundred ducats.
Thereupon " Surrender to me! " cried one of the soldiers, and, as the clerk was about to do so, another, equally greedy for the ransom, thrust himself forward. " No. Surrender to me, rather," demanded this one.
The first insisted that the youth was his prisoner, whereupon the second brandished his sword, threatening to kill Evangelista. The clerk, in a panic, flung himself into the arms of a monk who was with him, crying out for mercy, and there in the monk's arms he was brutally slain, " to put an end," said his murderer, " to the dispute."
Forlimpopoli surrendered a few days later to Yves d'Allegre, whom Cesare had sent thither, whilst in Forli, as soon as he had reduced the citadel, and before even attempting to repair the damage done, the duke set about establishing order and providing for the dispensation of justice, exerting to that end the rare administrative ability which not even his bitterest detractors have denied him.
He sent a castellan to Forlimpopoli and fetched from Imola a Podesta for Forli.1 He confirmed the Council of Forty that ruled Forli being ten for each quarter of the city and generally made sound and wise provision for the town's well being, which we shall presently see bearing fruit.
CATERINA SFORZA-RIARIO. (From the fresco by Gustavo Vasari.)
Next the repairing of the fortress claimed his attention, and he disposed for this, entrusting the execution of his instructions to Ramiro de Lorqua, whom he left behind as governor. In the place where the breach was opened by his cannon he ordered the placing of a marble panel bearing his arms; and there it is to be seen to this day : Dexter, the sable bars of the House of Lenzol; Sinister, the Borgia bull in chief, and the lilies of France; and, superimposed, an inescutcheon bearing the Pontifical arms.